Rose McGowan on ‘Conan the Barbarian’

The cult favorite explains the dark, sexy subtext in Conan, why she'll never get to play Red Sonja and some of her earlier, obscurer film roles.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

The hipper-than-hip Rose McGowan has been a star since her breakout role in Wes Craven's classic Scream. Since then she's been a mainstay in such cult films as Jawbreaker, Grindhouse and the TV series Charmed. She's got the most memorable role in this weekend's Conan the Barbarian, so it was a blast to talk to her about the film's darkest subtexts, some of her earlier roles in HBO's Devil in the Flesh or Jawbreaker, which movie she really wants to produce and, unfortunately, why she'll never be able to play Red Sonja. As we settle in for our interview, she snuggles up adorably in a blanket, because it's a bit nippy in here…


CraveOnline: Aw… You’re all snuggly!

Rose McGowan: (Laughs)


CraveOnline: How are you?

Rose McGowan: I’m great.


CraveOnline: Are you great?

Rose McGowan: I actually… Well, I’m tired. I don’t like getting up this early. It does not agree with me.


CraveOnline: Often on these junkets you guys lose energy by Sunday and you’re like, “Ugh…”

Rose McGowan: I thought I was going to die last night. I just did a face plant. And the driver was like, “How are you, Ms. McGowan?” And I’m like, really, if I have to talk about myself for one more minute I’m gonna die. I’m like, “I’m fine, but…”


CraveOnline: We could talk about me if you want…

Rose McGowan: “How are you? Tell me about your day, sir.”


CraveOnline: I’m sorry, we’ll try to keep this painless.

Rose McGowan: No, no…


CraveOnline: I can’t sympathize because I ain’t famous. Um… Conan.

Rose McGowan: Conan.


CraveOnline: You seem like you’re having the absolute most fun in this movie.

Rose McGowan: Yay! You know, I saw the movie about four-and-a-half months ago, saw a fairly rough cut, temp music with nothing in 3D. Jason [Momoa] saw it on, I think, Friday night, and he loved it. I guess he loved my role in it.


CraveOnline: You’re an absolute blast in this.

Rose McGowan: I can’t really say because I don’t know. I only know what I filmed.


CraveOnline: You know what you filmed… My favorite scene in the entire movie is with you and Stephen Lang, and it just seems incredibly obvious that you two are @#$%ing.

Rose McGowan: (Goes for a high five) – High five for getting that.


CraveOnline: Okay. (Slap!)

Rose McGowan: Some people are like, “Is it my imagination…?” I’m like, “No.” (Shakes head.) “Am I thinking…?” “No.” “Am I wrong in…?” “No.”


CraveOnline: I asked Marcus [Nispel] about that and he said that was largely… Was that your idea or was it your idea to take it as far as it went?

Rose McGowan: I tried to take it as far as it could go. I feel like I have a duty to be subversive. There’s just some sort of like weird punk rock element inside of me. I don’t look it, but my twisted, weird sense of humor that thinks, “Oh, summer blockbuster. I know… I’m going to add an element of strange.” It’s like my duty. It’s an Elektra complex. We’re going back to the Greeks here.


CraveOnline: It is. I’m sorry. It’s classical. My apologies.

Rose McGowan: It is classical.


CraveOnline: A lot of the things in the movie have to play to a broader audience, but Conan has a sort of history in that domination, female sacrifice, interesting bizarre areas of the human subconscious just coming out. Speaking of that, your wardrobe is very interesting in the movie. Did you get to do that yourself? Was that your idea?

Rose McGowan: Well, I saw the renderings of it and I was just so bowled over by the design work […] I was like, fully on board. Incredibly uncomfortable and hard to move in.


CraveOnline: Sorry.

Rose McGowan: There’s always something. But the whole look freed me up to be so operatically odd.


CraveOnline: Absolutely. What do you have against your eyebrows, is what I want to know.

Rose McGowan: I don’t.


CraveOnline: Were they just make-upped over?

Rose McGowan: No, it was all prosthetic. And the thing is, is that it was pretty amazingly well done, because it’s not digitized at all. And a lot of times, even in movies, you can see [their] wig lines and stuff. It’s pretty flawless [in Conan]. Scott Wheeler is the guy who did it and created it and he did a fantastic job. And I adored him, which is good since we spent six hours a day together. Seven: six from two to eight in the morning, and then an hour after wrap to remove it.


CraveOnline: I’m actually a little embarrassed because as much as I want to talk to you about Conan, my first introduction to you and your work was Devil in the Flesh

Rose McGowan: TV! It’s an HBO film!


CraveOnline: I know, and it was shot at my junior high school.

Rose McGowan: Shut. Up.


CraveOnline: I will not shut up. It was that big pink… “The Pink Prison,” we called it.

Rose McGowan: I remember that. Was that a Valley school?


CraveOnline: No, it was in Pasadena.

Rose McGowan: It was in Pasadena? God, I can’t even believe that I remember that.


CraveOnline: That was an interesting sort of exploitative movie.

Rose McGowan: You see, the thing that bummed me out about that was… Well, this didn’t bum me out. You know those old pulp books?


CraveOnline: Yeah.

Rose McGowan: You know, like “She Had a Bod for Sin” and those kind of titles…


CraveOnline: Yeah, I love those.

Rose McGowan: Well, I have a bunch of those books. And the working title in the movie had already been taken so I said, “Ooh, what about Devil in the Flesh?” Because it was one I had just picked up at a garage sale. I love that. That was so funny. So that was how that title came to be.


CraveOnline: What was the original title? Do you remember?

