“I figured if you can’t travel outside, you can at least travel inside.” Rose McGowan
Actor. Musician. Filmmaker. Activist…the number of hats worn by Rose McGowan is quite impressive, to say the least. Known for films and shows such as Scream, Planet Terror, The Doom Generation, TV’s Charmed, and many more, McGowan decided to take the amount of time she spent helping other creative artists realize THEIR visions and instead realize her own. Beginning with directing the Sundance Jury Award-nominated Dawn before jumping into the journey of writing a best-selling memoir as well, the self-proclaimed “thought leader” has seemingly done it all. But then we have the subject of this interview.
What Rose McGowan is talking to us about today is Planet 9, a new album that serves as more of a therapeutic listening experience than your typical record. A fully immersive album, Planet 9 is a futuristic world, filled with some great production by DJ Falcon, Punishment and mixed by Michael Patterson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Nine Inch Nails’ sound engineer) and Stuart White (Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”). It’s a larger than life album and showcases McGowan’s imaginative way of addressing trauma, grief, and therapy.
McGowan was nice enough to chat with Dread Central (while staying in the jungle of Yucatán) about Planet 9, the power of words, and even touched on some of her past work as well. Read on and do yourselves a favor: Go listen to Planet 9 on iTunes, Bandcamp, and other streaming services.
Rose McGowan: I presume you’re going to ask me about horror films. I think I’ve seen four (laughs).
Dread Central: You know, I was actually planning on mostly talking about Planet 9. It’s such an interesting and wonderful album. Most of my favorite albums are ones that don’t feel like just a group of singles thrown together and called an album. I love experiences, cohesive ones. The first thing I noticed about this album was how much of a sensory experience it is. It’s hard to come by in this day and age. What inspired this record?
RM: Those albums that were concept albums, like Bowie or Brian Eno. I feel like a lot of artists now, and it’s been this way for a while. Just throw a bunch of songs against a wall and see what sticks. They put out a poppy single, you buy the album and maybe like two songs. People have their favorite songs on concept albums too and after you play it in order, you can do what you want with it, but those albums are meant to be played together. It can be a sensory journey, an emotional journey, and an intellectual one as well. The album has only gotten a couple reviews so far because there’s such a media blackout on me right now because I dragged the New York Times and NPR and everybody that really needs to be dragged, for the Biden stuff. The New York Times gave a rave review on my film Dawn and gave a great review to my book, but radio silence on Planet 9. The ones who have, like The Guardian, have felt the need to say really nasty things about it and it’s just like, “You guys don’t get it.” It’s not the kind of album you think it is, you know?
DC: That was noticeable to me from the moment I pushed “Play”. It’s not your typical album. It feels like it was designed to, in a lot of ways, be therapeutic to its listener. I loved that you included somewhat of a prescription of sorts, a guide to the songs and how to listen to them. If the listener follows that, it feels like going through therapy in some ways.
RM: Well, you did. That’s exactly what I wanted. It was my therapy. You know how they have Hollywood test audiences, for movies and albums and stuff? It’s gross. My thought was the old metric system before the internet, where the thought was if you got one piece of fan-mail, that equaled to having 5,000 fans. So, with this album, if it helped me, then it could help other people too. You can listen to it softly or put it on big speakers and listen to those bass lines and it moves you. So, I figured if it worked for me, then there’s 5,000 other people it would help and if it helped those people, then there would be ANOTHER 5,000 people and so on.
So, that was my logic. It really saved my ass, making it, because now I know what I had during all of that Weinstein and behind-the-scenes stuff that nobody knew about, before those articles broke. I was on my last leg before all of that. In 2017, I was already feeling so terrorized by all of that, that I wrote my book, Brave, and recorded Planet 9 during that. It’s actually meant to go WITH the book; I wrote about Planet 9 in Brave. The book is a tough read for some, but it ends on a note that makes someone feel empowered and well, brave. I figured the Bible was full of shit, so why not write a new bible that was a Trojan-horse biography at the same time? I had been watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for some reason and that led to me breaking the fourth wall in the book (laughs). People told me that if I’m writing an autobiography, I should read this book and that book and with the book AND this album, I had to have somewhat of a blackout during that time, to limit myself and what I listened to during that time. I’d listen to classical music or hip hop or even Britney Spears, but nothing that could be within this pantheon of what I was creating.
DC: I think a lot of people forget that music and movies can have very physical effects on the people who experience them, it can very much be a physical thing.
