Rosario Dawson Zookeeper Interview: Getting in Touch With Her Animal Instincts

Most people are in no way into being laughed at. But for Rosario Dawson as resident animal lover in Zookeeper, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rosario also mulled during this conversation, the strategy for getting her on-screen manimal attraction to co-star Kevin James just right, morphing into the wing woman for this movie, and the pluses of taking advice from those zoo creatures, however digital, about love.

How was it having Kevin James for your leading guy in this movie, and getting romantic with him?

ROSARIO DAWSON: It was such a wonderful process playing the wing woman! And then as the process was sort of unveiling, it was wonderful to find these moments, that we always kept very sincere, and really sweet.

We never did like some overt sexual or sensual thing where we kind of like looked at each other longingly and then went no, we’re on a different path. Like we never made it like that, because I don’t think real life is like that, you know?

I think most times, when you actually have that moment, that’s when you make a change. So to put it in any earlier in the film, would be like they were denying themselves something. And I really think that’s not what it was.

It was just all of us enjoying each other, and slowly coming to a realization that once that happened, you could make big bold moves. Like climbing a bridge and flying around! And it’s earned. Like you get there. And that’s kind of amazing.

What do you think Zookeeper has to say about love?

RD: I just think it’s so beautiful, the different animals that we were working with, we would talk about what their different behaviors were like. And like the eagles would mate for life, and always come back to the same nest. And so you’d learn all these different things.

And the different animals would give you advice, based on the types of personalities they were. And the types of animals they were. And I think there was a really interesting sort of discovery of going, we’re just animals like them.

Because a lot of the advice they would give us, was kind of in keeping with what we would do. But on top of that, it’s kind of just recognizing the animal that you are. And going okay, I don’t need to try to be an eagle, or try to be any of these other different things. Let me just be the person that I am.

And I am gonna be someone who’s gonna stink like a zoo all day! But I love working with animals. It’s a pretty thankless job, and I smell like animals all day long! So I’m gonna be with this woman who also represents that. And not have to change that about myself.

Because it’s actually what I love. And just go and follow your heart. So I think that’s what the message is. But it’s beautiful, and you have to discover that. And it’s fun to discover that. In all these crazy little weird animals!

What about co-starring with all those talking zoo animals?

RD: We got to hear and share everything together, all those voices, from the very beginning. So that once we went into the movie, even though they weren’t there, you had a sense of the personalities of what we were actually creating. And it was funny, and it was great and strong. So there was so much going into it.

Talk about that strange sheet dancing ballroom scene you pulled off with Kevin.

RD: I was so glad to make it as ridiculous as possible! Because Leslie and Joe were working on their dance. And we would go to rehearsals and watch them do this dance. And it was just getting better and better, and better!

And every time they were like doing their rehearsal, there would be just this flying, and all these incredibly structured moves. And all this really powerful stuff. And we were like okay, whatever you’re doing. And then the better and better they got, it just pushed us. And the more we were like, well we could also do this thing.

Or, I could spin you around and you could do this thing. It just made us go the exact opposite way. Every move they did that was my favorite, I went to Kevin, like get on my back. And then I try to throw up! And it was just like hokey and awkward and…just awful!

And it was just wonderful! And to have an opportunity to do that type of physical comedy in this, and just be as ridiculous as possible in a great dress and high heels and just go, forget it – was just amazing.

And what about when you did that double flip, and came through it?

RD: I loved that. It was awesome. My favorite in that scene, was when I pull it over Kevin’s arms, and I pull it over his shoulder. And whenever anybody sees it, they all laugh at that bit.

And I’d be like, I discovered that. I remembered, I discovered that. Because I had to spin him right after that. And I thought, oh I could do it like this! It was just very satisfying. That whole sequence was very fun.

Rosario, how did you like being in a comedy for a change?

RD: You know, it’s very funny. Because there’s been just a tiny little few that I’ve done. And a very long time ago. And Clerks 2 is obviously very genre specific. So to do something like this, was just really exciting. And challenging. And scary and fun!

How so?

RD: All the way through, I learned things like when you work on a set with a bunch of comedians, they’re gonna come in prepared with twenty-five jokes per line! Which I didn’t know first day going in. So I’m just saying my one joke over and over again, trying to sell it really hard. And by the end of it, everyone was just like, uh okay.

And then they’ve got another joke that’s about like snot coming out of your nose. And you’re like ughh! So I remember having to think about that, and going I don’t know if I’m really a funny person. I guess I’ve have to try! Yeah man, I was testing out jokes.

And then there was like this thick skin that you have to build up. You know, for people who are like, huh. And I’d be like, I thought that was funny! And they’re like, nah. Then you’d try to push something else. But it was just such a different process than anything I’ve ever worked on before.

And like improv on a comedy means something completely different than improv anywhere else. And it’s so amazing to be this many years into my career, and feeling like it was a completely fresh and new experience. Like just so exciting. But omigod the insecurities, like why didn’t anyone laugh!

How about Leslie Bibb playing the opposite to your sweet female as the…

RD: [whispering] Jackass. Don’t tell anybody!

Who was your favorite animal?

RD: My favorite was the monkey with the thumbs. Because a monkey can’t actually do that with their thumbs. So they built fakes thumbs that Crystal gripped.

And she held on to that, but looked like she was doing this other thing. It killed me. And it still kills me. It was the cutest thing ever. She was walking around holding these fake thumbs! It was so cute.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.