Sitting on an upholstered sofa in the Mirror Room of the Rosewood London, Rose McGowan seems the unlikeliest of revolutionaries. The former actress is diminutive and dainty, with porcelain skin and huge Bambi eyes. But her tumbling chestnut hair has been shaved off, replaced by a peroxide crop. And instead of the strapless evening gowns of the past, she’s wearing a black leather jerkin and leggings. They could be armour. And no-one needs armour more than she does.
For this is the woman whose revelation of her sexual abuse at the hands of one of LA’s biggest moguls (she won’t name him, referring to him as ‘the Monster’, but we know who she means), and fearless interviews, tweets and Instagram posts about the rampant casual sexism of Hollywood sparked the Time’s Up movement. Her comments have done so much – we hope – to change attitudes to women, diversity and equality in this past turbulent year, not only in the film industry but in every world in which powerful, rich, old men exploit younger, poorer men and women.
Her success has come at a price. McGowan has been pursued by former Mossad agents, vilified by the tabloid press, claims to have been blacklisted by every major film studio and has endured unimaginable trolling across the internet. But fragile as she looks, she’s still writing books and music. She’s still fighting... and winning.
Now aged 45, McGowan has written an explosive memoir, Brave, that is much more than the tale of her ugly encounter with ‘the Monster’. The autobiography also documents her early childhood in Tuscany, in a 1970s cult, the Children of God, and then life as a runaway teenager criss-crossing America and shuttling between a bipolar father and an absent mother. It covers the anorexia and bulimia that haunted her early twenties, as well as her abusive relationships with men and with the film industry that first embraced her as a beautiful murder victim in Scream and later as an avenging go-go dancer in Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror.
But the book doesn’t wallow in misery. Far from it. It’s a stirring and engaging story of survival. It is also a call to arms, a manifesto for the women of Hollywood and of the world. "My goal," she writes, "is to expose Hollywood for what it is. I hope it will have a domino effect. More women will rise up, take their power, and say 'no more'. And men will stand as allies." On Twitter, there is a very active following for #rosearmy – a rallying cry for McGowan’s supporters.
The military undertones are no accident. Throughout her chaotic childhood, McGowan says she had maps of Napoleon’s great victories stuck to her bedroom walls, and like any arm chair general, she’d move the troops’ pins around, studying the French leader’s most dazzling manoeuvres. Her other heroes were Joan of Arc and the pioneering World War I nurse Edith Cavell.
As a result of careful planning on McGowan’s part, and the wooing of influential writers and commentators, the impact of her revelations about systematic abuse of women in Hollywood was devastating. "I knew it was going to be a massive global thing," she tells me. "A lot of other people were saying, 'Are you surprised it’s got so big?' but I wasn’t surprised at all. I met my girlfriend the night before the New York Times story came out and I said, “You don’t know this, but tomorrow the world’s going to change.” I was gearing up for battle. I felt like I had fireballs in my hands and I was circling them round in the air above my head."
You have to be brave to go looking for such a fight, which is exactly what she is, of course. But where did this courage come from? And how can ordinary people develop her indomitable spirit? "You wake up in the morning and imagine what your best self would do," she says. "And you imitate that until it comes true. You have to ask yourself, 'What would the better version of me do? What would I do if I wasn’t scared?' And then you do that. Every time you do it you gain strength, and before you know it you’re free."
No wonder that she intimidates run-of-the-mill movie stars. "I ran into a very famous actor from Hollywood not long ago," she confirms, smiling wryly. "We’d always been friendly
socially before, but he looked so freaked out to be standing next to me. I said 'Do I scare you?' and he said 'Yes'. I started laughing. They play these macho heroes on screen, and in real life they’re just scared little boys."
At the moment, though, McGowan’s not in fight mode. She has temporarily stepped down from righting the wrongs of the patriarchy and has moved to London. "It’s a gentler version of life," she says of the UK. "LA is a hard city, and America has never quite understood me. I’m taking a break from the battlefield for the moment to recharge. But there are places I want to go, things I want to do." It won’t be long before this army of one is on the march again.