Directed by veteran producer Denise Di Novi, the dramatic thriller Unforgettable follows the newly and happily engaged Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson), the new woman in David Connover’s (Geoff Stults) life. But as Julia is brought into the home David, the man of her dreams, once shared with his ex, Tessa (Katherine Heigl), and into the life of their daughter, Tessa’s jealousy pushes her to stop at nothing to reclaim what she still feels is hers, which brings up Julia’s own troubled past.
At the film’s press day, Collider sat down with actress Rosario Dawson for this 1-on-1 interview, in which we talked about her initial hesitance to sign on to the project, how director Denise Di Novi ultimately convinced her, why Julia tries so hard to make this relationship work, and re-envisioning one of the film’s big fight scenes. She also talked about being the connecting factor throughout the Marvel Netflix TV series, and how difficult it is to make cross-overs happen with the characters.
Collider: What was it about Unforgettable that drew you to this project? Was it something in the story or character that you were excited about getting to explore, or did you just want to get into an incredible bitch fight with Katherine Heigl?
ROSARIO DAWSON: To be honest, I actually turned down the movie the first time it got offered to me. I was like, “This is really great,” but I wanted to have a break. I remember, when I talked to (director) Denise [Di Novi], I had turned down the project. I was in Italy, and she called and ended up convincing me to do this movie. Sometimes the darkness of the world that we’re going into and the abuse attract me, to an extent, because I don’t mind playing the character that’s not the favorite, or has the best personality, or makes the best choices. I think it’s important to see people in all of their flaws, and to see the dynamics of them struggling with the complexities of all of those challenges. But I just remember being like, “I don’t know if I want to go there.”
And then, I spoke with [Denise] and she was so compelling about what we would really be going for and that we would not just be making some exploitation thriller, injected with some sex to make it titillating and provocative. We would really be very serious about the dynamics of these women, and not just, “She’s the bad guy, and this is the good guy.” We all understand the spectrum of reactions that these women go through and the choices they make in their strive for perfection, or how they control their lives.
I just got really excited, and [Denise] got me excited at the opportunity we had to make more than a popcorn film. It was definitely challenging. I’ve played a mom who’s a drug addict and who’s terrible with their kid. I’ve gone there, and sometimes the darkness can be difficult to grapple with, but I’m really, really grateful, in the end, that we explored this. I learned a lot. Still, watching the movie now, it’s not just Julia that I’m learning from. I’m looking at Tessa like, “I really need to address this about my personality ‘cause that’s not pretty!” And that’s important. This has been a really remarkable mirror on my life, doing this movie.
Did you ever wonder why Julia stayed with David, especially with how Tessa was acting, and didn’t just say, “I’m out of here! See you later!”?
DAWSON: There’s that reality. Of course, she is a strong women who’s done a lot of really important work to get herself to the place that she’s in, in her life, but hope is a really important thing. There’s a fantasy that she’s had, since she was probably a child, about what a real father-daughter relationship could be like that’s healthy, and that a real relationship can be loving. She’s just dreamt about it for so long and she’s never experienced it. It’s always been volatile. She’s gotten psychological help and done the stuff to deal with it and go, “Your normal is not necessarily anybody else’s normal, but you deserve better and can have better. You’ve just gotta deal with it.” I think she’s done all that work and she worked for that relationship. It didn’t just fall in her lap. It wasn’t just ‘cause she was cute and she’s just going with it and using it as a distraction. She’s worked really hard for it. That’s why she’s not willing to just let it go.
Also, everything isn’t just perfect because you do the work. He’s the one. You see him with his daughter and you’re like, “I didn’t make myself better and do all this work, just so that I can get any good guy. This is the person I’ve decided that I want to spend the rest of my life with.” That’s worth fighting for. If they break up, she’s back to just working by herself and having one friend. The stakes were really high for her to try to make it work. And ultimately, the thing that almost costs it for her is the fact that she doesn’t want to be vulnerable and really share the dark parts about her past. She’s actually overly precious with her relationship. She tries so hard to be perfect that she treats it like a fantasy and doesn’t allow for him to be a real person and really know her. I just thought that was such an interesting thing . . . Fear makes you do crazy things, it really does, and in that situation, maybe it actually kept her fighting. She know it takes work, and she’s willing to do it.
You have a couple of pretty scary fight scenes in this – one with a man and one with a woman – where you’re really fighting for your life. Were those very different to shoot?
DAWSON: Yeah, they were. It was great because I’ve actually been working with the same stuntwoman for the last couple of years, on all of the Marvel shows. So, Aja [Frary] was there and it was great to have someone that I’ve already worked with and who knows me. What was really great was the conversation that kept coming around. When we first did the scene with Simon Kassianides’ character, the way that they had my character trying to get out of it was by being very sexual with him. Julia saw that he was there and went, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here,” and was trying to sexually get her way out of it, and I was like, “Absolutely not!” Maybe that worked when they were in a relationship, before she got tools to get out of it, and maybe that’s how she survived that relationship doing it, but that’s definitely not where she’s at now. I wouldn’t believe anything that came out of her mouth, if she were able to just turn into a vixen to try to work her way out of it. It was really interesting. I was so grateful that we were able to explore that. We ended up finding it in a really great way, and it ended up being a completely different scene than what we originally intended to do. I think it’s way more honest and realistic to where these characters actually are in their lives.