You would think that Rose McGowan would have the most difficulty with the costume and makeup for her role in Conan the Barbarian. With her hairline pulled back almost halfway across her head, it was a difficult time in the makeup trailer each morning. But what got McGowan the most were the five-inch steel nails she had to wear on her hands — nails that she repeatedly cut herself. “They are really heavy, heavy, engraved metal with serious spikes. I drew blood more than once of my neck,” McGowan said. McGowan sat down with Movie Fanatic to dish the Jason Momoa starring reboot of the 1980s classic.
Movie Fanatic: Is it more fun to play the villain as so many actors have said?
Rose McGowan: I don’t think I’ve ever played a character where I was so unrestrained or unconstrained I should say. Definitely restrained, I couldn’t move [laughs]. When you’re allowed to just paint some crazy landscape and be over the top, normally you have to really pull it back. Hence when they would say cut, Steven (Lang, her fellow baddie in the film) and I would start laughing at our utter ridiculousness. But I think we had a lot of fun with it.
Movie Fanatic: Your character has a crazy in a good way look. Did you enjoy getting dressed up for the role?
Rose McGowan: They were feats of engineering. The wardrobe was actually the hardest thing. You would think it would be the prosthetics or the hair, but it was actually the wardrobe. Even though they had all of these different cutouts they were one piece of leather, going into the shoes. It would take two to three people to dress me and then on set they had a little toolbox literally of pliers, screwdrivers, everything to keep me in it. It was not a normal, “Here’s your evening gown.”
Movie Fanatic: You’re quite fashion savvy. Did you have any input into the look?
Rose McGowan: [Pointing to her neck] Well here up, none. Here down, that’s where primarily we worked together. Scott Wheeler (costume designer) is a genius who created it. He just did a fantastic job. A lot of times you go to see a movie and you can kind of see the wig line. This is not digital, it’s going directly on my face. There’s no digitization of it and he did a flawless job.
Movie Fanatic: How many hours were you stuck in a makeup chair each morning?
Rose McGowan: Six hours, starting at two in the morning — then a full day of work with everyone else, then an hour of removal. I slept a lot [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: Before this project, did you know much about the world of Conan the Barbarian?
Rose McGowan: I was with somebody a while ago that collected Frazetta paintings. I knew a bit. Jason (Momoa) did a lot of renderings of Conan. Jason looks straight out of a Frazetta painting. It’s kind of shocking. I wish Frank Frazetta hadn’t died just before, if he could see Jason I think he would have liked it.
Movie Fanatic: Your character has the most enjoyable playful side to her…
Rose McGowan: I kind of love her and I kind of feel sorry for her. I think she’s a bit heartbreaking, really. She obviously has a bit of an Electra complex with her father. You have to add a little pathos to the situation. I do think she was funny, I would actually laugh when they would say cut, I would start laughing, because she made me laugh. It was so over the top evil, like “Ha Ha Ha!” When do you get to do that [laughs]? I looked bananas. I think she’s kind of majestic and amazing looking. Bulgarians actually thought I looked like that. Before I’d get in wardrobe, after the prosthetics and the hair, I would go get coffee in the morning. Walking across the sets, I’m just wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts. They must have thought, “Oh my God, this poor girl, what is her issue?” They had never seen anything like that. I never explained it. I thought it was hilarious. So if anybody says, “Hey Bulgaria, what do you think of Rose McGowan?” They’d say, “She has a very high forehead.”
Movie Fanatic: Did you enjoy your time filming in Bulgaria?
Rose McGowan: Well what was great about Bulgaria — besides being an hour and a half away from Rome on a plane [laughs] — is that you’re in another strange world. A lot of movies now take place entirely on green screen. These are sets that looked as crazy as they do in the movie, they were there. It’s kind of a bizarre place, so it’s not like you’re going home and having dinner with your friends after they say wrap. You’re still in this weird alternate reality of Conan the Barbarian — which for three and a half months is pretty fantastic place to be.
Movie Fanatic: What kind of training did you have to do for Conan the Barbarian? Or, since you do a lot of action movies, you were ready to go immediately?
Rose McGowan: Because I do so many action-oriented films (like Grindhouse), I started working with stunt people doing fight training. Then, I found it to be just great exercise. Also I like to be fit. So, I’ve continued on with fight training. Right before I got to do Conan, I was fighting off four guys — it’s great fun and strange — but a great workout. This one also had a very different fighting style, which I love because there’s a lot of swordplay, amazing swordplay. Seeing it in person, seeing Stephen Lang and Jason go toe to toe, Stephen Lang is fifty-seven. You see a fight sequence and it might last for 15 minutes on film. You see these guys just going at it. Jason’s thirty years younger, so it’s very impressive. But I liked that it had a completely different thing going on.
Movie Fanatic: Did you have to practice moving around with those five-inch steel fingernails you wield in the film?
Rose McGowan: No. I should have! I mean, Marcus (director Nispel) did say, “What kind of movements are you doing to do?” and I said, “Well, I used to be a ballet dancer, I’ll just do my hand movements that I did there.” And it worked perfectly.
Movie Fanatic: Ever scratch yourself or anyone else?
Rose McGowan: Oh yeah. I hit myself, not anybody else. I hit my eye, got stuck in my costume, hit my hair, and got stuck in my hair. They’re very heavy. They’re not like plastic or anything like that. You forget and you just go, “Oh no! [laughs]”