Known for her activism and remarkable involvement in women’s rights, actress Rose McGowan speaks out on growing up in a cult, finding her voice and ruminates on what’s next for her career
Rose McGowan is more softly spoken than one may presume. And given her tremendous impact on the #MeToo movement (the infamous social-media-led movement against sexual harassment and assault), people do presume she’ll be loud. But, like many other activists before her, she’s calm and unruffled—perhaps even cautious—when talking about herself.
“I like knitting” she offers when asked what she enjoys doing. “That might surprise people, and no, I’m not stabbing anyone with the needle I’m just knitting.”
We’re discussing the release of her New York Times best-selling memoir, Brave, a rollercoaster account of her much-lived life. “The book is not about sexual harassment” she adamantly explains. “It’s about a journey. I didn’t want to write a straight autobiography and I didn’t want to write a straight polemic, so I interwove the two; I broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the reader, going back and forth through my stories and my thoughts.”
"I go big at first and then figure out what I'm doing later"
This weaving of two worlds isn’t a new concept to Rose, whose life has long since been split between the porcelain farce of a glittering Hollywood veneer and a woman who is, “a lot more like other people than not.”
Starring in Jawbreakers in 1999
Wondering whether her unusual upbringing in The Children Of God cult gave her a unique understanding when entering another peculiar world, I ask Rose what she originally thought when going into Hollywood. “I think it both was and it wasn’t an advantage,” she explains. “It took me a while to realise Hollywood was a cult in its own right. Which is very interesting to me as they say if you’ve been in a cult before, you have a high chance of falling into another one—it could certainly account for some things. My upbringing didn’t train me enough for the sharks but there was no way for me to have known about that. I came from very honest people which gave me a rosier outlook on the world and Hollywood isn’t known for its honesty. So that was hard for me, it was an adjustment, and it was a lonely one.”
Rose’s ability to critically analyse groups and societal norms is adept. Though she has perhaps been tainted by her past, she remains incredibly perceptive.
Rose wearing her now-infamous dress to the 1999 VMAs with then-partner Marilyn Manson
“Do you think cults may be more common than we think?” I ask.
“Oh yes, I see it everywhere. More often they tend to be lighter and less destructive but equally when it’s a lighter version it can be more dangerous—people think they’re free but quite the opposite would be true. People may not even know they’re involved in one—we’re taught that cults are these bad scary things but there are so many layers and they’re all over the place. It’s not all ashrams and communes but cult-like thinking, which is really societal thinking, is very ingrained in us.”
"At the moment I'm unravelling a lot of last year's trauma and healing from that"
Although most will recognise Rose from her various roles, (Jawbreaker, Charmed, Grindhouse) her immense involvement in women’s rights and that iconic VMA awards dress in 1998, she insists that she’s hanging up her thespian hat for the foreseeable future and is moving on to more governable pastures.
“I’d rather direct than act”, Rose says, letting the defiant gravity of the statement hang in the air. “I like being behind the camera very much. It’s your own story and it’s your own voice and it’s your own vision and passion. Acting is a very noble profession, it’s just one that came with a lot of pain for me personally, so I still don’t know how I feel about it. At the moment I’m unravelling a lot of last year’s trauma and healing from that.”
Starring in witch sister drama, Charmed which ran from 1998-2006
I ask whether her new-found love of writing is another endeavour she plans to continue.
“Yes. I’m even thinking of going to school to do journalism,” she reveals. “I was talking with my mother the other night, and I would love to be a war correspondent, that would be so cool. And I anticipate there are always going to be wars judging by how things are going.” The last sentence comes with a wry chuckle. “I’ve written some magazine articles here and there but it’s something I’m coming into on my own. I’ve certainly always done things backwards; publishing a book for my first big written piece and starring in a movie when I’d never starred in one before, I go big at first and then I figure out what I’m doing later.”
This go-big-or-go-home mentality is something that I come to understand as an essential constituent of Rose’s thinking. Often while we’re talking about her book or the current state of affairs, she’ll passionately curve the conversation toward how she’d like to help other people, before coming back again to the original point—as she does while I wonder aloud. “When you’re writing about your experience, how do you relate it to those non-famous people who may have struggled through similar torments?” I ask.
Starring in Grindhouse in 2007. Director Robert Rodriguez later claimed he cast Rose in deliberate defiance of her blacklisting from the productions of the Weinstein Company
“There’s definitely a lot of crazy stuff going on in America and the UK—there’s a lot that is quite scary. I think bravery is definitely required to handle both your own life and the broader questions in the world and it’s incumbent that we are the best selves we can be. My goal with Brave was ultimately that I was curious to see if I could be a ten per cent better person. It was just an arbitrary number I came up with but I reasoned that if I can be ten per cent better I bet other people can be ten per cent better too. If I’m an activist for anything it’s just for social consciousness. It’s not just for women and again it’s not just about sexual harassment, it has more weight than that.”
She stops for a moment to think and reflect.
“Not that [sexual harassment] doesn’t shape me, it’s just part of the flower that I am, it’s not who I am and it’s not other people either. Often, when I meet people, there’s a crisis or an unhappy incident which they recall, but what I see is the strength of those survivors. I see the strength of bravery and how people being brave in their own lives changes their outcome. I was someone who didn’t have a voice for a very long time even though it seemed like I did, but everyone has a story and we don’t know it. I think writing is a really great way to get the talking down, but it’s just also realising the human experience. We should all get to shout from the rooftops if we can, if we want to.”
I muse on the notion that tragedy can beget creativity and that the act of expelling a vision is so often a cathartic progression. Rose agrees and I ask her whether writing Brave was a healing process.
“It was” she replies. “A lot of people asked that while I was writing it and I thought no, it’s torture. I was very angry with my father when I wrote the book so it brought up a lot of stuff. But then, after the book came out, I could visit him at his grave and he and I are fine now.”
Through our interview I’ve felt Rose’s vulnerability, the ease at which she quashes it and the earnest desire she has to improve the world of anyone struggling. And even though her acting days are gone, don’t expect to forget her talent any time soon. When I query her about her star quality she simply laughs and ripostes, “Well, as Katherine Hepburn said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got it.’ ”
BRAVE by Rose McGowan is published by HQ and is available in hardback, £20 and paperback, £8.99