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Rosario Dawson hypnotizes in her role as a therapist in 'Trance'

Rosario Dawson
Rosario Dawson
Fox Searchlight Pictures

In the psychological thriller “Trance,” Simon (played by James McAvoy), an auctioneer of fine art, teams up with a criminal gang to steal a Goya painting worth millions of dollars, but after suffering a blow to the head during the heist he awakens to discover he has no memory of where he hid the painting. When physical threats and torture fail to produce answers, the gang’s leader Frank (played by Vincent Cassel) hires hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (played by Rosario Dawson) to delve into the darkest recesses of Simon’s psyche.

Rosario Dawson at the London premiere of "Trance"
Getty Images

As Elizabeth begins to unravel Simon’s broken subconscious, the lines between truth, suggestion, and deceit begin to blur. “Trance” was directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, who ended up dating Dawson for a period of time. Their romantic relationship ended by the time the movie was released in 2013. Here is what Dawson said during an in interview at the Los Angeles press junket for “Trance.”

How do you describe your character in “Trance” without giving away any spoilers?

I know. I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe you can help me. It’s a complex and smart and awesome film. I think it’s enjoyable for all types of people. If you want a great fun and action and heists and a thriller kind of experience, then you can get that on the basest of levels. But if you appreciate art and you’ll see the imagery that Danny [Boyle] and the whole crew really worked on to put in there. There’s different illusions to different famous photographs and things that he always kept in his mind, like those Easter eggs that are all kind of through it, so if you do watch it again and know the ending and you watch it multiple times, you’ll still see there’s a richness to it that will give you more and more layers and depth to kind of go through — and that just was amazing.

So as a character in this who is incredibly dynamic and strong and holds her own with these men who are incredibly dangerous and very risky situations. And she does it without going to the obvious cliché femme fatale of using her sexuality and her wiles in order to ingratiate herself, but actually uses her wit and her cleverness and her tenacity and her audacity to put herself and step forward into these situations just made it something incredibly compelling to be a part of. And I hope people go and watch it because I think people are struck by that.

The movie changes quite a lot and it’s not so much that it’s work to watch, but that it complements the audience member to go, you can follow this, now go ahead and try and guess what’s going to happen next. And that’s really exciting because you don’t see that very often. I feel like I’m always cute in a movie with a song or something to tell me how I’m supposed to feel or think, and this one doesn’t do that.

You can sit there and just enjoy it and watch it, but it’s almost impossible to do that and not go, “Wait, I think I know where … Wait, what is this detail, what is this clue, and it’s a puzzle that the characters themselves are trying to put together.” And I hope it’s one that people will enjoy wanting to put together in the audience.

What can you say about Elizabeth being the a catalyst for a lot of what happens in “Trance”?

I think you can see it in the script to a certain degree that this is a film with a woman at the center of it. But it’s definitely a boy’s film at the same time, so I think that’s what’s actually kind of great with it is there are a lot of misleads all throughout it. And even for myself, the expectation that I had about how challenging it would be to shoot it and keep all the balls in the air, which wasn’t really the case.

Instead, it ended up being more nerve-racking of going, “Wow, she’s so forthright, so dynamic, and in everyone’s face, like as if giving too much away actually.” And all of the situations with everyone in it, everyone’s keeping their cards close to their chests, but they’re really stepping forward into every situation. There’s no hesitancy, there’s really almost no time to think, it seems.

I don’t know. I really like that. I discovered her courage throughout shooting it, because I was aware of how it was alarming and arrogant, I thought, for her to go into these situations, thinking she could handle it. But actually, I really saw it was just true courage and bravery of going, “I have odds I need to beat and I’m going to rely on no one else but myself to do so.” And that’s potentially really stupid because it’s very risky, but she’s a really smart woman and she was willing to take on that risk.

And that’s where I discovered it more was actually in shooting it and going, wow, I’m actually in a situation where my gut instinct reaction would be to step back and think, “Wait a second.” And in every scene, I found myself going and stepping forward into it.

