Rosario Dawson has been an enduring presence in Hollywood since she was introduced to audiences as a reckless teenager in the 1995 film, Kids. Now 41, the actress’s latest turn as protagonist is in anthology series Briarpatch (streaming now at SBS On Demand), where she plays determined investigator Allegra ‘Pick’ Dill.
Based on the award-winning Ross Thomas novel of the same name, the show follows Allegra’s return to her small hometown to conduct a relentless search for her sister’s killer. A stylish blend of crime and pulp fiction, Briarpatch sees Dawson (who also serves as producer) at her captivating best and continues her penchant for surreal drama.
To celebrate Dawson’s on-screen accomplishments over the past quarter century, we’re recapping her standout performances.
The Water Man (2020)
Dawson stars as leading lady in David Oyelowo’s upcoming directorial debut, The Water Man. The family flick, Executive produced by Oprah Winfrey, premiered last month at the Toronto Film Festival. Dawson’s role as a terminally ill mother to This Is Us child star Lonnie Chavis’ character Gunner (he seeks out a mythic figure known as The Water Man to save his mum’s life) was lauded as “reliably strong” in a preview by The Guardian.
Jane The Virgin (2017-2019)
In her longest run on a TV series so far, Dawson played shady lawyer Jane “JR” Ramos on comedy-drama Jane the Virgin for 17 episodes. Her character was brought onto the high-rating show in Season Four initially as a criminal defendant and then as a love interest for Petra Solano (Yael Grobglas) to explore her bisexuality. “Yael is incredible and I love her very much,” Dawson raved about her former co-star in a Buzzfeed interview earlier this year.
Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (2015-present)
The actress is partial to superheroes (she played Batgirl in video game Lego Dimensions and 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, and is Marvel Universe’s Claire Temple character) but her most notable voice talent role is for Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman in a series of animated films. Dawson has received praise for her work in 2015’s Justice League: Throne Of Atlantis, 2016’s Justice League: Teen Titans, 2017’s Justice League Dark, 2018’s The Death of Superman and 2019’s Reign of the Supermen.
Top Five (2014)
A sweet tribute to writer, director and star Chris Rock’s love for hip-hop, Top Five follows Andre Allen (Rock) as he confronts his past and stand-up comedy career while doing an in-depth interview with journalist Chelsea Brown (Dawson). Allen finds himself falling for Brown’s (or is it Dawson’s?) earthy charm and New York City realness. Dawson said being paired with Rock on the film was “a good fit” during a 2014 TV interview. "I completely trusted him. He knows his comedy and I know my drama.”
Labelled a “superb film” by famed critic Roger Ebert, Unstoppable stars Dawson as Connie Hooper, a railroad yardmaster tasked with halting the locomotive. An action movie based on the true story of a runaway train, it also stars Hollywood heavyweights Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. “I love that this story is told through the eyes of everyday, regular, normal guys who have the opportunity to be heroes and choose it,” Dawson told Digital Spy during promotion for the film. Unstoppable was a box office smash, grossing $234 million worldwide.
The film adaptation of Rent -- a musical set in New York City’s East Village -- was mostly panned, but Dawson got to show off her singing voice. The actress scored the part of heroin-addicted exotic dancer Mimi Marquez when Daphne Rubin-Vega, who played the character on Broadway, became pregnant. Dawson – who sings ‘Light My Candle’, ‘Out Tonight’, ‘Another Day’, ‘Without You’, ‘Finale A’ and other cast tracks – joked to MTV News that if anyone else had been cast in her role, “she would be missing in action right now”. “I grew up on the Lower East Side. There’s no one else who can play that role!"
25th Hour (2002)
Adapted by David Benioff (yes, of Game Of Thrones fame) from his 2001 debut novel, 25th Hour tells the story of the last day of freedom of a man (Monty Brogan, played by Edward Norton) as he prepares to go to prison for dealing drugs. Directed by Spike Lee, the movie features an all-star cast of Dawson and Norton plus Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Brian Cox and Anna Paquin. Dawson exquisitely plays Naturelle, Monty’s girlfriend, who at one point suspected of setting him up, adding further intricacy to her role.
Dawson has said playing promiscuous teen Ruby in Kids changed her life. The then 15-year-old was discovered in front of her Manhattan tenement by director Larry Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine, who were looking for non-actors for their intense coming-of-age drama. The movie dealt with topics of sex, rape, HIV, drinking, drug use and violence among New York City teens in the mid-1990s.
Season 1 of Briarpatch is now streaming at SBS On Demand. Start with episode 1: