Rose McGowan is drinking tequila with muddled jalapeños, her shoulders exposed from a white dress to a balmy Santa Ana breeze atop a boutique hotel in Hollywood, her hair cut short in a punishing bob. Our opening exchange is taut and tense, warm and nuanced, marked as much by polarity as the subsequent conversation that follows. To wit: McGowan’s digesting today’s closure of the agency that currently represents her for acting, Resolution, run by former ICM chairman, Jeff Berg, while enjoying a declaratively charmed review of her directorial debut, Dawn, by The New York Times.
Life, in this moment now, is moving like a current through McGowan, knotted up and ready to incite something, anything. It’s when she laughs—as she’ll do while chewing on ideas of art, fame, sex, expectation, power, and spiritual renewal—that this is most evident. It’s a stage laugh, capable of rattling the nosebleeds, almost superhuman.
Yet, here is someone wholly human, with their mistakes, their faults, their missteps, and their successes. Here’s a human who has lived on the streets, experienced the murder of a lover, spent some 17,000 hours on set [under the guidance of Gregg Araki, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Wes Craven, among others], kept romantic company with other celebrities, ceased working with glamour teams for photo shoots or red carpet, has partnered on a forthcoming three docu-series with Relativity Television, and who, at 41, shamelessly bears it all for Flaunt in the photos herein.
Dawn, too, in its way, bears it all. The crown jewel of eight currently touring films from the Sundance Film Festival, Dawn is a period piece (1961) that—despite its short format—sears, positioning McGowan as a potential earthmover behind the camera, in the increasingly droll American film scene. McGowan’s turn at the camera results in a gauzy, tummy-stirring piece that harkens Flannery O’Connor’s iconic short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” with similarly bewitching restraint and seraphic imbue. But that’s merely a referential pivot point, not the film’s winning gravitas.
Dawn tells the tale of an adolescent girl lured into a sexually explorative—albeit dark—moment in time, the long-term scars and marks that go unseen on those involved. As well, there’s tenderness, and shameless play, and an ending we won’t spill here, but somehow fitting for whom we’re enjoying reposado with. What’s winning about the 19-minute piece is that its tonality and directional maturity depict much of what makes Rose McGowan a person now—despite, or perhaps because of—the aforementioned lives lived and led.
Everything is bleeding over at this particular moment in time, and that’s cool by McGowan. Fear is dead weight, regret is for character roles, not waking life, and the entertainment machine is fickle. Life will not surprise her, no matter its turns. For as O’Conner was known to say: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” So now: a summary of our conversation in Nine Parts.
I. Sometimes, in life, things repeat themselves. I meet Rose McGowan in the back of an Uber during Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 before we let loose our divinities at a Benoit & Sergio show at The Electric Pickle downtown. She’s a friend of a friend, and we’ve rung her ahead of time to ask for some tequila from her mini-bar. She obliges. There’s no jalapeños for muddling, but she does tell me briefly about Dawn and its acceptance into Sundance, where it will screen to charmed reviews seven weeks later. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here,” she says, speaking to the art parade and carnival that overtakes Miami annually, relieved we’re leaving the beach for the bass, I ask over her shoulder what Dawn is thematically about and she pauses for a moment, before softly announcing over the satellite radio:
Rose McGowan: A girl.
II. Sometimes we need to breathe. Because before all this: Breath. Because with breathing, we go on, we regulate. We keep the fire burning.
Dawn, for me, was about rebirth. I got off on the wrong track for an extended period of time. I’ve had a lot of fun, I’ve had an amazing time. But the last seven years I largely took off. I had gotten stuck into a lot of things that were other people’s artistic visions, which sometimes were very limited visions. And I’m not oil on someone’s canvas, I’m much more than just an oil.
III. Sometimes, impact: reversals, returns.
A real impact? How about this: making a left turn into a car that smashes into my seat. The side airbag shatters glass into my right eye. Cuts my face open. That was a point of impact. And I wonder if I broke a massive mirror, maybe the Versailles Hall of Mirrors. Because I had about seven years of tremendous bad luck. But that’s okay. There had to be something really intense to shake me out of the life I was stuck in. It took my dad dying, it took my arm being paralyzed on a set, it took my dogs dying, it took a lot to get me out of the fame bubble. At that time, in 2008—when I basically peaced out of Hollywood—it was the real zenith of Perez Hilton power, Page 6 power. All this bullshit that doesn’t matter at all. Just bullshit. And there was no Twitter yet so you couldn’t fight back. As an actor, it’s arguably the only voice you can have. Before, what? They do a retraction on page 46, big deal. So after the car accident, things just went haywire.
