Rose McGowan does not follow the typical blueprint for Hollywood starlets. Her silent-siren beauty aside, the outspoken actress drives faster than most men we know and scarfed down eggs, bacon, and biscuits before our photo shoot. McGowan is someone who genuinely does what she wants, and doesn’t sugarcoat or falsify her intentions. As an actress, McGowan has established herself as a cult icon, with roles in fanboy favorites like Scream, Grindhouse, and the TV show Charmed. But her latest role is as filmmaker, with her directorial debut, Dawn, debuting last January at the Sundance Film Festival. A short film about girl culture in the 1960s, Dawn is McGowan’s purest attempt at expressing her artistic vision. We spoke to her recently about this new chapter in her career.
Can you describe the world that Dawn has been exposed to and how that relates to the feminist undertones in the film?
Setting Dawn in 1961 allowed me to examine the pretty straight jacket that girls were raised to exist in. The post-war ideal of femininity both fascinates and horrifies me. I realized I could say a lot about that by making a study of Dawn’s repression.
How do you feel that your experience as an actress in Hollywood has influenced your transition into directing- specifically regarding the projects you’ll take on?
Everything relates. It’s a special trick of the mind to think that we are only allowed to be or do one thing. Acting is an art, but I wasn’t feeling like an artist. To be a frustrated artist is a special kind of torture. I am now very comfortable having my own voice. I know what I will and won’t do as a director and I learned that from being an actress.
When you read the script for Dawn, how did you identify? Why was this the first project that made you go, “Okay, I’m ready now.”
I was lucky, the writers, M.A. Fortin and Joshua Miller are brilliant friends of mine. I think they’d seen me mentally withering on the vine, so to speak. They are actually the ones who said, “it’s time.” And it is.
How do you think girl culture in the 1960s echoes how women are viewed or treated in our society today?
I think it’s pretty easy to see the parallels in today’s life. It’s up to us to reject those notions.
In an interview you gave with Entertainment Weekly, you mentioned how “your internal warning can get subverted by societal influences”. How has this translated in your own life, and what did you hope to highlight through your artistic interpretation of this notion?
This article is not long enough to list the mistakes I’ve made by ignoring my internal warning system. As humans we are hardwired to have a fight or flight response. As women we are taught to repress it.
It was interesting how Dawn’s naiveté, which was largely due to her conditioning by her mother, caused her infatuations to be men such as Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter (who were closeted gay actors at the time). What were you trying to convey about masculinity – and the sheltered feminine ideals?
I wanted Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson to be Dawn’s barometer of masculinity. Unfortunately, it was a hyper-idealized, consumer friendly idea of masculinity that further served to reinforce stereotypes. The Tab Hunter interview that Dawn reads to gain insight into the male mind, is a real interview. “I like girls that ask questions, but not too many questions.” Well, Tab says a mouthful with that quote.
I’m interested in your role as a movie buff. I know you’re extremely interested in the narrative, and have studied and been exposed to filmmaking since you were a child. What are the new challenges you face behind the camera?
Just getting behind the camera and staying there for the long haul. It’s the only way to keep learning.