The fanboy favorite actress talks about her character in the latest DC Animated Movie
Actress and fanboy favorite Rosario Dawson delivers a knockout punch as the voice of strong-willed Amazonian warrior Artemis in Wonder Woman, the next entry in the popular series of DC Universe animated original PG-13 movies due from Warner Premiere, DC Comics and Warner Brothers Animation on March 3, 2009.
Dawson, whose voiceover experience was previously limited to a single episode of Robot Chicken, completely immersed herself in the warrior mindset to bring Artemis to animated life. Dawson's resonating take on the focused, powerful tones and dry, no-nonsense (and thus, unintentional humor) approach of Artemis perfectly complements the work done by the rest of the stellar voice cast, which includes Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Virginia Madsen and Alfred Molina.
In a career spanning just over a dozen years, Dawson has managed to seamlessly glide between fanboy features, big-time Hollywood epics, charming independent and "smaller" films, and even a musical. She is constantly in demand by the hippest of today's filmmakers from Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez to Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee and Kevin Smith., Her on-screen resume includes Sin City (and its upcoming sequel), Eagle Eye, Grindhouse, Clerks, Men In Black II and Rent.
Dawson is every fanboy's fantasy: a stunning beauty with a greater love and knowledge of comic books than your average geek. She has her own comic book series (Occult Crimes Taskforce), she hosted Saturday Night Live just a few weeks ago, and she once spoke Klingon as a guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In this interview, Dawson talks about her role in Wonder Woman, the characteristics that make up the hero, her adoration for Neil Gaiman and a desire to play the live-action version Harley Quinn. Here's what Dawson had to say:
Would you describe the challenges of bringing this character to life with this particular voice?
Rosario Dawson: I haven't done that much voiceover work., so it was interesting to prepare for a character like Artemis who's so strong and so powerful. Then you have the language, the pronunciations, the Greek mythology involved, the kind of accent they want. She's from a different land and such a different time. I'm a New Yorker, so there are some aspects of being a tough woman that I thought I could bring to the role - but it's such a different world as a woman who's like a warrior. This medium is very dependent on understanding what the filmmakers want - so, ironically, listening is really important part to doing voiceover work.
Did you have preconceptions about doing this role versus how you ended up doing it?
Rosario Dawson: I think it was her deadpan humor that I didn't anticipate. She's definitely not one-dimensional. She's very one-track-minded about her strength, and about her opinion. She's very okay with the fact that the Amazons have cut themselves off from the rest of the world - she's happy and secure in the way they live, and she takes a lot of pride and honor in being an Amazon and being Hippolyta's right hand woman. But she's so steadfast in her ways all the time that it does lend itself to moments of humor. That's always an interesting thing to kind of play with, especially for a character like Artemis - she doesn't have a funny bone in her body, so it's actually funnier just to play those lines straight. I like the consistency of that.
What are the joys and the challenges of playing a role like this?
Rosario Dawson: Again, I'm a New Yorker, so I have this sort of tough vein that's naturally bred into me. In general, I'm a nice person, and that seems to surprise people sometimes. I'll be at Comic-Con and people will say, "I've been watching you for three days and you seem really nice - but you were really scary in Sin City. How did you do that?" And I'm like, "Acting!" (she laughs) I've played so many different roles that are very strong minded women, and I think ultimately the key to that is (A) because I come at it from such a different outside perspective that I'm able to kind of appreciate exactly what that looks like, and I savor the opportunities of being able to play that in a character;; and (B) I think ultimately that the key to it is not just playing strong, but to understand the reasons that she's strong, and the situations in the world she lives. It's about knowing why she adopts that kind of behavior or personality. For someone like Artemis, it's very different from someone like Gail (in Sin City). A different background lends itself to different nuances. It's kind of interesting to play someone who is so strong, but also very feminine. These Amazons are women are very proud to be women. Artemis is strong, but she's not trying to be masculine. If anything, she just really fully believes she is superior because she IS a woman. So I tried to keep my voice very strong and sometimes very gravelly, but still have a little bit of warmth. It's not like she hates men. It's just that she believes ultimately that the choices they've made as women in protecting themselves are the best choices that could possibly made. I like that it's embracing womanhood, and the strength that a woman has - as opposed to maybe feeling like she's lesser than men, and that's why she tries so hard to be strong.
Did you have a favorite moment or line?
Rosario Dawson: Artemis has a few really great lines because she plays everything - even the humor - very straight. The one that made me laugh out loud when I read it was when she tells Hippolyta that they shouldn't have let Diana go out into the outside world. Hippolyta asks, "What could we have done to have stopped her?" And Artemis says, "Well I could have shot her in the leg with an arrow. Not in an artery, of course." It's just so deadpan - she wouldn't kill her, but she would've shot her. It's so dry, and it's so honest. And I love that.
What are your overall impressions of the character of Wonder Woman in perspective with this script?
