Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub
Opening this Friday is the new Will Smith movie “Seven Pounds”. This is his second movie with director Gabriele Muccino, as they last made “The Pursuit of Happyness”. In their new film, Will plays a man that sets out to change the lives of seven strangers….and while I’d love to tell you more, this is the kind of movie that can be easily ruined if you know too much…
Anyway, I recently participated in roundtable interviews with Rosario Dawson and Will Smith. Later today I’ll have Will’s, but here’s Rosario.
During out almost 25 minutes or so, she talked about making movie, how she got involved in acting, some of her previous projects and a lot more. She also tells a very funny story about working with Will and the love scenes…
As always, here’s the audio of the interview and here’s a link to some movie clips from “Seven Pounds”.
Question: We know that Zach and Miri Make a Porno was written for you and you were all set to star in it and then this happened. How weird was it to give up a project?
Rosario: Actually, it was Eagle Eye that came up. Zach and Miri hadn’t set a date yet so we were going back and forth for quite a while and I signed on to Eagle Eye and then like three days later, he’s like, ‘well, I’m shooting in January’ and I’m like ‘I didn’t know that’ so it ended up not working out. That was really unfortunate because I love him (Kevin Smith) so much. There were no other issues with Seven Pounds and, in that regard, there was nothing that I wanted to do more than I wanted to do this movie.
Did you do research or meet with heart patients?
Rosario: I did, yes. I met with someone who had had a heart transplant. I studied and looked at surgeries. I talked to a trauma doctor and it brought a lot of information of how many surgeries she’d probably already had at that point. She must have had four or five pacemakers put in and different types of surgeries gone because you don’t go to the level of being on a heart transplant waiting list without that. So even talking to him about how he felt, what the energy was when the phone rang, we really just went into the beat by beats of it all and it was really incredible learning about the fact that he can’t run, learning about walking three paces and being out of breath, taking all of those details and then filtering it through Emily. Emily was not someone who these facts just created. They were part of her life but she chose to be someone so beautiful and graceful and dignified in the face of her mortality. That was something I was really moved by and one of the reasons I really wanted to play Emily; why I wanted to bring her to life because she seemed so complex. Even as tenacious and on point as she was in regard to Ben’s character, so was also really alone. And, the juxtaposition of her seeming to be so on it and having her life in order and so precise and her printing press and all the little things that she had kind of details of her life, she was also the person calling an IRS agent at the hospital and asking for a bedtime story because she didn’t have anyone else to call. That was at her really most dire when her face and her health were really starting to jump and she was really concerned about dying and that’s the person she called. That made me feel so sad for her that that’s all she had but so beautiful, I thought, that she would just make that call, though. She wasn’t afraid to say ‘do you ever think about dying?’ and meaning it when she was asking the question. I thought that heartfelt-ness about every single bit of dialogue that she had was something really remarkable and something we could all probably learn from. If we really were that real all the time, we’d save ourselves a lot of time.
Can you talk about your acting process with Will? Was he giving…..
Rosario: Will’s a complete jerk. He’s one of those guys who is only on for his side of the camera. Once it goes on me, there’s nothing. No! He was amazing. We had five weeks of rehearsal which actually did not feel like enough time when we were going into it. But, actually, it was quite a lot of time. The chemistry between these two characters was so important and we worked through the entire script from beginning to end and changed a lot of things. We’d do the scenes over and over and over again trying to find our place and pushing ourselves. Gabriele would be like ‘no, you’re doing that thing with your eyebrow. Rosario, stop using your hands so much’. Any little trick that we were going into behavior-wise, would be stripped from us. ‘I don’t like that. I don’t know why I don’t feel it. You seem like you’re faking it. I don’t want you to be acting, you have to be it’. And, it’s hard to be it. At the end of the day you’re realizing you’re resisting it to some degree even as much as you are committed and you’re there because you’re talking about life and death. These are scary things personally. It’s not like we’re fighting aliens or something that is fully abstract, this is real. Having to deal with thinking about your own mortality and let that really sink in so you can ask the question ‘do you ever think about dying’ and really mean it. It’s like ‘oh my God’ so it was incredible. We really fell in love with these characters but Will, toward the end, hated Ben. I continued to fall in love with Emily but he started getting really kind of over Ben. And, that was really interesting to work through. He was incredibly gracious and amazing though almost all of it up until that point where he was really resisting and fighting being this person. Ultimately, that was because Ben was fighting being who he was as well. That was really interesting just seeing how far we were falling into these characters and really considering how we are in the world and how sincere we are in all the things that we do. It was incredible. I was very grateful to be working with someone as committed and as great of an actor as Will is. We shot over two months.
What keeps you going when you face sorrow or trauma in your own life?
