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Wednesday 18 September 2019

'The devil doesn't want him' - Rose McGowan talks about Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, rape, bravery and resilience

Rose McGowan changed the world with Me Too. Barry Egan talks to the activist and author about growth, Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Marilyn Manson, Hollywood, taking psychedelics to hear the trees talk, her non-binary partner and her former therapist's dead cat

Rose McGowan. Photo: David Conaghy
Rose McGowan. Photo: David Conaghy
Silence Breaker Rose McGowan: 'I couldn't have done what I did without Trump... he showed people what a sexist really was'. Photo: David Conachy
Rose pictured with Harvey Weinstein
Rose with girlfriend Rain Dove
Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan in 1998

I ask Rose McGowan if I could play God and absolve her of all guilt - and criminal charges - would she contemplate murdering Harvey Weinstein?

"The devil doesn't want him," she says.

Two years ago Time magazine heralded McGowan as one of the Silence Breakers, for breaking the silence about sexual assault. She said Weinstein had raped her, in the penthouse suite of the Stein Eriksen Lodge, in Deer Valley, Utah, during the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, where his company Miramax was presenting Going All the Way, the movie in which Rose starred. In October 2017 she was one of the first women to publicly accuse Weinstein of rape (Weinstein denies all allegations of sexual assault) in The New York Times and was a catalyst in the Me Too movement. In 2016, Rose announced on her Twitter feed that a "studio head" had raped her.

Sady Doyle writes in Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... And Why: "Women are not symbols of anything, other than themselves."

Rose pictured with Harvey Weinstein
Rose pictured with Harvey Weinstein

Be that as it may, Rose McGowan not only symbolises the Me Too movement but she also reset the consciousness of the world by speaking up.

"That was my intention," she says.

"I was curious to see if I could get people to be more socially conscious. I didn't come up with the hashtag MeToo or do any of that; my thing was purely curiosity if I knocked some dominoes over, there would be reverberations that would potentially cause people to be smarter. I wanted men to see women as human and vice versa."

An extraordinary woman by any definition of the word, Rose saw Me Too as women taking back their power, citing it as the first time in recorded history that women were being not only listened to but believed.

Rose said she wanted to metaphorically burn Hollywood down. She broke the silence about Hollywood's exploitation of young actresses.

Hollywood, she said, was built on sickness and operated like a cult.

Rose with girlfriend Rain Dove
Rose with girlfriend Rain Dove

Is Hollywood different now because of her? Are movies different now? "They are. I heard they cut sex scenes from movies. It is just looking at things with a new lens. I think people there had done things the same way because they had always done it the same way. And I just thought if they are putting out propaganda for the world then they should be better and they should be disseminating better information and more considered information."

With her hauntingly powerful new memoir Brave, Rose wanted, she says, her own narrative, "her own voice to out be there for the first time".

Does she feel that has been denied her?

"I know it has been. Even now, it is a very binary view of me."

Which is what?

"In America, they like to portray me as this kind of angry person, which is absurd. I have some righteous anger now."

Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan in 1998
Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan in 1998

You're entitled to righteous anger, I say.

"I am. We all are. I'm a human like everyone else. And I've gone through some extraordinary situations, some pleasant, some very unpleasant, and I have been very traumatised by a lot of people that should have been taking care of me."

Who should have taken care of her?

"Well, agents, managers, lawyers, people who take your money, things like that; instead of setting you up to be sexually assaulted."

You felt rather than protect you they were protecting their own interests?

"Correct." (Rose was dropped by her agent in 2015 for pointing out misogyny in a casting call for an Adam Sandler movie - where actresses were asked to show cleavage - "push-up bras encouraged".)

Does she think Hollywood is hoping that Me Too will eventually die down and the movie industry can go back to the way it was?

"Probably. But I don't think the rest of the world will let it, because the rest of the world is more forward than Hollywood is. I have a great love for cinema and for film. I hope they get it together, given it is America's No 1 export and they give the world the mirror to look into."

How does it make Rose feel that a man who can say "grab the pussy" can still go on to become President of America?

"I couldn't have done what I did without Trump. I couldn't have done it."

To react against?

