There are a few things to know about Rosario Dawson: She’s usually the last one to leave a party (hey, she loves to chat), she’s not big on routine, and she’ll rise to the occasion when her 17-year-old daughter, Isabella, challenges her to do a cartwheel into a split. “I got up slowly,” the 40-year-old says with a laugh, slipping off her black Burberry trench coat at a café in Venice, California, as she recalls how she recovered after landing the move. “It was like, ‘Damn it! Thanks for letting me know I won’t be doing that forever.’ But I can still do it!”
Enjoying right where she is in life is something the New York City–bred actress has come to appreciate. “I have that East Coast energy of just go, go, go,” she says. “But it really is beautiful when you take your time.”
With her first television series lead role in the USA crime mystery Briarpatch, a growing relationship with Isabella (whom she adopted when the now-teen was 11), and a steady romance with New Jersey senator Cory Booker, or Cab, as she calls him, Rosario has plenty to bask in.
She credits this more laid-back attitude in part to her father, who underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer late last year.
“So much of life has gone by so fast,” says Rosario, who made her on-screen debut at age 16 in the 1995 indie drama Kids before appearing in movies like Sin City, Rent, and Seven Pounds, in addition to scoring the recurring role of doctor Claire Temple in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “But moments with my dad — just, like a meal — are the most amazing thing. I want to be present. It’s waking me up to really loving my life and therefore being okay with the good, bad, and ugly.”
What Rosario calls “being in my gratitude” has not only helped her tap into her happiness but is also, she hopes, making her a better mom. “Kids don’t listen to you; they emulate you,” she says. “I was always looking around the corner, wondering when my life was going to properly start. I’m in a different space to enjoy it now. I need to model that.”
As a parent, Rosario describes herself as “weird” and “funny” and admits that forging a strong kinship has been a challenge.
When Isabella came home with Rosario in 2014, “she was a very whole person,” says the actress. “We’re building up trust even still.” Waiting to get Isabella a cell phone and keeping her off social media has helped.
“I think it would have been difficult to bond so late in her life, and in our lives together, if we’d had technology between us. My daughter looks me in the eye, and we talk to each other. I think that’s important.”
They see a family therapist, which has strengthened their connection and encouraged Rosario to unpack some rough experiences from her childhood. “I’ve learned so much about trauma, and I’ve started looking at my own,” says Rosario, who opened up in 2018 on the podcast Morado Lens about being raped and molested as a kid.
Now, she says, she’s keen to get a therapist for solo sessions, seeing how much the joint appointments with her daughter have helped their relationship. “My go-to place was being angry,” she says of how she’s channelled her emotions in the past. “I want to stop that.”
Lately, wellness has been top of mind for Rosario. Wanting to ensure her father is as health-conscious as possible following his cancer diagnosis (hello, veggies and protein!) has led her to take a closer look at how she takes care of herself.
Prioritising the “moments I steal for myself,” she says, is paramount. “I will take a bath or do a face mask or read something poetic that’s just for me,” says Rosario, who also meditates regularly. But self-care isn’t something she’s always felt comfortable doing. “It’s only been in recent years where I’m like, ‘Let me get a massage.’ It’s actually necessary. If I don’t prioritise mindfulness, I am not going to be there for everybody in the way I need to be.”
Also high on her priority list: moving her body. “I’ll dance in my house for hours to Afrobeat, ’80s music, or house music and break a sweat,” she says, adding that having a regular gym routine isn’t really for her. “Going for a long hike and talking with someone — I can do that any day of the week.” She also started learning kung fu. “I’m excited,” she says, “because it’s a full-body workout.”
What she puts into her body is also essential. As part of her mostly plant-based, vegan diet, she enjoys oatmeal for breakfast, while other meals consist of foods like yams, spinach, potatoes, and vegetable stew. Fish also makes its way onto her plate. (As we chat, she’s eating a smoked salmon tartine with capers and avocado.)
“I’ve been reading about how the algae fish eat is good for your mitochondria,” she says. And even though she enjoys cooking, the personal chef Rosario hired to whip up healthy meals for her dad while he recovered from surgery at her home in L.A. has changed the game. “I just had fresh fucking beet juice a second ago!” she raves.
Rosario maintains a household free of meat and dairy, both of which were staples in her predominantly Puerto Rican–Cuban family growing up, but she does allow herself a few simple pleasures. “The joys of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” she says with a sigh.
Rosario is open to cutting other things out of her life, especially if they curb her lucidity. So, this year, she has decided to not smoke weed or drink. “I feel so contaminated by the planet, and seeing my dad going through this journey, I want to cleanse my body,” she says. “I want to have as much clarity as possible and be very intentional about every day.” Still, she admits she may not be able to resist marijuana entirely. “Four-twenty [as in April 2020] might be the month where I CBD out,” she says.
It may be out of the norm to hear someone who is dating a high-profile politician talk so openly about cannabis use, but Rosario can’t help but keep it real. (For the record, no, she and Cory, who have been dating since late 2018, aren’t engaged, but they have discussed marriage.)
“I could be asked to serve my country, and that’s scary to me because I’m a wild person,” she says. But that doesn’t mean Rosario – who advocates for voting, women’s rights, and anti-violence and also runs the CFDA award–winning sustainable clothing line Studio 189 with cofounder Abrima Erwiah – isn’t up for it. “We are excited about what we can create together,” she says of Cory and herself, adding that one of their goals is to open community centres in underserved areas. [Editor’s note: The interview for this article took place before Cory Booker withdrew his candidacy for President on January 13.]
She’s enthused to be in a relationship with someone who truly has her back. “Every morning that we don’t wake up together, he sends me a song, which means every morning he holds our relationship in his mind and his heart for a few minutes before he goes off into his big day,” she says. She wears an anchor pendant, a gift from Cory, who expressed wanting to be a source of stability in her life.
“I feel a lot of life ahead of us. It’s been beautiful feeling nurtured and taken care of,” she adds. “I’ve never been this close to someone. We make sure we connect. That’s something I’ve taken for granted in the past.”
Rosario certainly won’t be taking anything for granted in the future — not in her personal life and especially not in her career. Behind the scenes, as a producer of documentaries about issues such as youth homelessness and an upcoming feature centred on an African American veteran, she is dedicated to telling the stories of those who are often marginalized.
Fortunately, her platform continues to grow. “This job [on Briarpatch] was the first time I was number one on the call sheet. The responsibility and excitement of that are powerful,” she says. “I’ve put in the time, and I’m still raising the bar.”