Since her 1995 breakthrough role in Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation, Rose McGowan has scared up trouble and terror in films such as Scream, Jawbreaker, and Grindhouse. Now playing another witch in Conan the Barbarian, which muscles into theaters August 19, the 37-year-old Charmed alum continues to cast a wicked spell on gay fans.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Something tells me that the gay audience is going to love Marique, your Conan villainess.
Rose McGowan: While spending six hours in makeup every day, I thought, I can’t wait to see the boys and girls do Marique for Halloween in West Hollywood. She’s quite majestic and beautiful in an otherworldly way.
Jason Momoa, who plays Conan, isn’t too shabby either. When I see him in the movie, am I more likely to be aroused or develop a case of body dysmorphic disorder?
Aroused. Jason’s ass is epic. When I saw his backside naked, I was like, Oh, my. He’s got a beautiful body, because it’s not all Mr. Steroid. He looks raw and masculine.
Are you into big muscles?
I like people who are fit. I figure if I work out, you can at least return the favor. Would I go out with a meathead? No.
Back to the WeHo boys and girls, what was your earliest exposure to gay people?
When I came to the states from Italy around the age of 10, there would always be kids in school picked on for being different. I was as well — every day I’d hear, “You’re the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” and people would throw things at me out of their cars — but I didn’t care, so I’d fight back on behalf of the other kids. Looking back, I get it now that many of them were most likely gay. At 13, when I was a runaway, I was taken in by the most amazing drag queens in Portland, Ore. We didn’t always know where our next meal was coming from, but there was so much camaraderie and love. Not to mention, those girls could paint a face, and I learned how because of them.
Did they take you out to clubs?
Yeah, and I looked like I was about eight. I could finagle my way into lots of different places. Whether it was how I danced or the way I looked, I was always quite celebrated in the gay clubs. To this day, I only go to gay clubs. I’m perfectly at home there. I also like watching hot boys and hot girls who can dance.
Are you bisexual?
No. I disappoint myself. I’ve never even kissed a girl. Isn’t that funny? The girls I think are cute look like guys, but then I think, But if they open their shirt, they’ll have breasts. You know that guy Brad [Goreski], who was Rachel Zoe’s assistant? I’d be attracted to a girl version of him.
That admission alone may make you an honorary member of the LGBT community.
I was actually gay-bashed once. When I was with the drag queens, I had really short hair — sometimes they’d dress me up as Charlie Chaplin, just for fun — and I got clocked coming out of a gay club. But it was awesome, because my boys beat the hell out of those people, and it’s that kind of shit that’s made me a fighter for equal rights and for anybody’s humanity.
Even before you lived with drag queens, you had an unconventional upbringing, growing up in an Italian chapter of the Children of God cult. How did your family influence your views on gay people?
My whole family’s incredibly liberal. We were always for the underdog, and that’s the number one thing that has shaped my life. I’ve also been that underdog, and I’m still the underdog in a lot of ways, certainly in my business.
As a vocal supporter of marriage equality, you participated in the No H8 Campaign.
My sister is gay. Before I broke up with my fiancé, it seemed absurd to have my sister at a wedding that she couldn’t have if she wanted to. I would still have great hesitation about getting married. I’d feel like such a hypocrite, walking down the aisle past all of my best friends who can’t. I was furious with how horribly the whole Prop. 8 campaign was run in California. It broke my heart the night Prop. 8 passed. I’m out there on Santa Monica Blvd. with crowds of people, and the world is watching, but all the anti-Prop. 8 protestors did was put up the same non-telegenic people with the same speeches, not understanding how it works. Their money was totally mismanaged. I really want California to get it together like New York has.
Thanks for your support, Rose.
You’re welcome. I don’t know how much solidarity there is in the gay community within the political spectrum here. I actually told a bunch of my gay friends recently, “None of you guys have marched for any of your own causes. None of you have sat out at night, hollering, carrying placards.” I’ve decided I’m going to come up with some straight causes so they can return the favor.
How did your sister come out to you?
