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Sundance: Rose McGowan on Finally Finding Her Calling as a Filmmaker and How Celebrities Ruined Crowdfunding

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire January 17, 2014 at 10:22AM

Nineteen years after effectively launching her acting career at Sundance with Gregg Araki's "The Doom Generation," Rose McGowan is back in Park City to launch her directing one with her accomplished directorial debut, the short film "Dawn."
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Rose McGowan on the set of "Dawn"
Rose McGowan on the set of "Dawn"

Nineteen years after effectively launching her acting career at Sundance with Gregg Araki's "The Doom Generation," Rose McGowan is back in Park City to launch her directing one with her accomplished directorial debut, the short film "Dawn."

Since becoming an icon to the hipster generation via Araki's lurid thriller, McGowan has made a career out of playing deadpan, glamor pusses, most notably in the first "Scream," TV's "Charmed," Robert Rodriguez's bloody Grindhouse homage "Planet Terror" and the teen cult comedy "Jawbreaker." She doesn't' star in "Dawn," but her fingerprints are all over the material from its satiric edge to its dark heart. The period pic concerns a closeted teenage girl (played by "God Bless America" breakout Tara Lynne Barr) who decides to walk on the wild side when she encounters a hunky gas station attendant. What unfolds over the course of their courtship is shocking, and best left a surprise.

Indiewire caught up with McGowan before Sundance to discuss her debut, why she feels like a natural born filmmaker, and her future feature film.

Rose McGowan on the set of "Dawn"
Rose McGowan on the set of "Dawn"

Has directing always been an interest of yours from the outset of your acting career?

I think directing was in the cards for me. I love organizing, directing and bossing everyone around. My brothers and sisters, I used to direct them in plays and put marks on the floors even though I didn’t understand what blocking was or what marks were. I had a set of porcelain dolls when I was little that I would make into marionettes with strings. So essentially, I didn’t realize I fell into acting very very accidentally. I didn’t move to Los Angeles because I was in mad love with it, but because I’ve been such a cinephile from such a young age I assumed that that was what I was meant to be doing and it didn’t occur to me until a bit later in the game that actually no, that wasn’t really the role I was meant to inhabit. It’s not a bad thing, it’s actually really freeing.

It must be wild for you then to look back at the success you’ve had as an actress given how you fell into it.

I never felt particularly successful at it. I suppose making a living I’m successful, so that’s good because I didn’t come here with that ‘goddammit I need to be famous’ or something. It never felt like I had achieved much of anything. But for me, it was more about— I love the smells and the sounds of being on the set and everything about it and just immersing myself in set life. On days that I wasn’t filming as an actor, I would go down and work in the art department, I would go and work with the camera crew, I would go and work with the gaffers and go and work in every other area. Frankly, it was a lot more gratifying because I love jobs. I would rather be the conductor, it just makes me happier.

I used to think if anything I wanted to be a producer and I realized my talents are not in organizing and my talents are not in going out and trying to get people to give me money, so scratch that off the list. With directing, I kept waiting honestly for a massive amount of nerves to hit me and it just didn’t, it felt hands and gloves. I feel more nervous honestly every time before they say action. Before I deliver lines, my hearts start racing. My heart literally races out of my chest and I have nightmares that I’m not going to remember my lines, like really stupid things, and it’s like really after all this time, still?

There is not a minute of that when I’m directing, or doing production design or doing anything like that. It just feel like it's what I’m meant to be doing. Which is an amazing thing to find out. I wish, you know, I found that out 10 years ago.

"Dawn"
Sundance "Dawn"

So why make this leap to filmmaking only now? It sounds like it's been a long time coming for you.

Because I was working so much I never had time to kind of poke my head up and look around and question whether or not I actually like it. And the answer is really no, and that's hugely freeing. Terrifying, but hugely freeing.

I read that although you didn't write the screenplay for "Dawn," you're behind the shocking ending of M.A Fortin and Joshua John Miller's script. What were you trying to explore in making "Dawn"?

Well for me I wanted to kind of explore the subtext of how girls get molded into something that becomes so homogenized that you forget your internal signals like danger. I was fascinated by that. But the thing also is that I’m also inspired by European cinema. I think that Americans are generally stronger in stories. And Europeans, maybe, are better visually. And I wanted to try to marry those two together and I was really really lucky with the screenplay. I didn’t set out to make a short, I set out to make a movie, it just happened to be 17 minutes long. It would be a luxury to do one in 90 minutes.

This article is related to: Rose McGowan, Shorts, Short Film, Filmmaker Toolkit: Shorts, Sundance 2014, Sundance Film Festival, Interviews