Rose McGowan: “Teacher’s Pet,” which is just… stupid. But it was also a Doris Day film with Clark Gable, which is weirdly enough a great film. It’s starts out as a comedy and then got really, really good. […] What was annoying about Devil in the Flesh is that I [was doing] campy, funny blah-blah-blah, and then they came to me after wrap and said, “We need a sex scene in there. Would you be willing to do it?” And I said, “No.” And then they get this actress to do like a nudie scene with the guy, for no reason other than that HBO wanted to have, like, some tits in there. And it’s just, I’m like, “Really guys…?”


CraveOnline: This is back when they were competing with the Shannon Tweed crowd. Remember then?

Rose McGowan: No, this was HBO…


CraveOnline: Yes, my point was that they were trying to make it seem more like that kind of movie.

Rose McGowan: It wasn’t that kind of movie, and then they threw something in.


CraveOnline: Exactly. I’m very sorry about that. My sister will kill me if I don’t ask you about Jawbreaker.

Rose McGowan: Love it.


CraveOnline: It’s got a bit of a cult audience now.

Rose McGowan: Great audience.


CraveOnline: What do you remember most about that production?

Rose McGowan: I based that character on… […] There’s a movie called Leave Her to Heaven with Gene Tierney, and I based [my] character on that character, in that movie. So tell your sister to watch that.


CraveOnline: I bet she already has, actually. Back to Conan, it’s interesting because for a long time you were rumored to be playing Red Sonja at some point.

Rose McGowan: (Shows off scars on her arm)


CraveOnline: Oh my.

Rose McGowan: Three surgeries there, three surgeries here and part of my elbow…


CraveOnline: I am so sorry.

Rose McGowan: (Shrugs) – @#$% happens. I was basically paralyzed in my right arm, except for the tips of two of my fingers, where I had feeling. It was constant pain – and paralysis, which was awesome – it was just massive nerve damage from a stunt gone wrong…


CraveOnline: What was the stunt, if I may ask?

Rose McGowan: It was actually Planet Terror. I just planted wrong and snapped it. And it just got progressively worse and worse. And the thing is Red Sonja was… I basically became unable to even hold a fork, so obviously I’m not going to be able to hold a sword. The doctors brought my arm back to life, which is amazing. The guy, the doctor, did the first toe-to-thumb transplant in the world.


CraveOnline: Just throw one of those in while you’re at it…

Rose McGowan: Just throw in one of those. Give me mine now. Thanks. Give me a good pedicure. But they did say, “If you hurt your arm again there’s nothing more we can do for you.”


CraveOnline: Oh god, so you have to play it pretty careful…

Rose McGowan: I do and I don’t. I mean, I still clearly do action films. I love action films.


CraveOnline: Well, sure, but you can’t throw yourself into it.

Rose McGowan: But this? With a sword, there’s a really high likelihood… Also, I can’t lift the weight I used to be able to lift. I used to be able to lift 25-30 pounds with my skinny little arms. I could get bigger. But now, like three pounds starts twinging.


CraveOnline: Oh dear.

Rose McGowan: You know, it is what it is. Everybody’s got something.


CraveOnline: That’s true. And I’m glad you’re okay.

Rose McGowan: It would have been an amazing role, buuuut I could then be paralyzed forever, so I think no.


CraveOnline: What’s your dream role as it is now? What do you want to do next?

Rose McGowan: Gosh, I would love to do a period piece. In the deep south. I love period pieces. They don’t come around that often.


CraveOnline: They don’t, actually. It’s sort of disappointing.

Rose McGowan: I love it when people come up to me, “You should do a period piece!” It’s like, “Oh, okay. I’ll just go over to Fox Studios and stand out front and say, ‘Hire me for a period piece. I think you should do it. I’ll get right on it.’” (Laughs.)


CraveOnline: I write for CRAVE Online, and people come to me, like when Taken 2 was announced, and someone told me, “You should make that! You should get on that! Dude, can you hire me?” “No…”

Rose McGowan: And they also think that when something’s announced that it’s just going to happen tomorrow. I wish they would not announce things, first of all.


CraveOnline: Yeah.

Rose McGowan: Producers, and people like that, they want to make a splash but…


CraveOnline: They want to build up interest…

Rose McGowan: Well, @#$% it. It @#$%s the actors. It @#$%s the actors when it doesn’t [happen] because then you’re trying to explain why it didn’t go, and you’re like, “Look, it’s just because this producer fell out, that producer didn’t work, this one did things behind the scenes that nobody will ever understand…” But as far as an actor being attached it just looks like I suddenly had a failure. Which in fact I had nothing to do with.


CraveOnline: Yeah, you just said, “I’ll do the movie if it gets made.”

Rose McGowan: Sure. “Get the money together and come talk to me.” Next thing you know they’re getting all this press and then it just @#$%s it. I hate that. It drives me crazy.


CraveOnline: I totally sympathize. Out of curiosity, and if this is a bull@#$% question just let me know, of all the things you’ve done – everyone has movies that just didn’t come together – what was the one that you wish had come together the most, besides perhaps Red Sonja?

Rose McGowan: (Thinks) – Yes, there is one movie and it doesn’t need much money so I’m still hopeful. I want to take it away from the producer who has it.


CraveOnline: Okay.

Rose McGowan: I think if I can I could get the money for it.


CraveOnline: You can’t say the name without risking that?

Rose McGowan: Meh! @#$% it. It was Black Oasis, the story of Susan Cabot, who was Wasp Woman.


CraveOnline: Yeah! I remember that. That script was making the rounds everywhere.

Rose McGowan: Meh. I’m trying still.