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Rose McGowan on Her ‘Brave’ New Book and Surviving the ‘Cult of Hollywood’

13 minute read
Belinda Luscombe is an editor at large at TIME, where she has covered a wide swath of topics, but specializes in interviews, profiles, and essays. In 2010, she won the Council on Contemporary Families Media Award for her stories on the ways marriage is changing. She is also author of Marriageology: the Art and Science of Staying Together.

Rose McGowan, the former actor who is now an activist against sexual assault, has a new memoir, Brave, in which she details being attacked by Harvey Weinstein (an accusation the movie executive denies), her unconventional upbringing and her years “suffering from a mental disorder called Hollywood.” McGowan spoke with TIME writer Belinda Luscombe upon the book’s publication.

TIME: When did you start writing Brave?
McGOWAN: Three years ago, but in a lot of ways I’d been formulating it my whole life.

How did the cascade of accusations against [former movie executive Harvey Weinstein] the person you call the Monster change what happened with the book? I am one of the people that started that process, behind the scenes, a lot earlier. While I was writing this book, I was being harassed by his lawyers. So Shaunna Thomas from the [women’s rights] group UltraViolet put me in touch with the media. What I know is pissing matches. Two news organizations, NBC and the New York Times were in a race for the story, and to make sure the story didn’t die, I kind of played both sides.

So you were super-strategic about these revelations? I’ve been working for 20 years at this. I was super-strategic for taking [a role in the TV show] Charmed. I knew I needed a foothold in all these territories globally. So when news broke, I had an anchor.

Are you saying you took Charmed so that you were prominent enough that when you made the allegations, people would not think it was sour grapes about your career? One of the reasons, yes. It was also the only job I could get because [Weinstein] would never have thought to go to [TV producer] Aaron Spelling to blacklist me and say, “Don’t hire her,” which he did to everybody else for years and years. But you know, I always told these people I was coming. I never told them anything else. I never signed a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

Rose McGowan: ‘They Really F-cked with the Wrong Person’

How have the revelations about “the Monster” changed your life personally? Is any of the burden lifted? It’s a different kind of burden. I receive a tremendous amount of pain in direct messages, on Twitter and Instagram especially. People are like, “I’ve never told anybody this, I have to tell you,” and it’s a lot to carry. But I can handle a lot. What a lot of people thought I did for personal gain, I was doing for survival and for the long game. It’s a long game of chess, and every time I knocked a pawn off, there’s another chessboard.

You make the point in the book that you took payment from him as a way of inflicting some pain. It was just my literal way of being like, no! No, I didn’t want this. I wanted to buy a billboard saying his name. “_______ is a rapist.” I contacted Gannett Outdoors. They laughed me out the door. [A spokesperson for Outfront Media, the company that now owns Gannett Outdoors, said it does not have records going back to the 1990s.] There is no road map for this. Someone asked me, “What’s this like?” I’m like, “Well, if you’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s a section where they go to Jupiter. What I’ve been doing for the last three years, is breaking through the atmosphere.” And what I very specifically did was follow a lot of media on Twitter. So when I started talking, I knew they were listening.

I was fascinated by your story about the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, where you went in that famous dress to make fun of the ogling… It was a middle finger, yes. It was a first appearance after the sexual assault. And I was like, is this what you motherf-ckers want to see? Let’s go.

And yet it was completely— —Misinterpreted. Completely. Global slut-shaming.

Is there a way that women can own their sexuality without being sexualized? Yes. Own it. Tell them, “Stop it.” I got so tired of how I speak. I was like, “I can’t do this individually anymore. I can’t. I have to live my life.” I have an album coming out, the other half of the book. And [the documentary] Citizen Rose is part of the plan. They all go together, and all started three years ago, very much on purpose. I was like, O.K., I’ve got three years that I want to devote to this cause. Then I want my life back.

Read more: Why the Red Carpet Is Important in the #MeToo Era

This book reminds me of an Old Testament prophet, crying that the system is completely corrupt, everyone is complicit, and everyone needs to repent. Do you see yourself that way? Well, society has had an awful lot of thoughts for me, and I have some thoughts for them. What if I have information that they don’t? The media has been in training—and often paid—to slime me and to slander me for years. And now seeing them all of a sudden after rearranging their brains and try to treat me with respect, it’s like glitching. It’s hard for them after 20 years of painting me as crazy, or one of VH1’s 50 baddest girls in Hollywood. Really? I’m staying home baking, but cool. It was like this artificial image. I would be in Afghanistan, I would come home, and there would be news that I had gotten in a Strip-Off with Christina Aguilera in a bar.

You were in Afghanistan seeing your [USAF pilot] brother? No, I was visiting troops and other stuff. It’s a beautiful place and let me say, I was there at the height of the war, and I felt safer there than I ever did in Hollywood. Ever.

Why do you no longer wish to be called an actor? I’ve always hated that word. I don’t act. I have no interest in it. It was my job, and I acquitted myself as well as I could. Despite the circumstances. Despite the material. Obviously, if you see the movie I directed, Dawn, fundamentally, I have different tastes. Somebody said to me — it was really kind of tone-deaf — that if they invited you to the Oscars this year to give you an award for doing what you do, would you go? I’m like, first of all, no. I wouldn’t go, and they wouldn’t have me, which is fine. I don’t believe in that bullshit. In fact, I would self-soothe whenever I had to go to an event. I would stare at all these people, and I would imagine the chandeliers falling and killing everybody. I know that’s horrible. It wasn’t them, it was that I just can’t stand fakeness.

