When Rosario Dawson was shown the striking ensemble for her character’s first scene in the neo-noir drama Briarpatch, it gave her pause. “Who goes to find her sister’s killer in a white suit?” she thought.
Allegra Dill, that’s who. The character’s dramatic entrance in a Bianca Jagger-esque outfit — white heels, oversized sunglasses, jacket slung over her shoulders — makes it obvious that this political aide’s wardrobe isn’t just a fashion choice, it’s a shield. “She's not going back [to her hometown] to try to fit in. She's going back as the woman she is now,” said Dawson, whose character returns home for the first time in nearly a decade to investigate the murder of her sister. “This is an armor she slowly started to weld onto herself, and it's become a part of her.”
From the black wide-legged pants and white silk shirts to the navy pin-stripe twinset — not to mention the red pantsuit that drew the wild animals on set (yes, those giraffes are real) to her like moths to a flame — Dawson says she often relied on this uniform for strength in her face-offs with the old guard of "Saint Disgrace," a small border town in Texas. “I was so grateful to be in these suits as I'm dealing with men telling me over and over again who I am and what I'm about and what I know or what I don't know,” she said. “It just felt so powerful.”
What Dawson wasn’t as confident about in the beginning was the creative process for the thriller, which was produced by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail and has been likened to Twin Peaks. Allegra’s opening scene, where she exits a jet with such attitude yet such grace that it almost looks like she’s walking in slow motion, took so long for director Ana Lily Amirpour to capture that the actress got a little nervous. “We shot it over and over again. [I thought,] ‘oh my God, if this is how we're going to shoot the show this is going to take forever,’” recalled Dawson, speaking to InStyle at the TCA winter press tour. “But this is when people meet Allegra. [Amirpour said,] ‘I want to make that statement, straight off, that this is not someone that you mess with or that you don't take seriously.’”
“It wasn't that she can't leave the house without her lipstick on,” continued Dawson. “It was about being prepared in any situation to present to people that she was capable and just as much of a boss as they were.”
That power was something the actress channeled into her private life: During the filming of the series, her father was going through treatment for pancreatic cancer. “On the flip side of my actual performance was this incredibly raw and vulnerable experience,” she said. “So then to come back and square up was such an interesting transition. It helped me through a really trying time. I definitely got a lot more of that strength from her, but I'm really glad I didn't take on that cynicism.”
Indeed, while Allegra doesn’t shy away from the dark side of politics, Dawson pointed out that her boyfriend, Senator and former presidential candidate Cory Booker, sets the bar much higher than the senator she works for on the show. “It’s definitely a much more cynical perspective of politics that is expressed [on Briarpatch],” she said. “Cory is the epitome and definition of a civil servant and just a super beautiful, passionate advocate and activist in the space that he occupies. But it’s good fodder for television.”
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In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, the shooting of the series, in which Dawson’s character works for a senate subcommittee and has a NSFW relationship with her boss, coincided with Dawson’s budding relationship with Booker. “It definitely brought up a lot of interesting conversations,” she laughs. “I’ve even had one of his chiefs of staff, just as the show was starting to come out and that information was getting out, [asking], ‘Is there anything we should be alerted to or made aware of?’”
Nothing that would faze the real-life politician, who has opened Dawson up to what it really means to be on a national stage. “The standards that politicians are held to are very, very, very different. That's true from the level of the toxicity from the trolls and people you encounter, to the danger element. I mean, he's had a bomb sent to his office,” said the actress-activist. “I don't get to just cavalierly fall in love with someone — I have a daughter and a family. Are we all willing to go down this path together? But he's the love of my life, so we've all grown together and figured it out.”
Briarpatch premieres Feb. 6, 10pm/9c on USA Network.
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