Rose McGowan has had quite the year, and we know this because starting back in August 2017, she started letting people into her life on an intimate level. Her Tweets had already grown more personal, she was writing the soon-to-be-published memoir “Brave,” and — perhaps her boldest decision — she had partnered with Bunim-Murray Productions to start following her around as she pursued her activist causes and dealt with years of pain following her alleged sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein.
The result of her having the courage to put her life on display in this way was the docuseries “Citizen Rose,” which initially debuted as a two-hour special in January 2018, and is now joined by three follow-up episodes that begin airing Thursday on E!.
“I think that it was definitely a very eye-opening experience,” showrunner Andrea Metz told IndieWire. “The world had not felt safe for her for so many years. I think that Rose has said that she will always be a victim and a survivor, and they’re kind of intertwined. Her healing and her being a survivor happened at the same time. And you see her start to come out of the darkness and into the light.
“I think that for so long, she was silent, and kind of felt very alone in this journey,” Metz said. “Everything that was happening, in the culmination of everything happening at once, was very triggering for her. And I think that trauma, which is something she didn’t really think about that much; it’s kind of an imprint of the pain and the fear living inside of us.”
The new episodes cover the time between “Citizen Rose’s” initial premiere through the following months, which means that even as she was promoting the release of the documentary as well as her new album and “Brave,” cameras were rolling on her, capturing her reaction as events unfolded.
“She watches her book breathe and the documentary airs in the beginning of the series… So all of that launching at once, plus, obviously Rose being catapulted into the center of this movement that’s a social change,” Metz said. “Rose has said herself that she feels like she’s lived more in the last couple of months than she’s had in quite a few years.”
Bunim-Murray has been producing a wide variety of non-scripted programming for decades, from “The Real World” to Emmy-winning documentaries like “Autism: The Musical.” For “Citizen Rose,” Metz described the process as “pure documentary, it was very raw and real. I definitely felt like I and my [director of photography] were on this journey with her.”
Bunim-Murray co-founder Jon Murray noted that Bunim-Murray’s recent work had given the company new insight into approaching less structured scripted work. “Whenever we have an opportunity to flex our muscles and try and really dig in and discover new ways of doing things, we love that,” he said. “Because we had to do that a little bit with our series, ‘Born this Way’ for A&E. When you’re telling that story about young adults with Down Syndrome, when I saw the first cut of that, there were just too many of the reality cliches, in terms of some of the editing techniques, and we had to strip it out and sort of re-approach how we were gonna tell this story to make it as authentic as it was, as what they caught in the field.”
Added Metz, “It was unlike anything that I’ve done before, just because Rose allowed us to be with her through every step of this and she showed her vulnerabilities and her flaws and wanted us to keep rolling always. So, I think even how we shot it, with a smaller camera, and a lot of times, myself and my DP and Rose and her aunt, Rory, the whole process, it was very intimate. And I think we got very close over the time that we filmed. There was trust that had to be built, and it took a minute to do that. But it was a really unique, life-changing experience.”
Said Murray, “I think our editors loved the challenge of this show and I think all of us are just so happy with the way it looks and the way the story is told. I’m sure you’ll see some of these techniques popping up in either some of our future documentaries or series.”
Murray praised E!’s flexibility when it came to how to structure what they produced. “We decided the best way to tell the story was to start with the two-hour special and then to keep filming and sort of get the next phase of her life and tell that,” he said. “And tell that in three one-hour episodes. So that’s where we ended up and so we think with that the final episode of those three, it really does finish the story.”
As for the future of “Citizen Rose” as a show, while it is technically a limited series, Murray said that if the opportunity to revisit McGowan’s story came in a year or so, he’d “love to. I’d love to if it makes sense. I think that nice thing about this, it’s not like a reality show where, oh, ‘we have to come up with something each week, what can Rose do now?’ That was never what this show was about. It was about telling a very real story and really when we set out on this journey, we didn’t know where the story was going to take us. So, yeah, so I think now well, these three episodes will play out and then we’ll see whether there’s a reason to come back to tell more.”
In the meantime, Metz remains truly affected by the experience of following McGowan for months, not just because of McGowan’s personal journey, but how living that journey publicly affected the people around her. “So many women and men came up to her, everywhere we went, globally,” she said.
In the season finale, this includes McGowan attending a Women’s March on International Women’s Day on March 8 in Rome with director/actor Asia Argento (who was a major part of the first installment of “Citizen Rose” and the ongoing #MeToo movement). “Seeing the thousands and thousands of women in Rome, marching together and having that moment when Rose kind of looked back and saw everyone marching and said to me, ‘Wow, you know, here we are after all of this.’ It just seemed the global impact that it’s had was so powerful.”
Added Murray, “It was just so gratifying that people seemed really open up to the show. I’ve talked to a lot of people — each person who’s seen it, they could relate to some aspect of Rose’s journey. It was great at getting people to open up about their own experiences.”