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'Gimme Shelter': Rosario Dawson is an abusive drug-addict mom to Vanessa Hudgens

On Jan. 21, at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, Examiner Dorri Olds met with Rosario Dawson to talk about her new movie, “Gimme Shelter,” which opened in New York City on Friday, Jan. 24.

Rosario Dawson grew up in a tough neighborhood surrounded by crack and heroin addicts. It was painful for her to play the role of June Bailey
Rosario Dawson grew up in a tough neighborhood surrounded by crack and heroin addicts. It was painful for her to play the role of June Bailey
Dorri Olds

Dawson plays June Bailey, an out of control drug addict who abuses her daughter Agnes "Apple" Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) in the movie "Gimme Shelter." Both actresses do a phenomenal job playing these tough characters and both look almost unrecognizable.

Dawson’s smooth skin glowed under only a touch of makeup. She looked nothing like her frightening character. She seemed energized and eager to talk about the film and her own background.

Dorri Olds: How did you feel about playing June Bailey?

Rosario Dawson: I knew how upsetting this role would be. I was personally affected by heroin and crack addictions. I’m a ’79 baby, so I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s crack epidemic that scoured my neighborhood and riddled my landscape. I was raised by a teenage mom and saw family members struggle with addiction. I watched the damaging effects of that for many years. I know what addiction does to the children, spouse and career. Desperate people will do desperate things.

How did it feel giving up all vanity for this role?

It was trippy. The first day Vanessa and I saw each other we were both so relieved. Here she’d put so much weight on, cut all her hair off and really got into it, and there I was with this enamel on my teeth. We just looked at each other and went, “Oh, thank god.” I think it would’ve been terrible if only one of us was going for total transformation.

Was it hard to lose the character after the cameras went off?

Yes, incredibly so. It was weird. I’d never experienced that before. I was used to hanging out between filming, you know, waiting during set changes, but in this film nobody wanted to hang out and chat with me. It was isolating. I looked so bad they were all flinching.

Do you mean because of the brown teeth?

Yes, and with all of that enamel on I could hardly eat or drink anything so I couldn’t just lounge around the food table. I remember going home at night with all of the hair and makeup on because I’d be so bruised and battered, so tired. New Yorkers didn’t even flinch. I’d be in this nice vehicle and they just looked at me like this [rolls eyes]. No one cared at all. When I went home I thought my family would say, “Wow, what a transformation. You really did it.” But my brother was really upset. He said, “Take that off. I’m having a hard time looking at you.” My parents were so disturbed by it, too.

What do you think June’s internal life was like?

She really believed her circumstances defined her and she’s righteously indignant about her self-pity. That was really upsetting. It made me understand even deeper why you can’t just take someone who’s got a drug addiction and just put them in rehab. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t choose it for them. They have to choose it for themselves.

You can visit Rosario Dawson's website to read about her activism and volunteer work for charities and to learn about her Feb. 14, 2014 "One Billion Rising For Justice" project.

“Gimme Shelter” is now playing in New York City at AMC Loews Village 7 and Regal E-Walk Stadium 13. Drama. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.

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