The artist and activist discusses setting herself free after a tough childhood and a traumatic time in Hollywood, and throwing herself into the energy of Edinburgh
When Rose McGowan was ten years old, her escapist response to her surroundings was not to invent an imaginary friend but to write about an imaginary planet, which she called Planet 9. 'It's a place I conceived of for myself to go to as an alternative to being on this planet,' she says. 'I decided we could just go to a new planet in our own minds, someplace else that might be a little better for our souls.'
McGowan has been thinking about Planet 9 a lot lately. Writing her candid 2018 memoir Brave stirred up a lot of painful memories from her past, and her childhood safe place has now informed an album and a multimedia stage show which she will debut at the Fringe. 'Go small!' she jokes, but adds in all seriousness, 'I needed an antidote to a lot of hard stuff I was going through. I don't think I could have stayed sane without this music.'
The Hollywood actress-turned-activist grew up in the Children of God, a polygamous cult which recruited new members by a technique called Flirty Fishing. McGowan has said she had learned to read by the age of three yet didn't know how to tie her shoelaces. She escaped with her father when the church began to advocate adult-child sexual relationships. 'These were places that I parked for years,' she says. 'Writing about my childhood reminded me about Planet 9, how I would lay in bed and imagine that I was in a new and better place. That's the vibe I want people to get from the show: a release from worries for at least an hour.'
Rose McGowan in Grindhouse
The show is a concept piece, combining music, memoir, movement, politics, performance and projections. 'It's my first time being me,' says McGowan, who first came to prominence in her early 20s as a cool, cult actress in horror and b-movies, working with the likes of Wes Craven in Scream, and both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for Grindhouse. She also gained a wide TV audience as Paige Matthews in fantasy drama Charmed.
However, her profile rocketed 18 months ago when she became one of the first women to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, and since then has used her global platform to call out misogyny in Hollywood and beyond. 'How I feel now about Hollywood is complex,' she says. 'It established an idea of me but it was a very toxic world and I didn't know how to break free. It was like having these invisible handcuffs and tape across my mouth. So with my book and album I wrote my way out of Hollywood; that was how I had to do it. It's not all bad of course. It just wasn't the right trip for me personally. I was there for a long time because I was discovered very young and once you get famous what other job are you going to do?'
For at least the second time in her life, McGowan has escaped the system and is revelling in her artistic freedom. 'In Hollywood you really have to toe the line. Acting is definitely an art but somebody has to give you permission and hire you first. Singing is different; I can just go and write a song and create for myself.'
Over the years, she has recorded a number of tracks, including with her ex-partner Marilyn Manson, and for film and TV soundtracks, but Planet 9 is her first album project, which she describes as 'music that you can either listen to at 6am on a beach with your hands waving in the air, or lying flat on your back at night with your eyes shut.'
She has also recently taken part in her first video art piece (Tonia Arapovic's Indecision IV) as part of a feminist group show hosted by London's Heist Gallery at this year's Venice Biennale. But her fleeting Fringe run will mark her live performance debut. 'It's kind of a big deal,' she understates. 'I'm flying by the seat of my pants because I've never really worked outside of Hollywood. But in the past, all actors had to be triple threats: they had to act, sing and dance. Art isn't one narrow avenue and if you can do it all, why not?'
McGowan at least has some prior experience of Edinburgh as a festival city, having been one of the star attractions at last year's Book Festival. 'There's so much heart and soul and love of culture in that city that it boggles my mind; it's an amazing energy to be around.'
As someone who compared her relationship with Manson to running away to join the circus, McGowan should be right at home on the Fringe, but having lived in Italy, Oregon, California, London, and now New York, home is a transient concept. 'I would love to not be a rolling stone but I haven't figured that out yet, because I don't really feel like I belong anywhere on this planet. For me, I come in peace, and that's more than anything how I operate. I feel I am an itinerant traveller in this world and I suppose that's why I created Planet 9.'
Best-selling author, actress and activist Rose McGowan makes her debut at the Fringe. Through memoir, music, storytelling, projections and performance Rose creates a new world of possibilities: Planet 9. She invites the audience on a healing journey of discovery to this new planet. The antidote to all…