Rosario Dawson is an actress that seems equally comfortable working on smaller, independent productions (Kids, Clerks II, and her current film Explicit Ills) as she does big-budget studio blockbusters (Men in Black II, Sin City, Eagle Eye). She recently took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with RT about her favorite movies, reveal a bet she made with Quentin Tarantino on the set of Death Proof, and admit to knowing that some movies were going to be bad even before shooting began (i.e. The Adventures of Pluto Nash).
Read on for Rosario Dawson’s Five Favorite Films, and catch her in the indie drama Explicit Ills, a New York-set drama helmed by actor and first-time director Mark Webber also starring Paul Dano, Lou Taylor Pucci, and Naomie Harris. Explicit Ills is in limited release this week.
I usually have Reservoir Dogs and Rocky Horror Picture Show on my list, because I just love them so much. I did Kids, and the first film I really can remember watching specifically to look at acting after that was Reservoir Dogs.
My dad had given me the VHS tape of it to watch over and over and over again. Well, he didn’t intend for me, I think, to watch it over and over and over again, but I watched it over and over again; I think I watched it like five or six times that week. I would come home from school and I would just watch it again, and memorize the whole thing, and I was just so blown away by the acting in it. It seemed like it must have had all this money, because you remember it being bloody, you remember the shock, all that kinda stuff. And then you watch it and you’re like, “Actually, [Quentin Tarantino] cut around all of that.” The dude with red stuff on his chest, you know what I mean? It’s all acting. And it’s such an interesting way of telling the story, going back and inside of itself. My dad, I’ll never forget, he was like, “Watch this for the acting,” and I was just blown away. So I feel like that’s a piece of work that I love looking at as sort of a modern way of getting into those huge monologues, telling stories in an epic way, and the sort of more modern kind of small stories.
Anybody who has the audacity to say that Marilyn Monroe wasn’t a good actress needs to see that f***** movie. I want you to go inside and outside of a house, jumping in a box and going, “I’m in and I’m out. And I’m in and I’m out.” And you believe it, that this woman is standing there, working the little thing, the whole body jiggling, the entire place mesmerized. There were just so many moments, and it’s shot so beautifully, and I think it’s just a remarkable film. Clark Gable in a completely different way than we’ve ever seen him before. It’s remarkable.
I think it’s a tremendous film, and I’m waiting for everyone to finally throw open their windows and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more,” because it just needs to be done, and it hasn’t been done yet.
Charles Burnett. It’s a really incredible film, shot all in black and white, 1970s, it’s Watts in Los Angeles. And it’s this guy who works in a slaughterhouse. They put it out in theaters, I think a year and a half ago, and I raced out to go see it live. The soundtrack is just so provocative, it’s so of that time. It was shot for less than $10,000…It’s a remarkable, remarkable film, and when you watch it, it’s just so profound.
It’s about Philippe Petit who walked across the World Trade Center in 1974, and it’s just…you watch that movie and it’s like you really get that whole [idea of] someone who did something super unique, that did something. It’s just an unbelievable thing; it’s so moving to watch.
That’s my new favorite film right now, and having just seen it, it’s so mindboggling. We don’t see enough documentaries; I love watching documentaries, and obviously there are really amazing ones and all that kinda stuff. But this one, I think, is profound to watch, because the footage is unbelievable, to really just see it from all different perspectives. I remember the interview with the security guard who went upstairs, and that awe on his face, and he was like, “I came out, and there’s this guy on a wire hanging between these two buildings.” They’re trying to get him to come off, but it’s just like, he can’t help himself. He’s like, “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” And you feel that. Just to imagine having been there. I wasn’t born for another five years, so I missed that, but damn, that’s such an incredible thing.
I just met [Petit] recently; he’s such an odd bird, he’s not so comfortable in a social setting, but it’s like there’s an energy that comes out of him that’s just like, to know you’re truly unique, to feel that personally, you know? There are the geniuses that you meet in the world, and the Quentin Tarantinos and stuff like that. You could talk to him, and he’s like, “I know I’m a genius!” It’s amazing. But there’s a whole other level, where you’ve done it physically…everything else must seem so small. [laughs] Or maybe big, actually, you know?
Next: Dawson shares a Tarantino moment from the set of Death Proof, reminisces on the great directors she’s worked with, and admits that she knew Pluto Nash was a bad idea
You picked Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs as one of your favorite films. I imagine that made it interesting to then work on Death Proof.
