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Seven Pounds’ Rosario Dawson on Awkward Love Scenes With Will Smith

Kehinde Wiley’s The Virgin Martyr St. Cecilia (2008).

After chasing around Shia LaBeouf in the $175 million-grossing techo-thriller Eagle Eye earlier this year, Rosario Dawson spends Seven Pounds with her pulse very much under control. Opposite Will Smith’s tightly wound, curiously hermetic IRS agent, Ben Thomas, Dawson plays Emily Posa, a terminally ill young woman with a slew of past-due medical bills who sparks an unlikely connection with her auditor. Dawson recently spoke with Vulture about Kids, dogs, lying postcoital with an awkward Will Smith … and more.

You’ve worked with Will before, albeit on a very different sort of movie. Was there any discernible difference to his process?
I didn’t recall him having an acting coach on Men in Black II, I could be wrong. [Laughs] Since then, he’s done Ali, so besides punching everything on set, that also gave him a gravitas that he really hadn’t had before. As goofy and fun as he can be, he worked with his acting coach a month before [shooting Seven Pounds]. He came here prepared and knowing who Ben was. And it changed his personality to a certain extent. He was staring at people, to the point of discomfort. We’d have these conversations on set because I became really curious as to whether I was talking to Will or Ben. And I think at times he didn’t even know. It was interesting talking to him about going home and hearing that Jada was telling him, “You’re driving me crazy! You really need to stop looking at me like that.”

The movie’s love story sneaks up on you. It reminds me of the old saying about loves being for “a reason, a season and life.”
Yeah, it’s a slight bit more than ships passing in the night, but basically still relegated to that. In that particular sense, it’s for a reason and a season between them. That was something that took a lot of time developing. Luckily for me — because this movie was going to happen with or without me — during the audition process we discovered we had a good chemistry between us. Gabriele [Muccino] said he felt that just from looking at the audition tape. And Will’s energy is so strong that if you’re only pulled in one direction, then you really lose something significant because Emily’s not just “the girl” in this story. She’s one of the seven strangers who Ben touches, yes, but she touches him back, in a really deep way. She says, “I have six weeks. It could be really nice to dance around each other, and it would be awesome if I had a couple years to do it, but I don’t. So when I ask you if you ever think about dying, I really mean it and want you to have an answer, and if you don’t, forget it.”

One of the film’s more affecting passages is a postcoital scene, which is amazingly tender, with so much said that isn’t on film. How long did that take to shoot?
We did both the actual love scene and that scene that day, though we shot over two days for that whole segment. It was great that we had the time because Will was very nervous. We were in bed together and doing this really tender moment. And Gabriele was like [in affected Italian accent], “Touch each other’s faces … Will, what is that, it’s like slapping! Be gentle!” But it was funny and actually very precious to see how nervous and shy Will was about it. Before we went in for our kiss, he was literally psyching himself up, like, “Yo, we’re gonna kill this scene!” I’m like, “Uh, yeah, Will, I brushed my teeth today, we’re all good.”

Your character deals with a gigantic dog, too — are you more of a cat or dog person?
I’m more of a dog person, but actually I’m really allergic to animals in general. For the movie, I was on two different types of pills and a cream; I was breaking out in hives. There were two “Dukes,” one who slobbered a lot more than the other — and I was head-butted in one scene by that horse! The scene where I fall we must’ve shot 25 times, with me cracking my head against the floor, because the dog didn’t know where to go — it would stop, it sat on me twice. I was like, “Are you kidding me!” My brain was rustling in my skull.

Looking back, could you ever imagine or envision the career that you have now?
Kids was 100 percent a lark. I was hanging out on my stoop, and Harmony [Korine] and Larry [Clark] came up and asked me if I wanted to do a film they were doing — very lasciviously on Larry’s part, I might add: “Yeah, I’m a photographer, it’s my first movie!” And I remember going, “Right!” We’re in New York City, so I said, “You guys, I need to see a script.” I read it: a really sexually promiscuous 17-year-old. So I said, “My parents said I can’t smoke.” That was the only thing. Saying all that dialogue was fine, but not the smoking! I’m glad I said yes, because I still like marine biology, but I don’t think I’d be as happy doing that as I am right now.

You mentioned comic books — what’s the latest on your series, Occult Crimes Taskforce?
We’re hoping to put out another mini-series soon, at least before the next Comic-Con. We’re taking the film rights from the Weinstein Company to possibly someplace else, which I can’t name just yet. And I’m working still with David Atchison, who’s my co-writer. It’s a great world to be in; I have such a respect for the comic world and industry. I’m looking at Frank Miller’s genius and really looking at how his world in comics has been transformed into cinema: That will be recognized through history, from Batman to Bullseye.

Seven Pounds’ Rosario Dawson on Awkward Love Scenes With Will Smith