Rosario Dawson on Raising a Teen, Getting Political, and Turning 40

"There’s got to be so many different ways that we can serve, and I want to figure out as many ways as I can to fit into this lifetime," the actress says.

Rosario Dawson
Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Rosario Dawson has a lot on her plate. Aside from acting projects, she devotes her time to political activism, running a sustainable fashion line, and, most importantly, parenting 15-year-old daughter, Lola. With so many passions and so few hours in the day, it seems like the 39-year-old actress — who’s best known for starring in films like Rent and Seven Pounds in addition to her recurring role as nurse Claire Temple in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — is constantly on the move. But in reality, it’s the moments of stillness that Dawson values most.

The key to her stamina? “I really think it's sleeping,” she tells InStyle. “It's those moments of rest that we sometimes forget to factor in as we’re like, ‘Go, go, go.’ We’re constantly being overstimulated. Meditating or sleeping — or times where you can just be with yourself, breathe, and take it all in — that awareness helps you extend the sense of calm to other spaces [in your life].”

While Dawson enjoys her downtime, she very much values the benefits of working up a sweat. “I try to walk as much as possible,” says the star, who’s teamed up with Quaker for a new video series that encourages people to take control of their nutrition. “I’m a New Yorker, so it's weird being in L.A. sometimes. People have pulled over to see if my car is broken down when they see me walking, because they think something's wrong. I also love bike riding and hiking, and I'm trying to do more yoga with my daughter in the morning.” Dawson strives to ensure that she and Lola — whom she adopted in 2014 — are living heart-healthy lives. “We don't talk about it enough with young people, or with women," says Dawson, who preps daily shakes with oatmeal (a heart-healthy super grain, oats provide energy in addition to having digestive benefits). Having those talks, she says, is "putting the power in your own hands and being fierce in your own self-love.”

Rosario Dawson

Of course, taking control of your health doesn't always have to feel like a chore. One of Dawson’s favorite ways to get her heart rate up? Busting out dance moves with her daughter, which they did last Sunday while attending Fox’s Rent broadcast together. “It was pretty special to bring my daughter,” says Dawson, who played the role of Mimi in the 2005 film adaptation of the Broadway musical. “She just wanted to be on the dance floor all night. Dance parties are my constant workout routine. Sometimes I don't do it as much as I’d like to, so I’m glad that my kid loves to dance! She does give me that side eye when I don't do a particular dance exactly the way it's supposed to be done, though.”

Dawson has no plans to slow down the mother-daughter dance routines. “That will definitely be continuing into my forties,” says the star, who leaves her thirties behind in May. “My daughter is about to have a sweet sixteen, so that’s the birthday we’re talking about in our household — it's like there is no other birthday, this is the birthday.” As far as her own birthday goes, she's just taking things as they come. “I think there are times when you take birthdays for granted, and I really want to take advantage of the fact that reaching 40 in my generation is different than it was for my grandmother and for my mom,” says Dawson. “I don't know if I'm going to go jump from a helicopter or do a bungee jump, but I want to be out there, celebrate, and be in appreciation of who I get to share this with — and that will be my sweet 16 year old.”

Rosario Dawson

Taking in moments as they unfold is key for Dawson, and in the age of Instagram, she’s teaching her daughter the importance of being present. “I think we've had all different kinds of dangers to navigate as we've gotten older, and this one [for this generation] is profound,” she says. “People think they're communicating all the time through technology, but the most important thing is to create that space and time off of it and just really take each other in as humans.”

That's why, for now, Dawson is keeping Lola’s screen time to a minimum. “My daughter still doesn't have a cell phone,” she says. “She's on her computer at school all day, but she's not on social media just yet. I'm hoping to just stay in the three-dimensional world as much as possible before we all just kind of plug in. It will be really interesting when she does.”

Social media aside, fame presents an entirely different set of parenting challenges. But Dawson credits a quieter life in Los Angeles with successfully raising a teen in the spotlight. “I think I have a bit of a benefit living here as opposed to being in New York, where it can be so much more difficult to create certain boundaries or privacy,” she says. “Here, you have the opportunity to just be in whateverthis crazy world is sometimes. You can see the stars and the lunar eclipse, and there's just this natural counter-balance to stay grounded.”

Though she admits to missing “those New York moments where people spontaneously meet and connect and just share a moment together,” Dawson very much values her privacy. She’s kept famously mum on romances over the years (she’s been most recently linked to Senator Cory Booker). She gets why people are intrigued, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to give them any answers. “It's amazing that people ask me things or want to know about stuff that I'm doing,” she says. “Curiosity is beautiful, but it's [important to] appreciate that not everybody wants to talk to people or hear from them. I always marvel at this unprecedented scale where people are able to communicate with each other now. It puts celebrity in a different space than it used to exist; it’s more fluid. And if you're gonna be speaking out there in the world, [think about what's] better to be speaking about.”

Dawson is determined to use her platform to make a difference, and she’s not afraid to get political on her feed or in real life, no matter the consequences (in 2016, she was arrested for protesting against voter suppression and corruption). But has she ever considered a political run herself? “I have,” says Dawson, who co-founded the nonprofit organization Voto Latino to engage young Hispanic and Latino voters. “I’ve thought about it and in a lot of ways, I feel like I did that when we started Voto Latino in 2004 doingvoter registration. Again, this is just such a remarkable time of unprecedented reach — and also of unprecedented ability and agency — not just in terms of voting, but running for office and supporting candidates and being activists in the streets.”

Her own activism has allowed her to witness change firsthand. “I'm just really moved by everything I've seen achieved over the years, and there’s so much that’s being worked towards now with many more people,” she says. “I'm inspired to just do whatever I feel called to do and to be of service and to be of use. Even if I was to run for office, that still would be a chapter of my life. There’s got to be so many different ways that we can serve, and I want to figure out as many ways as I can to fit into this lifetime.”

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