At the Comic-Con in San Diego a few years ago, I went to what was billed as a conversation with filmmaker Kevin Smith, who's known for his epic, free-form chats in which he tells Hollywood stories, takes questions from the audience and riffs on whatever pops into his head. Smith, however, was stuck in traffic and running late, so the task of placating the auditorium full of rabid fanboys fell to Rosario Dawson, who at the time was promoting her involvement in Smith's film Clerks II. Forced into a role she had not anticipated or prepared for, Dawson handled the situation gracefully and smoothly, even when many of the supposed questions from audience members amounted to little more than, "You're hot."
Dawson exhibited that same grace and charisma today in her CineVegas conversation with USA Today's Lauren Ashburn, who, while not nearly as awkward as a room full of comic-book nerds, definitely seemed a little out of her depth onstage at the Brenden Theatres. For some reason, this year's CineVegas conversations with honorees (Dawson was presented the Half-Life award last night at Planet Hollywood) are all bunched up on the last two days of the festival, and only one is followed by a showing of one of the honoree's films. That might explain the lackluster turnout for this chat with Dawson; at the start of the hour, the theater was barely half-full, although people trickled in almost until the end of the event.
Dawson was charming and forthright, talking about her accidental introduction to acting (she was discovered sitting on her front stoop at age 15 by the makers of her first film, 1995's Kids); her eccentric, artistic family; her passion for choosing small, independent projects and giving her all even to small roles; and her political causes, which range from voter registration to stopping violence against women. She had a careful, considered answer to even the most inane of questions (how often are people asked to talk about their significant others in front of a room full of strangers?), and seemed to genuinely enjoy herself. Too often these festival conversations can turn out to be strained and not very illuminating, but this one was worthwhile for the people who made the effort to attend.