Rosario Dawson‘s performances over the years have had her play everything from a drug addict suffering from AIDS to an Olympic goddess and pretty much everything in between. Born and raised in New York City to a loving mother of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, Dawson remains one of the most well-known Latina actresses in Hollywood working today. An outspoken champion for progressive rights across the board, Dawson has also managed to weave through her work on screen a keen eye for social justice. To celebrate her stellar work over the past twenty-plus years, we wanted to spotlight five roles that showcase what she’s brought to bear to the screen as an actress.
Of course, narrowing down Dawson’s two-decade career to just five performances means we had to make some hard choices. After all, we could just as easily have filled this list with her collaborations with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino (Sin City, Death Proof, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) or with her forays into serious indie darling territory (Cesar Chavez, 25th Hour) or better yet with her roles in modest blockbuster hits (Seven Pounds, Alexander). But we felt the performances listed below show her range well enough and offer a portrait of an actress willing to try on new things in different genres throughout her career. Plus, they’re all fabulous entry points to a career as eclectic as the actress herself. Take a look below!
Ruby, Kids (1995)
‘Kids’ still courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
You have this Harmony Korine-penned film to thank for having Ms Dawson in your life. In this explosive New York City-set project, Dawson—then only 15!—was cast as Ruby, one of the teenagers that populate this controversial take on American teenagers which included scenes that dealt frankly with sex, drugs and skateboards. Shot in a pseudo-documentary style, the film also starred a then-mostly unknown actress that, like Dawson, would become a fixture in Hollywood in the coming decades: Chloe Sevigny.
Mimi Marquez, Rent (2005)
‘Rent’ still courtesy of Sony Pictures
When it came time to turn the groundbreaking AIDS musical Rent into a blockbuster movie director Chris Columbus opted to keep the original cast nearly intact. Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp and Taye Diggs all reprised their roles. Sadly one of the parts that had to be recast was that of Mimi Marquez, which had played by Daphne Rubin-Vega. The Tony-nominated actress was pregnant at the time the film was to be shot and so Dawson stepped into the shoes of the ailing dancer who seduces moody artist Roger. She got to wow audiences with her rendition of the raucous anthem “Out Tonight.”
Chelsea Brown, Top Five (2014)
‘Top Five’ still courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Chris Rock’s exploration of the stand-up scene in New York City played like a series of duets between his character Andre and Dawson’s Chelsea. As the comedian who’s intent on remaking his image as a serious actor, Rock spends much of the movie showing Chelsea, a reporter for the Times, around his old stomping grounds as a way to show her who he really is. Of course, despite his impending (and reality televised) wedding, Andre cannot deny the spark he feels when he’s around the whip-smart and funny Chelsea.
Claire Temple, Marvel Cinematic Universe (2015-)
‘Marvel’s Daredevil’ photo by David Giesbrecht. Courtesy of Netflix
No, Dawson may not be a part of Avengers: Infinity War but she is part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, she plays an integral role in Netflix’s string of interrelated Defenders shows. First showing up as nurse Claire Temple in Daredevil—she offers him aid when she finds him wounded in Hell’s Kitchen—Temple has made appearances in each subsequent Netflix Marvel title including Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders, meeting each of the protagonists of those stories (and initially having strong romantic chemistry with two of them). A caring individual who’s as wry as she’s strong, Temple remains a staple of the New York City-based masked heroes world.
Jane "J.R." Ramos, Jane the Virgin (2018)
Rosario Dawson as Jane Ramos and Gina Rodriguez as Jane in ‘Jane the Virgin’. Photo by Greg Gayne. Courtesy of The CW Network
Clearly bit by the TV bug Dawson has most recently been seen in Jane the Virgin as straight-shooter lawyer lady Jane Ramos. First brought on by Petra as special counsel following her twin sister Anežka’s death, Ramos and her wily blond client soon began dating, Though, as with every other relationship in this CW show, they have had to overcome the kind of struggles only telenovela couples know (spoiler alert: it involves a broken heel and a possible murder weapon).