Interview: Conan The Barbarian's Rose McGowan

A few years back Rose McGowan signed on to star in a remake as Red Sonja for director Robert Rodriguez. The film made it surprisingly far into pre-production, going as far as to create two posters and even host a panel at Comic Con. The project, of course, ended up not making it into the production stage, but that didn’t stop McGowan from being part of the Robert E. Howard universe – this Friday she arrives in theaters as Marique, daughter of Khalar Zym, in Conan The Barbarian

A couple weeks ago I was invited to participate in a roundtable with the actress in which she talked about her work on the Marcus Nispel film. Check out the interview below in which McGowan talks about scratching herself with her own claws, sitting in the makeup chair for hours on end, and leaving the set in Bulgaria to go visit the troops in Afghanistan.

So you had some cool outfits in the movie. Was it fun getting dressed into that character?

Absolutely. The wardrobe was actually the hardest thing. You would think it would be the prosthetics or the hair, but it was actually the wardrobe. They were feats of engineering. Even though they had all of these different cutouts, they were one piece of leather, including 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.”

How much time did you have to spend in the makeup chair?

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.

How much input did you have to this look of your character?

Well here up, none. Here down, that’s where primarily we worked together. Scott Wheeler is a genius who kind of created it. He just did a fantastic job at, a lot of times you go to see a movie and you can kind of see the wig line, this is not digital, its going directly on my face, there’s no digitization of it, and he did a flawless job. Especially now when our eyes see everything.

And you play a character named Marique, I’m not sure how it is doing that or Wolverine, but do you actually practice with your little Freddy Kruger fingers?

No. I mean, Marcus 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.

Do you ever accidentally...

Oh yeah. I hit myself, not anybody else. I hit my eye, got stuck, hit my hair, get stuck in my hair. They’re very heavy. They’re not like plastic or anything like that. They are really heavy, heavy, engraved metal with serious spikes. I drew blood more than once of my neck. You forget and you just go, oh.

Rachel was talking about how fun it was to work in Bulgaria, what was your experience?

Well what was great about Bulgaria, besides being an hour and a half away from Rome on a plane, is that you’re in another strange world. A lot of movies now take place entirely on green screen. There was definitely some digitalized aspects to the film, but these are sets that looked as crazy as they do in the movie, they were there. And Bulgaria really liked that. 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.

Did you guys hang out a lot, the cast members?

Well I was getting sleep, so no. I was working.

Can you talk about the playful side to your character, how quickly did you find that?

I kind of love her, 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. Which I was happy to add a twist to a summer movie, my own kind of twist. 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,” because when do you get to do that? You don’t really. Unless you’re playing, let’s say you’re playing evil and you still kind of look like you, it’s all verbal this and that, this is everything, I mean I looked bananas. I think she’s kind of majestic and amazing looking, but Bulgarians actually thought I looked like that because before I’d get in wardrobe, after the prosthetics and the hair, I would go get coffee in the morning, walking across the sets, and 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 funny. I thought it was hilarious. So if anybody says, “Hey Bulgaria, what do you think of Rose McGowan?” “She has a very high forehead.”

So does she actually lust after her father, or does she lust after power and pursue her father as a means of getting that?

No, I think she’s incredibly jealous and has been her whole life. I think she’s sick of hearing about her dead mother who he’s desperately in love with. I think she would like to just take the place of her. I think it’s not a power thing. One of the things I really liked about the film is that Khalar Zym, Steven Lang’s character needs Conan and this other stuff so he can resurrect his dead wife. Usually when it’s a movie where it’s like good versus evil, the bad guy wants all the power just because he wants all of the power, there are no real particulars. He just wants all the power. I liked the added level of strangeness to it, that it’s not just about that, he’s got this obsession. Whereas Marique is just, “Enough already, really?”

Can you talk about building the dynamic with Steven Lang?

It was great fun. Acting with him, okay, if I knew how to play tennis, what I imagine it would be like to play tennis, just hitting a great volley, about having a great volley. Steven and I just, we didn’t really have to talk much about it, we just kind of clicked, we both just kind of got it. He would make me laugh, and I would make him laugh, in character, not on screen. We would cut and we’d both start laughing, it was pretty funny. It was great times, I’m really sad he’s not here today.

We hear Marcus is a little eccentric and would yell out these crazy directions.

He left me alone.

He left you alone?

Not in a bad, not like, “I don’t know you,” “I do not know you, you do not exist,” no, it was more, I think he would kind of do crazy direction, well, it was funny every time he had to say something with a “W” because I was like “V? No.” He’s like, if he was going to say Wolverine, it would be like, “Volverine,” something like that, his Ws for Vs. I adored him. Pretty much we talked about the character and then he would seem to really like what I was doing so he largely just let me do whatever the hell I wanted, which is always fun.

You always hear actors say that it’s always more fun to play the villain, would you agree?

Yes. I mean, I was a good witch, and that was fun. Because I got to do, in the movies you have to do about three different movies if you want to do comedy, action, and drama. There’s usually about three different movies to achieve that. This TV show, I would do all of those things in one episode. 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. No, where you’re allowed to just paint some crazy landscape and be over the top, normally you have to really pull it back. Hence the, when they would say cut, Steven and I would start laughing at our utter ridiculousness. But I think we had a lot of fun with it.

