BlackBook Interview: Rose McGowan on Living on the Fringe, Finding Freedom & Traveling to ‘Planet 9’
When former Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on March 11, it represented not only justice in the specific cases brought against him, but also some measure of closure for all of the women he’d ever victimized.
For Rose McGowan, it marked the beginning of the end of a nightmare in which Weinstein was said to have had her followed by spies, and was rumored to have conspired with journalists to viciously defame her—in the process shutting down her once skyrocketing acting career, and even convincing the public she was suffering from some form of “insanity”…for lack of a better word.
The actress had become an it-girl extraordinaire in the late ’90s via the hit series Charmed and several high-profile film roles. Her well-documented relationship with Marilyn Manson (and that 1998 “naked” dress) only served to fuel the tabloid frenzy around her.
But her career began to spiral after an alleged sexual assault incident with Weinstein at Sundance in 1997—with the actress eventually claiming he harassed her for more than two decades after. It all led to her sort of incidentally becoming “the face” of the #MeToo movement in late 2017, which then led to Weinstein’s arrest and recent conviction. Her 2018 book Brave was her necessary catharsis, allowing her to begin to emotionally put her life back together.
And to be sure, she is a changed person, responding to the verdict not with a public show of “I told you so,” but by releasing her striking debut album Planet 9, which paints a picture of a woman seeking to re-engage the world with a sense of optimism and hope.
It’s actually a surprisingly accomplished work for the musical novice, with its aesthetic flag planted firmly in the heart of the 1980s. Indeed, the ethereal, new-agey synth-pop alternately recalls the likes of Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Depeche Mode, and, with its lush soundscapes, even Brian Eno, if you can imagine.
We caught up with her while quarantined at a secret Central American location, to talk about where she’s going, and what she hopes to leave behind.
With all that you’ve been through, your message on this album seems to be about positivity and possibilities.
That’s what I’m about. Brave was a tough book at times, but the last lines in it are ‘I know you can, I know you have it in you.’ Now Planet 9 is my hope for humanity.
With what’s going on now, do you think we’re even capable of making this a better planet?
I think right now we have a unique opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to ourselves and the world. Like the 2.0 version of ourselves. If you want to live on a different planet, just act like that on this one.
Oh, I love that. It’s what I was really going for. I was like, What can take me emotionally where I need to go?
What were you influenced by while writing and recording this album?
I listened to the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Legendary Pink Dots, and some hip-hop. I also made the album at the same time I wrote the book. It’s really [about] healing.
One of the lyrics goes, “Are you lonely on our planet / Are you lonely on the fringe?” Have you often felt that you were out there with no one to join you on the fringe?
Oh yeah, I’ve always been on the fringe. I was raised in this commune that my father was the leader of, and I would watch him wire people’s minds in this really unique way. The kids were raised with these utopian ideals; the parents, because they were from the system, could never really be free of it, they adhered to the same power structure. We were raised for the first ten years without mirrors, and there was no race or gender. I didn’t know how to become a woman…I had no idea.
Someone recently said to me, “I think Rose McGowan ruins her message by the way she presents it.”
Well, you’re associated with the #MeToo movement now…
They associated it with me. The media don’t like what I say, and it’s inherent to their survival that they continue to portray women, and anybody that’s angry, as crazy. Harvey paid off journalists for 22 years to slander me.
The media called it the #MeToo “movement,” they built that up so that it seemed like there were thousands of women coming after men with pitchforks.
Ronan Farrow continues to defend you, arguing that you were written off as crazy because you didn’t fit any sort of feminist “victim” ideal.
I have a gift for making people uncomfortable. Even when I was a kid, adults wanted to get away from me, because I just told the truth. I had to shave my head as a declaration of war, so to speak. The side-effect was that men and women could finally hear the words coming out of my mouth for the first time – and I had been saying the same things for years.
Did you feel a sense of vindication? People were very divided on the verdict.
I actually thought he was going to get off. They could have chosen cases that were a lot more cut and dried. [But the] women who have been victimized by him…we feel like we have a 350 pound foot off our backs.
Rose McGowan in The Sound, 2017
The stories were pretty insane.
I thought about hiring a hit man, I really thought about it. But it’s not good to involve other people. Plus, I’m a really good shot, I’d do it myself. But I was really stressed, and I thought, “What if I just take one for the team?”
It doesn’t bring justice though.
I’m just not a killer. It’s a very common thing with people who have been raped, they really want to kill their abuser. Because that would mean they get to live again.
Do you feel like any of what’s happened in the last couple of years has actually moved us in a positive direction?
Yes. It was hard, but it was a ‘take your medicine’ time. We have a really damaged society; but one of the greatest things for women was to be like, “Oh, this isn’t normal actually.” Because it was so normalized. This is Hollywood, this is how it is, these are the rules, play by them. That message gets filtered down to everyone else.
The humanity is really what they take from us so young. They take your creativity, they take your soul…here’s your straightjacket, enjoy.
There’s a song on the album titled “We Are Free”—what do you want to think of as freedom right now, and what can we hope that it will be?
I think freedom is internal, and then it gets manifested by our actions. Sticking up for others, being kinder to people, understanding that everybody has trauma. We’re born free, it just got stolen from us; so we just have to find our way back to that core self.
What would you like to say in the wake of everything you’ve gone through? Do you feel like it’s finally behind you?
I have a RICO case right now against [Weinstein] and three of his conspirators. So I have probably have three to five years ahead of me. But I feel safe right now. Even in the darkest hour, if you know you’re telling the truth, and you’re speaking for others, you will in some way prevail. You can be free of the system, even if you have to work within the system.
Do you want to clear up any misconceptions about Rose McGowan?
It’s not really my problem, to tell you the truth. People ask if I feel vindicated, I don’t really give a fuck. Because I knew the truth. It’s not really my business what people think of me.
Ah, I think Gandhi said the same thing.
But it is vindication for all the people who have never been believed. I was always okay either way. It’s not fun being hated, but I can handle it. I’ll just keep making art and being weird.
You seem to be saying just that on “Green Gold”: “Only here to paint colors on the sun / Only here to see the fire run.”
We’re all meant to live a big emotional life. On top of the pain is freedom. The book was like giving birth to this dead thing inside of me. Planet 9 was the respite, like trauma therapy for me.