DC: Within the past two years, I’ve lost one of my best friends, my mother passed away and my wife and I lost a baby all within that time span.
RM: You go to the other side when that happens. It feels like you’re in the ghost world, the shadow world. It feels like you have one foot in death and one foot in life.
DC: It’s almost impossible to get over.
RM: It sticks with us. When I was a homeless runaway, I watched Working Girl in the theater and asked myself, “Is my life the same as Melanie Griffith in this movie?” Going into the city and pretending to be a stock broker? No, but it did make me feel like if she could do it, I could do it. It feels like one foot forward, three steps back and man, grief is a beast, it really is. I tried to create something that could possibly help people deal with that grief. I’ve received messages on Instagram how it made some people cry and honestly, it’s not my what I’m saying that did that, it’s what it meant to THEM.
If you close your eyes and listen to the album, front the back, I want it to help be something of a meditation for people. I could never fully do the traditional kind of meditation, with sitting down and so on and I didn’t feel like I could go to traditional therapy, because then bad guys would steal my medical information and make it public. Plus, what I’ve dealt with feels like it’s probably past the bounds of what a therapist CAN talk to me about. So, I did it on my own and I know that it allows people to have their own space and their own thoughts when listening to it. I only decided to release it a few weeks ago. I was sitting here, feeling helpless in all of this, wondering how I could help people. I figured if you can’t travel outside, you can at least travel inside.
DC: Art helps people in profound ways. When I went through the last two years, I tried conventional therapy and it just didn’t work at times. I found solace and comfort in films like Al White’s Starfish and Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real and more recently, your album. There’s power in the art we consume.
RM: That makes me so happy, that it moved you in the same way it moves me. Art HAS been my sanity and savior. My father (Daniel McGowan) was a fine artist, he pioneered a lot of air brush techniques. His work was so fantastical and he was truly one of the best I’ve ever seen. I was recently talking to a girl whose dad had just died and my dad died ten years ago; it was the paint that killed him, it got into his lungs. So, I was talking to this girl about her dad and she showed me his poetry, which was just beautiful. She told me she didn’t really know him, but I said, “Yes, but he left you a roadmap into his mind.” Those were his thoughts and his emotions and plus, it was really good! I was kind of jealous at first, because her father left her words, but then I realized that my father didn’t speak in words, he spoke through his paintings. He left those roadmaps to HIM. The beta version of “Green Gold,” was called “RN-486,” and I released it about 5 years ago to go with a project with (filmmaker) Jonas Aukerland. When I expanded it and it became “Green Gold,” I started the track with dialogue from Blade Runner, which was my father’s favorite, favorite movie. He loved the score for that film (composed by Vangelis) and he loved Rutger Hauer very much. I started it with that quote, for people like you or me or anyone else who has had those lifelong experiences that most people wouldn’t want. We didn’t want to go through the stuff we did, but we did and here we are. I started it with:
“I’ve seen things you people can’t imagine.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark.
And all those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.
Held my hand up to the stars. Gilded lilies, driving cars
It’s time to say it so I will
I can I do I vow to live
To all of us lost in time
To those waiting to be picked up
Those who cry leave and die
To those with the unnatural sigh
Only here to paint color on the sun
Only here to see the fire run”
It’s funny because when Variety reviewed the album, the guy wrote that he wanted to hear me raging and it’s just not what this album is. First of all, it’s not my issue what he wants, that’s also very much a stereotype. That song was my love letter to all of us; people like you and I who are walking around with deep trauma and we don’t know what to do with it. There’s no set guide on how to deal with deep trauma, because we all have stories to tell. People have reached out to me on Instagram with some stories that would make your toes curl, with what they’ve been through. I feel honored to be a receptacle, which a lot of activists are, for their pain. The thing is, Jerry, it’s not your shame. It’s not my shame, it’s not their shame, give it back. I have weird superpowers in the sense that I move media and I challenge them. Nobody goes against the New York Times, because they want a good review. I don’t give a shit about that. Their approbation doesn’t mean anything to me because I am not on their planet. What they consider good and great, is not what I consider good and great.
DC: You mentioned “Green Gold,” which is my favorite track on the album. The lyric: “Letting go is hard to do, when all you trust, hurts the bruise” is my favorite on the album and I can see that resonating with so many people, especially on today’s landscape.
