How Rose McGowan Took Back Control of Her Story: Inside Her Journey Toward the Front Lines of the #MeToo Movement

On the eve of the premiere of her five-part E! series CITIZEN ROSE, a look at how the actress became the fearlessly unapologetic activist she is today

By Natalie Finn Jan 29, 2018 3:00 PMTags
Watch: Watch Rose McGowan in "CITIZEN ROSE" January 30 on E!

Rose McGowan has had a story to tell for decades.

A year ago, however, she wasn't ready yet to let cameras into her world to document her life 24/7. She had been working on a book for several years and was no shrinking violet on social media, but still...throwing away the script after a career spent studying her lines was one of the few skills she was worried she might not have in her arsenal.

But a lot can change in a year. Heck, life is apt to change almost overnight, as it did for McGowan when, on Oct. 5, the New York Times reported on decades' worth of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Five days later Ronan Farrow's report on Weinstein for The New Yorker included allegations of sexual assault from three women. On Oct. 12, the Charmed actress claimed that Weinstein was the rapist she had alluded to one year beforehand when she tweeted, "because it's been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my rapist. #WhyWomenDontReport."

McGowan alleges that Weinstein raped her at a hotel in Utah during the Sundance Film Festival in 1997, the year after she stole every one of her scenes in the genre-reviving teen horror film Scream, which helped put Miramax-owned Dimension Films on the map. She was 23.

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Weinstein has admitted to engaging in hurtful behavior but has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex.

Within weeks of the initial Times report, which a Weinstein attorney said was "saturated with false and defamatory statements," more than 80 women had come forward with allegations of misconduct against the Miramax and Weinstein Company-co-founder, whose far-reaching tentacles ensured for almost 30 years that his orbit was practically unavoidable for countless big names in Hollywood—including ones who had heard "rumors" about him.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for TCM

McGowan has been invigorated seeing Hollywood's complacency go up in flames, as have many other women since the ousting of Weinstein led to a stream of people—both famous and those without a name that makes automatic headlines—coming forward to hold sexual abusers and harassers accountable. Rose's has been one of the loudest voices, and she had been banging on the door long before it collapsed under the weight of countless accusations against an ever-growing number of men.

In the wake of her naming Weinstein as her alleged attacked in October, she canceled all of her immediate planned appearances, including the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, Ks., where she was to be honored for her commitment to female empowerment at a screening of her 2014 directorial debut, the short film Dawn.

"The whole world is now aware, in large part due to Rose's efforts, about the rampant sexual harassment within the entertainment industry, and so in her honor, we have pulled together a panel of women filmmakers who will be attending the festival with their films, for a frank conversation, because the message doesn't stop here," said festival creative director Lela Meadow-Conner.  

Rose surfaced at the Women's Convention in Detroit as a keynote speaker, telling the audience, "I have been silenced for 20 years. I have been slut-shamed. I have been harassed. I have been maligned. And you know what? I'm just like you."

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But as someone who feels her career was derailed by Weinstein's flagrant abuse of power, and who as a young actress felt pressured into accepting $100,000 in exchange for her silence—a silence that, even now, has been called into question by those who don't understand how intimidating an entrenched patriarchal power structure can be—McGowan doesn't see an easy cure for the disease ailing society.

She's hopeful, but she knows there's much work to be done. But over the years she's grown a thick skin, as her approach of no-punches-pulled candor, low tolerance for the commodification or exploitation of causes, and her willingness to call out complicity as she sees it in her eyes, were bound to rub some people the wrong way. There's no such thing as taking a firm stand without experiencing blowback.

What the last four months have proved, however, is that she is hardly alone. From the ashes has risen the #RoseArmy, the body of supporters who've connected through social media to both speak up for themselves and support McGowan on her journey as the #MeToo movement takes hold. CITIZEN ROSE, premiering tomorrow on E!, follows the actress turned activist as she follows her truth to the front lines of a battle she's been fighting for years.

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Perhaps she's been fighting it her entire life, none of which has been what one might call "usual." McGowan was born in Italy to parents who belonged to a cult called Children of God, polygamists who would encourage the women in the group to use their feminine wiles to attract more members, all the while teaching that God was watching and judging and you'd be punished for your litany of sins.

