Dawson in DMZ and Drug. (Pictures: HBO Max, Hulu)
It’s weird to say that about someone who’s been working steadily since 1995, but Rosario Dawson is TV’s new star. Watching his recent work in a pair of high-profile miniseries is like seeing the actual painting after years of looking at the print: the basic print is the same, but this time it’s filled with color, wonderful textures and details.
Take his work to DMZ, the dystopian drama adapted from the DC graphic novel of the same name. Premiering this Thursday on HBO Max, Dawson plays Alma, a nurse in the aftermath of the Second American Civil War who sneaks into war-torn Manhattan to save her son. Over the course of the series’ four episodes, she kicks a bad guy’s ass, forges political alliances, befriends a lonely child, and even sews up a guy’s bleeding throat. And among all this, she has time for emotionally raw conversations with the people she loves. It’s a killer role, and Dawson has the arrogance, soul and fury to make Alma feel mythical.
During this time she uses Drug, Hulu’s recent miniseries about the opioid crisis, to prove it can also anchor a prestige docudrama. In this show, she plays Bridget Meyer, a DEA agent who tries feverishly but unsuccessfully to get the government to limit the distribution of OxyContin. Just like in DMZ, it leads to heroic deeds and moving speeches, but this time Dawson wearily shades his nobility. She makes Bridget inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.
And if those two performances weren’t enough, she’s currently touring Ahsoka, the upcoming Disney+ limited series about the character she stars inThe Mandalorian. In other words, Rosario Dawson is one yellow jackets cameo away from total cultural domination.
And it was time! As much as anyone in the late 90s and early 2000s, she was often drawn to fame, but whenever a project looked good on paper, it never really worked. . When Dawson starred in a film adaptation of a beloved Broawday musical, it was To rent, do not Chicago. When she appeared in a high-concept Will Smith film, it was seven books, do not I’m a legend. When she made an expensive film about antiquity, it was Alexander, do not The 300.
All of those duds add up, and over the past twelve years, she’s mostly had supporting roles on TV shows you’ve heard of (Jane the Virgin, Luke Cage) and lead roles in movies you don’t have. So it’s a bit of a miracle that over the past few months she’s had the chance to show off such incredible range and skill.
And now we know. Now we have proof that if you let her, Rosario Dawson can be the heroic center of a story.
Drug is now streaming on Hulu. DMZ premieres Thursday, March 17 on HBO Max.
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Mark Blankenship is the editor of Primetimer. Tweet it at @IAmBlankenship.