Three Great Things: Rosario Dawson

The executive producer and ensemble member of the new series Normal Ain't Normal on some of the stuff she's most excited about in life.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release of the new four-episode anthology series Normal Ain’t Normal, which follows four working-class neighbors in Oakland navigating the struggles and surprising possibilities of pandemic life, the show’s EP and cast member Rosario Dawson shared some of the things that give her joy in life. — N.D.

Grace Jones
I’m obsessed with Grace Jones. I’ve seen her in concert several times and I recently got to see her again, performing at age 74 – hula-hooping, whipping her hair around, dropping it like it’s hot, like she had the youngest knees in the room. It was insane. My dad told me a story of how he saw her perform in 1981: the very first song she came out, she was on a stage the size of a table and had a bullwhip. Some guy came up to join her and was trying to dance with her, and she just started whipping him and tripping him up, all while she was still singing and on point. Her energy is just next level.

When I saw her, she asked a bunch of people to come up on stage to dance with her and Janelle Monae ended up being one of the people, which I only figured out halfway through the dance they were doing together. You could just see on Janelle’s face, “If I play my cards right, this could be me in a few decades …”

I feel like there are so many other female celebrities who people talked about as being vivacious and sexy when they were younger, but as they get older that was deemed inappropriate. Madonna is a good example of that. And those people have to make it really clear, “I’m still sexual, I’m still a sexy being. And that’s totally allowed, no matter what age,” and be empowered in that.” I think that’s amazing. But I also don’t think it’s ever been a question if Grace was going to somehow pivot and do something else because she’s now older. She’s just Grace Jones – she’s ageless, she’s timeless.

I just took part in a Porsche driving experience with my boyfriend. I wasn’t expecting to drive, but it was awesome, especially as I’ve been used to driving a Prius since 2006. I’m still finishing up Ahsoka, so I filmed the day before till three or four in the morning and didn’t get home until about 5 a.m. I thought, “I’m so tired, but thank God it’s just going to be him driving.” I had to be at the track by 10:30 a.m., so I had about three hours of sleep. But when I got there, I was told, “So, this is going to be your car …” and I was like, “What?” I was very sleepy and tired, but that woke me right up! In my Prius, you step on the gas and it very slowly accelerates, but it’s a very different thing being in a Porsche 911 on a track, learning how to drift and all those fun things. It was really, really good and I was pumped. It’s so different when you actually have the freedom to hit the gas and use a car to the peak of its abilities, as opposed to driving in traffic. It’s so exhilarating.

I love driving and I’ve driven cross country multiple times. I drove my dad in a bus cross-country in 2020. Near the start of the pandemic, I sold my house and decided to move back to the East Coast to be nearer to my family, because no one knew how long this was going to last and it was clear I wasn’t going to be bicoastal for a while. He didn’t want to fly with me because he had just had chemo and pancreatic cancer surgery and was feeling really fragile. It turned out the only vehicle I could get to drive him in was a huge RV bus. I told him, “Dad, I know flying in a pandemic sounds scary, but driving cross-country in a bus is probably not that much safer,” but he said, “Cool. Let’s go. Let’s try it.”

It was a really amazing bonding trip with him. We went through a 100-mile lightning storm in Kansas, being pushed over by trucks, and the insanity of driving a bus in the mountains in Colorado. As we drove from state to state, we could see from the insects on the windshield the different climates and environments we were in. I remember there was a moment I hit a bug and when I used the windshield wipers to get it off, it streaked neon. I was like, “Fireflies – we’re officially on the East Coast!” It was such a fun, wild experience, having pit stops with friends and family along the way and spending the night in little camp areas they have for drivers off the highway. I had Popeye arms by the end of the trip. It felt really good to be able to take him cross-country and keep him safe.

Normal Ain’t Normal
My last thing is Normal Ain’t Normal, a new series that I’ve executive produced and also appear in. I previously worked with one of the co-creators, Josh Healey, on The North Pole, a really cool series that he was doing with Offsides Productions, a bunch of Oakland activists and local artists. The first season of The North Pole focused mostly on gentrification and the second one on immigration and other issues, and each episode was connected to an organization, so viewers could be active afterwards. I came on as an executive producer on The North Pole and ended up being in the second season also, and was trying to help with the show’s distribution. But then the pandemic hit.

When the vaccine started coming out about a year and a half ago, employers were wanting everyone to go back to work and saying, “It’s time to get back to normal.” Or rather, “It’s time to get back to capitalism.” But it just felt like a lot of what is “normal” and what we’ve normalized was very dangerous for so many people, and we couldn’t go back to that. Like, we can’t have learned about essential workers and go out and clap for nurses at 7 p.m. and then not show up for them when they’re trying to unionize or get a raise or just a fair wage.

Normal Ain’t Normal came about because we decided we had to start using what we learned during the pandemic to make some real change. Because it’s no longer the story that the status quo is just the way that it is and will always be. It’s been a year and a half since we got the vaccine, and normal still ain’t normal. And “normal” is what got us into this mess in the first place. We realized we needed to talk about these issues and tell working-class stories and connect them to organizations so that we can use art as activism. One of the things I’ve noticed a lot lately is people’s desire to learn and make change. They are watching TED talks and documentaries, and during the summer of protest over George Floyd’s murder, people were reading books and being really intentional and conscious about their actions. So we said, “Let’s do that with this show.”

Over the past year and a half that we were developing Normal Ain’t Normal, we kept being worried that if COVID went away and everybody went back to work, we might miss the moment to talk about these stories and the issues around them. But we’re still in it. At the screening of the show in Oakland, everyone was wearing masks. It’s crazy how long this has lasted, but it’s just made us feel that much better that we stayed the course and trusted that, no matter what, these stories are still sadly relevant because of the structures of this country’s systems. It’s going to take a long time for those structures to be changed, so talking about wage and health care and housing is still very important.

We got great people involved on Normal Ain’t Normal and the show is provocative; you see the anger and also the possibilities, which is what we wanted to share with people. The response has been great so far and I’m really looking forward to audiences seeing this and the conversations that can come out of that.

Featured image shows Rosario Dawson in Normal Ain’t Normal.

Rosario Dawson is an artist, designer and activist. She made her feature film debut at the age of 15 in the controversial Kids, followed by Spike Lee’s He Got Game and The 25th Hour. She’s since starred in a range of films including Alexander, Rent, Clerks Ii, Top Five, Trance, Unstoppable and Men in Black II, as well as the Sin City franchise. On the small screen, Dawson starred as Allegra Dill in USA’s Briarpatch and as Claire Temple in Netflix’s Marvel comic book series Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and The Defenders. She can currently be seen in the Hulu limited series Dopesick. Rosario has produced several passion projects such as Talia Lugacy’s features Descent and This Is Not a War Story, and The Need To Grow, which highlights innovators healing our broken food systems and the need for soil regeneration to capture carbon and reverse climate change. Recently, Rosario directed her first short film, Boundless, for the Power/On Series. In 2013, Rosario founded Studio 189 with Abrima Erwiah, a fashion and media lifestyle brand made in Africa that produces African and African-inspired content and clothing. She is extremely passionate about helping empower LatinX millennials to vote and lead so in 2004, she co-founded Voto Latino. The organization has registered over one million people and was one of the co-founders of National Voter Registration Day. In 2011, Rosario was honored by Barack Obama with the President’s Volunteer Service Award for her valuable contributions to the community.