Meet the ladies of “Top Five.”
Written, directed , and starring Chris Rock, “Top Five” tells the story of New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist (Rosario Dawson) forces him to confront the comedy career—and the past—that he’s left behind. Rosario is excellent as New York Times journalist Chelsea Brown. Read what she had to say below:
So, what was it like to play the other side? You’re normally the one getting interviewed.
R: Yes, it was really fun, actually. It was nice to be asking questions, you know. And how she did it—she was really assertive, and she was really communicative, and she shared, and she was willing to put herself out there in as much of a way that was necessary to get the story that she wanted. And I think that was really cool, for people to recognize and see the moves you make, you know what I mean? It can be very aggressive, you know, and it can be very passive aggressive, and it can be, very revealing of the person and the kind of questions that they ask. You know, it’s not like when you read an exposé on someone, that that’s just who they are; it’s who they are through the filter of someone else, and it’s good to be able to know what that filter might be. Spending that time with Chelsea Brown, you get to see some of her filters and it’s very interesting.
And Chris is the writer, the director, the star. Speak about working with him in all those capacities.
R: It was incredible, you know. He had written the role for me and I was pretty much gonna say no to it, and he convinced to come on board, and we collaborated on really developing Chelsea Brown as a character, because I wanted to love her. I didn’t have the instinct for her in the beginning, she wasn’t coming off the page for me in the way I thought she needed to be, and like he wanted it to be, and that’s why he wrote it for me, because like “Please, put your stank on it,” you know, and it was incredible to see that he did that with everybody; every single person got an opportunity to really own their characters and bring so much to it. And as a writer, a director, and a star, it makes it really great for us actors because it’s like one-stop shopping, like if I have any questions or ideas or anything, you’re the person to bring it to. But also, that could be really dangerous, because if I come to you and I’m like, “Hey, I really wanna change this line,” you know, that could make or break the movie for you, you know, and I would hate being friends with him since I was nineteen years old, for me to kinda go: “Can we change this?” and cost us our friendship. But he’s just amazing. He’s a very collaborative person, he’s a very smart guy, and he wanted his movie to be great, and was willing to do anything to make that happen. And working on it for three years for him? He was happy to keep it fresh, bring it up, “what else does it need?” you know? “Own your character.” “Bring it.” So we brought it. It was awesome.
In the movie your character has different pen names, so if you could go by any alias what would it be?
I do go by different aliases sometimes. I’ve realized that I have to do that when I was working on “Josie And The Pussycats,” and the paparazzi would follow us around. Like I’m nobody, nobody wants to follow me around. But then the movie came out and people started calling up to the room and being really crazy. And they were like, ‘That was you!’ And then I was like, ‘maybe I should start using a different name, this is really weird.’ But, yeah, I think it’s a fun thing and I like that idea were you’re traveling and you get to go someplace, and I know a friend who did that once, she went to an away school and she told everybody that her name was like Leslie or something, and she has a whole group of people who know her as Leslie and it was such an interesting experience. You kind of can change anything about yourself. When you go on location, you’re a new person, there’s no one to be like, ‘stop it! You never act like that!’ And so I think it is really important to recognize some things that we hold so tight to our identity, like, this is me. But actually, a lot of that is conditional. If you were even just born across the street or with a different name, you’d be such a different person, and that’s a really good thing to do. I get to experience that all the time being an actor and getting to put myself in someone else’s shoes and I think an alias does that for people.
If you were to take a reporter around New York, cause you’re a native New Yorker, where would you take them to get to know you?
R: Coney Island. All the way. Lower East Side, lots of places. Tompkins Square Park, Central Park, and going upstate. You know, you’d have a little bit of time in Brooklyn, you can go through Queens and The Bronx—that’s all really good—but you wanna spend some time in Manhattan and you wanna go upstate. It’s a really diverse space, New York. It’s very different. A lot of different cultures, and I love that about New York. It’s just been the best education. It helped me see who I could be in the rest of the world. You know? Growing up with all these different accents, Chinatown and Little Italy and all of these different spaces, so “Yeah, it’s not like that in actual Italy or actual China” but what a great way to experience and understanding that there is diversity out there? Because when you grow up in other places in the world, it’s not like that. In a five-block radius in just about anywhere in New York, you can get Dominican food, Cuban food, Spanish food, Chinese food, Korean food, Japanese food, Vietnamese food, Italian food … you see the difference. It’s not just Asian food. It’s not just Latin food. And that’s what you get in other places in the world. I remember the shock that I had when I first went to France. I was like: “Really? It’s just French food?” I’m really grateful for New York. I think it raised me well.
Gabrielle Union plays Erica Long, a reality superstar and Andre’s Allen’s wife to be.
You play this high maintenance reality star diva. Tell us some of your favorite reality shows.
G: I love all things HGTV. Property Brothers, House of Cards, House Hunters, House Hunters International if I’m feeling saucy. Meerkat Manor on Animal Planet. I watch a lot of 30 for 30 on ESPN—I live for sports documentaries. The Eric Decker show, him and the wife—both very pretty. I tried to watch Love & Hip Hop L.A. cause Omarion is like my little baby—him and Ray J, I’ve known them since they were teenagers, and I was like: “What’s happening?!” I couldn’t… it gave me anxiety, so… that was that. I went back to “Meerkats.”
I think everyone has anxiety watching that show. Speak about working with Chris. He’s the writer, he’s the director, he’s the star, he plays your husband-to-be.
G: And he’s my friend. Any time you get to work with your friends, it’s awesome. And any time those friends are also in charge, it’s a great day. He’s super collaborative. He doesn’t move on until you’re comfortable because he understands what it’s like to be in our shoes. A lot of directors, they don’t really care what you think—it’s very much a dictatorship—but with Chris, it’s a collaborative effort. He wants you to be comfortable in the magic-making, and I was.
Your character also has some vulnerable moments. She seems very tough and like she has it together, but she is struggling.
G: She’s Terrified. Terrified of losing it all. I actually studied a lot of tapes from American Idol, watching these people plucked from obscurity, taken along on this journey. They change their look. They change their style. They get them to be these great performance artists, America starts voting, they start to feel like they’ve got fans, and then it gets to a point in the show where America might not have voted them through, and then Ryan Seacrest holds their fate in his hands, and they are shaking and they are terrified of losing it all, of feeling like if America doesn’t vote me through, if America doesn’t choose me, does that mean I have no talent? Does that mean I’m not worthwhile? Does that mean I have no value? And watching the terror on their faces, that’s what went into that moment on the phone where she’s just begging, what she feels like, for her life.
It’s such a powerful scene. Do you have anything in common with this character?
G: A weave! (I don’t wear fur. My nails, I kind of go more nude.) Maybe the ring, maybe probably the ring. The ring might be where me and Erica begin and end.
“Top Five” hits theaters on this Friday, December 12.