"Correct. He showed people on the left, he showed the good liberals, what a sexist really was. Before that it was, kind of, 'Oh, women are just bitching about stuff'. No - here it is in black and white what this actually means. Just like he showed people what racism really is, in a really clear way. A lot of people thought, 'Oh, we have Obama. Racism is cured. That kind of idiocy. Or if we had a woman in the White House, sexism is cured. That is not the way it works. It is a lot deeper rooted. People have to go through their own belief systems and pull out these treads that have been implanted by society, because people aren't born with these thoughts."

Rose was born in Tuscany, Italy, and was raised until the age of 10 in a bizarre religious cult called Children Of God.

"Some of the sect believed in End Of Days. They were trying to start a new world and a new utopia. It is kind of like post-Vietnam. I could never understood what the main tenets were. There were religious teachings that I decided not to believe in, because I decided that I would believe in my own God and not the one that was being pushed on me. At a very young age, I was fighting the power."

And she never, in a sense, stopped fighting the power. Where did she get the strength to stand up to and tell the truth about an extremely powerful Hollywood mogul like Harvey Weinstein?

"Well, my father said I was born with the fist up and that I hated injustice. My nickname from him was The Brave One." Hence the title of Rose's book, Brave.

"But my book is not about that [Weinstein]. My book is how I got brave and I got resilient; resilience which so many of us have. There are so many unsung heroes in that way."

You became almost a receptacle for pain with Me Too, I say.

"Yes, very much so," she replies.

"But I also identify mostly with freedom fighters and guerilla fighters of the world. When I was little I used to have Napoleon's battle plans on my wall. I used to use pins on the wall and read books to study his strategy and things like that. I've always been slightly odd, I suppose."

To steal a line from Alice In Wonderland: 'All the best people are', I say to Rose. Did her father say that to her as a child?

She nods her head and smiles. "In fact, my father gave me a first edition Lewis Carroll for my 12th birthday," says Rose who moved to America when she was 10, and had some sort of emancipation from her chaotic parents (she is estranged from her mother who lives in New York) in her mid teens.

Soon after Rose became an indie queen in Hollywood in movies like The Doom Generation, Scream and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, to playing Paige Matthews in the TV series Charmed for five years.

Was it re-traumatising to write Brave? Did it put you back in a dark place?

"It was extraordinarily difficult. It was like calling on ghosts and they are all around you. It took me three years to write the book. It's not about Me Too. It pre-dates all that stuff. It is not easy to dredge up things that are not in that distant of a past. A lot of people wait until they are in their sixties or their eighties to write an autobiography, but I think I have covered enough terrain," says Rose who is 45.

I ask her where she lives. "I don't really live anywhere. I just go around."

Is that good for her head?

"Probably not. I don't know where to exist right now. I'm just like a tumble-weed half the time. I don't know how to have roots really. I don't identify with any place. I have no nationalism, whatsoever."

She travels to Tuscany sometimes. "I always thought I would end up there but frankly Italy is just too retrograde. The mentality, the sexism there is just so intense."

Maybe Italy is just not ready for Me Too. Maybe in a hundred years?

"Maybe Italy in a thousand years!"

"There was a young man who came up to me the other night - he was lovely - and he said: 'I have to thank you. It has changed the way my friends and I talk about women'. Which is really amazing. I tend to get a lot of the same questions from media, like: 'Where do you think Me Too is going?' I have no clue. I have no crystal ball. It's not a movement with a figurehead. It is not that kind of thing. It is the traditional way to dismiss someone with a voice: paint them as crazy, paint them as imbalanced, because, God forbid, you're actually angry. What if anger has truth in it? And anger usually covers pain."

You must have had a lot of pain - and a lot of growth as well.

"Very much so," she says. "I also had a lot of good times and a lot of laughs."

Tell me about the funny side of Rose McGowan.

She initially says she can't do funny "on command", before going on to be funnier than probably any person I've met in my life.

"I had a therapist that I went to only occasionally," she begins, "mostly because there was a saga of his cat that was always about to die. So I saw this therapist for seven years - I never got in deep in my stuff - but only so I could hear about his cat that was almost always dying. I had to know. I couldn't stop going to him until I figured out what happened to his cat."

What happened to her former therapist's cat?

"His cat eventually died and I was freed from going to therapy any more. But he told me that I was to stop making jokes about everything that I was sad about. Then when I was in Northern Ireland and they make jokes about pretty much everything, I thought: 'This is why. I'm a McGowan!'"