IVa. Sometimes, there’s fate in these lives we lead.
I was discovered standing on a street corner. So I didn’t have the same trajectory as other people that, you know, understood how to get agents, managers, lawyers, and do all that. I just didn’t understand it. And I didn’t understand those people, I’d never been around people like that. And frankly they were terrifying. Terrifying because what was considered valuable and valued in that world is not what I consider valuable in mine.
IVb. Sometimes fate means loss. Other times we have gain. Sometimes we gain in loss.
I’m not scared of anything. I’m not scared of the people that I find scary. Like I’ve done horror movies, and I’ve never seen them. Because I just don’t like things that frighten me. Not frighten me like I need to fight for my life, but frighten me in a way that just turns my stomach. Repulsive. About lack of empathy, lack of quality of life. On a comfort level, that period was high quality. A comfort level in your soul? Not so much. But that’s okay. It’s all about art now.
V. Sometimes we move on, we change, we redirect. Sometimes we wholly let go.
Past lives? I worked at a funeral home for my first job dressing bodies for viewing. It was a lot of past lives I was dealing with. My life has been threaded with death, more than anything. I’ve only been to two weddings. The second was my own [to artist Davey Detail]. Some people just get nailed with it. Some people just have more of it and eventually it will catch up with all of us. But it is intense when you’re younger and dealing with death. It’s not that you’re not prepared for it. You can never really be prepared for it.
VI. Sometimes, it all boils down to moments.
Standing on a street corner crying after my boyfriend was murdered in L.A., and I had nowhere to live—that was a moment. The scowl on my face...the tears running down. I was couch surfing—I was staying at my friend’s house. He actually wrote Dawn. I have so many moments, but that would be one. Or this: some woman approaching me and asking if I knew who Gregg Araki was. And of course I didn’t, because I was only raised on classic stuff. And I said, "No," and she said, "Would you go to meet him in The Valley?" And I said, "No," and she said, "Why?" And I said, "The Valley is very far." Eventually they got me to The Valley, and here I sit today.
VII. Sometimes, it’s as if we’re not living. It’s as if we’re made into something else.
I’ve been dehumanized, I’ve sexualized. I was very sexualized. And I went part and parcel with it, in a way, because it was just like: this is the trade off. Once you promote films, you have to. And it’s not about being nude. I think nudity is beautiful. I feel in a weird way I’ve been like Cindy Sherman. I’ve just been paid to be that way. It just wasn’t my choice. It would be like Cindy Sherman being told what she had to look like in each photo.
VIII. Sometimes, cats are said to live Nine Lives. They spend these lives, so they say: playing, staying, and straying.
Survival was my staying. Looking back now at fame, it’s almost like I was on a ship. And I just hold myself, in a way, before the storm ends. Because I had nobody protecting me. I never had a fighter for a publicist, or a rep, anything like that. And I was taking all the blows. Because I didn’t come here pursuing it, I didn’t understand this masochistic business. And I opted out. And life opted me out. But then I opted back in. But not on anybody else’s terms. Just because things have been done a certain way for so long doesn’t mean that they have to still be done that way. How boring. I think Hollywood just needs to become a lot more progressive. It’s time. It’s not going to survive any other way.
IX. And yet, the cat will stray.
I’m not in a rat race. You’re told you have to be in this studio movie even though you hate it and it’s about wrestling. Because then they’ll hire you for other movies. No they won’t, assholes. Now I’m just stuck in a stupid wrestling movie, you assholes, you dicks. I don’t listen to what people say in that way. That’s straying. Was it Malcolm Gladwell who said you’re a master after 10,000 hours? In that case, we’re all masters; we just have to realize we are. I spent over 17,000 hours on sets. That’s a conservative estimate. And I’ll meet a director that’s done two movies, and it’s like, “All right. Chill out. Simmer down. Let’s just be people.” That’s the number one thing. I think there’s a kind of movement going on right now. I think there’s a real move towards us being human.