by Graham Fuller
Warning: This amply talented actress is a one-woman roller coaster. She's Marilyn Manson's non-blushing bride-to-be. She's ornery, over-the-top, and willfully provocative. In the age of blah, she's the kind of tonic the entertainment business needs.
It's apt that Rose McGowan hankers to play Clara Bow in a mooted biopic about the tragic '20s star. Bow was a gifted comedienne whose life spiraled into emotional disarray under the burden of being America's first sex symbol. McGowan is herself doing a Bow, but in reverse order and at warp speed. Having survived a troubled adolescence, during which she was briefly institutionalized and drifted around the country, McGowan slipped into movies via Encino Man (1992) and customized her persona as a sneering, sexedup junior bitch goddess in The Doom Generation (1995) - an image she has still to shake loose, as the recent Jawbreaker attested. There were other traumas along the way, but 1999 finds the 24 year old actress a happy camper having found a soul mate in shock rocker Marilyn Manson, to whom she got engaged in February, and desiring a more diverse film career than she's hitherto enjoyed.
Like Drew Barrymore, McGowan is oh-so-'90s: Get the shit out of the way quick and then do the career thing. Ever the provocatrix, however, she hasn't relinquished her need to taunt us with her acid-coated tongue and casually exposed voluptuousness. So, in lieu of the big Hollywood break that has so far eluded her, she has become a star of another firmament - talk shows, magazine covers, awards shows (at which she may roll up wearing a G-string and a piece of mesh).
The cleam that's always in McGowan's eye, her equivalent of Clara Bow's flirtatious wink, suggests her exhibitionism is all a practical joke, a delicious con, though she knows it has cost her professionally. The big question facing her now is, is she brave enough to show us her petals, and not just her thorns?
Graham Fuller: When I last interviewed you, it was just before you went to the Sundance Film Festival in January 1997. You had several movies there and it seemed you were really blossoming, but the last two years have been relatively quiet for you workwise. Why is that?
Rose McGowan: I realized a career is built as much on what you don't do was what you do do. I've seen many actors go awry by making the wrong choices early on. So I decided to stop working on projects back-to-back because I felt I was starting to get into trouble by diving into things that weren't 100 percent there on the page. But it's ironic you should bring up Sundance that year because it turned out to be a bizarre time for me. I was supposed to be the belle of the ball, but I only lasted a day there and then, on January 29th, my best friend committed suicide. A lot of hard-core things had happened to her, and she couldn't handle them. She was broken, I guess.
GF: You had a boyfriend who'd died a few years before....
RM: Yeah. I have great luck. I'm used to people dying and going away. Not used to it exactly - but I expect it. Like, whenever people go off on a trip, I save their phone messages because I think they might die. I can't help it even though I know it's something I can't control. There have been a lot of murders and suicides in my family; it's like the primary cause of death. I wonder if there's a certain energy that attracts that. I would hope not to be any sort of conduit for it.
GF:When you friend died, did you say to yourself, "How much more of this am I going to go through?"
RM: To a certain extent. It was strange because on the morning of January 29th I'd said to myself, "Finally it seems like my life is getting a little easier." Not to say that someone else's death is about me, but it sent me into a tailspin. It put me off for almost an entire year. It set off a lot of bombs from my past. I think I ran so hard and so fast, in a lot of ways, from my life and I kind of took a fall. It was like - what do they call it? - Post traumatic stress syndrome. I had to change the sheets three or four times a night because I had weird nightmares that gave me the sweats.
And then it was around that time that I met Manson. I was with somebody else at the time, who I left - one, because I didn't really want to be with that person, and two, because I felt I'd had so much tragedy I needed to go off, go crazy, and maybe live on the outside for a while. That was my plan, anyway, and ironically it coincided with meeting the person who has given my life a strong foundation and a relationship in which I feel really safe. It's interesting how my plan backfired in the best possible way.
GF: How did you meet?
RM: [laughs] I was locked out of a screening for Gummo , this genius piece of white trash art. I was late, as usual, and I was arguing with Harmony [Korine], the film's director, about why he wouldn't let me in. I had to wait because a friend was in there. When the movie was over, Manson came out. I'd heard he had a crush on me and I thought that was funny. So I marched straight up to him and said, "So I hear you have a crush on me." We've been together ever since.
GF: Love at first sight?
RM: Yeah. It was a little messy because, as I say, I was with someone else. Also, in the first six months, I didn't want to go anywhere with him publicly. It wasn't that I was shy to go out with him, I just didn't want people with preconceived notions to assume anything about why we were together. I was pretty careful for a while.
GF: So how did you go from that to -
RM: - my MTV [1998 Video Music Awards] dress? [laughs long and loud] I finally just said, "Screw it!" I also have a very wicked sense of humor.
GF: You made Elizabeth Hurley look like a blue stocking.
RM: Well, if I've achieved anything in my short life...
GF: Did it take a lot of nerve? I mean, you could see everything.
Of course it did. But there's definitely a bit of Mae West in me. I think self-amusement is possibly the most important thing one has. Actually, it didn't really dawn on me quite how naked I was. [laughs] But I've certainly worn crazier outfits. Or less of an outfit, if possible. I managed it a couple of times when I was 14 year old or 15 year old club kid.
