Q: What gave you the chutzpah to go ahead and give [a musical] a try?
RD: What gave me the chutzpah? I have a lot of incredible family members who kind of take on everything. It's the same kind of attitude that made me go running with the bulls in Pamplona--even though that was probably one of the dumbest things I've ever done. [laughs] It was like, "All right, I'll try it." [laughs] I don't usually get scared about something until I try it and realize, "Oh, that was really scary." So that's kind of how I approached [Rent]. But I actually was really nervous when I went into the audition. It's one thing to go against some other actors for this part, but I was going against people who had actually originated these parts; people who had been nominated or actually who have gotten Tonys for it; people who know it inside and out, who knew Jonathan Larson as well and had totally the inside track--and I had never done it before. But I was really excited because I knew I could do it even if I was delusional--I very easily could've been delusional, you know? [laughs] My mom's always said that I sing amazing! [laughs]
Q: When did you know that you could do it?
RD: I just knew I could. I just love singing, and I love dancing. I wrote my first song when I was six; I've always been really flexible--it's really the only thing I've ever wanted to do. I was discovered into acting; it wasn't something I'd ever wanted to do. But singing and dancing has always been my dream, my fantasy. Like some kids want to be a ballerina, you want to be a princess, you want to be that--I always wanted just to be able to sing and dance.
Q: Why did it take you so long to finally do it?
RD: I got into acting, and then I fell in love with acting, and then that became my thing. I didn't really grow up seeing a lot of theater; I didn't see the original production of Rent for that reason. I didn't have the money to see it, and it wasn't something that I'd ever gotten into. The only musicals I'd ever really seen were on film. And I just really loved them, but it was sort of like that dream thing where I could just never imagine myself actually doing that. I saw my uncle doing West Side Story, and that's what got me excited about the idea of doing something like that.
[AP starts singing "Maria" from West Side Story]
RD: Exactly. [laughs] It was just one of those dreams. When I saw the movie, it was the the first time ever seeing myself in something where I was just like--I've actually never imagined I could do something like that. It really is a dream come true.
Q: Who was the uncle that you saw in West Side Story?
RD: My uncle Gustavo. It was actually really funny because he was one of the Sharks, and he died. My brother was four, and I think I was nine when I went to go see him. When he died, my brother jumped and was like, "UNCLE GUS!" and started running down [the aisle]. [laughs] That was also one of the things where I could see how like with music and with dancing and using your full body in that way, how you can really emotionally get people. Even my little brother who was four, and you'd think maybe he wasn't following the story that well--you really get so caught up in it, and especially for kids. In recess we'd be singing all the Ariel songs from The Little Mermaid. I'd always loved stories and songs together. It had been so important to me. I guess that's because it's so personal; I never thought that would be something I would do.
Q: Did this character [Mimi Marquez] resonate with you?
RD: Absolutely. I grew up in a squat on the lower east side. My mom was so much of what Mimi could've been or was. She was a young woman, and she was struggling. She moved into a building with no heat or water or electricity and thought that was a better opportunity for her even though her family thought that was crazy because she was an idealist, and it helped her to think that this is what she could do with her life. Even if it was a struggle, she knew she could build it with her own hands. She wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel, but she was trying to make a life for her that she felt comfortable in and could rest at night knowing she was doing the best.
Q: What did she do?
RD: We moved into a squat with no running water or electricity, and so she became a plumber so that she could put the sewage lines in. My dad was in construction, and when we first moved in, there was big, huge, gaping hole in the floor, and there was plastic for windows, and there was a plywood door with a chain. We had an extension cord that went from a building across the courtyard for the one refrigerator that we had for the entire building, and that's how we lived for a while. And so they built up the place around us, and she was the only person who had kids doing that. For her and my dad, that was better than living in the railroad apartment with the slumlord down the block, you know? So it was an interesting way to grow up, but doing something like Rent and discovering it when I did a few years after I had come out gave me the articulation to look back on my life and be really proud of what it taught me and where it puts me now. So I have the gratitude, especially going through playing someone like Mimi, who I'm so encouraged by and so inspired by with her vitality and just her chutzpah--but also knowing that she is sort of doomed and so needy for love and attention and for all the thing that I am not starved for. I have all of that, and I'm so grateful for it. She was 19; I'm 26. I'm doing all right. I'm feeling "no day but today"--not from the idea of my mortality being so close to me because I'm HIV-positive, and I'm a heroin addict; I'm feeling it because I'm so grateful for what I have in my life and the opportunities I have, and I see that every morning. I'm grateful that. I love Mimi--but I'm also glad that I'm not Mimi. That's a great thing.
