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Rosario Dawson drove her family across country mid-pandemic on 'empowering' bus trip

·6 min read
Mary (Rosario Dawson) embraces her caring son Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) in the family adventure "The Water Man."
Mary (Rosario Dawson) embraces her caring son Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) in the family adventure "The Water Man."

Rosario Dawson’s new fantasy adventure “The Water Man” is akin to the films she grew up with, like an “E.T.” or “Stand by Me" that featured clever, independent kids grappling with serious subject matter. And playing the mom in her new tale, she’s the glue keeping this particular film family together.

Directed by David Oyelowo, “Water Man” (in theaters Friday) centers on a young artistic boy named Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) whose sick mother Mary (Dawson) is struggling with leukemia. Wanting to help her, Gunner runs away to a vast forest to track down the mythical Water Man, said to hold the key to immortality.

With her new role, Dawson, who turns 42 Sunday, wanted to explore that “even at our worst, we can still show up and be our best.” It was an important lesson she was learning in real life at the same time: She took on the role partly because her father Greg had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and she was going with him to chemo treatments and talking him through various changes in his life.

“I can tell you, it doesn't matter what age you're struck with an ailing parent, it's devastating and really tough,” says Dawson, mom to adopted daughter Lola, 18. “Death and our relationships are something we all have to be clear about and this film shows you a really beautiful way of exploring that and hopefully having that conversation with your own families.”

After moving last summer from L.A. (where she lived for 15 years) to Newark, N.J. – where she resides with her boyfriend, Sen. Cory Booker – she’s now commuting to and from Richmond, Va., to film the new Hulu opioid drama miniseries “Dopesick” co-starring Michael Keaton. Once that's over, she’s doing HBO Max’s dystopian “DMZ” in Atlanta – Dawson filmed the pilot with director/executive producer Ava DuVernay a year ago – plus she’s on tap to brandish dual lightsabers as the title “Star Wars” character of Disney+’s upcoming “Ahsoka."

Rosario Dawson debuted as Ahsoka Tano in the second season of "The Mandalorian" and she'll next be seen in her own "Star Wars" series on Disney+.
Rosario Dawson debuted as Ahsoka Tano in the second season of "The Mandalorian" and she'll next be seen in her own "Star Wars" series on Disney+.

Now a “Jersey girl,” Dawson talks with USA TODAY about her new family film, the epic bus journey she took mid-pandemic with her dad and her upcoming trip to that galaxy far, far away.

Question: First off, did you enjoy the first pandemic Oscars?

Rosario Dawson: It was pretty bold to have it be so in person. Now that I've also had my second vaccine, I'm going to start licking doorknobs as well. (Laughs) It just felt really great to feel like we are finally starting to get on the other side of it. It would have been very challenging for people to get through this quarantine without music, film and television, binge-watching all kinds of stuff. These things are vital to us as human beings and it was just really beautiful to see that recognized and dignified at the Oscars this year.

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Q: What’s special for you about “Water Man”?

Dawson: It’s a journey so many of us can relate to and it's done with a family of color: It still has all the fun magical realism that I grew up loving but didn't necessarily actually see myself in. It is important to start being way more inclusive in our storytelling and give us the chance to relate to each other in that way.

Q: What's one kid adventure film from your youth you've introduced to your daughter that she actually liked?

Dawson: “Labyrinth,” for sure. I haven't shown her “Legend” yet – I think she'd like it. I don't know if she'll have the same reaction. For me, I was like, sparkly Tom Cruise? I'm sorry, you're just going to have to go. I'm going with barrel-chested, hooved and horned Tim Curry (as) Darkness. What a dynamic creature and character. She'd probably pick the unicorn.

Q: How's your dad doing now?

Dawson: He's doing really well, still cancer-free. He didn't lose too much of his hair. I got him going vegan at least for that time until he got the inflammation out of his system. It's been challenging. It's a scary and really tough disease. He got his diagnosis around the same time Alex Trebek did so it's been scary kind of imagining what could happen. So we're not taking anything for granted, to enjoy every day that we possibly can and love each other.

Q: What was it like to move cross-country during a pandemic?

Rosario Dawson, left, moved to from L.A. to Newark, N.J., last summer to be with her boyfriend, Sen. Cory Booker, right.
Rosario Dawson, left, moved to from L.A. to Newark, N.J., last summer to be with her boyfriend, Sen. Cory Booker, right.

Dawson: That was intense. My dad had finished his chemo, he'd had his surgery. He was just starting to get to the point where he was recuperating and could be more active. And then the pandemic hit. We were very scared for him and my mom, who's diabetic and asthmatic. We're East Coasters and I was away from my boyfriend and we were away from my brother's family, and we all just wanted to move back. So we did. But the only vehicle I could rent that we could drive cross-country and was outdoorsy was a 29-foot-long, 13-foot-tall bus.

I had to do all the driving because my dad couldn't. I remember being like, "Dad, I get you don't want to fly, but it's not safer to drive 3,000 miles in a big old bus." But he felt confident that I could pull it off and when I got him safely to New York, I remember him turning to me and saying, “You should get your pilot's license. This was a boat you just took cross-country. I believe you could do anything after that.” So it was very empowering.

Q: Have you learned how to be a Jedi for “Ahsoka” yet?

Dawson: I haven't gotten so much into the training as much as I'd like because I'm totally anxious about (the show). I'm excited actually, when we go down to Atlanta (for "DMZ"), a lot of the stunt folks that I worked with on all the Marvel shows are all down there. I'm going to try to get the Cliff Notes version of martial arts and see how (awesome) I can be by the end of just a few months. These folks have been doing it their whole lives and I’m like, “There's ways to kind of fake this while doing it, right?”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'The Water Man': Rosario Dawson on father's cancer, Cory Booker move

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