"I was always in trouble," McGowan recalled to People in 2015. "They would say, 'Have you let God into your heart?' and I would say, 'No.' I did believe in God, but I didn't believe in their god. I was pissed off.

Her father, Daniel, had two wives—Terry, mom to Rose and her siblings Nat and Daisy, and his second wife Rebecca.

When Rose was 9, she and her brother, sister, dad and Rebecca slipped away in the middle of the night and fled to America. Terry moved separately to the U.S. some time after and, after her parents divorced, Rose went to live with her mom in Oregon. She ran away when she was 13, telling People she had a "mean stepfather," and lived on the streets for awhile before reuniting with her father and Rebecca, whom he had legally married, in Washington.

Mirek Towski/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

She recalled eventually growing close to her dad, who died in 2008, after he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis at age 60. In 2015 Rose said that her mom was happily remarried and she had a great relationship with her brothers and sisters. 

By the time she was a teenager, however, McGowan had already come across a series of predatory men, her experience when she got to Hollywood an extension of what she was used to, with handsy, aggressive men on set, demeaning treatment, having her appearance picked apart and snippy gossip all part of business as usual.

"From the very earliest, I realized I had no protectors," she told BuzzFeed in 2015.

Her first lead role was playing a hypersexual teen in the 1995 indie drama The Doom Generation, but her breakout came in 1996's Scream, playing Neve Campbell's ill-fated best friend Tatum, who had all the best lines until her unfortunate end at the hands of a garage door. Heathers-esque teen bitchery seemed to be her forte, and the 1999 dark comedy Jawbreaker is another McGowan classic.

Dimension Films

What the public wouldn't know for years was that life as she knew it was forever altered in 1997, when, she says, Weinstein raped her during Sundance, where she was promoting her latest film, Going All the Way, which also starred Ben Affleck and Rachel Weisz.

According to McGowan, he requested a meeting with her in a suite at the Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley in Park City. She didn't really want to go, but a member of her management team, she says, told her she needed to go as a sign of respect to the powerful executive. Two male assistants she passed on her way in "didn't look me in the eye," she told the New York Times.

"Part of you has been left behind," she described the aftermath to Vanity Fair. "You just got killed."

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Jeffrey Mayer/

Also in 1997 she met Marilyn Manson, describing her foray into dating the shock-rocker as "[running] away with the circus."

Their courtship included her infamous red carpet appearance at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards in what amounted to a handful of beads.

"It made me laugh," McGowan said in 1999 on The Roseanne Show. "I also was delirious because I had like a 103-degree fever and I was on so much Sudafed, just trying to get through the day." She mimed an out-of-it look. She had wanted an ensemble that would "cause a scene, whatever," but she hadn't realized the front was that see-through. "But then what the hell are ya gonna do?" she shrugged.

McGowan admitted she had expected more excitement on a rock show red carpet, "but I was the only freak freakin' it out. But that's OK!"

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In various interviews McGowan described Manson, whom she was engaged to before they broke up in 2001, as one of the smartest and sweetest people she'd ever met.

Asked on Watch What Happens Live in 2015, however, what led to their breakup, McGowan at first would only say "Scarface." "Think about it, Andy...what was Scarface about?" she prodded Andy Cohen.

"Coke," he guessed. "He did too much blow and you were not down for it?"

"It was me, it was me," McGowan replied. "Actually, I don't know. I plead the Fourth [meaning Fifth]... I'm honest, always, I can't help it." They remained friendly, though, she said, noting "there is great love, but our lifestyle difference is, unfortunately, even greater."

"I just needed to not be responsible, to have fun," she told People about her three and a half years with Manson. "Then eventually I kind of grew up." Her first stop after their split was Halliwell Manor.


McGowan said earlier this month during the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour that her main motivation for doing Charmed was to increase her celebrity to a level that, when the news about Weinstein finally came out, she would have a sturdier platform upon which to stand, "and people would pay attention in every region across the globe."

That was 17 years ago. She played spunky witch Paige Matthews from 2001 until 2006 (three years longer than she planned, actually, not realizing she'd signed a five-year contract). The following year she starred in Robert Rodriguez, her boyfriend at the time, and Quentin Tarantino's throwback-pulp tour de force Grindhouse, most memorably in the Rodriguez-directed Planet Terror half as Cherry Darling, a dancer with an automatic rifle for a leg and a hankering for revenge. 