And as much as I worked on and read it, it’s a whole other thing when you’re actually sitting in the scene and doing this conversation, and you’re in a den of wolves. She’s just surrounded by these men, these gangsters, who are very violent, talking about violence, and no one knows she’s there, and it’s just those types of moments where you start to recognize a level of her depth that maybe I couldn’t totally appreciate when I was trying to just learn all her lines and trying to be as cool and calm and sophisticated as she was, and really see underneath she must be panicking and how incredible that is. Her composure was amazing to me.

Vincent Cassel said on his bucket list, he has three actresses he wanted to work with before he dies, and you were No. 1 on the list. What do you think about that?

[She laughs.] No way! He would never say that to me. I dig it. Good looking out, thank you.

How do you make the decisions about the roles you’re going to take?

It can feel a bit arbitrary in a sense, because it depends on what’s actually being developed. I can put out a wish list of the things I’d like to be doing, but if no one’s writing those scripts or green-lighting those films, that can be very difficult. So it’s about seeing what the lay of the land is.

I’m constantly changing all the time and I don’t feel like I’m in the same space of being experimental anymore, so I’m liking getting deeper into certain things and certain genres and spaces, but I don’t know. I’m not making the choice as much anymore going, “I’d like to shoot over there or work with that person or just be working during those months.” It’s definitely a lot more specific and I’ve had a really great time of it working with incredible directors and actors on really beautiful material. But it’s about saying, “OK, have I really shown that aspect to myself?”

There’s a film I just shot [“Gimme Shelter”]. I play a crack mom to Vanessa Hudgens and it was a really dark place to go to. And I’m really glad that I went there; it was an interesting challenge. I thought it just was going to be a cameo and then the part grew, which was great.

But when I was done shooting it, I realized I had been frowning for over 24 hours. It just made this grimace. And I really did not agree with who she was or her logic or her anything. I was in total fight mode against this woman that I was portraying and trying to do it from her space of being honest in that this is truly what she believed, and it was really hard.

And so, right now, I can tell you I probably won’t be doing another film in that kind of arena or world for a little while, because it really was so intense. I need those wounds to heal a little bit before I go there again. So sometimes, stuff like that will happen where I’ll just go, “I need to do something lighter” or “I need to do something else.”

I want to produce more now, I need to step back a little bit, and it not be about what I’m physically doing all the time. Like how can I use some of the other capacities and things that I’ve learned over being in this industry for so long and the people that I’ve met and the resources that I’ve built that I can go, “I can make stories happen that no one’s writing that I would really like to see.”

And it’s not because I would need to be in them, but just because I’m a storyteller and I want them to exist for people. And it’s driving me crazy that no one’s getting around to it! So it’s been a couple of years now, so let me actually just do it myself.

What stories would you like to produce?

A lot of them have historical aspects to them and they have quite often women at the center of the story, because I just don’t feel like I’m seeing enough of them, and it’s just a little boring. I love watching movies. I love all types of movies. I grew up watching “Conan [the Barbarian]”, so it’s not to say that the full spectrum that women and girls aren’t interested.

But it’s shocking to me that they’re so little of them for us to go around. There’s some really talented actresses in Hollywood that I’d love to see stretch, so it’s about looking at stuff like that and going, “OK, how can I develop something that I would want to watch that I’m not able to see now.”

“Trance” is your most complex role since you played a rape survivor in 2007’s “Descent.” What surprised you the most about your role in “Trance”?

What I was just surprised at is this is one of the first times for Danny really doing a film with a woman at the center of it and in this way. And I was just really excited about the idea that this was something that had been in the works for a long time and this was a passion project that was really well-thought out.

When it’s a film like this where you need to follow the logic very clearly, it’s great when it’s not something new for people, that the people that the maestros have the hand are people who have been thinking about it thoroughly for a very long time and really trying to make it work. It’s exciting watching the movie now and going, “This is what you’ve had in your head all these years. I can imagine why you’ve been pushing to make this film happen.” And that’s really inspiring.

“Descent” was very helpful going into this film. I’m glad I did a film like that that pushed me, and I did it sort of without pressure of it being some big studio film. It was something that was smaller and that was a passion project. I was really lucky to have done something like “25th Hour,” which was also a woman who you had to see as being possibly a suspect or about the end of it when you watch it and go, if I watched this movie again, would I believe she was absolutely in love with him the whole time, now that I know that information.