Rosario Dawson: I really liked the change to present day, with nuclear missiles and all that kind of stuff. I think it really ups the ante, bringing real discussions of what it would be like to have a super hero in our world right now. We're really delving into so many stories that are comic book based, so I like that we have a woman as part of that production. We haven't really explored that too much. Wonder Woman has had so many different connotations over the years because she's so beloved as a character, and it's been interesting to see how she's evolved - to see how her outfits have changed, and going from having her invisible plane to starting to fly herself, and sort of be on par with the physical attributes of Superman. She is like the female Superman. She has represented so much for women and everything women were not traditionally allowed to do, like embracing your sensuality and being strong at the same time. They're supposed to be in contradiction, but she holds it with dignity and with class. She didn't look like princesses that you normally saw, but she was a princess. There were so many great things about her, and I'm very excited to see that all of that is maintained.
Wonder Woman has really evolved, and her character has been unique in many ways. She was raised with this backwards perspective about men, and she learned to kind of evolve her mind past that. She's able to separate and unite concepts - that these are my lessons as a child, but these are my experiences as a woman, and I can put the two together and make sense of it all. She's a great balance to Superman and Batman. She has a very clear understanding of everything, so she's not afraid to maybe take it as far as Batman would, which is very different than Superman. She does understand that sometimes war is necessary, and to that end she is like an angel with a flaming sword. That's an amazing character, and it makes sense that we keep going back to her because she really does resonate with each generation.
Were you modeling your present character on any of your past performances?
Rosario Dawson: No, partly because I've never played a character like this before. Plus, I'm used to using my body a lot more, Even with Sin City, as we were doing everything with green screen, at least we still had costumes and certain markings, and other people to work with. So being in an environment where there's just a script in front of you, and you're not really working off of someone, you try to milk it for the mike. It's a different kind of experience. Mostly I was pulling from thinking of the warriors in my life. My mom is six feet tall, and she was raised with four brothers, so she's the toughest woman I know. She was in gangs when she was younger; she used to be a plumber; she's a singer and a great cook. It's like that song says, she's a Brick House. It was an interesting thing as a young girl growing up, to know that song and think of that as your mother. So when I told her I was doing this film, she was really excited because she's our Amazon. We've even gotten her a Wonder Woman mug in the past. It's nice because I know my mom will always be taller than me - so when I have a bad day, she always envelopes me in a great warm hug. I always feel like my mom's there. Even as she gets older, she's always gonna feel like a warrior woman who can handle anything. She can take care of me. She can protect me. That's a wonderful thing. Ultimately, that's what I wanted to bring to the character.
Have you always been a fan of comic books, and what characters or writers/artists do you gravitate toward?
Rosario Dawson: To some degree, peripherally if not always 100 percent, I've always had comic books as part of my life. My uncle Gus (Gustavo Vazquez) is a comic book artist who dabbled with DC and Marvel, and he's been a tremendous influence in my life - he was an actor and a singer, and he's still doing all of that. I looked up to him as an artist, and a performer. He was always into comics - I think he's been drawing since he was 4-years-old - and he always took his comics very seriously. I couldn't even breathe on his comics. I could never touch his comics. I read his comics, but only over his shoulder, and I would nod to him so he could flip the page when I was done reading. He gave me the feeling that comics were sacred texts, and my grubby little fingers weren't allowed to touch them. So I've always had this really strong love and respect for comics, and the way that the storytelling comes across. The kind of characters that are developed, the issues that are addressed, and the great stories. In the same way that we can look at wonderful films and the journeys they take us on, I've always really believed and trusted in the same concepts with comics.
I know what a collaborative effort it is between writers and artists to create a comic. I've always had a true respect and admiration for it. I love Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman -- I freaked out when I got to hear Gaiman speak for 15 minutes at Comic-Con, just because it's like real literature when he writes for comics. It'll sound silly, but I take such pride in the fact that I even know to read them, and I'm so grateful that I have that as an influence. It's so interesting to me that there's a huge world of comic book fans, but it's also still very small. But it's definitely reaching out and touching a wider population today, especially with all the comics being made into films. The influences of people like Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller are reaching new audiences, and that's exciting.
Honestly, any success that I ever have in doing anything with a comic means more to me most of the time than anything else, because I know if people in comics are approving, then it's actually really approved. There's a fine toothcomb that goes through any work in the comic book industry. Because people within this world, if they don't like you or what you've done, they really have no problem telling you that you suck. (she laughs) I don't mean they'll say they weren't interested or they didn't like it, I mean they will stand in front of you and tell you, "You suck!"
I've been co-writing this comic book for a while, and it's been going really well. And it makes me feel really excited because it was a big risk for me. I think that was probably one of the scarier things that I've ever done, co-writing on the Occult Crimes Taskforce. You don't do that very often, especially as an actor. You act in this sort of vacuum, then it gets edited and put into the theaters, and maybe you hear how it does. But doing a comic resonates with people.
As active as you are in fantasy films, do you actively seek out roles in that genre?
