The stunning transformation of Rosario Dawson

If there’s one thing you can say about Rosario Dawson, it’s that she’s a seriously hard worker. The actress has been active in the entertainment industry for decades, consistently appearing in projects every year. And by the looks of it, Dawson doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, which we’re honestly pretty excited about. Our girl has real talent!

In addition to being an in-demand actress, Dawson has proven herself to be a strong activist over the years. She supports multiple causes — whether it’s voting rights, environmental stewardship, or standing up for immigrants — and is seemingly unafraid to speak her mind about the issues she cares about. She’s also one to put her money where her mouth is, rendering her quite the philanthropist.

But Dawson didn’t always have pockets deep enough to write checks to the organizations she cares about. And she wasn’t the product of an elite drama school either — quite the opposite. So how on earth did she get where she is today? Read on to witness the stunning transformation of Rosario Dawson.

Rosario Dawson grew up poor

By all accounts, Rosario Dawson’s early years were anything but easy. She came of age in the 1980s in a pre-gentrified New York City — the East Village, to be exact — and saw firsthand the difficulties that can come with an impoverished lifestyle. “Growing up here in New York, with a mom who was a teenager when she had me, I had family and friends who were either trans and/or had HIV or AIDS and/or had drug problems or housing issues or issues with access to education,” she recalled in an interview with Mind Body Green, as reported by Professional Woman’s Magazine.

But despite the fact that Dawson didn’t have electricity, heat, or running water in the apartment where she squatted with her family for some time, her childhood had some fairly magical moments. “Everybody made do,” she told Dazed. “We had block parties. There was just an incredible mixture of art and resistance and radicalism and off-the-gridding.” Perhaps the artistry of the people around her is what inspired her to pursue the arts herself one day.

When she was a child, Rosario Dawson survived abuse

Unfortunately for Rosario Dawson, although she had friends and family around her, she wasn’t always safe when she was growing up. To that end, she learned early on that the world can be an exploitative and dangerous place at times, especially for young girls. Opening up about her sexual assault, she revealed in an episode of the feminist podcast Morado Lens (via People), in part, “The world was like that since I was a child.” That’s a really horrible thing to have to endure. We’re so sorry that happened, Rosario.

By the time the #MeToo movement rolled around, Dawson had already seen some of the worst that could happen to people in that context, so she wasn’t exactly surprised. “So when I saw it in the workplace, it wasn’t foreign to me,” she continued. “It was like, well, that even happens within the family. It happens with people that are supposed to take care of you when you’re a child.” While that’s all too true, it doesn’t make the reality any easier to stomach.

Activism has always been important to Rosario Dawson

One thing that really made an impression on Rosario Dawson growing up in the 1980s was the work that her parents and community were doing in New York City, which was a changing place even then. “I grew up with activists,” she explained to The Progressive. “I saw when Tompkins Square Park was raided [in 1988] to get all the homeless out and the police riots and the tanks that came down Thirteenth Street and the helicopters. I watched how the city changed.” She added that it was a particularly good education for her right there on the front lines, as she got to see the power of fighting back.

Now all these years later, Dawson has reflected on the marriage of her activism with her career, finding that both of these exist in harmony with one another. “It doesn’t take away from my acting or art to be an activist, and it doesn’t hurt my activism to be an artist,” she continued. “For me, it’s part of a well-rounded life.”

Rosario Dawson was discovered on her front porch

While no one in Rosario Dawson’s immediate circle growing up was working in the acting business, a little bit of fate intervened to ensure that Dawson got her shot in it. Specifically, one day while a commercial shoot was happening outside her parent’s home, Dawson caught the attention of some well-connected folks. “They were shooting sounds that day on the commercial and this whole group of people suddenly turned and looked at me and I thought I was in trouble,” she shared in an interview with Dazed. “It ended up being a pre-production group from Kids that were scouting for locations.”

That was when director Larry Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine sensed a real opportunity. “Larry said he was making his first movie and would I be interested,” she recalled. “And Harmony was jumping up and down, like, ‘Oh my God, I wrote this character for you without even realizing. I didn’t even know you. You’re perfect for this character, you have to come in.'” Thus Dawson’s destiny began to manifest itself.

