As her debut short-film Dawn, is set to be released on June 21st on YouTube we met with Rose McGowan and discussed her new vocation as a film director, the story behind her upcoming first feature film The Pines, and her escape from Hollywood's status quo of misogyny. And as it turns out, her new professional journey is far more personal than one could imagine.
First things first, let's discuss your short-film debut, Dawn, the tragedy of a teenage girl...
Dawn is about growing up as a young woman in the 60s, experiencing first love and femininity, but it is also about asking what happens when we as a society, with maternal influences, bind our daughter's hands? How we give them no defense mechanism at all-we only say 'no, you can't do this', without explaining why. But it also questions the idea of masculinity, the two men that Dawn idolises are Robert Hunter and Rock Hudson, now known as gay actors, but at the time, they would have been her teenage dream. I also wanted to question class disparity by putting an emphasis on the material contrast between the working class and the middle class--for example, the condition of Dawn's family car which is brand new, versus the boy's car, who works at a gas station, which is much older. I say a lot without having to hit anybody over the head. So it's not a coming-of-age story per se, it's rather a cautionary tale.
What about the casting, how did you chose your actors?
I didn't want anybody to look like an actor from L.A. I got Tara Barr to play Dawn, her face doesn't have this innocent baby-fat anymore. As for the male lead role, I was looking for somebody who could embody a paedophile, a victimiser, a manipulator capable of gently scrambling Dawn's brain.
Dawn was screened during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. How did people react?
My favourite reaction was from one lady who told me that she threw up after watching it-for me it was a compliment. It was very stressful to her-not because there's any gore, because we don't really show any violence—but I think Dawn affects women of a certain age group, the generation of women who grew up in the 60s.
Why did you chose to focus on the 60s in particular?
Wellthe 60s are a very weird time for women. Even the sexual revolution, which came towards the end of the decade, was still benefitting to patriarchal culture. I mean, by the end of the 60s, you weren't considered as cool unless you were into free love, but five years earlier you'd been taught to only please a man. It was a very schizophrenic time for women, and I wanted to study that and express it through Dawn.
The way women perceive themselves - is this your principle priority at the moment?
Women-and the way women look at each other and feel about themselves-are at the core of my work. I was looking back on my own career and I realisd that I was turned into a commodity, and one that I didn't participate in or sell very well. I felt very uncomfortable about making myself into that commodity. The male gaze affected me a lot, most of the time, when you see a woman on screen, she proceeds with the eyes of the men that filmed and directed her; she sees herself that way instead of having her own perception. And I've been seeing that way for years-I'm not blaming anybody, I was part of the Hollywood machine-but I'm glad that my own life experiences and empirical evidences made me think and act in a different way. The only way to get beyond this is to leave the gender part out of filming-you have to show people the middle. That it's not only always about men versus women or women versus men. For me, it's not even about focusing on a female-centric perspective, but rather about developing a story-centric one. I hope that comes through in Dawn.
The Pines, your debut feature film, is currently in pre-production. Can we get a little sneak-peek of the plot?
It's set in 1971—it looks like I'm obsessed with period films, but I'm not. It's about a mother-daughter relationship. The mother used to be in a mental institution, where she committed suicide, and her daughter is in that same mental institution and is told to leave, but she actually doesn't want to leave, she feels safe there. Then, she gets taken in by a family of healers... and that's all I can tell for now. I will start the movie very desaturated, without colour, and as her mind gets healthier, the colour will evolve and get brighter… I basically want to question reality through visual elements.
Do Dawn or The Pines somehow reflect your own life experiences? Or is everything pure fiction?
I use the women in my films as substitutes for what I want to say. I was institutionalised when I was young-not through any fault of my own, I had a step-father who wanted me out, and I was put in hospital from which I escaped. But the subject was very intriguing to me, as I met people there who felt more comfortable in the hospital and were completely afraid of the outside world. And I understood that, because for 7 years I quit acting, largely, and travelled compulsively, and ended up rattling around an empty house in Los Angeles. It was my version of the hospital, I was getting well in there, I could recover from a lot of personal issues, including my car accident, the death of my father, and many other things that happened to me. So I related to this script about a girl that is trying to find her own sanity. For me it took all of these things to get me out of acting.
Were you truly fed up with acting?
Don't get me wrong, I loved it, but let's put it this way: it's very hard to think about other jobs when you're discovered standing on a street-corner at 18. I realised that my favourite part of being on set is being on set - leading, directing and running things, it's my personality. My brother used to call me Hitler!
Oh wow, that's something...
My job as an actor was to take the audience on a journey, and now, as a director, it's just a broader version of that. I used to be part of a universe as an actress, and as a film director, I'm defining that universe.
Did you feel trapped in Hollywood, and unable to express your own vision?
My brain needs a lot of stimulation, and as an actor you often don't get any. You need a good memory, a lot of stamina, emotion, and hopefully intelligence-it has great thought but it doesn't require it. Imagine if for 15 years, the only thing you've ever said is what somebody wrote for you to say. You're paid to be like somebody else. I actually grew up in my spare time, when I wasn't being other people, when I could focus on my extracurricular activities, such as lobbying on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), or working on a new web-platform for curated creative experiences, and on a music project, among many other things. What gets said and done in that town, especially towards women, is disgusting. There's an omnipresent ownership of women. Once, I had an agent who told me not to speak very much in meetings, because it was intimidating to men-and she was a woman! Or another example, three years ago, I was considering coming back to Hollywood when I met my husband, and was about to sign with a new manager-and that guy stuck his tongue in my throat after the meeting. I just reacted by saying ''C'mon! Is this still happening? Still? You just showed me a picture of your 9-month-old baby! But I will out you at some point. I've got a list.'' I always try to take everything with humor and with a punch in the nose for them. Mainstream America doesn't get me, but that's cool, because I don't get them either, so at least we have something in common.