Another this-is-why moment perhaps comes when I asked Rose about her mother in the cult, and she answers: "It wasn't a traditional thing. There were many mothers. They were all called nannies. It wasn't like there was one mother with one child. It was kind of a universal mothering, in Tuscany, in the commune. So there might be an attachment disorder thing going on. I don't know." (I contacted Rose by email a few days later to ask her what she meant by "an attachment disorder going on". Her reply: "I was being semi-facetious.")

What's your boyfriend Rain Dove like?

"Born a woman. Doesn't identify as a woman. But looks like a beautiful man. So my boyfriend is non-binary. So not a traditional boyfriend in that way. I say girlfriend because I don't know what else to say."

Is Rose bisexual?

"I don't think so."

Rose likes black comedy and is currently loving Schitt's Creek on Netflix. She also falls asleep to crime scene re-enactment TV shows. She finds the voiceovers "calming because when they are talking about murder and death they can't be too excited about it. They have to sound respectful. So I put that on my computer and I sleep to it".

I ask her what words she would use to describe herself.

"Wilful. Strong. Outsider. Happy. Lonely." I point out that there are a lot of paradoxes with being all those words together in one person. Does she live on her own?

"I do. Although I'm probably going to get a place in New York with my girlfriend."

Rose, who was travelling to Israel for a speaking engagement after her time in Dublin to promote Brave, and to promote her upcoming talk in the National Concert Hall in Dublin, says she will probably stay in an A‌i‌r‌b‌n‌b‌ in New York then. She mentioned ghosts earlier. Is it difficult to walk down the streets of New York knowing that person lives there? (In Brave, McGowan writes about her harrowing encounter with Weinstein or "the Monster" as she calls him in the book. She never mentions him by name.)

"That's why I don't like being there that much. I feel very unsettled. I am more settled than I was a year ago but less settled than..." she breaks off. "I don't feel like I belong anywhere. It's hard."

I ask Rose did she always feel like that and I notice that she is crying. I ask her if I am upsetting her?

"I'm upsetting myself," she says with tears in her eyes. "It's OK to be upset. I'm not upset. I just get melancholia sometimes."

What kind of books was she drawn to when she was younger?

"Edgar Allan Poe at aged four."

Four!

"Yeah. I was a strange child. I used to put my head on the floorboards and listen for heartbeats."

And did she hear them?

"Sometimes."

Why did she listen to the floorboards for heartbeats?

"I thought dead people were buried under the floor. And people that were alive and dead at the same time." Rose says that she never saw ghosts as a child but she always looked for them. "Apparently I was taken on a boat when I was three, it was the first time I got drunk. I went around drinking all the dregs of everybody's wines and tottering around, dancing, but shockingly, I never turned into an alcoholic."

We have a discussion about drink and how sometimes a few drinks can help one access thoughts in the brain and verbalise them. Rose says that her late father would take peyote once a year with the Indians in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.

Does Rose do anything like that?

"I like psychedelics, but like mushrooms. But in the desert, if you are going to go for an experience."

What does Rose see when she hallucinates?

"It's not really hallucinating. I am really into auditory. [Mushrooms] amplify sound in nature. You can hear the trees talking to each-other."

What's the biggest misconception people have about her?

"That I'm hard."

And you're soft and vulnerable, I say. But isn't vulnerability the new strength?

"Yeah. I'm honest with it. People are very confused by people who are very open with their emotions. A lot of people shove stuff down. I don't really have the ability to do that. I can suck it up and push on and fight the good fight but when I put something on Twitter people think it is me raging. Whereas I am either crying or laughing, depending on my mood, I suppose. Sometimes it is fun to kick heads in!" she laughs. "Don't use that as a pull-quote, by the way!"

What would make a better pull-quote would be Rose on her ex fiance Marilyn Manson.

Are they still friends? "No."

I thought they made it up after the break-up?

"He doesn't like me. I was very kind to him in my book, because we had a really good period together. But he hated me ever since I broke up with him which is years and years and years ago," she says meaning 2001. "I have no ill will. But one cannot control another person."

She has an album she is working on, Planet Nine. She plays me three tracks from it on her phone. She sings along to her own singing. I join in. She could be President of the United States of America one day. There isn't another woman on Earth like Rose McGowan.

Rose McGowan is a speaker at the National Concert Hall as part of the NCH Words+Ideas Series 2019 on April 27. Tickets: €24.50 and €29.50. nch.ie

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