Rosario Dawson gives one of her best performances to date as June Bailey in Gimme Shelter. Written and directed by Ronald Krauss, it tells the story of Apple Bailey (played by Vanessa Hudgens), a young girl who runs away from June, her abusive and drug addicted mother, to find her biological father and escape the hellish world she has been growing up in.
Upon finding her father, a Wall Street banker named Tom Fitzpatrick (played by Brendan Fraser), Apple discovers she is pregnant and Tom encourages her to get an abortion. Instead, she runs away, again, and struggles to survive on the streets until she finds her way into a shelter for pregnant young women. Soon, she finds herself bonding with the other girls there. Unfortunately, it’s not long before June comes back into the picture, determined not to let her daughter get away from her ever again.
The great thing about Rosario’s performance in Gimmie Shelter is that, as much as she makes June a truly fearsome monster, she still gives the character a good dose of humanity to the point where you see her as a victim of circumstance more than anything else. It reminds us of the actress’ film debut as Ruby in the highly controversial Kids. In that film, Ruby admits to having unprotected sex with different men, but she ends up testing negative for sexually transmitted diseases. With Gimme Shelter, Rosario comes around full circle as she gives us a character that could have been Ruby if she wasn’t more careful.
Recently, we met up with Rosario at the Gimmie Shelter press day, which was held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. In talking with her, we came to see that the movie and its subject matter really hit close to home for her. Little do many people know, in addition to acting, Dawson is also involved in various outreach programs, and it turns out that her upbringing wasn’t all that different from June’s or Apple’s. She also talked about working with Vanessa Hudgens, whom she shares some pretty violent scenes with, and her familiarity with the work of Kathy DiFiore, whose founding of Several Sources Shelters proved to be the inspiration for this movie.
Check it out below and enjoy!
What was it that made you want to do this movie?
Rosario Dawson: I think I had a lot of reasons that compelled me to be a part of this. My mom was a teenage mom; she got pregnant with me at 16. I don’t know my biological father so that could’ve totally had a huge impact in my life had it not been for the fact that my stepdad married my mom when I was one and raised me as his own. He’ll always be my hero for life because of that, marrying some woman whose child is not yours and she’s 18 and he was like 21. It was just really remarkable.
I have family members who have crack addiction and seeing how destructive that has been for them and the damage that inflicts. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s in New York and watched the epidemic of crack and saw what it did to entire communities.
My mom worked in a shelter when I was 10 called WOMAN, Inc. in San Francisco. She used to work for Housing Works as well, taking people off the street and giving them an opportunity. Just because you have HIV and AIDS doesn’t mean that you’re not a person.
So much about this really kind of caught my attention. But I had to put all of that aside because here, I’m playing the addict and I had to really put myself in that position. This person truly believed that it wasn’t their fault. She’s all self-denial, no lack of responsibility, no self-reflection, and to do so would be so confronting that it would probably break her, so she just refuses. Just when you think she’s gonna get it, she pushes it aside because it would just be too much for her to see. And she can’t even be happy for her daughter trying to have something different for herself because it would again only make her realize that she made bad choices that she doesn’t want to look at.
I think that’s something relatable to all of us. So my challenge in that was showing the monster that she’s created herself to be, but that that monster has a possibility of living in all of us and that we can all relate to that. That’s how bad it can actually get. So, talking about Kids, this is Ruby all grown up. Maybe she didn’t get HIV/AIDS on that test, but what happens next? What life choices she makes at 15, 16 years old could be for the rest of her life. It’s thinking about playing Mimi and we romanticize Mimi as a stripper who’s addicted to drugs, to heroin, and she finds love and there’s sing-song and dancing and she dies but she comes back in the end and it’s like, “Yay!” But this is Mimi that, instead of contracting HIV and AIDS, gets pregnant and doesn’t find that chosen family. She ended up in the street and it just spiralled from there.
I think I’ve been lucky in that I’ve gotten to play so many different types of roles that sometimes really do touch on the subject matter. Sometimes they are completely not about that at all, but to have this opportunity to show this other side of it, I think that’s really important because there’s going to be a lot of Junes that you’re going to walk by to go into the theater to see this movie. But hopefully when you walk out, as much as you might have ignored her and stepped over her on your way in, hopefully you will see Apple on the way out and you’ll be like, “Hold on a second, let me see you.”
Apple was clearly, statistically on the road to being exactly like her mom. And if it wasn’t for people stepping in and going, “Hey little girl, I know the world’s really put you down. You have every right to be angry. You’re been told since you were a child that mommy and daddy were supposed to love you and take care of you, and that’s not been your reality and I can’t undo that. And I know I’m a stranger and you have no reason to trust me, but I’m telling you I see you, I care about you and I have a home here and you really don’t have to sleep on the street tonight if you don’t want to. You’re more than welcome.”
The choice of that is on both sides because you can’t take an addict and stick them in a shelter and think it’s going to work out. They have to choose to be there. There’s such beauty in that connection, so for me it was so awesome looking at Vanessa on day one and she was in it and I was in it, and she wasn’t going to look silly by putting herself out there because I was going to make sure that the demon that she was running from was that scary. And on the other side of it was her transformation. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get to see it in her because you see it enough in Apple that it makes you remember June and go, “Oh wait, she was also a teenage mom and that could have also been her.” And it’s actually shame on you if you just think monster and write her off because she’s a person, you know?
I think there’s such power in that so I’m really grateful to Ron for doing this, and he didn’t make it up. He really met these people and did the real thing and made it good. I think if you try to just write a story about poor girls and crack addiction, well, we’ve kind of seen that fall on its face before. To dramatize it feels wrong. This was something else. This felt like sharing it and it was really cool to do it with the people there every day giving their blessing on it. It made it really impactful.