CENTURY CITY, California — Director Chris Columbus should be glad he cast Rosario Dawson in his upcoming movie adaptation of the Tony-winning musical “Rent.” He might have saved a life.
“If anyone else had gotten that role, she would be missing in action right now,” Dawson joked. “I grew up on the Lower East Side of New York. I grew up on Avenue B. I mean, there’s no one else who can play that role!”
“That role” would be Mimi Marquez, an HIV-positive, drug-addicted Latina stripper. Dawson landed the part after singing “Out Tonight” and “Without You” for Columbus, whose credits include “Home Alone,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and the first two “Harry Potter” movies.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Dawson said. ” ’Kids’ was something that I got discovered for, but it wasn’t like acting was an aspiration of mine. But when I was little, I used to do all types of show tunes, shows for my family, so I’ve always wanted to do something where I can sing and dance. There couldn’t be anything else more amazing than this. I’m really lucky.”
“Rent,” written by the late Jonathan Larson, is a modern-day retelling of Puccini’s “La Boheme” and follows a group of friends living the bohemian life in New York’s East Village. Most of the characters, minus Mimi and drag queen Angel, will be played by the actors who originally portrayed them onstage, including Taye Diggs as landlord Benny.
Dawson is also set to star in “My Life in Idlewild,” the long-in-the-works Outkast movie, for HBO (see “Outkast Solo Albums Being Turned Into Movie Musical” ).
“I don’t know what the hell is going on with that,” Dawson admitted. “Originally, [Andre 3000] called me to come in and do the [“She Lives in My Lap”] music video, and then I ended up in the studio singing on it a little bit. And then it was like, ’Well, now it’s not gonna be like a music video anymore, it’s gonna be like a Michael Jackson “Thriller” mini-movie.’ Now it’s turning into a movie. I have no idea what’s going on, but I think Andre 3000 is absolutely remarkable and really, really incredible, just beautiful” (see “Outkast ’Flip Flop’ With Jay-Z; Rosario Dawson Climbs In Dre’s ’Lap’ “ ).
Dawson just finished shooting “This Revolution,” and she was arrested while filming a protest scene for the movie at the Republican National Convention in New York.
“As an actress, I could be all upset because we had permits and it was a misunderstanding, but as a New Yorker, I very much understand what went down,” Dawson said. “It was a crazy time in New York.”
The actress has also finished Rob Zombie’s “The Devil’s Rejects” and Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s “Sin City.” The latter features an all-star cast that includes Jessica Alba, Elijah Wood, Bruce Willis, Brittany Murphy and Josh Hartnett.
Dawson is due next on the big screen as Roxane, Colin Farrell’s wife, in “Alexander.”
“I have been in an ensemble cast before and been the girlfriend, but this is something that’s way beyond,” Dawson said. “I play strong characters quite often, but the energy is very different than it is in other films. [Her strength] wasn’t normal for that time, and it was definitely frowned upon. She was queen, but most people didn’t respect her as that. But Alexander made sure that she was respected, and that’s because of her personality. She very easily could be someone we would not know from history if she wasn’t the kind of character she was.”
Dawson has few lines in the movie but stars in one of the most memorable scenes, when a naked Roxane attacks Alexander with a knife on their wedding night before consummating the marriage.
“Originally it wasn’t written into the script that way, but it came to that in rehearsals,” Dawson said. “With her character, there weren’t any moments of shyness. Now I’m almost in shock that I’m naked in the movie. [But at the time] we were so into it, making something come to life. I never thought about it.”
Visit Movies on MTV.com for more from Hollywood, including news, interviews, trailers and more.