That was hardly it as far as acting roles went, but the film marked the end of any semblance of an upward portion of McGowan's Hollywood trajectory. (Aside from the emotional pain she was suffering, McGowan told BuzzFeed that she suffered severe nerve damage doing a backbend in a scene for Grindhouse and ultimately underwent three surgeries to repair resulting paralysis in her right arm. Also in 2007, she was in a car accident during which her glasses cut into the skin underneath her eye. She underwent reconstructive plastic surgery and would learn that any change in a celebrity's appearance, no matter how minor, doesn't go unnoticed by internet trolls.)

Most Wanted/ZUMA Press

Rodriguez, who met McGowan at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005 and dated her off and on until 2009 (he separated from his wife in 2006), revealed in October that he knew what Weinstein had allegedly done to Rose. When they met, he recounted in Variety, she expressed her admiration for Sin City and said she wished she could've auditioned. He asked why she didn't.

"She said that she couldn't because she had been blacklisted from working on any Weinstein movies," Rodriguez wrote. "When I asked what she meant by that, and how could she possibly be blacklisted, she told me the horrifying story of what Harvey did to her seven years earlier." 

"Rose told me that all she could do at the time was to get Harvey Weinstein to donate money to an abused women's shelter and in return she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that forbade her from talking about the horrific violation without being sued, and that she shouldn't even be telling me. To add insult to injury, she told me that she was blacklisted from even auditioning for any Weinstein movies."

The filmmaker wrote that he never spoke out about what he knew to not cause her any trouble with the NDA.

Rodriguez said he enthusiastically cast her as a badass heroine in Grindhouse—which was distributed by Weinstein Company shingle Dimension Films—as a pointed act of defiance, and he concluded that the production was plagued with problems that Weinstein created on purpose. Pretending to introduce McGowan and Weinstein when they saw the producer that very night at the party they were at, he observed Harvey's reaction and "I knew right then that every word Rose told me was true, you could see it all over his face."

The Weinstein Company

In her book BRAVE, however, McGowan claims Rodriguez played "mind games" with her on the Grindhouse set, using her vulnerabilities against her, particularly during a scene in Planet Terror when her character is attacked by a scumbag played by Tarantino. 

"I was in a backward world," she writes, per an excerpt she shared with Vanity Fair. "I was losing my grip on sanity." She claimed Rodriguez pulled the ultimate power move by then selling the movie to Weinstein.

Disputing McGowan's account, Rodriguez said that Weinstein already had the first-look option on the film, it was no secret that TWC was financing the movie and that Rose had plenty of time to express her concerns about the attack scene, which "was never brought up as being an issue." That being said, the Spy Kids director added, he had no beef with McGowan.

"These inaccuracies may appear to put me at odds with Rose, but I have no quarrel with her," Rodriguez stated, according to IndieWire. "It's when publications don't fact check these basic things, you end up with something inaccurate that then has to be disqualified. And I don't want to have to disqualify it because I agree with what Rose is trying to do overall, which is continue to push for change both in our industry and beyond."

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"I've had this giant monster strapped to me for 20 years," McGowan also told Vanity Fair recently. "So many women have been strapped around him. He ate so many of our souls that he couldn't tell which way was which. He's always been gunning for me. But that's OK—I've been gunning for him, too."

She has stopped using Weinstein's name, referring to him instead as the "monster," but she says that BRAVE, also being released Tuesday, is not about only his wrongdoings and what happened to her. It's about "all of them" and the damage they've wrought.

For years now McGowan has been an outspoken critic of misogynistic Hollywood culture, back when there was no organized movement devoted to exactly that. In 2015 she tweeted out a copy of what she felt was a sexist casting call for an Adam Sandler comedy (push-up bras encouraged," etc.)—a subversive move she claims prompted her talent agency to dump her.

"I just got fired by my wussy acting agent because I spoke up about the bulls**t in Hollywood. Hahaha," she tweeted days later, adding the tags "#douchebags #awesome #BRINGIT." She added, "The awesome thing about being an artist? You can't be fired from your own mind. #FREEDOM."