Q: Adam, what was it like to invite her into the Rent family? The Rent family has been together for ages, and here was somebody new. Was it easy to invite her in and have her become part of it?
AP: Well, for the most part, all of us who were in the film had not done the show for at least eight years. So it wasn't like we were welcoming somebody new into this family that has been on stage for so many years together; it had been a long time since any of us had been involved in this project. So it was certainly long enough that to accept somebody new was not an issue whatsoever. Rosario and Tracie [Thoms] were the best possible people for these roles, and I'm thankful, and I think that the audiences are going to be thankful that they're in this movie. As soon as we all got together and met, our chemistries clicked. We were all so excited to be part of this project.
Q: Did you miss Daphne [Rubin-Vega, the original stage Mimi] though?
AP: Of course. Of course. Daphne was a huge, intregal part of the original production, and it was unfortunate that she couldn't be a part of the film--but that's not the way the stars lined up. This is the way they lined up.
Q: How strange was it for you to return to this after these years, and how different was it do it as a movie where you start and stop for shots as opposed to eight or nine times a week nonstop?
AP: To return to it was great because I had such a long break from it, so the material was at the same time ingrained in me--it was always there--but it's also very fresh. And also the fact that now the medium was different--that made it a completely new experience. And what was so wonderful was [that there were] those of us coming at this project from a predominantly theater background, and then those of us coming at it from a predominantly film background. The marriage of the two worked so well that this new family that was formed--those of us from the original Broadway cast and Rosario and Tracie and [director] Chris [Columbus]--again, it's all about the perfect alchemy. The chemistry of all of us together--I felt the same chemistry that I did Off-Broadway between the cast and [original stage director] Michael Greif and Jonathan Larson. We had that same chemistry making this movie: everybody was on the same page; everybody had the same vision of this film. In the same way I put all my faith and trust in Michael Greif when I was doing it on stage, I did the same thing with Chris Columbus, and I was not the slightest bit let down.
Q: When you're doing it at the New York Theater Workshop, when you're doing it on Broadway, now you're doing it on film--what is it about this piece that keeps bringing that alchemy together for you?
AP: Again, I mentioned something about the stars lining up. There's been lots of [Rent] casts all over the world, and that chemistry isn't always there, and the show isn't always so good. But I think that the original Broadway cast, the original Off-Broadway cast, and this movie--it needed to be right, and for whatever reason, Jonathan was watching us. It was right. If you believe in that kind of thing, he brought us all together because now this is on film; this is forever. The legacy could've been it was a great Broadway show; it's still running, but the movie sucked. Look at Phantom [of the Opera]. Phantom's still running; I love Phantom--the movie was terrible. We didn't want that same issue with this. There was so much more riding on it.
Q: What about the relevance of it? When Rent originally came out, it was very timely. Do you see parallels between Rent being released today and the period of the original play?
AP: For the movie, we pre-dated it, actually, to when the show was dated. The show took place in the early '90s, but now that it is ten years later, Chris felt that it needed to be pre-dated just a little bit because it's very important for the audience to understand that these characters who are HIV-positive believe--because it was true--that they're going to die vrey soon. In the late '80s, that was the case; if you were infected with AIDS, you were going to die. You could take AZT; you could prolong it to a certain extent, but eventually it was going to kill you.
RD: And that medication didn't work for a lot of people, especially for women; it actually gave them a lot more problems, if anything, and kind of expedited the process for some people.
AP: And now, AIDS is so under the radar for people here in this country and in industrialized nations. The only visions of AIDS that kids in America see today are of these poor dying people in Africa. Growing up, the only pictures I ever saw of African people were these poor people dying from whatever they were dying from. You know what I mean? You become so desensitized to it that kids need to realize that these characters who look just like them--these young, white kids--can get this disease and did get this disease, and back in the '80s, it was a death sentence. It's not so much of a death sentence today; there's great drugs, and you can live with it. But hopefully for the movie to be believable, the fear has to be real, and the audience needs to understand why there's such fear from these characters that have this disease. It's not measles.