Rosario Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. When we did the round table shoot [a dialogue-heavy scene in Death Proof filmed entirely in one take], we’d been working on the lines for weeks and months with each other because that movie got pushed, and we always did that scene in one long [take], we always worked it all the way through. [Tarantino] had talked about how he wanted to shoot it, and it was going to be a Reservoir Dogs homage, and he was going to have the camera come around, and we were like, “Awesome!” And then we’re shooting, and he cut it in half. It was after my big speech; basically, it started getting into insert shots, and we were like, “Oh…” It felt really weird, actually, to do the scene and stop…It just felt really weird that he wanted to do a reveal on the gun and all this kinda stuff, and he was like, “It has to have inserts.” And we said, “Okay.” It just felt so odd, and I remember we shot a whole day of trying to get half the shot, and then he went and slept on it, woke up the next morning and goes, “You could have the scene all the way through. Let’s just shoot it all the way. I mean, it’s gonna be seven or eight minutes long, but let’s just shoot it all the way.” And the whole crew was down with us, and everybody, we just sat in our chairs, and they figured out how we’re gonna, you know, when the camera comes over here you lean forward so you get a good insert shot of her, and then it becomes a two-shot, and this and that. But it’s just one long take, and we were like, “F***in-A, this is better than Reservoir Dogs!”
Because that was the camera going around all over with cuts; there are no cuts in our scene, and I think we felt very proud of that. It felt good, especially because Reservoir Dogs literally is one of my most favorite films of all time. And he would make me do that whole “Like A Virgin” speech every once in a while. [Dawson begins to recite part of the speech.] I actually beat him, because he was like, “There’s only seven ‘dick’s in it,” and I was like, “No, there’s nine.” I have to count it. Yeah nine, there are nine “dick”s, and he was insistent that there were only seven, and he was like, “No, it’s ‘dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick.'” And I’m like, “No no no, it’s ‘dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick.'” I have that s***, like, memorized — the rhythm is embedded in my brain. I think I won five bucks off of him for that. It was pretty cool.
You’ve worked with some great directors over the years.
RD: Yeah — Kevin [Smith], Spike [Lee], Robert [Rodriguez]. Very lucky. Oliver [Stone] — I mean, it’s remarkable. Larry Clark, I mean, is so genius. I would love to work with Harmony Korine, because I think his directing is so incredible and I love his visual style and obviously his storytelling. But yeah, I’ve been really blessed, to work with such incredible people, and mostly because that’s how I started, you know? Kids was such a huge film; people are such big fans of it. It sparked the eye of Spike, then other people saw [me in his films]. For someone who never wanted to be an actor — it wasn’t a dream or possibility or idea — it’s kind of remarkable to look at my career now.
Mark Webber, I think, did a great job on this film — a first time director. It’s definitely one of the most powerful films that I feel like I’ve ever done, and I’m in two scenes in it, but it’s one of my favorite films that I’ve ever done. Luckily — because of Larry, because of Harmony, because of Kids — I feel like I can sit down and talk to someone who goes, “I’ve never held a camera before in my life, but I’ve got a story I want to tell and I want you to tell it with me,” and I’m down. And I feel very lucky that, even with the more established directors that I’ve worked with, that I’ve also had an amazing opportunity to work with some of these really great directors as they’re just starting their careers.
You seem to really be able to successfully balance working on big budget productions as well as the smaller indie films, made by first-time directors. The dichotomy of that has got to be fun.
RD: Oh yeah, it’s remarkable. I think it’s a great balance and it’s powerful for me. I mean, you’ve got, I think it’s on Rotten Tomatoes — or maybe it’s AskMen, but I think it’s on Rotten Tomatoes — where you guys are talking about, like, you know, if Pluto Nash didn’t kill our careers, then nothing will. [Laughs] “She’s here to stay.” And you know, I roll with those punches. I get that. They’re all different moments in my career.
Well nobody thinks they’re making a bad movie at the time.
RD: I knew. We knew we were making a bad movie. On that one there was really no doubt about it. I read that script and I threw it in the garbage. It’s called, “I was nineteen years old, and I needed to get off my couch, man.” It was an awesome experience. I mean, at the same time, it’s like, it was Eddie Murphy, Pam Grier, Randy Quaid, Joey Pantoliano, Ileana Douglas…Yo, that was an amazing experience. We had a ball doing that project; there just was not a good movie to show for it, you know? Sometimes it’s the exact opposite; you work with people you hate, and then the movie’s great, and you gotta talk about it all happily, when it’s like, “Actually, I hated working on that movie.” But this one was one that was really great; I just count myself really lucky for the good ones and the bad ones that have gotten me here, because I’m gonna be 30 this year and I’m feeling really reflective, and I feel pretty good.
See Rosario Dawson in Mark Webber’s Explicit Ills, in limited release now. For more Five Favorites, check out our archive.