Meeting Rose McGowan over the weekend at Comic-Con, she instinctively offered her left hand first. Having injured her other arm weeks ago in the goriest window-related accident I’ve ever heard, she’d flown into San Diego to promote this summer’s Conan the Barbarian, touted as one of the bloodiest action pics of the year. But to hear her tell it, Conan the Barbarian’s got nothing on McGowan’s last few years when it comes to struggle and pain — and yet, she credits the summer swords ‘n’ sorcery pic with changing her mind about quitting Hollywood.
McGowan points to a number of events that brought her to the brink of retirement a few years ago: “Mean directors,” major injuries, family illness. She was to star in updates of Red Sonja and Barbarella, both with former partner Robert Rodriguez, before the pair split and both projects fell apart, one by her choice, the other not. After two years “out of the game,” she took the role of Marique, a half-witch, half-human villainess with a freaky look and an even freakier psyche, in Marcus Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian — and the hard-R fantasy actioner re-ignited something within.
Movieline spoke with McGowan in San Diego about the injuries that led to her pulling out of Red Sonja, the reason why Rodriguez’s Barbarella remake stalled, how playing the witch with seductive claws and serious daddy issues in Conan revived her passion for acting, and why she might yet move to a farm in Italy in the near future.
[McGowan offers her left hand, pointing to her still-injured right forearm] I went through a window.
Yeah. The window was mean. I was like, ‘I am not having the meanness, window.’ No, I had just moved, and they’d painted the trim around the window.
And you punched through the glass…
No! I slid off, I was pushing with all my weight on the handle and slid off and plowed through the window. Hit an artery, sprayed everywhere. This cut twice to the bone. The only time I freaked out, because I have really little wrists, is when there was this huge hole and I stuck my finger in it, because there was blood spraying, and it went all the way to the first knuckle.
Oh my goodness.
That’s when I panicked. And the amount of blood, my assistant said, was like in a movie. It was just spreading like a lake. And the arterial spray — it was all over the walls. It looked like somebody got murdered in there. [Pause] It was perfect for Conan! I was like, ‘Oh! They should have used some of this.’
It must be especially surreal for you to see that sort of scene in real life as opposed to the movies, or on a movie set.
To see it in real life, you almost get outside of your own body. I remember thinking, ‘Next time I’m going to have to have them make the blood a little bit darker, because this is what it looks like in real life.’ You have more of a reference point. [Points out scar] It looks like I took a hole puncher and tried to kill myself.
How long ago did this happen?
Three weeks. I heal really fast, and it’s still healing. I’m doing a movie in Vancouver, I just flew down at four in the morning for Comic-Con and they took the stitches out five days early. Which sucked. All of a sudden it catches on fire, like it’s burning up.
On that note, that’s an incredibly appropriate segue into talking about Conan the Barbarian, which is being presented as a very bloody movie.
It’s a hard R! I will say, that’s why it’s called Conan the Barbarian. Somebody was asking, ‘Marcus Nispel, he’s done horror films — is this like horror?’ No, it’s barbaric. It’s exactly what it says it is.
I spoke with Jason Momoa about his take on Conan. It seemed a bit surprising to fans when he was cast, because he’s got a different look than the movie Conan we’ve seen before.
Well he does, but he also looks like the Robert E. Howard imaginings. He’s beautiful, he’s got gorgeous green eyes. He looks like a damn barbarian — in our dreams, what a barbarian would look like. He also has a scene where he has no clothes on his bottom. I was like, ‘Hey, now, I’m bringing all my gay friends!’ [Laughs]
You play a half-witch, the daughter of Stephen Lang. What was the appeal of the character for you?
Well, they wrote it for a man.
Really? It was originally supposed to be Stephen Lang’s son?
Son, yes, who would try to curry favor on the battlefield and this and that. They changed it up, so Stephen Lang is obsessed with raising his dead wife, my mother. She is a sorceress. And I am very jealous of my dead mother. Basically, I’m trying to seduce my father, so I have a bit of an Elektra complex, and at the same time go out and do his battling as much as I can for him, to please him — because I’m in love with him, basically. I like that it has this level of pathos to it, it’s not just this bad guy character who wants all the power because he wants all the power, which we’ve all seen many times.
Had the role been rewritten for a woman before you came to the project?
No! It was still Farique, not Marique. It was funny, imagining it. I was like, ‘That scene would have been kind of gay, if it was…’ There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact I was actually thinking that would have been kind of great if it had these really great homosexual undertones to some scenes. But they changed up the script, they changed it to a girl and that changed everything. But I like playing strong women.
It’s been fun to see you in character so far, because Marique looks just… insane.
Insane. I don’t know how to describe her — she looks insane!