I think that was a really good lesson in that type of portrayal and it really helped me on this of going, I’m not going to play someone who’s being manipulative in the corner and rubbing her mustache and going [she laughs devilishly]. It doesn’t look like that, actually.

It’s going to be a lot more of something, even if she is very boldface lying, saying it with the straightest face possible, because this is not the group of people you show any weakness with. And so, it was really interesting to go, “OK, I’m playing multiple characters in a scene, who she is, who she is trying to portray herself to be, who they think she is, and where the audience is.” That was a really great challenge and I could recognize a lot of those elements and work really hard on them because I’d had such great experiences before with really talented people who made me up my game over the years to prepare me for something like this.”

Why aren’t we see more women in lead roles in movies?

Financing comes really strongly into it and what people are willing to put money behind is very telling. I think status quo is a very difficult thing to shift. We’re seeing for the first time a woman getting an Oscar directing. That is all very recent history. It’s not something to complain about. It’s a reality and it’s what’s been going on for a long time.
We’ve had total ups and downs where race wasn’t an issue and Grace Jones was in major huge movies or where it was all about women in shoulder pads and the femme fatale films, like those were all women. Those were strong, incredible characters, so it’s not to say that Hollywood hasn’t gone and done that. We’re just not seeing them very much lately.

They’re starting to come out, and that’s why you’re able to see someone like Jessica Chastain just be able to just dazzle us with how remarkable she is because those parts are starting to come out. And so, it’s not so much complaining about it, but I want to be on that right side of history and be one of those people who’s helping that process along, because there are a lot of people who are.

Do you think video on demand and Web series are increasing the diversity of roles for actresses?

Absolutely. I executive produced a Webisodic a couple of years ago called Gemini Division. We did 50 Webisodes and that was before people were able to figure out how to make money on Webisodics, so it was a small, awesome thing, but a small thing, but it was one of the first of its kind and I remember doing a lot of press and talking about it and people were like, “This is interesting. Do you think there is a space?” And I said, “Absolutely.”

And now we’re really starting to see it grow exponentially in a whole other way, and you could only imagine when people were making made-for-TV films thinking that was never going to fly, because they had to have big movie stars and had to have a big opening. But then people were really into their televisions. And it’s about technology taking us to new places, so I’m extremely excited about that and the different types and spaces that are being created where content is needed.

And that’s really where it ends up happening, when there’s a demand, the supply always comes to meet it. And so if you build it, they will come. And now the spaces are being built, and there’s a lot of us who are going, “We will come!” And it’s very exciting actually to see that happening.

Even Robert Rodriguez is starting his own channel, and that’s something. For him, he’s baffled by the fact that I’m going, “Why aren’t there more of me? I just figured that with the success and all of the things that I’ve done, that there are a ton of Robert Rodriguezes out there who are just like me who want to come out and do their thing and is going, ‘They need a space to do it.’”

Would you consider using Kickstarter to raise funds for projects that you want to do?

When I start going into financing, maybe. I’m a huge Amanda Palmer fan. I love her Ted Talk. I love what she’s saying. Even Kristen Bell can go, “I just want to make this project happen and I’m going to leave it to the fans and either you support it and make it happen. I’m going to hope you buy a ticket to see it anyway, so if you get it in advance, then we can have a product that we all can get something out of. It’s a mutual exchange.”
I think it’s a really interesting thing. That’s where we are right now historically where there are a lot of naysayers who are going, “How dare someone who is in on that sort of level be asking to have that kind of connection with their fans?”

And that’s because they’re changing the system. They’re not going through middlemen anymore and that’s where we are right now and it’s going to make a lot of people unhappy and upset and it’s going to make a lot of other people have an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise had. And that’s where Net Neutrality becomes a huge conversation and becomes incredibly necessary because it gives people access.

So there’s just so much that’s happening right now and I find it actually incredibly fascinating. I’m really inspired by it and I’m not averse to asking and going, “Hey, let’s do this together,” because that’s how it really started for me and I don’t see why it should necessarily change. It should stay with the fans.

