In January, Rose McGowan flipped the script on Hollywood. Debuting her short film Dawn at the Sundance Film Festival, the former Charmed star—a journeywoman actress who appeared in such films as Scream and The Black Dahlia and most recently wrapped a 12-episode arc on the Crackle series Chosen—made explicit her intention to reinvent herself as a moviemaker.
But last week, it was McGowan’s fiery feminist streak that grabbed headlines around the world thanks to a cheeky tweet:
casting note that came w/script I got today. For real. name of male star rhymes with Madam Panhandler hahahaha I die pic.twitter.com/lCWGTV537t
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 18, 2015
With its thinly veiled reference to Adam Sandler, the posting managed to put Hollywood’s casual sexism and institutional objectification of actresses on conspicuous display.
Turns out the outspoken actress-director’s impulse to vent spleen came from the same place as her film-making drive. Dawn—which will be screened at New York’s Lincoln Center under the auspices of its Film Society Wednesday—follows a quiet teen (Tara Barr) growing up within the constrictive confines of small-town America. But when she strikes up a flirtation with a courtly boy who works at the local gas station (Reiley McClendon)—and lowers her guard to allow him and his friends into her world—Dawn gets much more than she bargained for. It’s an assured debut with a strong point of view and some sharp points to make about female identity construction.
In a candid discussion with EW, McGowan, 41, explained she’s “not trying to vilify” Sandler, even while decrying the “stupidity” of his movie’s audition notice. And she took pains to elucidate her pro-woman humanism as well as her decision to say goodbye to acting for the foreseeable future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I don’t know what I was expecting from your movie. But I wasn’t expecting this! It’s actually pretty shocking.
ROSE MCGOWAN: I shoot a lot. I shoot photographs. I have a lot of things that aren’t on public record. I have a lot of business I run that aren’t in entertainment at all that keep me really busy. I basically spent the last seven years going into my version of the witness relocation program. Trying to figure out how to dismantle being famous as something I wasn’t comfortable with.
Tell me about your disenchantment with Hollywood. On your IMDB page, it looks like you’ve been working on things throughout that time.
On little things if I had time or if I was next to where it happened to be shooting. Dawn is my taste, my aesthetic. Where my brain works. It’s the field that I planned. And a lot of the stuff I did as an actor is not what I planned. That’s okay. You’re in other people’s world. But I just didn’t want to be in other people’s world anymore. I wanted to be in my own.
In a recent interview, you said with regard to Hollywood, “What gets said and done in that town, especially toward women, is disgusting.” Can you elaborate?
When I did my first film, I was told by my agent that I would need to have long hair so men in this town would want to f— me and hire me. That was said to a 17 year old.
What’s really good about Dawn is, I’ve had a lot of fathers say they’re going to watch it with their daughters and do things with their daughters differently.
There are a lot of implicit messages in the movie: the construction of female identity, issues of desire at a repressive time in American history. One message that comes through loud and clear, though is: be careful of riding in cars with strange boys.
It is beware of riding in cars with strange boys. But only when society and your parents have bound and gagged you and taken away your defense mechanisms for danger. When you have been conditioned to be pleasant at all times and be polite, it can very often take away a girl’s ability to defend herself. “Something is not right in this situation. Ding, ding, ding, it must be me.” That can lead down a really dark path.
There’s an interview with Tab Hunter [in Dawn]. He’s out of the closet now but at the time, he was a teen pin up. He says, “Nobody likes pushy girls. And I like girls who ask questions—but not too many questions.”
As a filmmaker, would you say you have an agenda?
Yes I do. People always say, “Those Hollywood liberals, they have an agenda.” Damn right I do!
So let’s be explicit. What is it?
Humanism. I’m pro-free thought, pro-art, pro-freedom. I’m pro-people thinking and feeling what they want to do. I’m pro-people not hurting others even unwittingly. I’m pro people being even 10 percent better as humans, including myself. In their art, in their work, in what they do because that is going to change the game. It’s really pretty simple.
There isn’t a wide consciousness about you in that regard or that this is something you have championed.
I’ve always championed this. It’s just that no one was listening. I’ve never changed; it’s other things that have.
Well, it’s true. You were never a shrinking violet.
I found a lot of things about the accouterments of Hollywood silly. Especially the red carpet. My thing was, if I’m going to do a red carpet, let’s play with it. You want me to be your show pony? I’ll be your show pony. You want to play? Let’s play. You want to f–k with me? I’ll f–k with you.
Let me ask you this point blank: are you finished with acting?
I don’t know. I don’t have time is the main answer. And I don’t really feel like taking a vacation from my mind. That’s what happens – you leave your mind. And I did that for a really long time. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good at acting; I was. And I am. But I’m also good at other things that I don’t do.
Other actresses who are serious about playing nice with Hollywood probably wouldn’t have tweeted what you did last week. You got insulted by this wardrobe note and took it public. What offended you so much?
It was just so dumb. I was offended by the stupidity more than anything. I was offended by the fact that went through so many people’s hands and nobody red flagged it. This is normal to so many people. It was probably even a girl that had to type it up. It’s institutionally okay.
Did you hear from Adam Sandler or anyone from that project you tweeted about?
No. The wardrobe part was dumb enough. The part that made me laugh was where it said, “Make sure you read the script so you understand the context of the scene.” [laughs] That was the part that made me laugh the hardest.
I’m not trying to vilify Adam Sandler. Although someone did tell me that when he did his Netflix deal, he said, “I signed with Netflix because it rhymes with Wet Chicks.” I mean, what? What in the f–k is going on? No!
Was this for a movie or the Netflix thing?
I guess it’s a movie. I don’t know. It’s so weird that it even came to me. They’re not serious about having me in the movie. I don’t think I’m a natural pairing. [laughs] My thing is, watch out what you ask for.
Suffice to say you’re not going to take that role.
They’re not going to want me in that role! That’s okay because I don’t want to do it anyways. So there. It’s just the institutional stupidity and the institutional infantilization of actresses. Like an actress isn’t going to look like her A-game. We need to remind her. My favorite part was the parenthesis: “push up bras encouraged.”
Now I understand you are in pre-production on your feature debut Pines. It’s described as an “art thriller”?
Yes! I say art thriller because I’m gong to use a lot of visual cues from the art world. I’m really heavily influenced for this one by James Turrell, the artist who works with light. Again, it’s a mental thriller more than anything. It’s a girl in a mental institution who can’t prove what she hears and what she sees. So it’s about what is real and what isn’t real? She gets taken in by a family of healers when they kick her out of the institution. It’s about finding yourself – but in a really beautiful, harrowing and compelling way.
Will you appear in front of the camera for this movie.
No. I don’t need to be!