This movie was Rosario Dawson's breakout film

After being approached by Larry Clark and Harmony Korine on that fateful New York afternoon, Rosario Dawson agreed to play the role of Ruby in the now-notorious indie film Kids. At the time, however, Dawson didn’t know just how explosive the movie would be upon its 1995 release. “I only worked four days on that movie and got picked off the streets, so I didn’t think much of it, until it came out and became a cult classic,” she recalled in an interview with The Progressive. “It still is very stirring and captured a particular moment in New York history.” If you haven’t seen the film, it definitely warrants a viewing.

As edgy and shocking as the movie was at the time, most of the content of Kids was nothing new for Dawson given her upbringing. “Everything in Kids was based on real life,” she continued. “I recognized a lot of it. It was the time of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, crack, heroin, and other drugs. It was familiar to me.”

In 2005, Rosario Dawson snagged a major role in Rent

After breaking out in Kids and landing significant roles in films like Josie and the Pussycats and Men in Black II, Rosario Dawson scored one of her biggest parts yet: She was cast as Mimi Marquez in the film adaptation of Rent in 2005. This happened after the actress who originated the role on Broadway got pregnant and could no longer do the film. Dawson was thrilled about the opportunity, and she threw herself into it with the same courage that led her to run “with the bulls in Pamplona.”

“That was kind of how I approached this, but I was actually really nervous when I went into the audition,” she shared in a chat with Film Worthy. “It’s one thing to go against some other actors for this part, but I was going against actors who originated these parts; people who have been nominated and had gotten Tony Awards for it.” She added that she was competing against people who knew the creator of the show, too, which made the stakes especially high.

In 2014, Rosario Dawson became a mother

The year 2014 was an especially momentous one for Rosario Dawson, as that was the year she adopted her daughter, Isabella. That’s been an experience that Dawson has learned a lot from, as she continues to cultivate gratitude in her life. “Kids don’t listen to you; they emulate you,” she explained in an interview with Women’s Health. “I was always looking around the corner, wondering when my life was going to properly start. I’m in a different space to enjoy it now.”

Although Isabella was 11 years old when Dawson adopted her, according to People, Dawson held off on getting her a phone for a long time — with good reason. “I think it would have been difficult to bond so late in her life, and in our lives together, if we’d had technology between us,” she explained to Women’s Health. “My daughter looks me in the eye, and we talk to each other. I think that’s important.”

Rosario Dawson wouldn't mind getting arrested… again

When it comes to Rosario Dawson’s activism, which started when she was young and has continued throughout her life, she takes the causes she loves very seriously. For example, she co-designed a fashion line to create jobs in Ghana, worked on social justice documentaries to spread awareness, and co-founded the advocacy group Voto Latino, to name just a few of her projects. She’s clearly not just out here for the money!

Dawson is also active in politics, and she managed to get herself arrested during the “Democracy Spring” protests in Washington, D.C. in 2016. And if you thought that might get her to slow her roll, you’d be wrong. “I don’t know what it would be for, but I could see myself getting arrested again in the near future, if that’s what draws people’s attention to something,” she revealed to The Washington Post. “For me, it’s always on the table.” Keep doing what you’re doing, Rosario — it’s inspiring. 

Rosario Dawson says she's closer to Cory Booker than she's been to anyone else

One of the reasons that Rosario Dawson has been making headlines, in addition to her career and activism, is because of her super sweet relationship with Senator Cory Booker, her boyfriend. As Dawson tells it, even though the pair have been long-distance for a significant part of their relationship, they’re both ridiculously into each other. “Every morning that we don’t wake up together, he sends me a song, which means every morning he holds our relationship in his mind and his heart for a few minutes before he goes off into his big day,” she gushed in an interview with Women’s Health. Aw!

Rosario Dawson’s relationship with Cory Booker is a special one for the actress, one that feels full of promise and longevity. “I feel a lot of life ahead of us. It’s been beautiful feeling nurtured and taken care of,” Dawson, who used to date comedian Eric André, continued. “I’ve never been this close to someone. We make sure we connect. That’s something I’ve taken for granted in the past.”