Photographer Group/Splash

The timing was awkward, however, because agent Sheila Wenzel, a longtime member of McGowan's team, had left Innovative Artists the week prior to the actress' tweets about being dropped—but the news of her exit didn't break until after the tweets, prompting people to wonder if one had caused the other.

McGowan set out to dispel that rumor immediately, tweeting, "Sheila Wenzel is a wonderful agent that ceased working with Innovative before my firing. She's a good, strong woman I'm proud to know." But such is social media. Things spread like wildfire and the dots don't always connect in the right order.

"I just want to make it better for the next girl coming after me," she said on Good Morning America after her tweets had made headlines and attracted a number of celebrity supporters. "To know that she doesn't have to sell her body and soul just because she wants to be a creative person. That isn't the fine that you pay at the gate, and it shouldn't be."

Eighteen years after appearing next to nude on the red carpet, she had honed her view of what the fashion parade represented: to her, it was another way in which women have submitted to being objectified.

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"My experience on the red carpet has been a journey of defiance, then one-of-a-kind acquiescence and finally a refusal to play by invented rules passed down through an aged system," McGowan explained in the Hollywood Reporter in September 2016. "Who says I need to have my hair and makeup professionally done? Who says I need to pay someone to make me look like an odd beauty pageant version of myself? The selling of a self I do not recognize, to publicize a self that wasn't me, stopped making sense. Whether it is known to those inside of Hollywood, it looks very antiquated."

She further explained her 1998 ensemble to the New York Times last year, saying, "That was my first big public appearance after being assaulted. And I thought—you want to see a body? I did it with a giant middle finger."

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for HSUS

Meanwhile, in February 2016 McGowan filed for divorce from her husband of two and a half years, visual artist Davey Detail. They married in October 2013 and, per the filing, separated in May 2015. She asked that the judge terminate any request from her ex for spousal support.

Her savings dwindling after years spent taking care of her late father's medical costs and more or less retired from acting, McGowan says she considered taking another payment from Weinstein in exchange for her silence. She told the New York Times in October that someone affiliated with the producer contacted her attorney to offer her $1 million to prevent her from speaking to the journalists who were investigating allegations against him.

McGowan says she countered the offer with $6 million and figures she may have been able to get around $3 million, but had her attorney reject the idea altogether on Oct. 4, the day before the Times published its initial Weinstein story, which mentioned the $100,000 McGowan got in 1997 "to avoid litigation and buy peace."

"...I was like—ew, gross, you're disgusting, I don't want your money, that would make me feel disgusting," she recalled.

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Since becoming a leader in the charge against serial mistreatment of women, McGowan has had experiences she finds highly suspect. After tweeting about Weinstein on Oct. 12, her account was promptly suspended. Twitter explained that she had shared a personal phone number, a no-no in the rule book, but by the time the account was unlocked her supporters were already planning to boycott the next day in her honor.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

And in November she told Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker that charges she was facing stemming from a Jan. 20, 2017, arrest for alleged cocaine possession were bogus. She left her wallet on the plane when she flew to Virginia's Dulles International Airport, to attend the Women's March in D.C. and, according to police, airline staffers found two small baggies of what turned out to be cocaine in the wallet. 

McGowan said that she was freaked out when an airport detective called her the next morning to come and get her wallet, not initially believing it was a real cop because she worried that Weinstein was having people watch her after her October 2016 tweets about being sexually assaulted.

She decided to skip the airport and leave town with fellow marchers, resulting in a felony warrant being issued for her arrest. "I knew I was being followed and that I wasn't safe," she told Farrow. "I even hired a private investigator to investigate whether the warrant was real."

McGowan maintains that there were opportunities during or after the flight for someone to plant the drugs. "I own stock in a marijuana company, so that's my jam [and cocaine isn't]," she told Farrow. "Imagining I'm going into sisterly solidarity, I can think of nothing more opposed to that, energetically, that I would want in my body at that moment."

"I will clearly plead not guilty," she added.

McGowan said at TCA that she's selling the Hollywood Hills home she bought in 2011 "to pay legal bills fighting off the monster. That's what I'm facing."

While she's been exercising her voice for awhile now, the world is about to get an up close and personal view of just how much of a fighter Rose McGowan really is.