Rose McGowan: 'I miss performing. My career was stolen'

Her revelations about Harvey Weinstein sparked #MeToo. Now, as the disgraced mogul’s trial approaches, the actor is back with an Edinburgh show

Sometimes Rose McGowan can say his name, and sometimes she chooses not to. In her memoir, Brave, published last year, he is known only as “the Monster”, his face likened to a melted pineapple. Interviewed by the Irish Times a few months ago, she refused to discuss him at all. Now, perched by the fountains on the Barbican estate in London on a warm spring afternoon, she refers to him at first as “the bad guy in my life”. When she goes on to mention him by name, it is with a casualness that makes me wonder if I’ve misheard her. “Some days it’s a bullet and other times I can handle it,” she says. “It depends how much of an onslaught I’ve gotten so far that day. But we all know who it is.”

It would be impossible not to. The #MeToo movement that emerged in 2017 after multiple allegations of rape and sexual assault were levelled at the Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein — allegations he continues to deny in the run-up to his trial this September – amounts to the defining social and cultural revolution of the century so far. And the 45-year-old McGowan, who was already the star of the queer, nihilistic indie romp The Doom Generation and the horror-comedy Scream when she alleges she was raped by Weinstein at the Sundance film festival in 1997, was at the forefront. “I’ve been called one of the first to speak out. No. I was the first. I called the New York Times. I blew it wide open, not them. They won the Pulitzer and I’m the one hard-up for money. It’s disgusting. I was kind of grossed out by how much they enjoyed being lauded.”

Rose Mc Gowan with Matthew Lillard in Wes Craven’s 1996 classic, Scream
Rose Mc Gowan with Matthew Lillard in Wes Craven’s 1996 classic, Scream. Photograph: Allstar/Dimension Films

All this is said plainly and softly; throughout our conversation, McGowan rarely even resorts to hand gestures for emphasis. The impression is of someone composed and contained, a woman who has already done her raging in private, or on the page, or occasionally in public confrontations. A heckler at a bookshop event last year, for instance, demanded to know what McGowan had ever done for trans women in prison; her furious response – “What have you ever done for women?” – was interpreted in the ensuing controversy as a slight on trans people. “Whenever I say ‘women’, I’m including trans women,” she tells me now. “I don’t separate the two. It was disgusting that I was mischaracterised, considering all the work I’ve done for the betterment of the planet. I’ve been actively involved in LGBT rights most of my life.” Online commentators were swift to “cancel” her. “How dare they! Well, they can cancel me but I can cancel them, too.”

Today, however, all is serene. With her pale face and bleached platinum crop, McGowan is rendered nebulous in the bright sunshine, so at times she appears to be little more than a pair of black sunglasses and scarlet lips suspended in the haze. Mentally, too, there is a calmness about her. She picked over the traumas in her life for the three years that it took her to write Brave, and is ready to try to put them behind her: “It’s been the fight of my life but I’m not going to be defined by it.”

She has just returned from the Venice Biennale, where she starred in Tonia Arapovic’s video installation Indecision IV. Now she’s preparing Planet 9, a music and spoken-word show that shares its name with the electronic album she made while writing Brave (“Recording it kept me sane”). Planet 9 was dreamed up by McGowan when she came to the US as a child from Tuscany, where her parents had been members of the Children of God cult. “I hated America so much. The only alternative was to shut my eyes in class and go to Planet 9 in my mind. It’s this idealised place where we can all go; it elevates us. I used to wonder what the sound frequencies were like there. I was a strange 10 year old.”

It has provided escape and tranquility throughout her life. “I find it hard to be in this world. This planet has been quite treacherous for me, and it’s a fight every day to want to stay here because I’d really rather go somewhere else. That’s why Planet 9 exists. It’s like meditation.” What does she see when she’s there? “I’ve always imagined orbs floating around me. Orbs and circles.” If the music works, she says, it should make listeners feel high without taking drugs. Then she peers into my eyes and recites the album’s opening lyrics: “Are you lonely on your planet? Are you lonely on the fringe?” I blink back at her, not quite sure whether an answer is expected.

