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November 2004
Alexander: An Interview with Rosario Dawson

Alexander: An Interview with Rosario Dawson

By Todd Gilchrist

"Alexander" is Oliver Stone's first major film since 1999's "Any Given Sunday", and the filmmaker has made a return to the silver screen that befits not only that long wait but his stature as a powerhouse creative force in the industry. As such, he enlisted no less than some of Hollywood's best actors and actresses to flesh out the world of Alexander's reign, including Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, and Rosario Dawson. Dawson, whose last film was the action-adventure film "The Rundown", gives a star-making performance as Roxane, the wife of the great leader, and recently spoke to blackfilm.com about the process of working on an Oliver Stone film.

How hard did you have to fight to get this role in "Alexander"?

Rosario Dawson: The script was going around and I know they were looking for this role, and Jon Kilik had just come on as a producer and I had worked with him before on "He Got Game" and "25th Hour", and was sort of needling him to get me into the room with Oliver, and there was a whole certain thing of having a European quota of actors they had to hire, and the character had already been segued off to be one of Œthose' characters- one of the quota marks. I was going, well regardless I still want to get into the room because I love Oliver Stone. I want to make an impression on him and hopefully if it's not going to be for this movie it will be for something else. And by the end of it, he was calling me Roxane.

How difficult is it to invest yourself in a role so that you don't get swallowed by the enormity of the production?

RD: I've been lucky to work on quite a few ensemble projects and I think if you're going into it hoping to shine and have an ego about it, I think you're going to be hurt, because it's not going to fit into the movie harmoniously and it will probably be cut out and actually work against you. But if you're actually working for the story, then it's always going to work, and that's exactly what everybody did. We all did everything that we possibly could to service the story as best as possible, and ultimately that's exactly what Oliver did and why we're all so thrilled and surprised by the end result, because at the end of the day, even after ten years of working on the script and everything that we shot and did, he still tweaked it by the time we were watching it on film. It's really amazing- he took his ego out of it and made sure that regardless what he feels about Alexander and how great he thinks he is, he just gave you Alexander and let you make up your mind, not unlike a lot of historians have. He really is just like, I'm not going to make a historical film, I'm just going to make a cinematic movie about somebody who I think is a complex character and who actually existed in history and did so much in a very short period of time in his life that we're still talking about him- 4th Century B.C. to 2004, which is a remarkable thing- and what that must be.

How comfortable did you feel shooting the film's nude scenes?

RD: Well, it wasn't how it was originally. How it is now is not how it was originally, so even that, I have no idea where it would have gone had I been with another director. I mean, it probably would have been with a very different idea in mind. But we all worked and collaborated with each another to get to that point. I mean, it was sort of like a simple thing where she was in the background and she drop her [clothes] and they talk from across the room and that's it. And it ended up being something where now they're clashing physically and there's a knife and it's intense, and it's a very very different thing and that came from rehearsing quite a lot and going Œwhat's the best thing that we can do that sort of juxtaposes this relationship from all of the other ones and explain what their relationship and dynamic could have-must have-should have been like in the context of the rest of his life. And I thought it actually worked quite brilliantly, and so more looking at it now, sort of stepping back and going, Œwow, I'm naked,' but in the moment it didn't really feel like that, and it wasn't on the spur of the moment. It was very decided what it was going to be by the time we got there- maybe not me hitting him as much as I did and him getting a black eye- but we did think most of it out. ŒYou really want me to hit you, Colin? Sure, cocky boy.' It was really amazing, and it wouldn't have worked if we had done it any other way. I mean, during that time it's not like she would have been a shy, demure kind of woman. The context and the censorship that we look at it with now just didn't exist then and it worked really well, I think, to convey the spirit of her character, that she is so young and vulnerable and scared and completely not in a good position to have a fight with him or with anyone. She should have been a handmaiden who just said Œyes,' but she didn't, and that's a very powerful position to have and character to play, especially with someone who must have been probably about fifteen years old. It's just really incredible to play someone who continues to have that spirit all of the way throughout their marriage over the next few years, regardless of the fact that she doesn't give him an heir. Because she didn't have the leverage Olympia had and she still kept that spirit, which is brilliant.

You said that Roxane was historically supposed to have been only fifteen?

RD: Probably. I mean, that's not how we played it obviously, but I mean most likely during that time and era that's probably around the age she probably would have been.

How did you generate your accent, since the rest of the cast all had different ones?

RD: Katherine really kind of helped with that. I mean, where we kind of placed Bactria now would be where Afghanistan or in accent, East Iranian, so it was much more, it was a very middle-eastern kind of thing. We were really just sort of playing with making it different from everybody's accent. I think ultimately it was also creating an accent that did not maybe ever exist or maybe existed but we couldn't really place it. It's not one that we could kind of get tape on or something like that or talk to anybody for, so she kind of just created something that would make her seem foreign and place her in some place different than some of the other Persians you met because even though they all were considered Persians, they all came from different, very distant lands. Persia was like a huge continent of land that took in a lot of different cultures, and just as we did the same thing with Olympias and Olympias probably technically would be from the Greek islands now. But just as the Greeks had more of an English sound, it was better to play on the fact that she was so different and foreign and that's how people treated her. It was very much in a sense of moving the story along than being historical, and that's the main point of this: this is not a biopic epic or some historical piece, which I think a lot of people, it might turn them off of the idea of seeing something like that because it could be very boring and fussy. This is definitely a dynamic, complicated expression, cinematic version of a man who actually existed and what it could have been like to have been him during that time.

How much is known about Roxane from a historical point of view?

