Appearing as a cross between Betty Boop’s evil sister and a very curvaceous Hell’s Angel, actress Rose McGowan made an undeniably distinct impression on Hollywood in the late ’90s. With her sharp tongue and brash sensuality, McGowan has been a source of both titillation and discomfort to an industry that still hasn’t quite figured out what to do with women who are both unapologetically smart and sexual.
The child of hippies, McGowan was born September 5, 1975, in Florence, Italy, to a French mother and Irish father. The second oldest of six children, McGowan was raised on an Italian commune run by the Children of God cult. The controversial cult was known for panhandling as well as for taking extremely liberal approaches to parenting. Her family relocated to Oregon when McGowan was ten, and she left the commune at 15, legally emancipating herself from her parents. She supported herself with a variety of odd jobs and even lived on the streets for awhile before traveling to Los Angeles to attend an arts school. It was there that she was discovered by director Gregg Araki, who encountered her loitering outside a gym, refusing to go in because it was “too corny.” Araki was busy casting his Sundance entry, The Doom Generation, and gave her the role of Amy Blue, the film’s beautiful, spoiled, and morally ambiguous protagonist. Prior to her role, McGowan had only appeared as a minor character in 1992’s Encino Man, making her casting in Araki’s film all the more fortuitous. The Doom Generation was released in 1995, to mixed reviews and a fair amount of controversy, but helped to establish McGowan as, if not Hollywood’s Next Big Thing, then Internet fodder for slavering males everywhere.
The film also gave her a greater chance at steady work and she followed The Doom Generation with the low-budget thriller Kiss and Tell (1996). Subsequently, she landed a role in another thriller possessing a decidedly bigger budget, Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). The film was a surprise hit and McGowan’s turn as a frisky student who has an unfortunate encounter with a garage door further widened her fan base. After starring in the 1997 TV movie Devil in the Flesh, McGowan appeared in two back-to-back movies with fellow rising star Ben Affleck. First came her turn as the girl who tries to seduce a very excited Jeremy Davies in 1997’s Going All the Way, followed by her role in the ski slope thriller Phantoms (1998). 1999 saw her take the lead in the independent film Jawbreaker, in which she starred with Rebecca Gayheart. As Alpha Bitch Courtney Shane, McGowan excelled in a role that was equal parts vamp, tramp, and camp. During this same period, McGowan began a relationship with gothy shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. The counter-culture pair seemed like a match made in entertainment heaven and she caused quite a stir by accompanying her beau to the 1998 MTV Movie Awards in a dress that consisted of little more than a few strands of black beads draped over her distinctly visible nude body. The two became engaged but eventually broke up over reported lifestyle differences.
In 2001, a new period began in McGowan’s career when star Shanen Doherty left the hit WB show Charmed, leaving directors looking for a witchy, raven-haired actress to replace her. McGowan joined costars Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs and found no trouble connecting with the show’s fans, staying with the series for five years–two years longer than her predecessor. As the show was wrapping up in 2006. McGowan signed up for another role that fit perfectly with her screen image. Dark, sexy, and kitschy beyond a shadow of a doubt, the over-the-top flick Grindhouse would pair the actress with directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, who would each direct a full length film for the double feature. The starlet would have a small but memorable role in Tarantino’s Death Proof, but she would have the starring role in Rodriguez’s feature Terror Planet as a leg amputee whose appendage is replaced by a big, shiny machine gun.