When Rose McGowan has trouble sleeping, she doesn’t turn to the sounds of a Brazilian rainstorm or fornicating dolphins for help. Instead, she flips on an episode of True Crime with Aphrodite Jones. “It’s basically all murder and mayhem, but with soothing voiceovers,” she deadpans from her suite at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, where she’s staying while her house undergoes renovations.
That the 37-year-old actor finds solace in savagery isn’t too surprising when one considers her career. McGowan, who has starred in such seminally twisted films as The Doom Generation, Scream, and Jawbreaker, will next appear as a wicked enchantress in the big-budget remake of Conan the Barbarian, out August 19. “I’m so impressed by how insane and magnificent I look in the film,” she says. “I was in prosthetics for five hours each day, from 2 until 7 in the morning. The whole experience was otherworldly and beautiful, and I really loved what was being created. It was nice to feel that way.”
McGowan hasn’t been involved in a high-profile project since the 2007 release of Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s giddily trashy double-feature. When asked about her absence, she says, “I took two years off because my father died. I pulled out of three films to deal with it. We had $85 million to shoot Barbarella in Germany, but Robert [Rodriguez, to whom McGowan was engaged until they split in 2009] didn’t want to shoot there.”
Her personal tumult over the past few years seems to have colored her taste in music (with, perhaps, the exception of the final entry on this list), but McGowan politely dismisses the idea. “It’s basically just the ADD playlist in my brain,” she says. “I can go from listening to Eminem to AC/DC to Patsy Cline in a half hour.” Or, you know, a song about bloodsucking vampires in the Big Easy.
Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” How sexy is this song? It’s so playful and dark, and it’s very New Orleans. I’ve often thought I’d make a pretty great vampire, and I always feel at home in New Orleans—with the spirit and the people. When you’re walking around Oak Alley Plantation at night surrounded by the heavy scent of magnolia trees, playing this song on repeat, it’s pretty heady stuff.
Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” This one reminds me so much of waiting by the mailbox. My parents are divorced, and when I was a kid I used to wait for letters from my mom when I was at my father’s house. He had a winding driveway and I remember taking long walks down to the end of it, and sitting out there by the mailbox all day. There’s such longing in this song for a time when you’re young and things are simple. Forget waiting by the mailbox—who even writes letters anymore? It makes me so sad, because it’s such a classy, genteel thing to have a nice set of personalized stationery. Not long ago, some douche at a restaurant sent over to my table a bottle of wine, so I sent him back a bowl of soup. You have to be creative in your thanks sometimes.
La Roux’s “In for the Kill (Skream Remix)” This song is so dusty. Listen to it while lying on your couch after you’ve been up all night having fun with your friends. I’m not involved in nightlife—never really was—but that’s often been a great misconception about me. I’d rather spend time at my friends’ houses playing backgammon. I love backgammon.
Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” This one can make me cry. We’re no longer in an era when people dedicate things to each other on anything but AM radio, but somebody I used to love—I won’t tell you who—would play this song and say that it was all about me. The woman Billy Joel is singing about clearly has the upper hand.
Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” Haven’t we all had that relationship? The one I apply it to wasn’t so much about my being scorned; it was more like he scorned a situation that could have been so amazing and beautiful, but this is what he did and this is who he left. It was a case of this person being unable to be anything but himself, which was unacceptable. I didn’t want to include too many crybaby songs, but that’s exactly what I’ve done, huh? I’ll sit in my car playing this one over and over again, crying, and then I’ll think, My garage smells funny and I’m feeling awfully lightheaded! Oh, yeah, I’ve been sitting in here with the engine on, crying to this song for 30 minutes.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” Featuring Kylie Minogue When I was little, I used to choreograph ballets in my head that I set to pretty much any song I’d been listening to. I still do that, but now it’s with ideas about how it would look on film. I can no longer separate film visions from my audio pleasure. When I go on a trip and see something—a view or a landmark—I think, It looks just like it does in the movies. I just got back from Auschwitz. I truly think, had I heard a German accent anywhere in my vicinity, I would have lunged at them and killed them. There was a point, when I came across the room filled with all the babies’ shoes, where it took everything in me not to fall to the floor and start screaming like a madman. By the time I hit the gas chambers, I never wanted to stop screaming.
Belinda Carlisle’s “Avec Le Temps” This song feels like when you’re by yourself and you sink to the floor heaving with sobs, but you feel strangely cleansed afterward. Music is often a really personal experience for me. I don’t really go to shows, but I did see Dolly Parton at the Greek Theatre a few years ago. Dolly’s music resonates with me because it’s all about being underestimated and misinterpreted, which is common in my life. Lots of people vomit up so much information about themselves, and I find that to be so repellent. Since I don’t really talk about myself, people make up stories about me. I am strong—this is true—but I hate when people say, “She’s definitely not the girl next door.” I’ve lived next door to somebody my entire life.
Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” This song is so beautiful. I always say that I believe I’m a gay man in a woman’s body, which my boyfriend [financier Rob Adams] doesn’t like. I’ve known this to be true for a long time, but I only realized I was even gayer than all of my gay friends when I made one of them go to a Zac Efron movie. He was like, “Seriously? You’re dragging me to see a Zac Efron movie and you’re playing the Flashdance soundtrack?”
Kay Starr’s “Wheel of Fortune” This one reminds me that life is like one big pair of crossed fingers. That’s sad to think, isn’t it? I hide sadness well. Put on some bright lipstick and nobody will ever know. That’s how I live my life, darling. I’m not even sure what I’m wistful for—I’ve just always felt a bit out of time. It’s a fish-out-of-water feeling, like I’ve gotten lost in some stitch in time and deposited in the wrong place. My mannerisms, my everything, just feel… wrong.
Lady Gaga’s “Telephone (Crookers Vocal Remix),” Featuring Beyoncé I wanted to end this list with something highbrow. I do fight training five to six days a week, for about two hours each day. I tend to do a lot of martial arts in movies—for whatever reason I’m either trying to save the world or kill the world, so I figure I’d might as well be good at it.