It's weird to say this about someone who's been working constantly since 1995, but Rosario Dawson is TV's newest breakout star. Watching her recent work in a pair of prestige miniseries is like seeing the actual painting after years of staring at the print: The basic impression is the same, but this time it's filled out by glorious colors, textures, and details.
Take her work in DMZ, the dystopian drama adapted from the DC graphic novel of the same name. Premiering this Thursday on HBO Max, Dawson stars as Alma, a medic in the aftermath of America's second civil war who sneaks into war-torn Manhattan to rescue her son. Across the show's four episodes, she kicks bad guy ass, forges political alliances, befriends a lonely child, and even sews up a guy's bleeding throat. And in between all that, she has time for emotionally raw conversations with people she loves. It's a killer role, and Dawson has the swagger, soul, and fury to make Alma feel mythic.
Meanwhile, she uses Dopesick, Hulu's recent miniseries about the opioid crisis, to prove she can also anchor a prestige docudrama. In that show, she plays Bridget Meyer, a DEA agent who feverishly yet fruitlessly tries to make the government limit the distribution of OxyContin. Just like in DMZ, this leads to heroic acts and emotional speeches, but this time Dawson shades her nobility with weariness. She makes Bridget inspiring and heartbreaking in equal measure.
And if those two performances weren't enough, she's currently filming Ahsoka, the upcoming Disney+ limited series about the character she plays inThe Mandalorian. In other words, Rosario Dawson is one Yellowjackets cameo away from total cultural dominance.
And it's about time! As much as anyone in the late 90s and early 00s, she was frequently teed up for superstardom, but every time a project looked great on paper, it never quite worked out. When Dawson starred in a film adaptation of a beloved Broawday musical, it was Rent, not Chicago. When she appeared in a high-concept Will Smith movie, it was Seven Pounds, not I Am Legend. When she did an expensive movie about ancient times, it was Alexander, not The 300.
All those misfires add up, and in the last dozen years, she's mostly had supporting roles in TV shows you've heard of (Jane the Virgin, Luke Cage) and leading roles in movies you haven't. It's something of a miracle, then, that in the last few months, she's had the chance to show such incredible range and skill.
And now we know. Now we have proof that if you just let her, Rosario Dawson can be the heroic center of a story.
Dopesick is now streaming on Hulu. DMZ premieres Thursday March 17th on HBO Max.
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Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.