Rose McGowan knows she's punk as fuck. You've probably noticed this too if you've been following (and/or fanning out over) her career over the past few decades. McGowan came of age with brave, badass roles in the 90s (think: The Doom Generation, Scream). More recently, McGowan has been making a stir with her directorial debut of YouTube-premiered short film Dawn, as well as with a torrent of outspoken Twitter comments and interviews, taking on Hollywood's sexism and an endless stream of social media trolls.
We caught up with McGowan in her New York hotel suite a few hours before she headed home to Los Angeles. During her stay, she had made endless headlines after tweeting a sexist casting call note for an Adam Sandler film that suggested the auditioning actresses wear a tight tank, with push-up bras encouraged! McGowan would later go on to tweet she had been "fired" by her agent as a result of the maelstrom.
By the time a smiling and spunky McGowan greeted us with a hug, we were both ready for a bullshit-free conversation about what really matters to her. Like making great -- not "good enough" -- work, and standing fearlessly in one's truth. Although she's got a lot on her plate, perhaps McGowan should also consider teaching a course in 'How To Be A Badass.' Sign us up.
You must be really proud of Dawn. What do you want viewers to take away from it?
Besides the theme of what we do to girls, I also want viewers to see something that is beautiful and haunting and that they can engage in. The best and most satisfying thing about this experience is people saying that in 19 minutes, they were completely sucked in and were not in the regular world. I'm an audience member, first and foremost, and I like to be in another world when I watch a film, when I read books, when I listen to music. I want to go somewhere else. That's what we provide: time travel. So travel with me!
Let's talk about the short's impressive casting.
My criteria for my casting agent was nobody who could be on the Vampire Diaries could be in Dawn. That's no knock against the Vampire Diaries -- I know some of the actors and they are awesome people. But it's a very Hollywood kind of actor look, and that's what I didn't want. Especially because Dawn is set in 1961, and I wanted people who looked like they existed then. I've been miscast in things and I've had other people who've been miscast against me, and I know how important casting is. It's a tightrope. You have to cast carefully.
You've suggested viewers should watch Dawn twice. Why?
I did everything very subtly and very much on purpose. I didn't want to bang anyone over the head. I hate movies where I get banged over the head with obvious things. Trust your audience to be smart enough to get it. And the audience can do some work, too.
Mission accomplished. Many of the film's YouTube comments are pretty deep and analytical.
Are they? That's brilliant.
Do you read any of the comments? There are a few negative ones and personal digs thrown in, but not too many.
I don't really know what you could say. It's like, "Hey pal, I made something free for your enjoyment. Chill out." I don't like letting other people's comments get into my mind. Everyone's got enough of their own running commentary. Why would I want to invite strangers in? I've had to deal with that for years.
What are your thoughts on online trolls?
It's basically international bullying. That's what it is. And you're supposed to just take it. So, I don't. I actually have gone back at people on Twitter. I think I said something about Ted Cruz, like, "Get off my planet." So all these Ted Cruz people went crazy on me. How are you even aware of my existence? We're not running the same circles, I don't believe.
They can be borderline nuts.
They're really fucking nuts and none of them can spell. Shocking, but true. One of them was like, "You've offended the public." So, I wrote back: "the public has offended me." Which it has. Why are actors or people who are well known exempt from having feelings about other things? Fuck you.
You've got to have a tough skin to be a public figure.
Well, that was a hard thing for me because I wasn't trying to be an actor. So, I didn't come with that shield of, "I'm gonna fight through everything!" I was standing on the street corner crying, three weeks after my boyfriend was killed. I did Doom Generation about four weeks after he died. I was a baby.
From tragedy to superstardom. That's sort of crazy, yet it's the fairytale that so many want…
My life had always been somewhat crazy by external standards. And then it just got ridiculous I suppose. Within a year and a half, I did Scream and became really famous and was like, "How do I get out of this?"
You've discussed being disappointed by a film set because you didn't find it believable for the character you were playing.
You get there and you're like, "What? This is the wrong world." It didn't suck, but it could've been better. My thing is, it's not enough not to suck. Go for greatness. If you are putting something out there in the world, you have a responsibility to try to make it as best as you can. Laziness bothers me. "That's good enough" is not okay.
Please tell us you're not through with acting! There are strong, complex roles for women out there!
Yeah, but I don't care. I want those roles to go to other women! There's a script that I have that I might direct that's so good, and the role of the woman is so fucked up. I frankly don't know who else would do it other than me. This character is so loathsome - I love her. She steals her dying father's dog and vomits on a taxi driver after giving him a blowjob. She's gnarly, but this movie is so smart. But that's about the only role I can conceive doing right now.
90s nostalgia is still going strong. A new generation is responding to your role in The Doom Generation, and your 1998 VMA look inspired many subsequent scandalous red carpet moments. What was your intention with that now iconic look?
The dress was awesome and funny as hell to me. My thing is, you want me to be your show pony? You want me to go down your fucking red carpet? Let's play! Why not give the middle finger to society that says I have to look a certain way? I'm not gonna be your show pony, I'll do whatever the fuck I want. Which is punk as fuck, really. Which is in line with my brain.
The concept of gender fluidity is all over the media, with stars like Miley Cyrus and Jaden Smith speaking out on the topic. Can you discuss being raised "gender fluid" with the Children of God commune?
I wasn't raised with any emphasis on being a girl or being a guy. I don't recall mirrors. Maybe it's because my brothers and sisters were very beautiful, but my father was worried about us developing big egos. In the commune where I grew up, I was just a mind. My sister is a rocket scientist who put herself through university by being a plumber and a model, my brother flies F-16s, my other brother is a doctor. They're who I make things for, they're my audience. It was really shocking later on developing breasts and all of a sudden men screaming at me when I walked down the street. The world got really, really loud, and it took a very long time for me to connect my head with my body.
And then in came Hollywood...
Where it's all about that! It's so weird when you're getting your makeup done and you're sitting in front of mirrors. You know when you're sick and you don't notice yourself in the mirror for a few days? Then you're kind of startled when you see yourself for the first time in a while because you've been living inside your brain? That's kind of how it was for me. People are like, "Why don't you watch your movies?" I'm very uncomfortable watching myself. I feel like it's abnormal. And it is. You try it! I'm not really narcissistic. I'm strong, I know my worth. But I prize the mind.
Text Alex Catarinella
Photography Grant Lamos IV for Getty Images