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Rosario Dawson transcends boundaries of mind to put self in 'Trance'

Published On: Apr 09 2013 03:51:10 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 11 2013 10:09:42 AM CDT
Rosario Dawson in 'Trance'

Fox Searchlight

Rosario Dawson in "Trance."

It's not often where a script is so mesmerizing that an actor can't help but keep turning the pages, fraught with anticipation of what's coming next. But for acclaimed film star Rosario Dawson, the new mind-bending thriller "Trance" presented the sort of complex twists and turns that most performers could only dream of.

"Sadly, as too often the case is on screen, you feel like everybody knows what's happening next. But these characters don't," Dawson told me in a recent interview. "They're compelled to move forward and they have to. The circumstances are that crazy, they don't know what's around the corner."

The great thing, she added, her character, who exhibits a level of  control in the film, certainly has her vulnerabilities, too.

"I loved playing a character who is like a chess player who has a strategy. She thinks 10 moves ahead, yet she is playing with someone who is not predictable," Dawson said. "That changes up the game and makes her think on her feet."

Now playing in limited release and opening wide on Friday, "Trance" stars James McAvoy as Simon, a fine arts dealer who participates in the brazen theft of a $5 million painting with a crew of underworld fencers, led by Franck (Vincent Cassel). But in an effort to avoid making authorities believe there's a connection between the two men, Franck cracks Simon on the head as the auctioneer fakes playing a hero to stop the heist.

The problem is, the blow to Simon's head was so damaging that amnesia has set in, and he's hidden the painting in a place he can't remember. In a guarded attempt to help the information surface, Simon starts seeing Elizabeth (Dawson), a hypnotherapist who quickly figures out there's more to the man's motivations than what he's saying.

With so much money at stake, Elizabeth says she'll help Simon and Franck unravel the mystery in Simon's mind -- but there's more to the woman than meets the mind's eye.

While "Trance" offers up some familiar elements, Dawson said that audience members shouldn't go thinking that they have it all figured out until everything plays through.

"It was really fun to play something that wasn't linear and obvious," Dawson said. "There are things in there that make you feel like you've seen the film before, with the art heist and some thrilling, classic femme fatale elements, but they're all misleads."

Inside the mind's eye

Dawson said it was a thrill to do "Trance," not only for the chance to work with Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle, but to tackle the captivating subject matter of hypnosis. Once she embarked on her research for the film, she quickly discovered that there's far more to it than anything she's ever experienced before.

"Over the years, I've been at parties where there has been a magician, hypnotherapist or mentalist there, and you try it out because it's fun and you're curious," Dawson said. "But for 'Trance,' I went through the process of going to an institute in Los Angeles and seeing professional hypnotherapists. There's a whole other gravitas to it. It's not a parlor trick. It's not for entertainment. People come in with very real issues that they're trying to overcome, and they trust these people. They come into these places and want help."

Dawson said she was blown away by the level of sophistication involved with hypnotherapy "and the degree of learning how the brain works and functions, and how memories work, how the subconscious works, how habits are formed and broken, and changed and altered."

"All that sort of stuff works into how people overcome phobias, eating disorders or bad habits that they want to get rid of," Dawson explained. "But it's also about the willingness of the person showing up who says, 'I want to break this' or 'I want to deal with this,' and 'I've tried every other thing and I don't want to take medication or any of this other stuff. I just want it to go away. How can you help me?' They also might ask, 'Where did it come from, I wasn't born with a phobia, I learned it somewhere, so how can I unlearn it?"

Plus, Dawson learned, hypnotherapy isn't all about the person whose mind is being explored, but the person who is exploring it.

"The mind is a big, uncharted territory for a lot of us, and it's fascinating to know that you can train yourself to discern if somebody is lying -- or to gauge where someone is born and what kind of upbringing and status they have, just based off of what they're wearing," Dawson said. "And it's because (a hypnotherapist) has been trained to pick up those kinds of tells and signals that people are always giving off, but most of us ignore or suppress. It's fascinating to learn that it's something we can either use to help each other or hurt each other."

Dawson has several nude scenes in "Trance," including one where she goes full frontal. And even though she's as stunningly beautiful as ever at 33, and unarguably has nothing to hide, doing the scenes still took some serious thought.

When it came down to the decision to do it, Dawson said she didn't have to go so far as to put herself in a trance to determine that the nudity was an essential part of the narrative.

"You can do self-hypnosis (to convince yourself to do it) -- it's one of the books I picked up. But no, no, I didn't do it," Dawson said, laughing. "It was difficult to do to a certain degree."

"Would I normally just take off all my clothes and walk across a well-lit room in front of an entire crew of people for any rhyme and reason? Probably not," Dawson added. "But it made so much sense as the character I was performing and the situation that was happening, and the detail and the puzzle piece that was being brought to that situation. Someone asked me how I would describe that scene to someone who is blind, and that was very telling to me. It's not about the nudity."