Rosario Dawson: It's funny - I was at a producer meeting for this really big movie and the guy was saying, "I'm working on all these projects, and ... I did Rob Zombie's first movie and I'm gonna do a second one." He said it like he was apologizing, like he just automatically assumed it wouldn't be something I'd be interested in. And I'm saying, "Oh my God, Rob Zombie! I love him! House Of 1000 Corpses - I love that movie! Are there any parts in (the new film) for me?" So while we were filming Sin City, I ended up doing a day of work on The Devil's Rejects. I ended up being one of the rejects of The Devil's Rejects, because I only made it to the DVD deleted scenes, but I got my throat torn up by Dr. Satan and it was really awesome.
I think it's great to have very varied experiences, because that makes me who I am. I grew up listening to Bowie and Queen, but also Billie Holiday and Joni Mitchell and Jim Croce. But people don't know that. They watch one of my films, and think I am that character. Most of the time they're going to be surprised that that's not me. I've had some really interesting experiences in my life, and luckily it's been able to be reflected in my work. Big budget or small budget films, Spike Lee to Robert Rodriguez to Frank Miller, and I'm excited to continue doing that, The fanboy stuff will always be prevalent - it really has added to my life. I can appreciate it in pop culture in a deep way. It's a cool thing to be a part of.
Do you realize what a hit you are in the sci-fi comic book fanboy arena?
Rosario Dawson: That's only because I spoke Klingon on Conan O'Brien! (she laughs very hard) I love Star Trek. I just bought my brother all the series, every single disk, full of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We will sit there and go over all of that stuff, and my brother remembers everything right down to the code that Data says in episode 114. It's bad. So it's great when I get to kind of do anything in that fanboy/fangirl world. The fans are totally passionate about it, and I get to let my inner geek out.
If you could play one comic book character on screen, who would it be and why?
Rosario Dawson: Harley Quinn. Now THAT would be fun. I'd have to really transform myself, which could be really, really fun. You don't see too many female villains that aren't like Poison Ivy, where they're just really sexy but not much otherwise. Harley is such an off-base kind of girl, she is in that same sort of Batman/Joker insanity.
I love playing women who are strong, and characters that have these great convictions and do the right thing. I'm always 100 percent behind that. But I also like to challenge myself to kind of go in the other direction and really explore what the opposite sort of incarnation would be, to look at a situation and think, "What's the way I can reap the most harm." You hit the most conflict when you're approaching a situation trying to be good, and it would be really interesting and I think really freeing and liberating in some ways. The physicality of doing it would be an interesting exploration because you really can't be too big or too full or too expressive when you're creating mayhem and embracing chaos. There's a flow that evil characters seem to get into sometimes that would be fun to play with, like when you're playing a video game and you choose to be the character that's most destructive. I wouldn't want to be that in real life, I don't want that legacy, I don't want that reality, but it would be interesting to explore it in a manner like that, to see what it would feel like when that inner voice shuts off and you just kind of go with it. That would be a safe environment to explore the darker sides of myself.
How do you think fans will react to the final film?
Rosario Dawson: I was really excited when I was reading Wonder Woman.
Michael Jelenic wrote these long paragraphs every once in a while in the middle of the action sequences, things about Wonder Woman beating up a villain in the mall and her destroying the mall being a metaphor for women who are only supposed to just look cute and kind of parade themselves around but actually feeling like being superior to it and showing their strength and femininity at the same time. And then he'd write, "Okay, I've said my peace, back to the story." There were all these little moments where he kind of spoke out to the people who were reading it about just how serious he was taking it, not just the origin stories but really getting the characters across and really setting up Wonder Woman for the next projects. That was cool and it's a great set-up. The whole story has a strong resonance, the dialogue is very strong, the violence is very real, there's great strength in the characters and the issues that they're facing, and there's all this Greek mythology and the parallels in the two worlds. It's a very strong script and I really liked it. It's very respectful to the legacy of the character. I want to see these characters again, I want to see where they're going to take this next.
Produced by the multiple Emmy Award winning animation legend Bruce Timm, Wonder Woman is an origin story and features a stellar celebrity voice cast including Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Virginia Madsen, Rosario Dawson, Oliver Platt and David McCallum. Wonder Woman begins on the mystical island of Themyscira, where a proud and fierce warrior race of Amazons resides. They have raised Princess Diana, a daughter of stunning beauty, extraordinary strength and incredible fighting prowess. Diana possesses a host of super human powers granted to her by the gods and goddesses of Olympus and her strength and stamina are unparalleled. When Air Force fighter pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on the island, the rebellious and headstrong Diana defies Amazonian law by accompanying Trevor back to civilization. Meanwhile, Ares (the God of War) has escaped his imprisonment at the hands of the Amazons and has decided to exact his revenge by starting a world war that will destroy them all. It is up to Princess Diana to save her people and the world by using her gifts to become the ultimate Wonder Woman. Visit the film's official website at www.wonderwomanmovie.com. The film hits DVD and Blu-ray Disc on March 3, 2009.