Rosario Dawson on playing a crack addict in ‘Gimme Shelter’

"Gimme Shelter" - Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals
Rosario Dawson plays Vanessa Hudgens’ fallen mother in “Gimme Shelter.”
Credit: Getty Images

Rosario Dawson isn’t afraid to get gritty for the right role, as she proves in “Gimme Shelter” as June, an unrepentant crack addict and mother to pregnant teen Apple (Vanessa Hudgens). Growing up on the Lower East Side as the daughter of a teen mom, the star of “25th Hour,” “Death Proof” and “Unstoppable” was uniquely drawn to the material.

What do you think happens to your character, June, after this film ends?
That’s a big question mark, and the reality is that there are a lot of people who are not going to get it in this lifetime, so she could very easily continue, she could make choices right in that moment that make her life that much shorter. She has a very strong addiction, she’s got really big issues, she’s in a really bad crowd. There’s so many things that are big question marks on her. I can relate to June. As ugly as that is, I can relate to denial, I can relate to lack of responsibility and lack of self-respect and self-loathing. I can relate to that to some degree. That’s how far it can go.

How exactly did you do that, embodying such a distinct personality?

Well, I did a lot of crack. [Laughs] Method, super method. No, you know, my mom was a teenage mom, but I had a really close family, the exact opposite of this. I never got into that level of putting myself in that person’s shoes to that degree before. It was ugly. It was really disturbing, it was really harsh, it physically manifested in a really uncomfortable way. I was grimacing for 24 hours afterwards every time I did this. It was just harsh. But again, it was so compelling. And even on the most basic level as an actor, it’s so great to be 20 years into your career and still be able to challenge yourself in that way. It was incredible.

It’s crazy that your debut in “Kids” was almost 20 years ago.
I got discovered at the age of 15. I would get all the time from girls in the community, “Oh my God, you’re so lucky, you got discovered here.” What am I supposed to tell those girls? “Oh, you too can have a great life. Just sit out on your stoop and maybe you too will get discovered!” It’s ridiculous.

Speaking of that community, you do a lot of work of the Lower East Side Girls Club, which has been doing very well lately.
We now have 30,000 square feet of awesomeness, which is what I like to call it. I don’t know if you all realize, but there’s a planetarium on Avenue D. You can’t even see stars there, but now you can go inside the building and see stars. To have them go from being in the backs of churches and in basements and offices, all the different places the Lower East Side Girls Club has existed, to then say, “Oh yeah, we’re going to build 30,000 square feet of awesomeness” — I was helping them raise the money and even I was like, “Come on, guys. That’s just silly.” And now it exists, and it’s so powerful. It really makes me believe in the profound.


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