The actress who broke out in Larry Clarks’ "Kids" back in 1995, had "Gimme Shelter" open this year and has a new film now available to view on demand, Diego Luna’s sophomore effort behind the camera, "Cesar Chavez." On top of these two releases, Dawson has four more features scheduled to open before the year’s end: the long gestating sequel to "Sin City," Atom Egoyan’s new thriller "The Captive," Mark Webber’s indie "The Ever After," and "Parts Per Billion," which she also produced.
Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. This interview was originally published in March, 2014.]
In "Cesar Chavez," Dawson plays real-life figure Dolores Huerta, a labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association with the titular subject of Luna’s biopic. For Dawson, the project is a unique one — the actress was already close with the person she portrays before taking on the project. As Chairwoman for the nonpartisan organization Voto Latino, that encourages Latino youth to vote, Dawson had met Huerta several times prior to shooting "Cesar Chavez."
Indiewire sat down with the actress in New York to discuss the film, and why she’s taking some time off.
It’s not common that an actor is asked to embody someone they have a pre-existing relationship with. How did you use your relationship to inform your process?
It was interesting. Diego also had access to her whole family so the script kept changing as we were filming. So much information was coming in. That’s a very different process that I’m used to. I’m used to more artistic license. We had the person right there, so I would sometimes call her up asking how things went.
Dolores has seen the whole movie and she gets the process. She’s very savvy on the entire process. She likes it and she’s been promoting it.
You back a number of charities on top of your work with Voto Latino. A number of your films, including "Cesar" and "Gimme Shelter," are topical. How important is that to you?
"Gimme Shelter" was pretty strong around teenage pregnancy and organizational work. Doing things like "Rent" and talking about housing issues… Everything from homelessness to LGBTQ issues and struggling artists, to HIV aids and drug addiction, is really just amazing to be a part of. "Kids" was a part of that — the very first film I did. That’s why my parents even let me do the movie. If it was just my behavior, they would have probably been, "That’s not alright."
Yeah, it’s not "Spring Breakers."
I don’t know if my parents would have let me do "Spring Breakers," which is funny. But it’s an interesting sort of thing. I remember doing "Josie and the Pussycats" and I wasn’t really thinking about it. I’d have mothers come up to me and be like, "This is the first brown doll I can give my daughter, so thank you." That film has a ton of messages. I think that movie was ahead of its time [laughs]. When I get the opportunity to do something like that, I love it. I love also doing movies strictly for the entertainment value. I love storytelling. But when something like this comes up, it’s a perfect storm.
Speaking of entertainment value, I had a great time watching Danny Boyle’s "Trance," which came out last year and, in my mind, afforded you your strongest role to date. Have you noticed a change in how directors and casting directors see you since that film?
That was really intense. That came out last year, and yeah since then I’ve been working. I think the last thing I shot was over the summer. I stepped out of two films I was supposed to do in the fall, just ’cause I felt like I was going, going, going. I think it’s really important to take in. I have so many things coming out and I’m almost never able to support the films I’m doing, ’cause I’m always working.
I was filming "Rent" when "Sin City" went to Cannes, and I couldn’t go. I was like, "Oh my god, this is a good problem to have — but it’s ridiculous." Right after I did "Trance," I ended up doing this Atom Egoyan film. I just finished shooting this film over the summer with Chris Rock, so I’ve got a bunch of films coming out.
I don’t know… I’ve kind of been taking time off. I know we’re supposed to be doing "Clerks 3" soon, and Spike [Lee] wants to do a sequel to "He Got Game," which all sounds awesome.
I’ve got several things coming out this year, and I’ve been thinking about moving back to New York. I live between LA and London now. I still have my 917. I’m a true New Yorker. God forbid I’d have to get a 646 or 347… I’d hurt somebody. So it’s been really good actually taking time off work. This summer makes 20 years for me filming. I felt really burnt out in the fall. I was feeling really fried. I think it’s been good. I joined the Academy this year. I got to vote. I’m watching movies! I’m reading books! I needed to recharge my batteries. I can’t spend my life telling other people’s stories, I’ve got to live my own.
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