Actress Rose McGowan (“Charmed,” “Planet Terror”) greeted reporters at a recent press event for Lionsgate’s new “Conan the Barbarian” in Beverly Hills last week. As Marique, the deadly witch who opposes the legendary barbarian in the film, McGowan explained what it was that ultimately attracted her to the role. “It was written for a man — when they sent me the script, it was Fariq with an ‘F’ and not Marique with an ‘M.’ I knew before even opening it that I was excited to do it because anything really that’s written for a man is going to have more of a power position.”
The petite actress spent more than six hours a day in the make-up chair in order to achieve Marique’s look, which can really only be described as a Steampunk take on a medieval dominatrix. “There’s not many ways left that you can be punk rock. That could maybe be the most punk rock hairdo,” she said about her character’s severe Shaolin monk-like hairstyle.
A former ballet dancer, McGowan spoke with relish about Marique’s snake-like method of attack. “I wanted to basically kind of transfix my prey as a snake does, and then just like strike,” she said, illustrating her point with sharp, graceful hand movements.
“Conan the Barbarian” is not the first Sword and Sorcery flick to which McGowan’s name has been attached. When the subject was broached about why she was no longer on board to star as the lead in the upcoming re-make of “Red Sonja,” McGowan simply raised her arm and pointed to a gnarly scar. “Look at my elbow. I had three surgeries on it and part of it taken out.” The injury, she explained, originally stemmed from a stunt gone wrong on “Planet Terror.” “I did a handspring backwards. I did three and then the fifth — I said I had three good ones in me — and on the fifth one, my arm planted and snapped.”
Over the course of a year, the actor’s right arm became paralyzed, except for the use of two fingers. “After three surgeries for massive nerve damage and the bone being taken out and a year of rehab, you know, they were like, ‘You could go do a sword movie, but we’ll never — we can’t do anything more for your arm if you hurt it,'” she said.
“Conan the Barbarian” is McGowan’s first movie in nearly two and a half years, an absence she openly discussed. “I’d done a couple of movies where it was just, ‘What am I doing?’ I never wanted to be an actress in the first place and I was having bad experiences on set with, kind of, not the nicest directors.”
Calling those experiences before her self-imposed hiatus “masochistic,” McGowan laughed at the irony of what would ultimately bring her back to acting. “Of all things to kind of help you fall in love with the film world again, it was Marcus Nispel and ‘Conan the Barbarian.'”
Shot on location in Bulgaria, McGowan explained that shooting ‘Conan’ was ultimately beneficial for her. “Other than kind of some physical discomfort with the wardrobe, it was just like playtime. It reminded me in a lot of ways, you know, kind of what it’s all about, which is just not being yourself and getting to be out of that. Also, it was a really nice set and everybody was really friendly and fun,” she said. “I love Jason and Marcus, and Steven Lang is fantastic!”
In “Conan,” McGowan’s Marique has a twisted obsession with her father, Khalar Zym, played by Steven Lang, (“Avatar,” “Terra Nova”) A character trait which allowed her to explore a more deviant take on traditional family relationships. “It’s not what I would expect to see out of a father/daughter relationship in, you know, a summer movie, and I was happy to oblige.”
The actress, who had some familiarity with the Conan comics while growing up, was particularly impressed with the casting of Jason Momoa as the famous barbarian from Cimmeria. “I was with someone who collected a lot of Frank Frazetta paintings and his renderings of Conan and things like that, so it was amazing to first meet Jason, who looks like he just walked straight out of a Frazetta poster.” McGowan believes the writer who created the character would agree, as well. “I have to think Robert E. Howard would be immensely pleased that there is finally a Conan that really, in the best possible way, looks like a barbarian. A beautiful barbarian, but, you know — somebody that can definitely be savage and looks like what [Howard] had conceived.”
Because she is returning to theaters with such a big summer action film, McGowan was asked if she ever missed the scrappy spirit of independent film production and working with filmmakers like Gregg Araki. (“The Doom Generation”) The actress nodded and announced that she had recently finished shooting a movie with director, Victor Salva. (“Powder,” “Jeepers Creepers”) “That was hardscrabble. It was really — and I liked that — I love the guerilla filmmaking style,” she said. “I have two torn ligaments in my ankle from the Victor Salva movie, I have like a rotator cuff tear from a movie I did in Romania — I’m a hot mess!”
Showing reporters another scar sustained when she accidentally put her arm through a plate glass window, McGowan patted her leg protectively and smiled, “My right leg is the only uninjured part.”
“Conan The Barbarian” opens in theaters August 19