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NY Culture
Rosario Dawson Switches It Up in 'Top Five'
From the Wall Street Journal of Wed, 24 Dec 2014 00:26:47 EST
Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson in ‘Top Five’
Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson in ‘Top Five’ Paramount/Everett Collection

Rosario Dawson has done a lot of things on-screen, from Broadway musical adaptations to Tarantino. Comedy, rarely.

The East Village native gives as good as she gets in “Top Five,” however, opposite its writer and director Chris Rock . She plays Chelsea Brown, a reporter assigned to profile Andre Allen (Mr. Rock), a standup comic anxious to ditch his reputation as the star of the brainless “Hammy the Bear” franchise.

But the historical epic he has made about the Haitian uprising is a bomb, and the interview takes unexpected turns as she charms and cajoles revelations from Andre about his chaotic life. Amid the snap and crackle, he turns the tables, and romance sparks.

“I picked her because she’s not only beautiful but really smart,” Mr. Rock said. “When you cast somebody as a writer, you have to cast a smart person, or it looks horrible. Being smart is a hard thing to fake.”

Ms. Dawson, 35 years old, spoke recently about working with Mr. Rock, how to get a laugh and what she gained from her bohemian childhood.

What made you decide to do a comedy?

I like switching it up. It keeps it more challenging and interesting for me. And this one was really fun. This one made me nervous.

What were you nervous about?

I feel like this character needs to be funny. I don’t know how to do that. Chris was like, “Don’t worry about it. We’ve got the funny sorted. There’s plenty of us to do the funny. We need you to bring the heart.” And, of course, there was a lot of funny that came out of it. You can tell a joke and make it funny, but there’s also different ways of telling it. You can milk the funny and make it even funnier. Like Chris with the double dutch and going back to it over and over again.

“Clerks II” was pretty raunchy, but you also have a provocative scene in “Top Five” that involves hot sauce and an act of revenge on Chelsea’s very naked boyfriend (Anders Holm). How did you all manage that one?

I can’t complain, because Anders was making it game. He was so game. But I hadn’t done any movie that prepares me for this feat. I felt myself being that silly actor [by asking]: What’s my motivation? Chris guaranteed me I would still have a career afterward.

Another thing you bring is a distinctive sense of style.

I shaved my head for “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” I convinced Chris to let me keep my half-head-shaved look, because I couldn’t imagine shooting walking around the streets of New York for an entire summer when it was Africa-hot wearing a wig. I’d be melting and miserable, and then it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, because I’m so much more of an optimist to Chris’s cynic. He was like, please, if that’s a deal breaker, believe me you can be bald.

You’ve known Chris since you were 19. How did you first meet?

I call it the “He Got Game” explosion. I did “Kids.” I got an agent. I finished up high school.

In my senior year, I auditioned for “He Got Game,” and I auditioned nine times. The movie came out a year later, and it was this big hip-hop film.

Suddenly, this opened [things] up and let people know I maybe actually had been acting in the first film. I was picked off the streets for “Kids,” and people thought I was that person I was portraying. I very much was not. I was a pre-calculus and calculus tutor. I was not that girl.

Spike gave me a meatier character to play. Suddenly, I became friends with Questlove. I became friends with Q-Tip. And I became friends with Chris. I got launched up a little bit. We’ve been friends ever since.

That rush of success has sent many a teenage discovery off the rails. But you’ve always seemed grounded.

I save that stuff for Burning Man [laughs]. I grew up in a very alternative hippie kind of way. My mom with her piercings and my cousins with their tattoos, and being mindful of my gender pronouns for my transgender friends and growing up in a whole mish-mosh of people, all living their lives on top of each other. As much as I was being successful, it wasn’t that striking. We all worked hard.

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