RM: That’s why I wanted to release it now. Everyone is walking around with their own trauma and then we have a collective trauma, universal trauma that we’re dealing with together. If you are in the position right now, where you’re not having to struggle to find a way to get your baby formula or something on par with that, I think it’s important to use this time as not only a cultural reset, but also as a personal reset. Hopefully this never happens again, but who knows? If it IS the only time this happens to all of us, then we’re living in history, when everyone can all collectively come back out and reintroduce themselves to the world.
DC: When looking over some of the reviews Planet 9 has had thus far, it feels like a lot of people don’t realize what the album is, because it doesn’t fit into this box they had in their head. I’ve noticed a lot of people seem to put artists into this area of what they need to be instead of what they are. Films like the recent remake of Black Christmas or the Birds of Prey film didn’t fit within what people thought they should be and were led by women, which is always the quickest way to anger some interesting individuals. Even with an artist like Taylor Swift, who is always seen as problematic to some, has had to take ownership of her own narrative.
RM: It’s a real box and it’s a terrible box. I always think, “How dare you! Who are YOU to put me into YOUR box of what you think I should be!” Media companies, and there are around four big ones, are led by four or five men and men under them and then have women who are there to support that infrastructure. I learned that during the Harvey Weinstein stuff. I like to challenge the media. The New York Times had a headline a couple of years ago and I think this goes to the Taylor Swift thing; the headline said, “It’s the 20th anniversary of the Monica Lewisnky scandal!” And I thought it needed to be flipped, the goggles. I said, “fix your headline. It’s the 20th anniversary of the Bill Clinton scandal.” Same story, just a paradigm shift.
There’s an agenda, what the wizard behind the curtain is trying to do. The media doesn’t like it and those men certainly do not like it when that happens and as we well know, men hold onto power. When my father died, we were there, playing the soundtrack to Blade Runner for him and my mind was just a cloud, it felt empty. Out of nowhere as that happened, it was almost like a banner went through my mind that said, “Dick Cheney is still alive,” and I realized that ALL of the Dick Cheney’s of the world were alive and it made me rage. How do we mourn or find solace knowing that? When we’re five, we’re told, “This is what boys do and how boys dress and this is how girls dress,” and how do we get out of that? Here’s a straitjacket if you don’t follow these rules. I was lucky that I didn’t grow up like that, so when a conformist system tried to put that on me, it was very much like that Survivor show: You have to outwit and outlast.
DC: I was sexually abused as a child and there’s this idea that boys don’t cry and we don’t talk about emotions or dealing with that stuff because you “have to be a man.” I was in my early thirties before I ever spoke about it and when I did…
RM: Then they say, “Well, why didn’t you say anything sooner?!” That’s their favorite line. It’s like motherfuckers! You either don’t know what it takes to admit your trauma or you’re suppressing what it takes because it happened to you too. When it happens to people, little boys or girls and really anyone, they don’t realize that you just don’t want to feel lost. You’ve been stolen. They stole something from you and if your purse had been stolen, they never ask, “Well, what was your purse wearing, that would have made it easy for it to be stolen?” It’s so wrong. That’s why I stared #RoseArmy. When people ask what that is, I say, “it’s just a way of thought.” It’s like my secret handshake and way of thinking. It’s a way of saying, “I’m with you.” The people who went through it all with me get it and plus, I knew I was coming for Weinstein and I really needed an army behind me. There was always that tag line of “Be all that you can be” that was replaced with that dumb “Army of One”, so I thought what if I take the word army and turn it from being something kind of ugly, into something beautiful. Reclaiming words has power.
English is my third language and I’ve found that it’s the language that feels boxed in the most. Feelings are complex and emotions are complex and what do we have to talk about it, word-wise? Happy. Sad. Mad. Those are like Pebbles and Bam-Bam level words. What the fuck? In German, you can have two words that mean something beautiful. So, taking back words and turning the idea of an army of one but one that is non-violent and about words and thought and creating boundaries, how powerful could that be?!
The #MeToo thing got slapped on me; I never asked for it. My book came out and that was immediately slapped on me. First of all, the #MeToo “movement”… listen motherfucker, I AM the movement, so don’t put that on me, because as we all saw, that ended up being some bullshit. What the press gets wrong every single time is that #MeToo is a communication tool. What Tarana Burke did by coming up with that label is free so many people. You can sit next to me on a couch and just say “me too” and I’d know what you’re talking about. That’s what is so wonderful about what she did but that power is being lost in the “movement” label of it, it’s a conversation, it’s an understanding. Most women have been raped and a lot of little boys too, because of either sociopaths like Harvey Weinstein or your typical rapist who went too far because he was taught “take what you want” because we’re just objects to them, so my goal is to band together for a cultural reset. A TNT explosion. You have to make a mess of the mountain you just blew up before you can make it into a bridge. I know how to steal cars and hot-wire them, I learned that when I was a runaway at 13. Around 6 years ago, I was sitting at home, smoking a joint and I thought to myself, “I bet I can also hot-wire societal thought!” To inspire people to drive faster with their minds.
