I first meet Rose McGowan at a party in a garden at the Hay Festival. She’s shaken because she’s just come from recording the BBC’s Front Row Late with Mary Beard, where – without warning her – they played a montage of newsreel clips of Harvey Weinstein. The clip was an introduction to a segment on the #MeToo movement and the disgraced producer’s recent indictment on charges of sexual assault, after months of allegations from multiple accusers, including McGowan. The shock of seeing the man she describes in her memoir, Brave, as “the Monster”, caught her off guard, reducing her to tears in front of a live audience and hundreds of thousands of TV viewers. Though she quickly recovered her composure, it was perhaps an insensitive move for such a strongly female-led programme (the panel, presenter and producer were all women) and McGowan is upset when we talk at the party.
I feel aggrieved on her behalf; there’s a brittleness about her and a vulnerability that’s hardly surprising to anyone who has read the extraordinary stories in her book, not only about the way she was treated in Hollywood but of her childhood in the bizarre Children of God cult to which her father belonged. But there’s a warmth in her manner, too – and a defiance that reads like courage. She jokes at her own expense; she plants her feet, folds her arms and speaks her mind, even while her eyes sometimes shine with tears at the things she recounts.
The next morning, we meet for coffee and I ask her about an Instagram post she wrote the previous week, in response to Weinstein’s indictment, in which she said: “Who I am has been told to the world for me in magazines, newspapers, blogs, videos, tabloids.” Has writing the book felt like a way of reclaiming her own voice, I wonder.
“I don’t think it’s reclaiming my voice – it’s claiming it,” she says, after a pause to weigh up her words. “There are a lot of people who get it, but not necessarily in the press.”
She’s keen to stress the bigger picture – Brave is not merely an offshoot of the #MeToo movement, though her allegations of assault against Weinstein mean that, inevitably, she is often portrayed as a figurehead for that specific protest. But she began writing the book three years ago out of a desire to confront a more generalised, pervasive kind of oppression that filters down from Hollywood into the wider culture that she felt uniquely well placed to expose.
There are so many levels of it, so many levels of being dismissed, being used, being seen as an object
“I used my own stories as examples of how it’s happening to all of us. You might infer from visuals that a woman has to have full, long hair to be sexy – I was actually told that literally. I got the first step of how a woman was supposed to be, and how men are supposed to be, because in Hollywood we propagate myths. I’m the ultimate poster child for what happens to all of us.”
I ask if there was a particular incident that spurred her decision to write about it when she did.
“I always knew I wanted to write a book, but I was volunteering for the National Endowment for the Arts,” she says, “for their lobbyist group, and I realised there were no lobbyists for bravery and critical thinking. There was no one working hard to inspire people to be courageous – not in a self-help way.” She breaks off, laughing. “I know I’m fundamentally unusual – it’s not really my fault. One night, I realised I hated acting. Not just acting, but that whole world. For years, I had felt like I was in the wrong skin, I knew I was in the wrong life, but it was like doing undercover work, I had to gather the data. And, unfortunately, I was the data.”
At the same time as she was writing the book, she was also collaborating with Jodi Kantor, the New York Times journalist who, with Megan Twohey, broke the story about Weinstein last October. McGowan passed on information about a settlement she was paid by the producer in 1997 after he allegedly assaulted her. I ask if, knowing how Hollywood had closed ranks against her back then, she anticipated the kind of backlash she has since experienced for speaking out.
“Did I think there would be former Mossad agents in my life? No, that one I did not see coming.” She gives a dry laugh. The claim that Weinstein paid investigators – including former spies – to infiltrate her life and discredit her might sound so bizarre as to be paranoia, but an article by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker backs up her allegations (though Weinstein’s spokesperson dismissed the claims as “fiction”).
What’s the biggest misconception she feels has been repeated about her in the press?
“They’re running the angry woman trope,” she says, without hesitation. “That old chestnut. Don’t confuse a freedom fighter with anger. It’s another way to dismiss a woman. How is it good for society, if so many of us are coming with so much damage that we’ve shoved down? I’m not talking about all the way to rape, but there are so many levels of it, so many levels of being dismissed, being used, being seen as an object. All those things, that’s an ill society.”
On the subject of her relationship with #MeToo, she says, firmly, “I am not #MeToo. My movement is about bravery, about consciousness and people being better. But #MeToo gave us a language, a collective way to express it. We always knew there were so many of us out there, and it’s given us collectively a way to join hands in pain and also in survival.”
Her next project is to record an album of songs she has written (“the other half of the book”) and write the next volume of her story, which she says will be called Trust. Is she hopeful that Weinstein’s indictment and the conversation that has come from her and other women speaking out will make a difference in future?
“Yes, because I know people are behaving differently,” she says, with passion. “I know there are still a lot of predators who are being protected, but that’s not my story to tell – all I can hope to do is inspire other people to be brave and speak out. So many people have said to me, ‘Oh, it’s easy for you, you have a platform.’ Easy?” She shakes her head in disbelief, laughing. “Nothing about what I do is easy. You think taking it on the chin every single day, globally, is easy? You’re very wrong, but if I can take it on the chin, maybe it’ll be a softer blow for you. The greater goal is forward movement, and we can’t go back.”