Was that sort of look always intended for her?
I was aware of the renderings, and they had such an amazing team to do it. The hair and makeup team was just top notch, couldn’t have been better. It was an honor to work with them. I think she’s very majestic and queenly, and I think she’s eerily beautiful. And when I say that I’m not discussing myself, but the character, in a very bizarre way.
What kind of action scenes did you perform in this?
This one was very different action, normally the action tends to be more straightforward. This one is more about her seducing people with her claws, and I decided to play it like a snake — how a snake charms its victim and then strikes.
Did you get to face off against Jason?
I did fight against Jason. I totally won. [Joking] Conan is dead!
No. [Laughs] Spoiler, Conan’s dead! Hello, I’m the new Conan!
What made you decide to take on the role, especially in light of your Red Sonja project? You had come so far in pre-production on that to have concept art and everything and it seemed like it was moving forward.
The thing is, I was already injured at that point, from Planet Terror. My arm — I was doing back handsprings, which of course they cut out, and my arm planted wrong and snapped. When I was doing the signing for Red Sonja I even had my elbow stuck in a bag of ice, and at that point it slowly started getting paralysis to the point where it was massive nerve damage. I had feeling in the top of my pinky and my ring finger, and that was it. I’ve since had three surgeries, part of my elbow bone taken out, went in through my wrist and my hand and did a bunch of stuff to bring it back to life. My doctor and my hand surgeon were like, ‘There’s nothing more we can do for you if you ever injure this again.’ And I thought, hmm… That was one of the things with doing Conan. I’m still going to do action, I love action, but I was like, is there a huge chance of me getting major bodily injury, like I tend to do on every movie I do? And they said no. It sucks in a lot of ways, but I really have to protect myself now. It was just, Red Sonja or paralysis? Hmm…
Do you think that risk will take you away from other certain kinds of action roles in the future?
I hope not. That one is just a really high likelihood, and it’s all arms. That one’s like, you’re almost guaranteed it’s going to happen, and that’s just not worth it to me.
That makes complete sense.
I mean, at the end of the day I’m still a human being.
So were you the one who called off Red Sonja?
I called it. Not worth it. Would have been great, but not worth it.
What happened with the Barbarella remake?
Barbarella — we had $80 million in Germany, and Robert [Rodriguez] ultimately didn’t want to shoot there. He just did not want to shoot in Germany. So that was a pity. And we did amazing tests with Dino de Laurentiis, Colleen Atwood was doing costumes, we were fairly long in prep. It was stunning, amazing stuff. That was a pity, but at the same time that coincided with my father getting really ill and I pulled myself out of the game for two and a half years. Conan was my first movie back, and of all things to say, I had an amazing time and it kind of caused me to fall in love with film again. I mean, you’re like, ‘Conan the Barbarian?’ But I had done some movies before that, for two and a half years, where I was just fed up. I was like, ‘I hate these people, I hate these mean directors, why am I doing this, and I’m just done. I just want to be with my dad.’ And I had a blast on Conan, had a blast with Marcus Nispel, had a blast with Jason, and it was just like, this is what it’s about. It’s about fantasy and fun and being somebody else, and people being kind to you as you are kind to them. So it kind of caused me, of all things, to fall in love again with doing what I do again, which nobody would put together with Conan the Barbarian. But it bizarrely did, so I’ll be forever grateful to it.
It’s also surprising to hear you describe that rough period that turned you off of film.
At the end of the day, I never started out trying to be an actor. That was not my passion, this was not my thing.
You fell into it.
Totally fell into it. And I have a lot of brothers and sisters, and each movie has helped pay for tuition. And then I was like, I only have one left in college, so why am I doing this? But now I want to go back to Italy and live on a farm in Tuscany.
Do you think you’ll really do that?
Yeah, I do. I feel more at home there than anywhere, that’s where I grew up.
Before you move to Italy, what projects do you have on the horizon?
Right now I’m doing something called The Pastor’s Wife, it’s a true story. I wanted it to counterbalance Conan, and it’s an amazing part.
A total 180?
Beyond 180. I play a church mouse. I play a lady you would walk by on the street and never notice. She’s invisible, and it’s funny. It was easier for me to play a dirty homeless person than it was to play invisible. It’s been funny, it’s been interesting. I take pictures of my outfits and send them to my friends and they’re like, ‘Fashion birth control.’ [Laughs]
Conan the Barbarian is in theaters August 19.
Rose McGowan, you are an amazing actress! You inspire me soo much, I want to be an actor, and your really helping me, alot! Please don’t leave Rose! I know I sound horrible for saying not to go back to Italy, but I’m a huge fan, and I wish you wouldn’t leave