DC: You mentioned earlier in our conversation that you were currently in the jungle?
RM: I’m in the jungle in Yucatán. It’s really nice here. I was lucky in that my lease ran out in New York City and I was able to pick where I wanted to go, so I thought, “definitely not America right now.” Plus, it’s 1/3 of what I was playing in New York City and I have a pool.
One thing I just realized and I think you’ll like this, is that I sang on the soundtrack of Planet Terror. I just came out with an album called Planet 9 and I sang on the Planet Terror album, which was also the only film that was allowed to shoot around the Pyramids…where I’m now. Full circle, right?! Especially since that one, Planet Terror, was the worst shooting experience of my life. I am really proud of what I was able to pull off and what everybody else was able to pull off under such extreme duress. It was very difficult but we made something people enjoy and it’s really stood the test of time. Being here, it’s such a healing place.
DC: You’ve spent so many hours of your life helping filmmakers realize THEIR visions. Did all of that time inspire you in some way, to realize your own for a change?
RM: Oh God, yes. I was shocked when Dawn was nominated for Grand Jury at Sundance, because I had always been blacklisted. That’s where everything happened to me: AT Sundance. So, I went there for the first time after being assaulted there 16 years before and it was so weird. We worked so hard on the movie, the people I hired, the actors, the crew, we made sure it was finely crafted. Every question I got, it always started with, “What did you learn from the men you worked with?” It was overwhelming. Let’s talk about my film, my craft or the work we all collectively did. If a man directs a film after only having worked with female directors, I guarantee you the first question he would get wouldn’t be “What did you learn from the women you worked with?” With Dawn, I edited it like Hemingway said he edited his books, or the palette from the original Parent Trap, which is a flawless film if you look at it from a filmmaking perspective. I then took the loneliness from an Edward Hopper painting. So, when it comes to my films, I don’t go to films or the people I work with, per se; that’s just a recipe for what we have now. People consider good to be great and I don’t; I consider great to be great.
My father made masterpieces and I’m not saying I’m doing that, but I’m reaching for it. People deserve that. Like I say in the beginning of my book, Brave, “My thoughts and words will rest in your mind and your conscience.” I take that responsibility very seriously. I wish more people did. Why do women always appear in movies with a laundry basket but never does laundry. You’re just giving her a prop. You’re making her a trope or stereotype. I’ve seen that over and over. I’ve seen a lot of men do the laundry. When do we see that in films? You’re just subconsciously reinforcing stereotypes that only women clean. I think we should all have high standards in what we create. Even the most banal things.
DC: With so much Scream talk lately, not only our readers but my daughter specifically, would hate me if I didn’t ask about that one.
RM: How old is she?
DC: She’s 9 and it’s her favorite film of all time.
RM: I saw The Exorcist when I was 11 and read Edgar Allan Poe at four, so I’m right there with her.
DC: Wes Craven was such a great filmmaker but even more so, a great person. My son has Autism and was getting bullied for it a few years back and a few months before he passed, he sent my son a few things. I’ll never forget that. I’m curious about your experiences with not only working with Wes but overall. He’s missed by a LOT of people.
RM: I miss him as a man. I miss him as a human on this planet. You’re going to make me cry.
[Rose asks for a moment.]
RM: He was really, really good. What he did, with his work, he put such thought into it. So many people think if you throw slop on screen, horror fans will eat it up but Wes never did that. He RESPECTED his audience and their minds. This is a man who was raised as a baptist, speaking in tongues. Raised in essentially a cult like me. He was a teacher in college with a young family and said, “You know what? I want to be a director.” So, he goes to New York City in the ‘70s and becomes a taxi driver. He worked his ass off to become what he wanted to be and here we are talking about him. I miss him.
DC: Did any of you realize you were making something that fans would still be talking about and loving, all these years later? The Scream fan base is huge.
RM: No, I just got a cool job (laughs). They did have a fortune teller at the premiere. There’s a great picture of me and Wes at the premiere and in the LA Times, they have a quote form the fortune teller saying “I’ve seen the future and this movie goes poof at the box office.” (Laughs). Well, hahaha, we showed you.