Landing this TV show was a big first for Rosario Dawson

In 2019, Rosario Dawson landed perhaps her meatiest role to date when she was cast as Allegra Dill in the USA network series Briarpatch, alongside John Aylward and Fred Padilla. While Dawson is a veteran actress multiple times over, this is the first time she’s played the lead on a TV show — something she was more than ready for. “I’ve never done anything like this,” she revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “So often I’ve played the girlfriend or some story line device kind of character, and not that main protagonist in this way.” Congrats, Rosario! It’s about time!

Indeed Briarpatch has given Dawson a lot to think about in approaching her character, who is anything but simple and one-dimensional. “This woman has made some very clear choices about who she thinks she is and what her ambitions are,” she continued. “And to see it all kind of deconstruct and being able to explore that was very exciting, challenging, and intriguing.”

Meditation helped Rosario Dawson find balance

Given how busy Rosario Dawson’s life is — with her career, her daughter, her high-profile boyfriend, and her activism — she made a conscious decision to practice self-care in order to stay centered. One major pillar of that routine is meditation, which Dawson absolutely swears by. “You’ll feel the impacts of it,” she proclaimed in a chat with Glamour. “They’ve done all the research around it to see how it affects your brain and development. It’s incredible.”

Ironically, Dawson has found that taking time away from other pursuits in order to practice mediation for 20 minutes or more twice each day has made her more present. “It’s amazing how much more time I feel like I have in a day when I do it, because I’m so focused that my body relaxes and lets me show up much better in the time that I do have,” she continued. “So it’s interesting that by taking some time off, I actually get to show up.”

Dawson clearly must understand what happens to your body when you meditate, as well as all of meditation’s scientifically proven benefits.

Rosario Dawson accepted that she's aging naturally

It’s not easy being a woman in Hollywood, given that there’s rampant gender inequality and double standards that men don’t have to worry about as much. Fortunately, as Rosario Dawson tells it, things are changing a bit in the industry, which she is more than ready for. “One thing that’s coming up quite often now, which I think is really great, is this pushback on all of the photo airbrushing,” she shared in a 2019 interview with Glamour. “I’m going to be 40 this year. It makes sense that I’m going to have wrinkles.” Louder again for the people in the back, Rosario!

That doesn’t mean it’s been all roses for Dawson, as she’s experienced first-hand what happens when you’ve been digitally manipulated. “They’ve airbrushed scars and stretch marks and all kinds of things out over the years that make it look impossible,” she added. “I’m starting to look at photos, and I get body dysmorphia looking at my own pictures.” Yikes!

This is what Rosario Dawson would say to her younger self

Rosario Dawson has come a long way from the girl she was growing up in New York City without electricity or running water. So what would she say to her younger self with all that she knows now, given the opportunity? “I would tell my younger self that taking care of yourself and prioritizing an annual vacation even, is an essential,” she revealed to The Cut. “It just wasn’t something that I grew up with.” We’re sensing a theme in Dawson’s life, and that theme is self-care.

It took a long time for Dawson to understand just how important caring for herself is, even though ignoring it hasn’t been good for her. “I always looked at it as this luxury that only certain people had access to, but I’d argue it away for myself,” she continued. “Now I recognize what a disservice I did to myself, especially when I hit certain walls that came specifically from neglecting my needs and not prioritizing them.” 

In 2020, Rosario Dawson officially came out

On June 1, 2018, Rosario Dawson made a post on her Instagram page that a lot of people interpreted as her coming out of the closet. “Happy pride month! Sending love to my fellow lgbtq+ homies,” she wrote in the caption. “Keep being strong in the face of adversity.” You can see why people would take her post that way.

However, Dawson later shed some light on the post, walking it back — or so it seemed. “People kept saying that I [came out]… I didn’t do that,” she clarified in a February 2020 interview with Bustle. “I mean, it’s not inaccurate, but I never did come out come out. I mean, I guess I am now.” Now that sounds like a more direct statement!

But Dawson isn’t trying to center herself in the LGBTQ+ discussion. Rather, she just wanted to set the record straight. “I’ve never had a relationship in that space, so it’s never felt like an authentic calling to me,” she added.

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