It was just a natural thing. It never occurred to me that she was gay or that she wasn’t. Although at one point, after dating women, she was scared to tell me that she was going out with a guy. It actually freaked me out, and I stopped speaking to her for three months. Now, thank God, she’s back to women, and life is good again.
That almost sounds heterophobic.
It’s not that I don’t have straight friends, but en masse they make me uncomfortable — especially a bunch of straight men. I was at a party recently, and I started getting really twitchy and weird. My friend was like, “What is wrong with you?” I realized that it was all the straight people. I was like, “These are not my people. I have to leave.”
In a 2009 VanityFair.com piece called “My Gays,” you listed stylist George Kotsiopoulos as one of your gay besties. Now that he’s on E!’s Fashion Police with Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne, has he criticized your outfits?
He did once. Other than him, I’d hope all those people, because of how they look, would rip apart my fashion. If they liked how I looked, it would mean I’d be palatable in Ohio, and Ohio can go fuck itself.
You also mentioned your lesbian assistant in the article.
I have a different one now. [Laughs] I had one for four years, and now I have a new one. She and her friends — they’re all exes of each other — are an unbelievable family. It’s a group effort: If my fridge breaks down, one of them is here with an ice chest in 15 minutes. It’s a great club I’ve been invited into without having to be a lesbian. I totally have my own little L Word. We go to lesbian nightclubs a lot.
Do women hit on you?
No. I got molested one night, but unless they’re really drunk, I think girls are scared of me. My sister says I have no gay vibe, which offended me. I don’t even know what that means. Do I have an invisible penis on my head?
Describe a typical interaction with a fan at a gay bar.
There’s a lot of quoting of my movies. But that’s good, because it’s like a flashback. I’m always like, “Oh, that’s right! What a great line.”
I’d probably quote Jawbreaker, which is certainly a gay fan favorite.
Well, gay men love their bitches. “I made you and I can destroy you just as easily.” How’s that for a line reading? I so want to do a sequel to Jawbreaker. I know everyone says, “I’m really the nicest person,” but I actually am one of the nicest people. That said, I watch a ton of old films, and I fashioned Courtney, my character in Jawbreaker, after Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven. She basically offed everyone who was in her boyfriend’s life, but she also had great witty lines. You’re not going to get that in a typical mainstream American comedy, where, as a girl, I’m going to be a sidekick to the straight man, which is pretty boring.
You’ve definitely managed to avoid boring female roles.
Honestly, I’ll agree to do movies, thinking I’m going to do the man’s role, and when I get to the set it’s like, Oh, right, I’m the girl. I have an intense amount of jealousy that I’m not a man. And I’d vastly prefer to be a gay man. Unfortunately, that’s not how the cards were dealt, and I’m stuck dealing with emotionally underdeveloped straight men. It doesn’t seem fair, really.
Starting with queer cinema pioneer Gregg Araki, you’ve had a fortuitous connection with gay male filmmakers like Scream’s Kevin Williamson and Jawbreaker’s Darren Stein. You also worked with Ryan Murphy in Nip/Tuck’s final season.
You’re right. I’ve never thought about the amount of gays I’ve worked with, but thank God for that. It’s kismet, and it probably has to do with shared sensibility. There’s always been an unspoken mutual affinity there. If I could, I would seek out and only work with gay people.
Yet you’ve never played a gay role.
I’ve never been offered one. I’d be stoked to do a lesbian love scene. When asked if I’ve kissed a girl, I could finally say, “Why, yes, I have. And I got paid.”
If you were to play a lesbian, whom would you want to play your love interest?
Whenever someone asks if I have a crush on any male actors, the problem is that I only like people who are dead, like Robert Mitcham or Cary Grant. So my answer to you would have to be someone like Ava Gardner. I will not be a cliché and say Angelina Jolie.
Have you kept in touch with Ryan Murphy after Nip/Tuck? Your singing skills would be put to good use as a guest star on Glee.
Right? I’d be great on Glee. I’m not sure if Ryan knows I sing. Hello, Ryan. Let’s start a grassroots effort.
I smell a Facebook campaign.
