Rosario Dawson On ‘Gimme Shelter,’ Vanessa Hudgens, Making Herself Ugly For The Role [VIDEO EXCLUSIVE]
Rosario Dawson plays June Bailey, a drug addict and mother to Vanessa Hudgens’ character, Apple, in her new film Gimme Shelter. Dawson and Hudgens get into some serious physical altercations. “I went back, pretty much every day of filming — I’d go home with a lot of bruises just because when you’re hitting against things, you know, like I remember in the very first scene where I’m kind of attacking her through a phone booth and you’re trying to be careful not to break the glass and you’re hitting against the other side but it’s just a weird thing, you get really caught up in the motion and energy of it and even when you’re trying not to hit full force and trying to be gentle, it doesn’t matter, just doing it, take after take after take, after a while you’re just going to bruise.”
Well, I think having grown up in New York in the 80s and 90s during the crack epidemic. The landscape was quite full of people who were suffering from this addiction, so I had a very strong idea of what I should look like and how I should behave. It was really great to have a great team of people who really put it all together as extreme as it felt and looks and as accurate as it can actually be, especially with someone who's been dealing with this addiction for so long. So just really deteriorating the skin and the enamel on my teeth, which was basically like putting nail polish on my teeth and it was a whole process because I had to have my teeth be really dry and then paint it on and let that dry so you're kind of like [makes face] It was pretty full on, but it was great actually because Vanessa cut her hair and gained a lot of weight for the role and really kind of went full-in as well, and so I think it really helped because neither of us, I
felt, felt cartoonish, you know. Like if I was going that full in and she wasn't going there, it would have looked really weird. In a way, it kind of complimented each other and made you really kind of see that's how far down they were and how much they needed to kind of ascent from.
It was crazy. When I had actually come onboard to do the film we were on a flight to Cannes and ended up partying on boats and rocking out and glamming it up in Roberto Cavalli dresses. And all of a sudden, I'm barefoot in a motel, attacking her and it was really rough. I went back, pretty much every day of filming, I'd go home with a lot of bruises just because when you're hitting against things. I remember in the very first scene where I'm kind of attacking her through a phone booth and you're trying to be careful not to break the glass and you're hitting against the other side, but it's just a weird thing. You get really caught up in the motion and energy of it, and even when you're trying not to hit full force and trying to be gentle. It doesn't matter. Just doing it, take after take after take, after a while you're just going to bruise. It was interesting kind of looking at it, going "Oh yeah, it's metal and wood and glass." So it's different levels. Just by placement and going like this, let alone any kind of force because she's pushing back, I'm pushing, just having all of this bruising. It's just one of these things you know. As careless and violent and abusive as June, my character, was, is as completely compassionate and empathetic that both of us were with each other in between takes just constantly checking in with each other like, "Did I pull your hair too hard?" "Did I hit you too hard?" You know, "Did I push you too hard?," "Did you hit that badly?" You know we're breaking furniture and things are moving all around you know but you get caught up in it and I think that really translates on the screen and you have to...There's a certain line where you have to cross a little bit. If you're too careful and too precious, it's just not going to look real, and she was really down and I was really down and I think it really shows up. I think you really see just how dark and disturbing this mother-daughter relationship actually is and when you see her break that cycle of violence, I think it's such a transformation. It's someplace you want to get to because it is so painful to watch.
A bit actually, because of Kathy who runs the shelter, who is the reason we ended up doing this film. Ron Krauss, the writer-director, spent a year with her in her shelter in New Jersey. We filmed at the actual shelter. Some of the girls from the shelter are actually in the film, so it was great to have that kind of reality there that kind of grounds it. Ron comes from a documentary filmmaking background, so I think it kind of captures that feeling. It really feels like that line between drama and reality gets blurred quite often, which I think is really helpful and really good actually. I didn't spend as much time, like Vanessa did and Ron did, at the shelter and meeting and hanging out with the girls, because June's reality is that she did not find that place, that she did not get that comfort, that she did not get help. She did not have that resource, so I didn't want to get too attached to it. It was really more of her looking at it from the outside and
actually being quite confronted by the kind of a chosen family that existed there. But I grew up... My mom worked in shelters when I was growing up and my mom was a teenage mom and I had family members with drug addictions, so a lot of the themes in this I had a very strong attachment to, an intimate relationship with actually for many, many years. In that sense, the research didn't feel as necessary. It was more kind of actually pulling away and just trying to imagine what someone who has self-pitied themselves for so many years, how she would react to understanding that maybe she didn't have to make those choices, that there were other options for her that she hadn't seen and therefore didn't choose and what that did to her.
Yeah, June, it was really interesting. My character doesn't have that arc where she gets it. You don't get to see her onscreen transform the way that you see Apple transform, Vanessa's character. But I think that's actually, it was actually really great because you see her as being ugly and it gives Apple something to transcend, and I feel like you see June and you see a monster. But I think as you start to see Apple choose something different for herself, because it's just pretty...The trajectory is pretty clear that if she doesn't do something she's easily going to become June and that's what everyone keeps telling her. June tells her herself that, "You are me." So I think it's really amazing when you see her transformation. It was really cool to recognize, which I hadn't really thought about until we were actually filming it and then watching the film later, that our performances are sort of the same. You know what I mean? If I wasn't as ugly and monstrous as I was then we wouldn't see where Apple kind of needed to move away from and I think because you see Apple be able to transform herself and turn around, I think you get to see June in a different light and kind of appreciate that she needs that helping hand as well. So it was really, even though it felt like we were acting at each other the entire time, I think it was actually really complimentary what we were doing and you get to understand both of our characters that much more dynamically because of experiencing their different worlds.
So that was really fun. I mean I've done, both, you know, Vanessa and I have both played Mimi [from Rent], we've both done films with Harmony [Korine], we've had a lot of similarities in our career. It's been really fun because we've known each other for a long time, but we've never had the chance to work with each other and it was a really fun experience. Unfortunately it wasn't as collaborative as maybe other performances would be because our characters are so antagonistic towards each other, but it ended up, I think, because we have the same sort of sentiment and just like work ethic, it ended up actually being quite collaborative in a sense.
It was a really fun experience I have to say. As horrible as it was, it was really fun.