RD: It was a visible disease then, with people walking around with lesions on their face, and you could see it. Now it's so under the radar. You have people like Magic Johnson doing press [saying], "Hey, I still have it, people," you know? Before it was this big moral disease, and it only affected homosexuals, and so if you stay out of these sweaty little places, then maybe you won't get it. And then it went under the radar, and you couldn't see it anymore. And now it's only this one thing that's happening in Africa, and we need to go and save it there. It's interesting how it's turned into all of these different ideas except for it just being a disease. It's a disease that's affecting humans across the world, and we need to treat it like that, and that's why it's spreading. Had we heeded that and the idea of it--especially when Jonathan put this play out, and it was so present for people to look at--it shows you ten years later it's spread so rampantly since then [that] we haven't taken it seriously in that way. We haven't said, "This affects everyone, and we need to not tolerate it, and we need to take care of it." It's become a pandemic now, and that's because we haven't paid attention. So hopefully putting this out here. There's so many other things about this movie because it's not an HIV movie; it's not an AIDS movie--this is about people. It is a part of our lives just as much as it was then. We need to take responsibility for it, and we need to look at it straight in the eye because it's ugly, but it's something we can handle. And so if we look at it like that, then there's something we can do positively for our future. Putting it in the hands of the teenagers that are going to be seeing this, for a whole new generation of kids to see it is going to be, I think, very powerful.
Q: Adam, where does the movie stand in your best performances?
AP: It's certainly my best performance of Roger. [laughs] It's an incredible sense of closure that I've been given, to have been able to originate it and then come back ten years later.
Q: Would you do it on stage again?
Q: Has it opened doors for film for you?
AP: It hasn't yet. [laughs]
Q: Speaking of that--Rosario, do you have something coming up?
RD: I play the manager of Mooby's. [laughs] It's actually really quite funny and probably going to be a really different kind of press situation after this. [laughs] But I think it's just really funny, really great.
Q: Will you be doing Sin City 2?
RD:Sin City 2 is a possibility. I just finished another film, Killshot, with [director] John Madden, based on an Elmore Leonard novel, [shot] up in Toronto. And the day after the [Rent] premiere I'm starting production on the film I'm producing with my company and my producing partner Talia Lugacy titled Descent. It's a rape/revenge story.
RD: Thank you very much.
Q: You've gotten so incredibly busy. Are you able to focus on a life outside of this business?
RD: Not so much. [laughs] There's definitely been a little bit of suffering in my personal life--not so much, obviously, with my boyfriend or my very close people in my life, my family. But to sort of extend it out is a little bit hard with people like my godchildren. It gets a little difficult because I just moved out to L.A., and they're out in Queens. But the film that I'm producing is being shot here in New York. It's six-day weeks, which is pretty rough, but on my days off I plan on spending time as much as possible with my family.
Q: A lot of your roles emphasize your beauty. When someone looks like you do, a lot of the roles you get are sexualized, and it's interesting to me that the first movie you're going to produce for yourself has a rape in it. Do you have concerns about being put into that pigeonhole?
RD: Not so much. I've done over 20 films, and I think maybe four or five them have been quite sexual but the other ones not so much. I'm excited about the one I just did with John Madden; most of my stuff is opposite. The character itself is supposed to be in her 50s, and they cast me, so it was like, "OK. [laughs] I'm playing a woman in her 50s who lives in a trailer home and loves Elvis, so I'm going to channel it through Rosario." You know? [laughs] So we did a lot of things; I have this really bad curly hair with the ponytail on the side of my head, and no makeup or anything except for pockmarks on my face. You have to see something about her [showing] that she has a low self-esteem about herself and imagines herself in a situation where she can be in a room with Mickey Rourke and Joe Gordon-Levitt, being abused, and feeling like she doesn't have any hope or any other options. I'm excited about being able to play a lot of different characters. I think that with someone who's very sexual and young and sprightly as Mimi can be, you also can see how insecure she is and how needy she is, and I think that shows so much. Just because you have that beauty on the outside doesn't mean that it's always working on the inside because otherwise she wouldn't be taking heroin every five minutes. So I think I'm lucky and I'm blessed to be able to show a diverse group of characters; I don't just have to be a character actor because no one wants to hire me for the pretty girl, and I also don't have to just always play the pretty girl. I'll do what I can for as long as I can. I said on Alexander--the nudity worked for me; I thought it made sense for the character, and also I'm glad that I can look at it when I'm in my 80s and be like, "I was hot!"