You should start one. Me and Betty White. By the way, you want to know the last time I cried? When the guy who wrote the theme song for The Golden Girls died.
You played Ann-Margret in the 2005 miniseries Elvis. Did you ever hear from her about your portrayal?
I didn’t. But if I ever meet her, hopefully it won’t be too strange. That was a great experience, but it was tough. It’s probably much easier to portray someone who’s not alive.
You’re starring in the upcoming thriller Rosewood Lane, which was written and directed by Powder’s Victor Salva, whose films often reflect his gay sensibility and outsider mentality. Is that the case with Rosewood Lane?
I don’t think so. And I do not have good clothes in that film either; I had to wear office-lady clothes and it killed me. That was an interesting dynamic, because Victor had never done a movie with a female lead, and he was uncomfortable. He really doesn’t relate to women well. He was open about that, which was slightly jarring, because I don’t really know what to do with that information.
Well, Salva is a convicted and registered sex offender, which might account for some social awkwardness.
Yeah, I still don’t really understand the whole story or history there, and I’d rather not, because it’s not really my business. But he’s an incredibly sweet and gentle man, lovely to his crew, and a very hard worker.
You’ve been attached to a number of other projects with strong gay appeal, but they haven’t come to fruition. What’s going on with Black Oasis, a biopic about 1950s B-movie actress Susan Cabot by gay filmmaker Stephan Elliott of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame?
That one kills me, because it’s probably one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. Somebody came on board and wanted to produce it, but they could only do it for x-amount more money and it convoluted the whole process. Hopefully, if that person goes away, it can get back on track. You guys would die for this movie. You know what? You’ve inspired me. I’m going to call Stephan.
You were also attached to star in Robert Rodriguez’s Barbarella remake.
Barbarella was also heartbreaking, because we had $85 million to shoot in Germany. Robert, unfortunately, did not want to shoot in Germany, so that’s why that fell apart, and it sucked.
You’ve also been rumored as a frontrunner to play Ginger in a Gilligan’s Island movie.
I’ve never heard anything about that, and I don’t know how that rumor started. But if they did make a Gilligan’s Island movie, they would probably cast, like, Jessica Biel.
Are you still attached to Red Sonja?
No. I had a severe injury in my right arm and had to have surgery three times on my elbow — part of my elbow bone has been taken out — so if I get hurt again on that arm, there’s nothing more they can do for me. I’ve decided not to get into any sword battles, because it could mean permanent paralysis, which is ultimately not worth it. It makes me very upset.
What’s the status of your involvement with Women in Chains!, the TV prison series created by boyfriends Josh Miller and Mark Fortin?
There was the possibility of doing it at Showtime for a little bit, but The L Word was going on, and then they were thinking of doing another prison show — people don’t realize all the factors and power struggles behind the scenes. I’m actually about to spend the weekend with Josh and Mark. You know, I was with Josh in L.A. when Gregg Araki’s best friend saw me and decided that I would be perfect for The Doom Generation. He knew Josh and called him repeatedly to get a hold of me to go in and meet with them in the Valley. I didn’t know if I wanted to be an actor, and I was like, “Ugh, I don’t want to drive to the Valley.” After a week, Josh said, “Get off your ass and go meet Gregg Araki!” So aside from being one of the closest people in my life, Josh is one of the primary reasons I’m talking to you today.
You’re very active on Twitter, which is always getting celebrities into trouble. Do you censor your tweets?
My God, the things I could say if I were anonymous! And the pictures I could post? Oh, if I had free reign, I’d be a publicist’s nightmare. If a magazine says something about me that’s totally b.s., I or my publicist can make them print a retraction, which may publish later on page 42, but it’s already all over the Internet and the damage is done. When you’re a verified Twitter user, your tweets go out to all the press outlets, so I can refute something instantaneously. As a celebrity, it’s the only voice I have. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading something untrue like, “Rose McGowan was drunk and in a dance-off on a bar top with Christina Aguilera,” which the New York Post wrote about me once. I’m sure I would’ve won, but that’s something else entirely.
The Advocate, September 2011 issue; extended online version.