FLATT: Your current film Dawn has the look of a bygone era. What films inspired the aesthetics and the tone of the story?
ROSE McGOWAN: I did the production design, so what really, really inspired the aesthetic was the original with Hayley Mills, Maureen O’Hara, and Brian Keith. There’s this color palette that is just peaches and pinks when they get to the California section of the movie. Dawn’s bedroom was a direct knock-off of the bedroom in The Parent Trap. I modeled the mother in dawn as kind of a cross between the Columbia pictures woman, you know, holding the fire, and Maureen O’Hara in that movie. And loneliness is a real character in the movie for me as well. It’s a look, loneliness. And the look for loneliness that I wanted was of an Edward Hopper painting. I wanted to somehow palpably to feel the loneliness you feel when you look at a Hopper. And then the tension is night of the hunter. But other than that, it was really just about The Parent Trap. That was my real color palette inspiration. The rest is paintings.
FLATT: It’s funny you say Hopper, because that lonely tone on the outskirts of town definitely has that feel. gas by Edward Hopper definitely looks like an inspiration.
ROSE McGOWAN: Design is also such a huge influence in my life. My house now is like Seventies Pierre Cardin and Milo Baughman pieces primarily. My house before this was all directly tied into the movies, doing productions, putting every piece of furniture in place. I learned by restoring houses how to do that, like a set design. All these things that I always called useless talent, it used to be, oh, useless talent number 72, now they’re all coming into play, and it’s been a really great time of life.
FLATT: You restored houses before? Oh, wow.
ROSE McGOWAN: Yeah. My dad always liked craftsmen, so I grew up taking field trips to Frank Lloyd Wright — not field trips, but like trips. I broke into Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis house actually. I climbed up the tree, across a wall, and then I had to get into the house, all the while not being noticed by the minder, who was off on the side of the property. I broke in so I could look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s dining room furniture because I had never seen it close up. It was a very exciting . I’m a design freak. Then two days later I was in Rio and I met the realtor for the Ennis house in line at a restaurant. And he told me, I can get you in to see it any time. I was like, yay!
FLATT: Do you typically find paintings inspiring for scenes of your films?
ROSE McGOWAN: When I would be on set as an actor, I would see paintings all over the place, or what could have been an interpretation of a painting. Maybe that was the frustrated director in me seeing it. I see that a lot. I mean, I think film is hard. It’s living art. It’s moving art. I feel like any artist is inspired by artists before them. And what was before film? Obviously photography, and then paint, paintings.
FLATT: About what age did you become interested in art in general?
ROSE McGOWAN: Well, my father was an amazing painter, and that was his only job he ever had his entire life. So I grew up in Italy, I got to go to museums all over the world. And my family and I are very steeped in the art world – my sister works in the Pace Gallery in New York, my other sister runs a gallery in Denver. It’s just kind of part of the fabric of my family.
Growing up in a creative family was a godsend looking back. I don’t know — I don’t know any other way to grow up, so it wasn’t even that we were always making things or doing things, although I think we probably were, but it was just . . . interesting. I have seven brothers and sisters, so there was just a lot going on at any given time. When I would go out into the world, we would be looked at as the weirdo family. I was okay with that because I thought everybody else was weird. Basically that’s it. I thought my brothers and sisters had tremendous minds and spirits and humor and talent, so I didn’t understand when people thought we were weird. I just thought it was so sad for them that they couldn’t see what we saw.
FLATT: Can you tell me about maybe a memory of art having an impact on you at an early age? Maybe something your father showed you?
ROSE McGOWAN: There was this statue, this life-like rendering of a woman, her name was Linda. I remember this was at a museum in Denver and I was nine and a half and had just come to the U.S.. I was having troublesome time. The piece looked just like my mother to me, who I was separated from at the time. I set off every alarm in there five times in a row because I wouldn’t stop touching her hair. I couldn’t understand how they made something like the folds of her skin and all of that. Growing up going to the Vatican, you’re seeing what people can do out of marble and stone…Growing up in Italy, it’s all around you. It’s not even a specific thing. It’s just really an art- everywhere kind of place. You just have to look up. I’m also an inveterate reader. I started reading when I was three, proper books by four, and whenever I wanted to escape growing up, all I would do is read. I traveled, I traveled a lot in my life, but I also traveled a lot through books and through art.
FLATT: Any books in particular or authors?
ROSE McGOWAN: I re-read The Count of Monte Cristo every year. I always had a mad crush on Edmond Dantes, which I know is hopeless. It’s a hopeless crush, Edmond and I. The unabridged version, I could have lived in that book, I could have stayed in that book. But I also just recently re-read The Stories of Eva Luna, which is Isabel Allende, which is amazing. And Marquez I’ve re-read. I’ve read Love in the Time of Cholera every year since I was 14, just because I found the pacing in that novel just insane.
FLATT: You are connected to storytelling. Dawn is your directorial debut – Why this project? Why this story?