You say that you belonged to two cults…Three, if you talk about society.

There was the one that you were born into, the notorious Children of God, and then there’s Hollywood. Why do you call Hollywood a cult? It’s the same language. The messaging was the same—all the messages, really, that are handed down to women. The Man is telling you what he wants.

Read more: How TIME Once Mansplained Why Equal Pay for Women Wouldn’t Work

You were in a cult, you were a sex symbol. That’s a unique skill set. Do you feel you were almost anointed to point out what was going on? I always knew there was something that was going to get me to where I could do what I needed to do. Like most women who have been sexually assaulted, it happened to me more than once, and in other ways. But [Weinstein] is the face of all of them. And his power is not just Hollywood power. Malia Obama interned for him this last year. I met Obama [in December 2017] in India.

Did you say something about it to him? No. And he said nothing. He requested Naomi Campbell be in the picture, too. And all he said to us is, “You girls sure know how to pose.” And I said, “You’re the one with the personal photographer.” All he had to say was “I’m sorry.” Not about his daughter, that’s his business. But just for what I’ve gone through, or all these other women have gone through.

What do you say when people ask why they should care about the small percentage of women who are Hollywood actors? F-ck off! F-ck off! I’m a f-cking human! I don’t give a s–t if you care about Hollywood actresses, I care that you care about women. Don’t ghettoize me, just because you have an outside perception is not my problem. You don’t know my finances, you don’t know my life. No money I’ve had has come from Hollywood. I used the money on Charmed to pay for a lot of my dad’s healthcare. And then to finance all these projects that I’m doing now to warn the world. I financed everything. So when people say, “Why should I care?” I say, “Why shouldn’t you? Be human.”

You also make the point that we should care because the Hollywood’s manufacturing our dreams. It’s a propaganda machine. What happens to us happens to you. So that’s why you should care. All the Trump voters, they’re right about Hollywood. They are not wrong. Their impression of it is completely spot-on. Ironically, they can’t see what’s happening in their life. And their own cult. But they’re right about Hollywood.

One of the themes of the book is how alone you always feel. Your manager did not support you, nor do the men in your life, or the men that you have relationships with. There is no hero. There are no good guys in the book. Yes, there are. Me.

No good guys. Like your father… He’s complex. I love him very much. Normally when I’d go back to Seattle, where he’s buried, I would visit, and writing this book I just couldn’t. I was too mad at him during this process. It resurrects ghosts, and they’re all around you. It was like a haunted house in my head. I think now, I have made peace with him. He was just gripped by a mental illness that made him rage and made him think he was God.

You were put in drug rehab [after trying LSD once]. You were homeless. You had an eating disorder. You entered quite a few relationships that were not good for you. Do you worry that you inherited some of your dad’s mental health problems? Of course. The only thing that runs in my family is the urge to destroy oneself. It’s a very strange thing when your own brain wants you to die.

You also write about having a mood disorder. Do you think that the mood disorder made you more vulnerable to abusive situations or vice versa? I don’t know if there’s a link. The mood disorder is mild. And it might be situational. I think what happened to me is I wasn’t socialized on how boys and girls work. Or rather I saw it and didn’t like it, so I just recused myself from the whole situation. It was drilled in that men were superior. As much as you can fight against that, it doesn’t mean there aren’t residual ideas.

You have a sister, Daisy, and if my research is correct, she is married with two kids, lives in Colorado, and is an art curator. It’s a very different life from yours. Would you have preferred that life? It was always going to be this way for me. I remember being in rehab and Daisy whispering to me, “Just tell them you’re a drug addict, it will go easier for you to get out of here.” And I said, “But I’m not!” I can’t. Like I’m constitutionally incapable my entire life of doing the easier thing. Which is annoying, often. You know the thing with cults that people don’t get is that it’s not this bombastic preacher. There’s that element, but everybody’s cross-hypnotizing. All the time. Same with Hollywood, same with any other cult. They have to cross-hypnotize. If one person rises up with their fist and shatters that ceiling and says, “No, this is all a lie,” it falls.

And you think you’re that person? I don’t know if I’m that person.

But you’re willing to be that person? You know, this man in Germany, during an interview, said, “You’re like the person that lies across the barbed wires so they can walk across your back.”

A lot of people are beginning to say that the #Me Too movement has gone too far, that bad dates are now being called assaults… Bad dates might be assaults. How do you know? How does that person judging from the outside know what’s inside of a girl? We have collective Stockholm Syndrome. And the amount of female misogynists is epic.

Currently, are people coming after you? Currently, yes. I had to pay a lot of money from this last year because I had to enter into a fake negotiation. I had to make [Weinstein] think I was going to sign an NDA.

You were fake negotiating with him the whole time? Yes, while they had spies on me. A million dollars, that’s what they offered, and I came back at six million. I didn’t want it, but I thought let’s go big, just to f-ck with them. I had to do it because I had to give time for these articles to be written because I knew they had to come out before the book.

In an interview, you said, “I was up on screen to make you feel bad as a woman.” How would you respond to a Twitter follower who wanted to be an actor? Really, I’d try to not kill her dreams. It’s hard to be a dream killer. But simultaneously, I had two young actresses come up to me in L.A. the other day, and they said, when we go to meetings, we’re being treated differently. And this other woman told me that in the writers’ room it’s the first time anybody has listened to her.

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