Rosario: The only people who make me feel that are my mom and my grandmother. I love my dad, I love my brother, all these different people in my life but the people who literally, stop my heart are my mom and my grandmother. I remember when they were all coming to visit me and I was driving. It was the first time. I don’t have any kids but I can imagine what it must feel like to drive your kids in a car and suddenly be really aware of all the jerks on the road but I was like in driving school. I was checking all my mirrors. I was going super slow. My grandmother was even going ‘why are you going so slow?’ I suddenly just felt so concerned and so aware that I had three generations in one car and how responsible I would be for that.
When I first read the script, I was with my grandmother and my mom coming back from the Hispanic Heritage Awards in D.C. and my grandmother was asleep on my mom and my mom was asleep on me and I cracked open the script and that’s the place that I was in when I read the script so I think that’s one of the reasons why it really impacted me. My mom is diabetic and asthmatic and so health is something that I’m always very concerned about in regard to her. I know, for her looking at the script and coming on set and seeing me sick was really hard for her to think of me in that position. We’re just very emotionally connected the three of us in a very deep way. They’re the people that I always need when I’m not happy or am going through anything and I can’t imagine them not being there so that’s honestly the scariest thing I could possibly imagine.
I remember I broke down, I was crying with my mom when I read the script and I said ‘I’m going to be able to audition for this and the audition is coming up and I’m so scared. This is the most important thing ever’. You always hope, as an actor that you would get this kind of script across your desk and, sometimes, I’ve gotten that script and been told ‘the offer is out to someone else’. It’s really awesome to read a script that someone else is going to do but, this time, I was actually going to be able to audition and I knew it was coming up and if I didn’t get this part, it was because of me. There were a lot of other women vying for this role. This was really big and I needed to prepare and I needed to know that I actually could be a good enough actor to make this woman come to life because she deserved it. She had an incredible story that needed to be told, and told well. That was something that was really intense for me.
What was the most difficult scene for you?
Rosario: It wasn’t actually the most difficult but it definitely was the most emotional and intense, were the scenes in the hospital; one where I’m calling him and making the phone call. That one was really difficult because, as we were shooting it, Gabriele thought the scene was too long and we were shooting and shooting and I’m bawling and all of a sudden, he goes ‘cut, cut, cut! This too long’ and him and Will walked away and came back and said ‘okay, these three pages are out’ and I went ‘Aaaaaa, whoa, okay’ and that was amazing because, as an actor, sometimes in that of keeping it as fresh and being emotional and all that, you still get caught in your rhythm and I had to get out of that rhythm and be fresh with it again and still be able to be connected and emotional. We went over it and went ‘okay, I need that line to be here. This line is really important. This is the one that gets us over here’. We were just really structuring it and that was when I needed to be technical and I’m not Julliard-trained. I was lucky that I was talking to Tracie Thoms and she would come over and we would have meetings about the character and we worked though the entire script together and I benefited from her Julliard training but it was taking that balance of what I like to come from, which is not less prepared but it definitely comes from a more personal way of approaching it, and having that professional way of behind able to go but, technically, I need to keep those tears going. I need to keep this going. I need the emotions to register and whatever I need to make that happen, I need to make clear so we can get this done because we’re not going to do this tomorrow, we’re doing it today. So that was something that was really, really intense and thank God for projects like Rent and other things that really helped me to be exactly where I could be capable of drawing that out of myself now.
What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
Rosario: I hope compassion for themselves, honestly. That’s the thing I was so moved by. You can be so caught up in yourself and you can forget the people around you and the choices that you have in front of you. Sometimes it takes a stranger talking to you where you can be honest because you don’t have any of the things going ‘well, you think of me as your sister or your friend or your boyfriend’ or whatever it is and you’re not going to allow me to really stay what I’m thinking and feeling without you filtering it through ‘well, you never said that before’. So, that’s something that I feel; just really registering being honest and truthful to yourself and being able to come from that place because we all have choices all the time. That’s one of the things I’m really drawn to in projects and scripts that I read. It’s one of the reasons why I loved working on 25th Hour. It wasn’t really where my character was coming from but the story, as an arc, was really talking about choice and, in 25 hours, you can completely turn your life around. You could be a different person in a different place and just move on. You have that ability. Life is too short and precious to not try that and give yourself that opportunity. When people walk out of the theater, I hope they really look at each other and open the door for each other. I think we really need to have a sense of community around us that we haven’t had for a really long time.
Is it hard for you to watch yourself on screen?