RD: Very little. There's very little [background] about her. We know more about Begolas than we know about her, and what little we do know is highly contentious about whether or not she was someone who was the love of his life or was someone who he just married because he'd already had his good standing in the area and it was a political move, or because he really just wanted an heir and suddenly got impatient to have one, all of which besides there being a strong emotional dynamic seems very unlikely. I mean, he just overthrew the Persian empire- he doesn't exactly need Oxyardies' help, and he kind of went several years into his campaign of warring without securing an heir, and he didn't secure one that was Macedonian or Greek, which really upset a lot of his companions. He married this woman, and it was a very strange thing in part of his history and Oliver's sort of expression of what that must have been like was because of her spirit and sort of the Oedipal complex that came out because she reminded him of his mother.

How selective are you in the roles you choose?

RD: I think I'm fairly disciplined with that; not always- I think there's a couple of things that I probably did not for the same reasons I did most of them for, but especially in the last few years, everything that I've done has really come from a place, and I know a lot of that came because I started off in this industry in a way where it wasn't with the idea of wanting to be an actor. It was sort of like something I was doing until I really figured out if that's what I wanted to do. I'd been discovered for my first role, but especially over the last few years, I've really been wanting to tell great stories, and I've been able to work with people like Spike [Lee] and Oliver who made that a possibility and working with them more than once and that's been really brilliant and it's great. It's really inspired me; I might be co-directing something soon- I can't say what it is yet- and I'm going to be producing something next year possibly, and I just did Sin City with Robert Rodriguez and I'm going to start Rent with Chris Columbus soon.

Who do you play in "Rent"?

RD: Mimi. I had to do a lot of singing and dancing just to get the role. It was fantastic. That's great. It's like it's funny because that's what I would have wanted to do more when I was little, sing and dance, than anything else, and it's great to be able to do that now.

Does Oliver present the same challenge to you as an actress as Spike Lee?

RD: Oliver is the same way but different because he worked on this for so many years and still ended up keeping it so fresh and interesting and it's something that I appreciate in both of them- their passion and their ability to kind of keep challenging themselves to go beyond. It's been great to be able to go from one to the other and be able to compare the two and be able to grow with them. I want to be able to work with that all of the time. Oliver has a reputation as quite a taskmaster.

RD: Yeah, he can be demanding, and I'm lucky I didn't have to go through boot camp and do all of that stuff because I would have been doing it just as strongly as all of the guys were and on top of that still doing pages and pages of monologues of dialogue. It was a very trying six day week, sixteen to eighteen hour day shoot for six months and it was intense. In the middle of Morocco and Thailand and in London it was amazing, and it demanded a lot of everybody. If there were people coming in there with ego, it wasn't going to work.

How is Sin City a different kind of epic than Alexander?

RD: Because the scale of it was [inversely] proportionate, in the sense of complete opposites. It's like on this we were actually in Morocco looking out at these mountains and there are elephants and camels and all of these other things, and then you go to Sin City and it's like [condensed]. You're all in this tiny little room and all of this amazing stuff is going to come out of it, and everything was shot in there. If you were doing a shot that's over the shoulder from over here, we had to turn around, not the cameras, in order to get the other shot over the shoulder. And it was such a totally different way of shooting and working, but still the implicit trust that you have to have in your director that it's going to work out in the end whether it's skittish animals or one prop and an outfit and going, Œwhere the hell is everything else?' It was really amazing and they both have created something for themselves. Like, Oliver, because of the career he has, and how difficult it was for him to get- when finally did get the money, he had so much control making it what he wanted to, and the same thing with Robert. He's almost created his own studio in Austin, which is like unheard of, and here he is making this big movie and doing it all in his little room.

Is Robert trying to prove he can do Hollywood epics on a budget?

RD: Exactly.

What kind of character do you play in Sin City?

RD: In Sin City I play this character named Gail who used to be a prostitute and walks around in a sort of like leather string to blend in (laughs). I have hand cuffs on my hip and a machete and I have a machine gun in my hand, and I sent pictures back to my mom and I look like and s & m superhero. And she was like, ŒOh my God, Rosario? What's your superhero name?' and I said ŒGail.' It's really an impressive, impressive [project]. It's Robert Rodriguez. And that comes out April 1st.

Why did you choose to co-direct a film as opposed to helming it yourself?

RD: It's a project that was put together for myself and two other actresses, so we're going to see how that works out- you know, three actresses and crazy schedules and things like that, and I just got Rent, so I really want to be able to do it but we're hoping to make sure the schedules will work out because it's a lot of dancing and singing.

Did you previously have ambitions to direct?

RD: Not one that I was thinking of doing right now. I was thinking of further down the line but it's something that came up and I'm very excited about the possibility of doing it. It's great to be able to do it in the comfort with some other directors and be able to collaborate on it.

When do you start rehearsals on "Rent"?

RD: December. Pretty much all of the original cast- Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Taye Diggs, Idina Mendel- they're all back. It's just myself and Angel, I think, who are going to be recast.

Is it intimidating to enter a project with so many stage cast members?

RD: No, it's really exciting. I feel like it's really precious, you know when Jonathan Larson wrote it and posthumously got a Pulitzer Prize for it, it's a really incredible show, it's been running for eight years, and everybody who's in it has done it since has had to mimic what the original cast did because all of the choreography is from those characters. That's been a big difficulty you could see from the different actors coming in, and I get to reinterpret it and that's what they said- I can come in maybe based on what I want to do, which is really amazing. It's one of the first changes made since the original.

Where are you shooting that?

RD: It's going to be in New York and San Francisco.

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