Tuesday 20 November 2018

Asia Argento and I don't speak any more

Rose and Asia became the voice of #MeToo but now the two women are no longer talking to each other

HURRICANE: Rose McGowan. Photo: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock
HURRICANE: Rose McGowan. Photo: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Celia Walden

'It's been a long time since anyone's told me a sexist joke," says Rose McGowan with a small smile, "so I can't really say whether I still find them funny. Why? Have you brought me a load?"

I did think up a few in the lift on the way up to the Mayfair penthouse McGowan's staying in while in London, but now that I'm sitting here opposite the 45 year-old former Hollywood actress (she's insistent I write 'former' "because I hope I'll never act again") I can't remember a single one.

Tiny, shaven-headed and barefoot, in the finest black cashmere round-neck and cropped jeans she manages to look both vulnerable and fierce. The combination is disarming.

As the woman whose story of rape and abuse in Hollywood drove a revolution from the moment it was published in The New York Times on October 5 last year, McGowan has become the voice and face of #MeToo. It has given her power, purpose and even her very own hashtag, #RoseArmy.

However, all of this has made it hard for her to be seen as a nuanced human being who might, say, laugh at a sexist joke "if it's funny" and reject PC suggestions that 'Man of the Match' be changed to 'Player of the Match'. Certainly nobody would have expected McGowan to join in open condemnation of her fellow #MeToo figurehead Asia Argento for the alleged sexual assault of actor Jimmy Bennett when he was still a minor.

"What a nightmare," she murmurs when I ask about Argento, who came forward with allegations against Harvey Weinstein at the same time as McGowan. "She was a friend. And she's done a lot of good for the movement and worked really hard for it", she says .

ON THE PROTEST CIRCUIT: Asia Argento and Rose McGowan
ON THE PROTEST CIRCUIT: Asia Argento and Rose McGowan

"I don't think it [the Bennett story] discredits the work she's done, but it probably will going forward. I just don't know how someone picks up their life from where Asia is now."

So when Rose tweeted that the news was "heart-breaking", did she mean for the movement or her former friend? "Both. But most of all I was heartbroken for her children, this is brutal for them."

McGowan is choosing her words carefully. She's aware that any kind of suggestion of 'in-fighting' could undermine #MeToo's achievements. Do she and Argento still talk? "No."

While there was chatter of McGowan being behind the leak of text messages from Argento, in which she admitted to having had sex with a 17-year-old (the age of consent in California is 18) to police, it was in fact McGowan's partner, the androgynous Louis Vuitton model Rain Dove Dubilewski, who has admitted to passing the messages on.

Harvey Weinstein and Rose McGowan
Harvey Weinstein and Rose McGowan

Does McGowan think Asia still blames her?

"Probably. But I'm certainly not the person to blame. Asia's just striking out at any port in the storm. Anything to deflect."

With Argento now claiming that it was Bennett who assaulted her, the whole thing "has got really mucky", says McGowan. "And listen: it's not my story. The New York Times broke the news and I can certainly see why they thought it right to do that."

McGowan agrees that her movement should "never have been turned into an 'us and them' thing. If you're a power abuser of either sex there is a certain form of justice that will be met."

Yes, women have primarily been seen as the victims so far, she adds, but a woman she knows is being "badly" harassed by another well-known woman.

"And a lot of men I know have been hurt by other men in LA. It's just about cleaning your house, you know?"

Tuscan-born McGowan's mission to expose the darkest corners of her industry began well before the Weinstein scandal. And as the daughter of two members of the Children of God cult who describes growing up watching girls and women being abused by its male leaders in her memoir, Brave, McGowan was better equipped to spot the "cult-like structure of Hollywood" than most.

It was how a young, unformed McGowan used to believe things had to be - "the rules always benefiting a certain group at the top" - until she decided she'd had enough.

In 2016 she alleged on Twitter that a "studio head" had raped her. That same year she began work on Brave, in which she reveals Weinstein's name and details the events that took place at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997.

"I was putting Hollywood on notice," says McGowan, who later told The New York Times about the $100,000 settlement Weinstein had paid her after the alleged assault. And maybe that wasn't so smart, she thinks now, because once Weinstein heard about the book "he did a lot more diabolical things".

She was bullied and intimidated, she says. "People would come up to me in Hollywood asking 'done any Weinstein scripts recently?' just to see if I would cry. And I had ex-Mossad agents in my life, warning me off."

It's a claim that sounds wild but is corroborated by The New York Times story.

"They were introduced to me by my literary agent, who was secretly working with Weinstein."

McGowan published her memoir regardless, although she admits to me now that what really happened that day "went further than what I wrote in the book - which was as much as I felt like sharing". There is a long pause as she struggles with a thought.

"He didn't have to rape, you know? But he wanted to. And there are way more victims than we know about. I think there were probably about 2,000 women in all - because the first victim we know of was in the 1970s."

Does she believe Weinstein was genuinely suffering from an addiction? "Not a sex addiction - a rape addiction. It was about exerting power. It was about his unquenchable gluttonous appetite. He had assistants giving him his medicine so that he could have an erection so that he could go in and rape women. And please can we stop calling it a 'casting couch'. Let's call it what it is; let's call it a 'rape couch'."

Weinstein - currently on bail and wearing an electronic tag - is facing a raft of lawsuits in addition to the criminal charges. But McGowan believes the producer's aiders and abettors should also be punished for their part in the alleged rape and abuse. That so many people knew and did nothing still makes her feel physically sick, she tells me.

"Award season made me want to vomit. They're all so hypocritical. I just wanted to shout: 'But you've all kept this quiet!' You're not good people!' The pins and all-black dress codes felt like people were dancing on my rape grave - like they were feeding off what had happened. Bringing activists to ceremonies was just a way to neutralise things, because there's nothing Hollywood likes better than doing good press for itself."

Despite her part in toppling Weinstein, McGowan says she was never invited to any of Hollywood's #MeToo campaign brunches and 'survivors' lunches'.

"Not that I would have gone: I have no desire to be feted by people I don't like."

More than anything else she's said, this makes me wonder how McGowan spent as long as she did in Hollywood. It also makes me wonder whether she might be quietly trying to break #MeToo in order to concentrate on #RoseArmy - and a new unisex beauty range, The Only, which she intends to bring out next year - though she insists she's "still a card-carrying member".

Before I leave, we circle back to which #MeToo permutations are PC silliness - and which are helpful. McGowan finds the French fines for wolf-whistling "funny" but has an issue with why all virtual assistants are named after women: "So you can order them around?"

What about the fuss around storms and hurricanes always being named after women? Here McGowan breaks into a broad smile: "I've always wanted a hurricane named Rose."

© Telegraph

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