Rosario: No. Narcissistic actress right here. No. I don’t see myself when I’m on screen and when I see myself, that’s when I get annoyed. When I watch this movie, I see Emily and I really love Emily. If I’m really looking at myself, I’d probably go, ‘I would never wear that blouse’. I get miffed a little bit when I hear about actors who don’t watch their own films. ‘Then why am I supposed to pay ten bucks to watch it if you won’t even watch it?’ I’m getting into producing now. I produced this film Descent which is very hard to watch because I’m being raped and then I’m raping someone else and that was really scary and ugly to see those types of expressions on my face, that type of pain and anger. I was able to kind of just watch Maya and see her journey and see the person that she was and just be honest with her choices. A lot of times, I’m acting completely contrary to my own instincts. He Got Game, playing a 17-year-old girl who is cheating on her boyfriend and is promiscuous and just stupid, it just made me really angry and I got then when people were watching, ‘I hated you in this movie but I felt you at the end’. It was like, ‘well, I felt her at the end as well’. As much as I disliked her in so many regards, I also understood that she was just 17 and she was making stupid choices. They weren’t my choices and they were definitely not ones I would want other people to make but I had to play them out because they were real and they were her choices. I feel very lucky because of the way I started as an actor. I never wanted to be an actor so I was just always so curious about the entire process that I could watch myself. I think that’s helpful now because I can see how I’ve grown and figured out things along the way. I can be very judgmental of myself. That’s very much why I wanted to do this movie because I knew it would force me to be a better actor.
What made you want to be an actor then?
Rosario: I was doing some of my filing and according to me as a child I wrote this piece of paper and said I thought I was going to be a star. I used to argue with people about it when they’d asked me how I meant to manifest that; through dancing or singing or what and I’d be life ‘I’m gonna be a star! Okay. Get it!’ (laughs) and then, as I was in high school I got really into biology and math so I wanted to be a marine biologist and I was studying I took Civil Engineering at Columbia University. I was trying to figure out whether I was going to be in Engineering or Biology work. That’s where I was at when I was discovered into acting and continued going to those classes. I didn’t take any theater. I was just so into it. I took a summer class for theater which my grandmother forced me to do which I hated because it was around all these kids who wanted to be actors and they all had their resumes and their headshots and they were talking about their auditions and it just seemed like a world I didn’t want to be a part of at all. I was so much more into Calculus. I was scared when I became an actor and I continued to do that. I thought I was dooming myself to being poor for the rest of my life and being frustrated. My mom’s a singer and my dad used to act and my uncle is a comic book artists and my grandmother is a photographer and a painter and poet and they’re all really incredible artists but they’re all really frustrated. I didn’t want to be unhappy. I was scared for so many years and cried because I thought I made the wrong decision by not going to college.
How do you feel about the Oscar buzz?
Rosario: The only “O’ word I like to talk about is Oprah. I think it’s well-deserved for so many people on this project. They were very, very committed to making this happen. This is a very precious and beautiful story that Grant wrote and we all took it very seriously that we were going to be committed to it and there were literal conversations that ‘if you’re not helping team, you’re hurting the team and if that’s going to be the case, then don’t be here’. We were very intense and very honest with each other about our commitment on this and it was really beautiful to see. You could see it across the board. It really does trickle down from the top and how wonderful Will is and how incredible Gabriele is. He’s one of the most emotional and connected directors I’ve ever met and worked with. Down to the P.A.s, everyone felt how special this was and wanted to be present. Everything worked beautifully in harmony. And even though there were gray days and I’m walking around in a hospital gown blue in the face, there were smiles on everyone’s faces. That was unbelievable. I’ve never witnessed anything like that on a set before.
Q: Can you talk about your love scenes with Will?
Rosario: (laughs) Yes. It was really funny. Will is shockingly shy about intimacy with strangers I guess. I guess that’s not too bad but it was really unbelievable how much he pushed our kiss scenes for weeks to the point to where I started getting really nervous about my breath and it started to get down to the little details of going (she sniffs her underarms like ‘do I stink’? (laughter) Seriously? It’s not that bad. We don’t have to totally do tongue. We could work on this. It was such a big deal, talking about having Jada there. It was kind of getting awkward at a certain point and I’m going ‘I can’t believe that you’re shy and you’re nervous’ and I remember we actually go into the scene where we’re kissing at the printing press and it’s toward the end. It’s a very emotional scene. The way we revved up into that was Will standing outside going ‘Yeah! We goin’ to get this scene! Woooo! Yeah! I’m ready to go today!’ (laughter) and I was like ‘you haven’t done that for the past fifty-five days. Why today, babe? You’re kind of freaking me out. I need a little bit of calm going into this. I need some candles and nice music and you’re screaming out there like you’re ready to play football or something’. It was freaking me out. But, it was so sweet. Everyone could tell that he was really, really nervous so I just was very gentle (she laughs).