Rosario Dawson has snatched my tape recorder and is spinning out of control on a midtown Manhattan sidewalk like Spider-Man on a bender. It's not that she's lost — the 27-year-old actress is rushing to a meeting somewhere on 57th Street — but as Dawson's eyes search buildings for the correct address, her mind leaps from topic to topic, the relationships between which only she seems to understand.
''The Bible has been translated into Klingon,'' she exclaims, apropos of nothing. ''That idea is so fascinating to me: language, how we communicate.'' From there, Dawson warp-jumps to talk of Illinois senator Barack Obama, Shakespeare, and impulse buying. ''You know that movie A Christmas Story?'' she blurts, her full lips spreading into a broad smile. ''Remember the leg lamp? Dude, I got it! One leg and a high heel with fishnets that lights up. It's, like, the cheesiest thing on the planet.''
Hyper-frenetic? Surely. But random? Ever since being discovered by director Larry Clark and cast in his controversial 1995 indie Kids, Dawson has followed her whims as a teenager would. She's taken modest roles in critically acclaimed movies (Shattered Glass), blockbuster hits (Men in Black II), epic failures (Alexander), and everything in between (Josie and the Pussycats, 25th Hour, Rent).
Now, all of a sudden, Dawson's choices are forming a pattern. In August she begins shooting Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's film Grind House. And she'll soon reprise her role as Gail, the trigger-happy streetwalker, in Sin City 2, Rodriguez's second adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novels. More immediately, she's starring in Clerks II, the sequel to Kevin Smith's breakout 1994 slacker salute, which opens July 21, and she's just released her own comic book, Occult Crimes Taskforce, which features a gun-toting likeness of her. But it seems Dawson isn't so much a dream vixen for game-playing, metal-loving, comic-flipping nerds as she is one of them.
''[She] is one of the few actresses that I've met who doesn't have eyes on the prize,'' says Clerks II director Kevin Smith. ''She's not sitting there going, 'How many films will it take me to get an Oscar? How many to get on the A list?''' Even so, the filmmaker couldn't fathom why Dawson would want to play fast-food manager Becky, the seductive love interest in his low-budget dudefest — that is, until she showed up praising Rob Zombie and quoting lines from an obscure comic called Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. ''She's a fangirl,'' declares the director. ''The hottest geek on earth.''
Like the superheroes she digs, the tale of Dawson's origins has a twist. Dawson's father, a construction worker of Native American and Irish descent, and mother, a plumber of Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban ancestry, decided they would rather endure spells without water, heat, and electricity than pay a landlord. So they raised Dawson in Rent-like fashion, squatting on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Her urban bohemian upbringing, filled with happy candlelit potlucks and sing-alongs, may explain her seat-of-the-pants approach. ''I try not to have many expectations and just be open to possibilities,'' says Dawson, who claims every experience is worthwhile — even 2002's The Adventures of Pluto Nash. ''I was like, 'I get to live in Montreal and work with Eddie Murphy and Pam Grier. How weird is that?''' she explains. ''I was 19 and I wanted to get off my mom's couch.''
These days, Dawson, who lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend, Sex and the City heartthrob Jason Lewis, is in no danger of sitting idle. Between films, she often returns to New York to work with charities devoted to stopping violence against women. Dawson made the issue central to her first producing project, Descent, which is proving to be a marketing challenge. ''We want to be careful,'' says Dawson, who also stars in the movie. ''It's a rape film. It's a horror film. It's a revenge film. It's a tragedy. There's a lot going on.''
Of all her projects, Dawson is most excited about Occult Crimes Taskforce, the comic-book series she co-created with writer and family friend David Atchison. OCT follows Sophia Ortiz, a Dana Scully-like New York cop who joins a special unit that tracks supernatural activity. Dawson, who brainstormed the stories, learned the form from her comic-book-artist uncle Gus Vasquez. ''I wasn't allowed to touch his comics,'' she recalls. ''I'd read [them] sitting next to him and he would turn the pages for me. I was raised to think of them as sacred texts.''
So bringing her own comic to the convention circuit may be something like a religious experience for Dawson. ''Comic-Con is the bomb!'' she gushes. ''There's Klingons.'' Pause. ''I don't know why I keep going on about Klingons. I'm stuck on Klingons today.''