RD: But later on I don't feel pigeonholed to that because I don't pigeonhole myself into that. After I did He Got Game, every script I got was playing some guy's girlfriend who was hot and that was it. And I was like, "I'm sorry; I did that, and I did it very well... with Spike Lee." I don't want to do it randomly because it's not an interesting character for me to play. I guess also coming into this industry and not wanting to be an actor doesn't make me feel like I have to do these different things in order to be successful. I don't want it that bad; I'm just enjoying myself. And something like the film I'm doing right now [Descent]--it's not an explicit film, but it is a very harsh film that reminds me more of Kids than anything else, and it has a lot to do with race. So that's something I'm taking on in that film, which is something very exciting for me, and I hope that it, like Kids, breeds a lot of conversation and communication. That's the stuff that's interesting to me.
Q: When you did get past the movie, did you then go and see Rent the play?
RD: I had seen it before; I just didn't see the original cast. I was 17, I think, when it first opened, and definitely could not have afforded to see it even if I wanted to. And also it being such a similar mirror of what I've experienced growing up, I was like, "OK, a bunch bohemians living in the Lower East Side in squats strugglling, starving, and dealing with HIV. Hmm. I know that really well--don't see what anything is to sing and dance about."
RD: So I felt it was like, "Let's just make a really interesting show about all these interesting characters in the Lower East Side--no." I was actually quite insulted about it, and we specifically didn't see it. When we finally did come across the soundtrack my uncle had--my uncle Gus, actually--I was so moved by the articulation of these characters. I found out when I did finally get to see the show how beautiful and respectful it was, and what a human story it was, about the relationships, not about exploiting characters like we have on a lot of our TV shows today. "We're gonna a have a little drag queen, and a little Latino who will be spicy have funny little lines"--it wasn't like that at all. [Jonathan Larson] wrote it about his friends, and there's this resonant truth that's in it that really moves people. I dare people to watch this movie and not be moved when you see Angel die. I don't care if you respect his lifestyle or not--that's a lot of human being to lose. And that's beautiful, and that's something that can really breed conversation and breed tolerance, which is a really powerful thing. And that's not why [Larson] did it--he was doing it to celebrate his friends, and I think that comes across because it is a celebratory movie. Even in the midst of heartache and death and sadness and being broke and being hungry and cold, there's beauty there between these people because they supported each other. They didn't just survive together; they thrived together, and that's a beautiful thing. I think [that's] why we watch Friends so much, because we want to have relationships like that where people are gonna be there for you, good, bad, and ugly. I think that's what's going to be so moving about [the film]; that's what was so moving about it to me, and it gave me the articulation to look at my past.
AP: Which one of the friends is good, and who's bad?
RD: Well, through all of it. [laughs] It's just powerful, and I'm very excited about being able to talk about it, obviously, and bring out some more people. [laughs]
Q: Do you think that with the conservativism in this country that audiences will willingly embrace the film--in the Midwest, for example, outside New York and L.A. and San Francisco?
RD: I've gotten asked about that, how people are going to accept this film with liberal issues, and I don't see where the liberal issues are. This is about people and relationships and living. Actually a lot of the scenes and dialogue were cut where it was very specific talking about the HIV and the AIDS and specific situations. It's not a preachy film at all. I don't think it's trying to make you anything. I think you're just watching people's lives unfold, and you're watching it over a year's time. Things that move me are like the montage when they're just all together just laughing at New Year's. I don't know about you, but when I think about my life, I want to be around my friends having that kind of joy together, and that's how the memories strike me. When you have music the way this music is, it's so moving. These people are going to be people you either recognize or people that you want to know. I think that's a powerful thing--whether you want to include just one or two of them, there's still something in there for everybody. First of all, these characters wouldn't normally be protagonists in any story, and that's why I'm so proud of Jonathan putting it out there in the first place; but two, either of these individual stories would be a movie unto itself, and he didn't just do that, he showed a mixture of people--and that's New York. I think that's what's so attractive about it. That's New York City and the diversity of what it is. It's all possible.
MD: Adam, was the poster for [your former band] Mute in Mark and Roger's apartment your idea?
AP: It absolutely was!
Rosario Dawson at the press junket
(photo by Michael Dequina)
Adam Pascal at the press junket
(photo by Michael Dequina)