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Rosario Daws'Gimme Shelter.' | ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

Rosario Dawson in "Gimme Shelter." | ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:39PM

LOS ANGELES — Rosario Dawson didn’t grow up in luxury. Times were dicey for the woman who did a teenage stint living in a squatters’ apartment on the Lower East Side.

“We had cast iron stoves, plastic for windows and plywood for a door. You had to bring buckets upstairs to shower,” she says, adding, “It was quite an experience being so poor. But it was also a powerful experience.”

Dawson brings some of that gritty reality to her new film “Gimme Shelter,” opening Friday. Vanessa Hudgens plays a homeless teenager living in the streets of New York City. Dawson is her abusive mother.

“I play a woman who is worn down by life. She has been struggling for so long that she can’t face her demons. She just lives with them. She’s in total denial about her responsibilities,” says the 34-year-old actress.

“The woman I play is really angry. Her emotions are at the surface. But she’s street tough. She’s all about surviving the day, which is what a lot of people do, day in and day out. She’s messing up, but can’t admit that to herself.”

She says the film required her to dig deep.

“I had to go to the most unattractive places a woman can go — and so did Vanessa. We’re friends and we really wanted to take this journey together, but it was an emotional one,” she says.

It’s a busy year for Dawson, who also plays Gail again in the sequel “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” out this summer. The eclectic cast also includes Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Lady Gaga and Jaime King.

As for plot secrets, she says, “All I can tell you is Gail is back and she’s a total bad---. And it’s eight years later. I’m not allowed to say anything else.”

She also stars in “Chavez,” also featuring John Malkovich, America Ferrera and Michael Pena as civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.

Dawson plays labor leader Dolores Huerta in the film, directed by Diego Luna.

“The more I got to know Huerta, the more I was impressed and a little frightened about making sure I got it right,” she says of the role.

She’s also trying to get things right working with the Boys and Girls Club.

“All of us need help in some capacity. You can’t sit it out,” she says. “It’s about helping each other, but most of us don’t know where to start. The problems feel too big. You feel helpless, so you’re stuck.

“Just commit to helping and do one small thing today,” she says. “Make a phone call and get involved. It sounds cliche, but it really does start with helping just one person.”

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