Rose McGowan On Her Short Film, ‘Dawn,’ Her L.A. Film Festival, and Charli XCX

‘Dawn’ Plays For One-Week Engagement Alongside Films Selected By The Actress

Sep 19, 2014 Web Exclusive
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Throughout her acting career, Rose McGowan has had the chance to watch and learn from the many great directors she’s worked with. Now, for the first time, McGowan has taken on the new role of director on a movie set.

Her debut short film, Dawn, is set in an idyllic America of the early 1960s. A young girl, is bored with her sheltered life. She makes eyes with a good-looking at a filling station. As she lets the boy and his delinquent friends into her life, she finds the world to be a much darker place than she’d bargained for. At just 17 minutes long, it’s a strong debut; a subversive bit of old-fashioned, pop-melodrama with a scary, Blue Velvet­-esque undercurrent.

[UPDATE: Rose McGowan has released the short film to view for free on her YouTube channel. Click here to watch it.]

The actress and first-time director spoke with us about her short film, the influences on her filmmaking, and the music video she recently shot with Charli XCX.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: At what point did you first feel compelled to step behind a camera and direct something of your own?

Rose McGowan: It was about ten months ago. I got a call from the writers [M.A. Fortin and Joshua Miller]; they’re my friends, and they’re very highly esteemed writers. They’re very talented and have done some great projects, and they’ve known me for a very long time … They’d seen me on sets; I’ve spent over 17,000 hours on sets. They’ve been there with me, and I’ve usually become kind of a de facto leader of the crew. They know my design sense, and all of my sensibilities.

Where did the story idea come from, and how did you first connect with your screenwriters? You mentioned they were your friends.

Actually, [Joshua Miller] was a child actor. He was in River’s Edge. I met him when I was an extra. When I was 14, I was skipping school to be an extra on a movie in Seattle, where he was shooting. We’ve been friends ever since then.

This was originally meant to be a Flannery O’Connor short, and then I lost the rights at the last minute. I had the four locations, but no script. I locked the writers in a room for two days. I told them the kind of themes I wanted to explore, the kind of last scene that I wanted, and they just went and they saved me. Ultimately I think it turned out for the better.

What qualities did you look for when you were casting Dawn? Tara Barr was quite a find.

She was amazing. She just gets so many little nuances and details. She was really fun, and I bless the day that she walked into my life. She was amazing, and I can’t see anyone else doing it.

I wanted really strong actors. I demand that. I’ve been in movies where – well, probably a couple where I felt I’d been miscast, and I’ve definitely worked with people that were miscast against me. I can see how bad casting can just sink a project from the outset. Some people get influenced by what they need to get money, and this, that, and the other, but it really shoots them in the foot sometimes.

I’m very specific. I told the casting directors that I don’t want anyone who looks like they’d be cast on the CW. There’s nothing wrong with those actors, but there’s a pampered quality, and a slick quality, that a lot of younger actors kind of have today. Not the ones on TV, necessarily, or the indie actresses, or things like that, but the ones in the mainstream have a really polished quality that didn’t exist in 1961.

Was there any aspect of directing that wound up being totally different from your expectations?

Actually, I was waiting to panic; I was waiting to have a terror, and I fell completely into a comfort zone. Even more so than I ever had as an actress. The only stressful moment we had was when we needed a giant water tanker to follow us into the forest, and we had only 20 minutes to get. That was honestly the most stressful moment. The rest of it, I just felt very capable and very strong.

Also, when you do solid pre-production, you know what you’re doing, you know? I mean, everything is a variable, and something always goes wrong, that’s just how it goes. Having been on sets for so long I know how to navigate that stuff.

You’ve worked with some great directors across your career, in particular ones who have been known to sometimes handle dark subject matter – such as Wes Craven, Brian De Palma, even Quentin Tarantino to a degree. Was there anything you learned from watching or working with those directors that you brought to your own directing style?

I think De Palma, out of any of them, for sure. I love his tracking shots. I’ve just been inspired by him, as a filmmaker. Even some of his later movies. It’s so hard to make a movie come out right, or do anything like that. But the actual art of what he does is really, really inspiring to me.

For me, I probably lean more on things from the past than things from the present. People, I should say.

Who are a few of those older directors you found to be influences on your short film?

I would say Douglas Sirk, Charles Laughton, Jacques Tourneur … For me, art is a really big part of it, as well. The loneliness that I wanted to capture is what I feel when I look at certain Edward Hopper paintings.

The life of an artist should be rich and encompass many different art forms. It can all coalesce into one piece; all of your random bits of knowledge.

For me, I hosted a show on TCM for a year, and I’m on the board of the Film Noir Society with Dennis Lehane and Ellroy, people like this. I’m really steeped in the classics, but I love modern film as well, obviously.

Do you think you’ll explore similar themes in the future?

Not necessarily. I’m a storyteller, and I love stories. I’m a really prolific reader; I have been since I was about three years old. There are so many stories in other lands and other voices that I’d love to visit, and take people on a journey with me. I want to create a world that they’re immersed in. That’s my number one job as a director: to create total immersion. Because otherwise, what do you have? You don’t want somebody to be checking their watch. You want it to be as foolproof as possible. Everything has its flaws, but overall I think you owe it to your audience. I’m an audience member, first and foremost, before I’m an actor; before I’m anything … I know what I want to see, and what I want to see is what I want to make.

Would you ever want to direct yourself in a project?

I don’t think so. God bless the people who can do it. I don’t know that I couldn’t – but I just don’t want to. I don’t want to split the focus.

Dawn is playing in L.A. alongside seven feature films you picked out that portray strong, complex female leads, and include actors such as Mia Farrow, Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep, and Molly Ringwald. Were these women an influence on your acting, early in your career?

Oh, that’s a really good question. I never really thought about that. Yeah, for sure. I think all of that, for me, is knowing that there’s no reason a female character can’t be front and center. I mean, sometimes [a story] really does call for a man, but often it doesn’t. Like, Jodie Foster’s role in Silence of the Lambs … by making it a woman, it makes it that much richer and more complex without really changing that much about the story. It can be done, it just doesn’t occur to people to do it.

We’re big fans of Charli XCX at Under the Radar – she was on our cover pretty recently.

She’s so cute!

You just shot a really fun music video with her. Can I ask you how you got involved with that?

I just got a text from somebody that day that was like, “Hey, Charli’s shooting…” I literally had three appointments in a row that I cancelled. I said, “Okay, I have an hour and a half free. I’ll come down. Out of the kindness of my heart I’ll drive down to the Valley – which is far.” [Laughs] She is so cute, and obviously was inspired by Jawbreaker, which was really, really sweet. I think she’s really talented, just a really cool chick. I really admire her for being out there and blazing her own trail. 

 



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