ROSE McGOWAN: I was originally supposed to do a Flannery O’Connor short. I was doing A Good Man is Hard To Find. And I had all four locations for Dawn–it wasn’t Dawn, now it’s Dawn –locked down for A Good Man. And this amazing script. I had Piper Laurie, who was going to star in it, who was the mom in Carrie, who’s just unreal. And then when I was leaving the fourth location lock down, I got a call from the Flannery O’Connor Foundation and said they had sold the rights to make a feature and they could no longer let me do the short. So now I have locations and so much money sunk into it, and no script. No story. And I’m going to shoot in a month.
So the writers who were tremendously talented people, Joshua Miller and Mark Fortin – I locked them in a hotel room for two days and I said, these are my four locations, this is the last line that I need and the last situation: Go. And they saved my ass. It turned out to be for the better, absolutely. And so there is some Flannery in it, there is some Southern Gothic going on there.
FLATT: Got the Southern Gothic, that’s cool.
ROSE McGOWAN: I like the South.
FLATT: Can you describe your role then in the script writing process?
ROSE McGOWAN: I was not part of the screen writing process; I didn’t have to be, the script was so well done. It’s better to let it breathe. My job was painting. I love words. And I can’t paint with my hands (it’s one of my life’s frustrations) but I can capture with a camera what I see, and I can capture it with words. I can take words and I can paint with them, and that’s my job as a director, that’s my job as a writer. I am writing other things but not this.
FLATT: Tell me a bit about what led you into film making from acting?
ROSE McGOWAN: Well, you know, the acting is a long weird story anyway. Basically I was standing on the street corner in front of a gym and I got discovered. What led me into filmmaking is what led me into acting, which is just my love of film.
I just grew up with not just an appreciation, but the desire to break down the study of film. Okay Rose, let’s study the Lumière Brothers, who invented the moving camera. Let’s now study and focus on this. So when I was discovered for acting I thought, oh, this must be what I’m meant to do. But I was never comfortable in the role of basically being voiceless. I worked with some seriously misogynistic directors. And people get a pass because they’re directors – but you don’t get a pass for being a bad person, you just don’t. I don’t think any job. I got really tired of being sexualized. There was a moment, I was on the cover of Rolling Stone, with a fake tan and gun belt around me and breasts, they gave me some big bouffant hair and glossy lips, and I just was like, I’ve had it, I have just had it. I’m like sick of being sexualized, I’m sick of this. So I just checked out and I ran around and I had the most fabulous time. I figured out finally what was wrong. It was not that I wasn’t meant to be an actress, it was just that I was meant to be in film, and I just was literally cast in the wrong role in life. And I’m good at acting, I like exploring different worlds and I like disappearing, but I spent 15 years disappearing into other people’s bodies, into other people’s minds, other people’s clothes, eating what other people would eat. It wasn’t that I didn’t have amazing moments or got to do amazing things, absolutely. I’m an artist, but I never felt like I was an artist as an actor. Not because of how I was treated, because that’s not how artists are treated, or should be treated, or people should be treated.
FLATT: Can you talk to me a little bit about women in film making? We’re sort of at a halcyon moment, at least in the history of film making, where women are being afforded more opportunities.
ROSE McGOWAN: I think it’s a great time for women filmmakers. Women are being afforded greater roles in their destiny, or roles in art, or roles as directors, but why should women be “afforded” anything? I shouldn’t just be allowed to have something – it is my right. It is my right to create as much as it’s another human being’s right, and I think that comes first. Somebody asked if I thought a man would have made Dawn, and I don’t know if they could have. I don’t know if it would have occurred to them.
The Seattle International Film Festival, God bless them, put me and dawn was in the festival, which was an honor, but then under genre, they put “woman director.” I feel bad because then of course I go on Twitter and I was like, ‘Dear Friends on Twitter, please explain to the Seattle International Film Festival why a woman director is not a genre.’ I got a letter back from them saying we can assure you: we are neither sexist nor racist. I was very confused by that one, and I said no. It’s a passive sexism and that’s dangerous. All the people that looked at that to go into the program, nobody waved a flag at that one, because it’s normal. And that’s what has to change, I think.
FLATT: For sure. Can you tell me a little bit about some of your feelings leading into making this film?
ROSE McGOWAN: I was never nervous filming Dawn. I kept waiting for a panic to happen, and it never happened. I felt like I was wearing pants that fit me correctly for the first time. When I act, it is such a cliché, but the night before I first start shooting, I always have nightmares that I forget my lines, that I’m letting everyone down on set, and the stress. And I had none of that when I was directing. It just felt right.
FLATT: Can you tell me a little bit about your work outside of the film industry? Maybe some of your philanthropic efforts?
ROSE McGOWAN: I support Children of The Night, they are who I earmark for things and anybody who’s going to donate on my behalf, they work to support children and teen runaways. I’m involved in are working at Walter Reed Hospital. I’ve been working with the military in the USO for years. I’ve been to Afghanistan and Kuwait, and I’ve done a lot of stuff in the last seven years military. I’m very, very close to that world. I have the utmost respect for them, and it’s beyond that. I think I would have been a really good soldier or officer, frankly. Except for I probably would have gotten kicked out for some reason or another, I’m sure. But I’m a fighter, I’m a born fighter, and I respect fighters, in any capacity.