GF: We didn't see Gwynneth Paltrow similarly attired at the Oscars.
RM: No. But maybe she'd have done the whole world a lot of good if she had been. Sometimes kicking out the jams isn't such a bad thing.
GF: People assume you and Manson live a life of total debauchery, but it couldn't be that way all the time, could it?
RM: It could be, I suppose. But we're too smart and too busy. I think some people express what they feel by getting fucked up on drugs or alcohol, but one doesn't need to be that way 23 hours a day.
GF: So, come on, ruin his image. Is he really sweet and kind?
RM: Of course he is. To me. Otherwise I'd kick him out. [laughs] It's funny, because he was teasing me last night. I was saying, "I have a friend I need to call," and he said, "You don't have any friends." I was like, "Yes I do." And we counted four. Between us. [laughs]
GF: What's your home life with him like?
RM: It's quiet for three or four days, and then something crazy goes on. It's back and forth.
GF: How has having someone permanent in your life changed your attitudes?
RM: It's not only reduced a lot of the ups and downs that come with this lifestyle, but it's instilled a really strong work ethic in me. I've come to realize how much time it takes to build a career. It's like building a relationship. But I get very impatient. There are actresses out there who just seem to have such a...ahh, how do I say this without being an asshole? They're definitely having their moment now because they know how to work the system, and I know I have to be that way, too, in order to succeed. But it's never been more frustrating for me.
GF: I enjoyed you in Jawbreaker, but I also thought, How many more times is she going to play -
RM: - the hard ass, sassy, tough girl? [laughs]
RM: I completely agree. I thought that was a funny part, but I'm dying to do other things, which is why I'm on a starvation diet right now. But, you know, there's not a lot of vision out here. I've got calls saying I was too strong an actress for a particular part and that I would make the other actors seem weak. I think that's how Hollywood churns out its mediocrity. It's like, Let's set out to make a mediocre film." To me, it's obvious that the better the people involved, the more likely the film itself will rise t othe occasion.
GF: Would you play someone demure, or even nice?
RM: Absolutely. I know I don't come across that way in interviews, and I know magazines love my body and my weirdo sense of humor, but there are many other sides to me. I'd love to talk to Susan Sarandon because I imagine she had many mini-heartbreaks, too, before she got to do the work she knew she could do - or Jessica Lange, who I imagine went through similar stuff after King Kong .
GF: Doesn't your exhibitionist streak skew the odds against you?
RM: To be honest, I think my biggest problem is people are scared of me. For many fellas in Hollywood, it's too much of an overload if they meet an actress with lots of personality and talent and who looks like somebody they want to sleep with. Rockets start popping out of their ears.
GF: Has your agent asked you to cool it?
RM: I was having a conversation about it with her the other night adn she said I have to show a more vulnerable side. It upset me so greatly I was almost crying, because I'm fiercely protective of my spirit. All my life, I feel people have tried to stamp out what's special about me and I've fought that for so long. And though I've had a lot more luck that most people, I feel it's been a longer, harder, and more solitary road for me. Ultimately, though, it's worth waiting, whether it's to find your counterpart in love or to get the kind of work you want. My argument is, Why should I pander? Why should I downplay myself to make someone else more comfortable? That just makes me want to rip my skin off. Maybe it's really retarded of me, but I refuse to sell myself out. I know it would make things easier, but if I were to do that I just think something in me would die.
GF: Well, you're not going to get parts in Jane Austen movies if you keep playing the viciuos vamp, are you?
RM: But I don't go into meetings in my stilettos and carrying a whip. And I honestly don't think what I wear - or don't wear is usually what it comes down to [laughs] - should have any effect on whether or not people think I can play this or that part. I think I'm known for being smart, which is maybe more unsettling. I'm a big fan of Howard Stern, but when I went on his show he said something to me that was really telling. He said, "I can see why Manson likes you, but you're too much for me. You're just too much work." And maybe he's right, but it's not like I'm trying to be challenging. I just think people get used to a diet of beige and they can't handle it when something shocking pink comes along.
GF: So have we seen the last of the vixen?
RM: I'd decided not to do that agian, and I did Jawbreaker - so I would never say never. Right now, I'm drawn toward characters who are really serious, even fragile, or characters who are devoid of conscience. I wish there were a grayer area.
GF: OK. Have you and Manson named the big day yet?
GF: What do you think about getting married?
RM: I don't think about the institution part of it as much as the idea that marrying the person you're with is the highest compliment you can pay them. I think it's an amazing thing to tell someone you want to spend every day for the rest of your life with them. Right from the moment we've been engaged, I've felt that the invisible threads binding us together have become even tighter. It's very sweet, actually. I can imagine being with Manson at 65.
GF: So you're content right now?
RM: This last year and a half has probably been the happiest of my life. It's not necessarily because of the engagement, although that's certainly part of it. Talk to me tomorrow and I could be on the floor crying. Certainly I have some needs that aren't satisfied yet, but at least today I can say that I have a totally amazing kick-ass person I'm in love with and four really great friends. [laughs] In a bizarre way, it's probably because it's been teh least eventful time in my life, so maybe the chaos theory doesn't work.