The role comes during a landmark year —ten years since Dawson debuted in Kids, and eleven years since Rent debuted at the New York Theatre Workshop on East Fourth Street.
“The anniversary has been very nostalgic for me and everyone from Rent. It’s the circle of life,” Dawson says, quoting The Lion King without irony. “Everyone’s right here, where I came up, where I was discovered. It really is bohemia—it’s based on La Bohème, of course—that idealism of not taking anyone else’s rules for what this life is, not settling for air-conditioning, just making that love and beauty and life . . . ”
Bona fide East Village celebrities are local treasures, like the dodo or the $1 hot dog. Rosario Dawson is one such hot dog.
If filming 25th Hour taught Rosario that “your life can change in a day” and Kids taught her that “the choices you make aren’t arbitrary; they matter,” then Rent has reminded her that “I want to leave a legacy.” She’s producing a film this fall for a childhood friend to direct, expanding her political activism (she recently spoke out against the Guantánamo detentions), and is even considering going back to school. If anything, she says, she’s learned from her mistakes that “I’m not going to do another movie that I hate. If I was ever stuck away from my family doing something cute, and something terrible happened, I’d hate myself.”
But first, there’s Two Gentlemen of Verona in Central Park. “It’s hippie-dippy, seventies fun, a totally funky, awesome show,” she says, thoroughly enjoying her first trip to the stage. “It’s Shakespeare for the people that anybody can get.” She describes a summer-camp vibe among the cast, complete with a few Fresh Air Fund wildlife sightings.
“We have dragonflies and mosquitoes, and there was this whole flock of birds—I don’t know what to call ’em—cranes or something,” says the native New Yorker, amazed. “Raccoons scrounge around the stage and look at you, like, I’m trying to eat over here. You wanna start some damage? Well, come on . . . I’m used to rats and garbage bags shaking—but raccoons?”
Perhaps the wildlife will be more friendly out West. It may come as a shock to her faithful, but when the play is over, the queen of the East Village will be leaving her people. She and her boyfriend, actor Jason Lewis (best known as Samantha’s washboard-abbed boyfriend on Sex and the City), are moving out of the city and in together. In California. “I was always against that,” she says, almost apologetically, promising that she’ll visit regularly. “We have our two Ridgebacks together, and they’re big dogs. I can’t imagine having them in a tiny apartment.”
Still, like a suburbanite afraid of visiting the city, Dawson worries about safety.
“There’s no fire escape—so what do you do?” Dawson frets. “I’m used to being surrounded by people, above me, below me, next door. We’ll be alone. And we’re going to be on the first floor—I’ve never been on the first floor. What’s gonna keep people from just walking in?”