I know of course you don’t have any scenes together, but did you get to interact with the younger you?

I never met her. I did meet the little girl, I don’t know if she’s ultimately in the movie, she might be at some point in a cut of it, she was about four, and she really looked like me. It was kind of freakish, like, a little dimple that looked so much like me when I was little. Big brown eyes, little nose, dimple in the chin. The other girl, she was a really good actress, she had a really great intensity about her. So no, actually during that period, I attended, I didn’t tell the producers, they thought I went home to LA, but I went to Afghanistan, because they wouldn’t have let me.

Was that when you met with troops?

Mmhmm. But it was funny because I had to, Bulgaria is six hours away from Afghanistan, but I had to fly to DC to turn about to fly the nineteen hours to Afghanistan, which was funny. But hey, I don’t care. I’m going to go back at the end of September, I loved it.

How did the crew react when you got back?

One of them was like, “What!” His fact kind of turned, I’ve never really seen somebody turn white, like how they say, “His face turned white!” His face turned white, he had cold sweat on his forehead. He’s like, “What, what, you weren’t even in the green zone!” I have, I got really scared, I got to do things there that weren’t normal USO things. Some heavily armed people that would let me go around and do other things besides the approved.

What besides the typical Bob Hope show did you...

I was not doing the Bob Hope show. I was out shooting things, not people. Next time I go I’m going to get them to take me to Helmand Province, goddamnit!

You said that your outfits were really tight, so what was it like when you were doing the action sequences?

That was okay. There was one, by then, when I had the big fight with Rachel, that one was more molded. I could move in it. The leather ones were really hard. Everybody had, well not her, but most people had really intense costumes. Even the horses. It took four people to get each horse dressed in the morning with their leather armor that was sculpted to their bodies. It was amazing. My brother used to collect Conan comic books growing up, I wish I could have taken him there. He would have loved it.

What was your background with the character? Do you know a lot about the universe?

I knew a bit, yeah, mostly just from my brother. I was with somebody a while ago that collected Frazetta paintings. Jason, he 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.

Did you have to anything physically before to prepare for the role?

You mean like, work out?

That, or just train?

Well I do, for whatever reason, because I do so many action-oriented films, 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. Its great fun. And strange. But a great workout. So no, this one kind of also had a very different fighting style. Which I love because there’s a lot of swordplay, amazing swordplay, and seeing it in person, seeing Stephen Lang and Jason go toe to toe, Stephen Lang is fifty-seven. You know, you see a fight sequence and it might last for fifteen minutes on film. That was like, a produced shoot. 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. So I think if one more person had a sword, “Okay, yay, another sword.” I think she has her own way of doing things.

Did you get to do much riding?

Well I did, it was funny, I had to do this long shot where, I had this amazing cape, it went over my head and then went all the way down and over the end of the horse, and all the way down almost to the ground on the sides of the horse. Marcus wanted me to do the shot where I’m riding in around the bend and at a certain point, where I can’t see the camera because I have my hood over my head, I have to pull it back. Now, I’ve got these claws, and it’s not a western-style saddle, there’s no pommels to hold onto. So I’m holding onto the reigns, blind basically, and I have to go around and figure out how to, with claws, gracefully pull it back to do a reveal. I’m like, “Really Marcus?” He’s like, “No you just, pull back, pull back.” And then half the time my claws would get stuck in the thing. So I was riding blind. But I like, I do ride anyway, but western, which is a lot easier. When you have something to hang onto.

What’s coming next for you?

I literally just finished, about four days ago, well I did a movie after this with Victor Salva, called Rosewood Lane, where I’m fighting to have my name below title because Rose McGowan and Rosewood Lane, I think sounds absurd. I think that just sounds silly. But maybe I’ll change my name for it, maybe I’ll be my sister, my sister’s name is Daisy. And then I just wrapped about three days ago, a movie with the producer Jerry Abrams, who’s J.J.Abrams’ dad. It was a television movie, but I did it because the role was so a hundred and eighty degrees from Marique, and I was so shocked and pleased that somebody thought to offer me a the church mouse. It was a true story, this woman Mary Winkler, she was a huge story in America, she was on the cover of People Magazine. She was from this tiny, tiny town in Tennessee and she was married to a Pastor. It was so so different to play somebody who’s literally, a lot of the court stuff we did was exactly from the transcripts. They talked about her being just an invisible woman, so to go from a Marique, who’s there, to someone who’s sort of scared of her own shadow and just kind of a shell of a person, was pretty awesome. That’s the fun part of what I did.

Do you love it when people offer you against type roles?

Like a lot of things, when the script came, it was written for a man. I was thrilled before I even opened it, because I knew that meant it would be a strong character. They are not going to make a man who’s kind of like, “Oh, help me, Conan!”

The producer described it as a weak man.

Yeah, I think I might have subverted that. I might have subverted their intention. Weak? No.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.