As the skies of Manhattan burst open and flood the steamy streets with rain, Rosario Dawson walks into the lobby of her hotel completely drenched. Dressed in a long, Grecian-style black silk dress, with perfectly luminous skin and her thick, dark hair miraculously unfazed by the humidity, the 32-year-old actress heads to her room to dry off.
A few minutes later she returns to the lounge area, where she orders two salads—baby arugula with grape tomatoes, and artichokes with a truffle vinaigrette—and a pot of peppermint tea. With an emotionally difficult two weeks behind her, a relaxed Rosario settles in for a long, heartfelt chat. “I haven’t had a lot of sleep in the last 10 days,” says Rosario, sipping on her tea.
On the heels of many sleepless nights spent at the Cannes Film Festival promoting her latest movie, the rom-com Zookeeper with Kevin James, Rosario returned home to Los Angeles to the terrible news that her beloved grandmother Mima had passed away suddenly at the age of 75. “My heart is broken,” says Rosario, her eyes brimming with tears. “I’m absolutely devastated that I’ll never speak to her again. I couldn’t have loved her more, but I could have loved her longer.”
It would have been easy for Rosario to use a horrid experience as an excuse to shut down and cancel this interview, but that’s not the kind of woman she is. Whether you’re getting a divorce, or you lose a job, or your child gets sick, “change is going to happen,” she says. “It’s how you process it that makes all the difference. With the right tools, you really can feel like you’re turning a page and starting a new chapter.” Rosario shares some lessons that help her stay centered and healthy, even when life throws you a major curveball.
Your Body Knows Best
Dawson contemplates the two delicious-looking dishes that have arrived. “I’m so starved for salads right now,” she says, mixing them both onto one plate. “I was in North Carolina for my grandmother’s burial, and all we ate for a week and a half was meat. The word ‘salad’ never came up in conversation.”
This is unusual for Rosario, who was raised by a very progressive mother on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “My mom was practicing vegan and raw diets years ago, so I understood eating healthy at a young age,” she says. “We even belonged to the local co-op. I mean, we had Spam too, because we were poor and had to take whatever we could get, but we stopped eating white bread when I was 6.”
These days, Rosario lets her body call the shots. “Whether it craves fresh vegetables or foie gras, nothing makes me feel better than having something I really enjoy,” she says. Rosario eats three to five meals a day, depending on her schedule—most made from scratch at home. “I’m great at salads because I love chopping things up,” she says, “but I also enjoy making dishes like lasagna and coconut rice with pork chops.” And when she wants a glass of wine or dessert, no problem. “The stress you put yourself through for having a treat is probably a thousand times worse for you than the sugar you just had.”
Powering Up Can Calm You Down
Whether we’re too busy or feeling overwhelmed, the first thing many of us give up is exercise, says Rosario. It’s ironic, since that’s often the one thing that can help us through difficult periods. “It’s meditative and calming to get your body in motion,” she says. “But getting back in the saddle can be the hardest thing.” For the actress, that means finding something she really likes to do.
A longtime yoga enthusiast, Dawson has recently become obsessed with Pilates. “Leslie Bibb, my costar in Zookeeper, got me into it,” she says. “After just a couple of weeks, I noticed a physical change, especially in my posture. Now I stand differently, I sit differently. I don’t love working out, but I can honestly say I miss Pilates and how it makes my body feel. And there’s nothing like it when those endorphins kick in.”
Helping is Healing
Despite what she’s gone through the past few days, Rosario is ready to start feeling better. “Grief is so seductive,” she says. “Part of me wants to crawl into a hole and cry because nothing else matters, but that’s just not an option.” She’s already back promoting V-Day, an organization created by The Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler, for women who are victims of rape and violence.
“Since Mima’s passing, I have this sense of urgency and all of this energy to get things done,” says Rosario. “I need to stay furiously passionate for the rest of my life. I don’t want my tombstone to read: ‘She played it safe.’”
Look for more on Rosario Dawson in the August issue of SHAPE, on newstands now.