A different sort of fringe – the one in Edinburgh – will host the world premiere of the show, which will be accompanied by some unusual visuals. An associate of Weinstein “stole naked photos and videos from me, which ended up on Pornhub,” she says. “What I’ve done is take back two of my videos – they’re not explicit, it’s just me walking around – and projected them side by side, then filmed the projections and slowed them down.” These will form part of the Planet 9 performance; she may also read from the passages in Brave about healing. The rest will be “me and the music. No band. I’ll take the hit. That’s what I do: being brave to inspire others. I directed a movie, after all.”

And a good one at that: Dawn, a 15-minute short she made in 2014 about the violent abuse of a young girl, was her way of telling her own story before she was ready to name names. “It shows what happens when we send girls out in the world to be polite.” At Sundance with Weinstein, she recalls, she was politeness personified. “It was a meeting with my boss. I’d already done two movies for his company and we were supposed to be discussing my future. And then that became my future.” Dawn served a purpose. “It was about me, metaphorically. But we’ve reached a point now in society where it’s not the time for metaphors. We can’t afford them.”

That film’s disguised confessional was followed in 2015 by an act of incendiary directness. Horrified by the note on an audition script she received for a new Adam Sandler comedy (“push-up bras encouraged”), McGowan shared it on social media. When that prompted her agency to sack her, she posted about that, too: “I just got fired by my wussy acting agent because I spoke up about the bullshit in Hollywood. Hahaha.”

‘Planet 9 … it’s like meditation. I’ve always imagined orbs floating around me’
‘Planet 9 … it’s like meditation. I’ve always imagined orbs floating around me’ Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

A year later, she tweeted all the reasons why she hadn’t gone to the police about her then-unnamed attacker; one was that she had been advised she would never win in court against him because she had appeared in sex scenes. She was getting bolder by the tweet. “Trump had a lot to do with it. He showed in a black-and-white way what sexual harassment really is.”

When the allegations against Weinstein became public knowledge, some of his former colleagues issued statements of shock and disgust. I ask if any of her male directors got in touch to express support: perhaps Gregg Araki, who made The Doom Generation? Quentin Tarantino, who directed her in Death Proof? Or her ex-boyfriend, Robert Rodriguez, who cast her in Planet Terror as a go-go dancer whose leg is torn off by zombies and replaced with an assault rifle? “Yuck. No. Of course not. Never. They’re weak.” She has about as much time for them as she does for men who worry that #MeToo has endangered harmless flirting. “That whole ‘If I can’t abuse you, how am I gonna get my way?’ thing. Try being human. Try being nice. It might work out for you. Don’t rape and we’re good.”

Brave has been a galvanising success – as if to prove it, a passerby calls out to McGowan from a walkway above us, raising her fist in solidarity – and she is now at work on the follow-up, Trust. “It’s about making the choice to trust people despite every single disgusting thing that’s been done to me. If I didn’t, my abusers would have won.” Acting, she insists, is in the past. “I miss performing. But my career was stolen.” She feels part of a lost generation of actors whose prospects dwindled mysteriously after they tried to resist Weinstein’s attacks: Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Mira Sorvino are among the others blacklisted, their names besmirched. “We all got stolen. And we were all very good at our jobs. That’s the other crime in all this.”

How is she feeling about the forthcoming trial? “I’m so scared for the women brave enough to testify. I would’ve done so, had so much time not elapsed. I fear for them because they’re going to be savaged by his lawyer. I send them all my strength because they’re going to need it.” And where will she get her strength? Will anyone – perhaps her partner, the model Rain Dove – look after her? She thinks this over. “I’ve never really asked people to take care of me,” she says. “I don’t know what that looks like.”


Ryan Gilbey

The GuardianTramp

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