What do you think about giving Kickstarter contributors a prepaid ticket as an incentive for donating?

Well, whatever it is. If there’s exchange and it says, “If you back me for this and this is what you get for it and people are OK with that,” it’s not about what I think if they should. If you were willing to part with your $5 for a photo or a hug or a kiss or a beer or whatever is the sweet thing that’s being the carrot, then sweet. I think that’s the interesting part in recognizing and being more trusting and more open and recognizing that there are people out there that are really supportive.

And so the idea that other people aren’t getting help, like the Steve Jobs of the world weren’t getting money from the bank or other people lending and asking for help, or only studios can now go to Comic-Con and exploit people’s desire to have all the new goodies and make them pay top dollar for it and still a trickle of that go back to the artist that it actually represents, like why do that and feel it’s your only way of making it, so if you really think about people going, “Well, this is terrible.” People are either poaching music online or that the music industry is hurting right now because they’re not able to make enough money to pay the artist.

Well, for years, you sign with the label, you pretty much didn’t see any money off of any of your album sales. The only money you made was when you were on the road, so who is stealing then? I’m not really sure.

Didn’t we just see the Rodriguez documentary [“Searching for Sugar Man”] where he was not getting any of his money, but he was a huge star in South Africa. So it’s going, if he was in an age or an era if someone could have texted him or tweeted him or, in some way, connected to him, he would have learned a long time ago that he had an audience that he thought he didn’t have.

And that’s where I think is an interesting thing now of going, “Something’s broken and it’s shifting.” And it’s not even shifting because the artist had so much control that they were able to do it first, it wasn’t them, it was the consumers who started changing it, and now everyone’s having to do around it.

Did you do any research on domestic violence before you did “Trance”?

Yes, but I also have, but that’s because I’m on the board of V-Day and have been for many years. My mom worked with a domestic violence organization in San Francisco called Womens Inc. when I was ten years old, so it’s been something that’s been a big part of my life for many, many years. I’ve been a spokesperson for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We were just participating in Billion Rising, which was amazing, on Valentine’s Day.
And so that’s, I think, another thing that’s really kind of crescendoing to a point where the demand is really there to start seeing different types of entertainment and different types of positions for women and just different types of stories. Not to say that they are not going to play women who are bad, women who are abused, women who are any of these different things, because they are real stories about real people, but we shouldn’t only feel like we can only watch prostitutes.

What do you think about Ohio senator Rob Portman, who changed his positions on gay marriage after his own son came out? Is it small steps?

It’s about both. Some people don’t care about any issues, they don’t vote, they don’t want to do anything, and they get cancer or someone close to them has some really bad thing that happens to them that makes them consider something that they hadn’t considered before, and now they start an organization, their whole life changes. It’s very difficult for some people to go over a prejudice, it especially when it’s learned behavior from their parents or whatever, it feels very intimate, it feels very personal, it feels factual. But then, your child comes out and says, “I’m gay and I’m no different than I was yesterday. And if you said you loved me before, you should still love me now.”

And what he’s doing right now is a remarkable thing because not every parent does it. Most of the kids that are on the streets right now is because they came out to their parents and their parents told them to leave. And that’s really crazy, the idea of like, “I loved you yesterday, but I don’t love you today” is outrageous.

In films like “Pariah” show it really well because I honestly could never understand it, I couldn’t. I’m a New Yorker, maybe I’m just very open in that sense, but I just could not understand it. And that film showed it, I think, very clearly how difficult it is for some people.

It’s like the computer glitch, it doesn’t compute. I don’t know how to feel about this because this is bad, but I love you and some people can’t handle it. So I think it’s something to honor when someone does step forward and go, “I’m willing to say I was wrong before and let’s make it better, because we need to recognize that that’s a good thing.”

Because unfortunately, what we do our media all the time is going, “Well, you’re a flip-flopper because yesterday, you thought this.” And it was like, “Well, I’m an adult now and I said that statement 20 years ago when I was in high school. And I think I have a chance to grow. And actually, we should be honoring and saying that’s a good thing that I’ve evolved and learned something, as opposed to just being, ‘I have to be rigid.” We’re not robots.

For more info: "Trance" website

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