Dawson has had quite a career since she was discovered on her stoop outside her New York City apartment building when she was 15 years old.
To this day, Dawson believes her career in film has been a gift. Her first movie role was in the cult smash Kids. It was that performance that led Spike Lee to cast her in his basketball drama, He Got Game, opposite Denzel Washington.
She is reteaming with Washington, although her character, Connie, and Washington only share one scene together in Unstoppable. But it is her desire to work with Tony Scott that has landed her in the driver’s seat as the control woman trying to stop the Unstoppable runaway train before it causes the worst disaster in Pennsylvania history.
Rosario Dawson dishes
SheKnows: Your Unstoppable costar, Denzel Washington, has worked with director Tony Scott five times now. How did you find the famed director?
Rosario Dawson: Amazing. Every day I was so excited to go to work. He is just delicious and I wanted to do dances around him, I was so happy to be working with him. He’s so much fun, he’s so much energy. He’d come in every morning at 5 or 6, he always had his pastel hat on [laughs] and just made everyone feel important and loved. This is high stakes, huge crew, the biggest diva in the planet on this train and how difficult it was to maneuver and make it work. For all these things, it was a really hard process for Tony — he said it was the most difficult film he ever shot — which is saying a lot. Yet, he always had that huge smile on his face.
SheKnows: What do you think is his secret?
Rosario Dawson: His intimacy on set, his collaborate way of working. It was baffling to me how incredible he was. It was this incredibly insane shoot and he was just on top of everything. He was just so thoughtful. He got into the little details like putting my hair up in this scene and down in another. He saw it as a means of expressing frustration. That scene in the bathroom where my character is staring into the mirror, that was the ultimate moment of frustration and he nailed it, my character would stare at the mirror and put her hair up. Little things like that, everyone was so calculated. I’ve never had that from a director with those types of minutia. It’s clearly how he works with Denzel Washington and why he keeps coming back.
SheKnows: Sounds like it was inspiring for you.
Rosario Dawson: Totally, there is no excuse for a director now, for me, to be a jerk. You hear about that all the time, it’s just this accepted thing. He does, and has been doing it for years, and still finds time to satisfy my cravings to know about what it was like for him to work with David Bowie on The Hunger. Just like the most delicious stories, he’s just phenomenal.
Rosario Dawson talks Tony
SheKnows: It is his direction that makes the last scene in Unstoppable work. When you finally meet Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, after spending the entire movie on the radio with them from a control room, it really felt like you three were old friends — even though you were just meeting. Did you notice anything in particular while you were filming your scenes with Tony’s direction that would lead you to that moment?
Rosario Dawson: We talked about it. It’s that movie script speak. It’s just one of those things, it’s not the point of the film, when the whole point of the film is establishing all these different types of people. There’s the people who make a situation better, there’s the people who make a situation worse and there’s people who walk into a situation and it was like they were never there. You know [laughs], I always use that analogy to describe people and toilets. Some people leave them cleaner, some people just leave it…I leave it cleaner [laughs]. On the film, my character thought, “I might get fired.” But that’s not the point, this train is going into populated areas and we need to take action. Just in case you don’t understand, this train is like a missile the size of the Chrysler Building. In those scenes, we wanted to make that really present because job security is a huge theme in this movie as well. It’s interesting to see all the different layers going on and Tony takes the time to create that in action films, it is just amazing. Particularly in this one, it is a simple film really. It is amazing how attached the audience becomes to everybody. I think that’s what it is, when you finally see these three get together, you start to see they’re really not that different after all. That’s beautiful. There’s a mutual respect. If we all did our thing right, it would all work out.
SheKnows: He’s also quite the actor’s director, don’t you think?
Rosario Dawson: It’s brilliant the way Tony shoots with multiple cameras all the time capturing every little beat. As calculated as every beat is, we really beat those things in and with all those cameras rolling, everything gets caught. That is not always the case. That’s the genius of what Tony does, to capture the freshness.
Unstoppable as female inspiration
SheKnows: Do you think your character can be thought of as an inspiration to women? She, in the railroad business, is clearly in a man’s world all by herself.
Rosario Dawson: She’s very inspirational to me. She’s not a bitchy, cliche, bossy woman, whatever people would call that type of woman in a man’s world. We wanted to show her as a capable, sensible human being who doesn’t have to go out of her way to prove they know what they’re talking about. She already holds the title of a person who should know what they’re talking about. She didn’t get the title of Yardmaster because she was cute. If anything, that would go against her. Tony cares about character development and it is almost, if not more important, than the action in the action movie. It’s amazing for me to see that all the work we did was not in vain. Back to your question, what I hope girls get from it was to take you away from the idea that she was a woman in a man’s world. So, by the end of the film, you are simply thinking, “Boy, I’m glad that person was in that position at that time.” That was the right person, period. As an actress, I don’t always get to play a character who is not someone’s girlfriend. To not be defined by anything besides her character, it was one of the things that drew me to the project. From the women who have already seen it, they really, really like Connie.
Rosario Dawson: How it all started
SheKnows: I wanted to finish with how you got started in this business. It’s kind of a right person at the right time moment as well, much like Connie in Unstoppable.
Rosario Dawson: I was discovered on my stoop when I was fifteen. Sixteen years later, I’m still acting. I deferred college and never ended up going. It was not something that was obvious, especially from where I came from. I kept constantly waiting to have to get a real job [laughs]. It never did, and that is really amazing. I was really insecure about that for so many years. I couldn’t call myself an actor for a long time. I just thought I was lucky. There are other people who are trained at Juilliard and have been doing it since they were three, I can’t compete with that. I’m not even going to bother. It’s interesting to me all these years later to still be doing it. Not only am I able to say, “I’m an actress,” but also to strive to be a better one. It has been an amazing journey.