Rose McGowan appears from around the corner of the EDITION Hotel suite where she’s staying for a few days. “Hold on, I’m going to put on some lipstick,” she says, disappearing into another room. A few seconds later she’s back, her signature porcelain skin looking even milkier in contrast to the red lipstick she’s put on. “Much better,” she smiles, sitting down on the couch with her legs crossed.
I’m delighted to find that McGowan is exactly as I’ve always pictured her – incredibly charming, smart as a whip, and totally honest. She’s a refreshing person in an industry that has the reputation for being a little fake; something that Rose has no qualms about calling the industry out on, particularly the sexist politics of Hollywood. “It’s just so boring! I’m just like, ‘Come on, get with the program!’” she says, a perfect eye roll serving as an exclamation mark to her statement. But McGowan’s life is anything less than boring; with a myriad of projects and businesses under her belt and iconic film roles on her resume, she has finally made the transition behind the camera with the debut of the short film Dawn, a chilling and striking cautionary tale of sexism and abuse.
In between bites of fries and sliders, Milk Made’sAna Velasco talked to the multitalented artist about being able to have her own voice, changing the boring datedness of Hollywood, and the unlikely inspiration behind Dawn.
What drew you to create this, especially as a first project?
What really inspired me were women in that era. I really wanted to tell a story about this candy-coated idea of perfect post war, and what we still do today. We tell women to be polite, telling them this, telling them that. What that does is subvert their own instincts for protection. I have a friend that was raped because she told the guy three times that she didn’t want help carrying her groceries, and he went off saying, ‘you’re just being a feminist.’ She thought ‘okay, alright, just take my groceries,’ and of course he raped her. For me, it’s just shining a light on something. I wanted to do it in a very beautiful way and a very stressful way. It still goes on, nothing has changed really.
The cinematography is so incredible. What was the inspiration?
The original Parent Trap. The California section specifically. Dawn’s bedroom was a tip of the hat to one of my favorite movies of all time. If you go back and re-watch that film, it’s a flawless film, top to bottom. Not just the acting in it, the direction, the writing, the costumes, everything about it. It just happens to be a Disney film. My mom showed it to me when I was little, and her mom showed it to her. It was one of those kinds of things. It’s always stuck with me. What if there was menace underneath it? That, to me, was the perfect color palette to play with. The orange chair is a hat tip to Kubrickbecause he’s a master and he loved burnt orange. Plus, I wanted to make something that was very much her chair. So when the other boy comes over and he’s sitting in it, he’s knocked her out of her place, so she’s already a displaced person in her own house, through a man.
Who do you think is the most dangerous character in the film?
Probably the sidekick. It’s the people that go along without saying anything, or encourage, or don’t stop it. They’re more guilty than the guilty usually.
Yeah, I though the most terrifying person was-
She was terrifying, just because she wanted a life, and you see it at first when they’re pulling up to the gas station and they’re sitting there. She’s just clocking Dawn, and it all goes from there.
You mentioned this menacing thing. It’s something that’s been in your most iconic work – that candy colored darkness.
That’s interesting. I’ve never really thought about my work in relation to Dawn at all, because it wasn’t my work. It was my acting, but the rest of it wasn’t me. I didn’t create those worlds. Dawn is the first world that I’ve been able to fully create on my own.
Is it a part of you now?
No, I don’t think so. My style is quite different. I take most of my cues more from other arts than from movies. I wanted the loneliness of an Edward Hopper painting. I like Hemingway’s editing style. He was very unsparing with his words. He was a harsh cutter, really get to the bone, get to what’s necessary. That’s why Dawn only needed to be 19 minutes. I didn’t set out to make a short film; I set out to make this film.
You’ve been in the news recently because of an incident you had in a film audition. How do you think that making a change towards sexism in the industry can be sped up?
Well, that’s what I’m trying to do. Come on, I want more people to play with. There’s so much creativity in that town, but not necessarily in the industry. That’s two different things. A lot of people when they come to Hollywood just stay in their little sphere. I come from a very international background. I think it gives me a more global perspective, and it’s embarrassing. The most egregious part of that stupid thing was when it said, ‘Make sure you read the script so you understand the context of the scenes.’ First of all, it’s an Adam Sandler film, how stupid do you think I am? Secondly, why wouldn’t I read the script? Not that I did.
It’s just that kind of stuff that keeps the women there so down and so trapped. I talk to other actresses and they think, ‘I have to do this,’ and I ask, ‘or what? What’s going to happen?’ I wish someone would’ve said that to me. It would have saved me a lot of times. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? When you’re an artist, you realize that you’re unfireable. You can be fired from a job, but you can’t be fired from who you are. For me, I always knew who I was, but I was busy being other people, which is weird and meta and sad really. I was only me at times when I wasn’t at work, and I worked all the time before I basically left. I didn’t make some dramatic ‘I’m quitting acting!’ thing. I was just bored. I have a lot of other things that I do. I have companies that I own. I do things across the world. I deal with Hollywood when I have time.
So is it disappointing to deal with that side of Hollywood, especially since it hasn’t changed?
When I go back and stupid things like that happen, it’s just so silly. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to go viral. It was just something stupid that made me laugh. It’s more stupid because it’s sad. Do we really need another schlubby guy on screen with a hot chick? Because that’s so real. And if I am going to date a schlubby guy, I’m going to do it on my own goddamn time! Don’t cast him against me. It gives the men in this town this feeling that they have a right to own anything they want, that they have a right to anything they want, and you know what? They don’t, because these are other people. They’re women and they deserve respect. Films are the number one American export. Try to make us look a little better internationally. Do your job. If you’re creative, be more creative. If you’re not creative, get creative. That’s my stance on that.
There’s a lot in this film. What was the most gratifying things about transitioning to behind the camera?
Getting to have my own voice. Imagine if every time you went to work, everything that came out of your mouth was something that someone wrote for you to say. Every time you go to work, you’re not even using your own words. I was good at it, but it wasn’t my passion. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin. Uncomfortable with how I was treated, how I was reduced. ‘You’re so smart, for an actress!’ No idiot, I can run circles around you and that’s a fact. It has nothing to do with what I do for a living. They treat you like a dumb child, basically, whom they want to sexually abuse.
Would you consider writing too?
I am, actually. I did a major rewrite of the feature I’m directing this fall. I’m writing shows for two different companies right now. I write a lot actually. I’m going to write my autobiography, but it’s going to stop at 19. The other part will be for later [laughs]. I’ve had a lot of adventures.
What song sums up your life right now?
If you could have dinner with three characters that you’ve played, who would you choose?
Yeah, you host it.
That would be interesting. I think there would be a lot of drinks going around. [laughs]
Do you prefer daytime or nighttime?
Nighttime. I’m free in the night. That’s when my brain works the sharpest. That’s when all the voices of the world are quite and I can create.
Finally, what words do you live by?
‘Two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it.’ I got that from a famous trans woman in Savannah, Georgia. It means, if something bad happens in your life, cry a couple of tears, pull up your boots and march on. It’s all you can do.