The name Rose McGowan calls many things to mind—red lips, curves, porcelain skin, Charmed, Scream, Grindhouse or that unforgettable barely-there chain-mail dress she wore to the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards with then-boyfriend Marilyn Manson. But old movie buff … who knew?
Starting this month, the 34-year-old beauty is taking on the role of co-host, with beloved white-haired film historian Robert Osborne, of Turner Classic Movies’ series The Essentials. “I’m not just a complete movie geek, I’m actually a total weirdo,” Ms. McGowan said via phone from Los Angeles (where she had just returned from her brother’s Las Vegas wedding. “At a gay chapel. He’s not gay. It was awesome.”). “I’ll read someone’s out-of-print autobiography, and then I’ll go and read two more biographies about them just so I can cross-reference them. That is what I do in my spare time,” she laughed. “I don’t really like to boast about such things, and I can’t tell you what I did yesterday, but I have a strange encyclopedic knowledge and savant-esque memory of random things. Like, I can tell you all about the fantastic character actors in Shirley Temple movies, or who and how someone is related to Norma Shearer. That’s the kind of thing I love discussing.”
The Essentials, which aims to introduce viewers to must-see classics, is now in its eighth year. The show, which airs on Saturdays at 8pm, has had a revolving door of hosts, including Rob Reiner, Peter Bogdanovich, Sydney Pollack and, most recently, Carrie Fisher. Ms. McGowan, who grew up on an Italian commune until the age of 10, said that since she didn’t have a TV to watch as a child, she was introduced to the classics instead. “We would go to the revival theater once we came to the States, and I’d go with my dad. One of my favorite memories is going to see the restoration of Lawrence of Arabia,” she said, describing the size of the screen in a dreamy, buttery voice. “Generally speaking, I would say that old movies rank up there as my favorite thing on earth.”
Unsurprisingly, she has been a steady watcher of TCM. “It’s pretty amazing—Ted Turner buying up all the old libraries … It’s sort of forced AMC to do Rambo as a classic with commercials. I sort of feel sorry for them.”
It was Ms. McGowan who got in touch with the show after a eureka moment while watching TCM at 2 a.m. “I was like, oh my God, why am I not a guest programmer? So I called my manager.” The result was a spot on Guest Programmer month. “We did Out of the Past, one of my all-time favorite noirs,” she said. “So brilliant and on par with Double Indemnity, though known less. [We also did] A Place in the Sun, and That Touch of Mink—I wanted something saucy and silly.” What Ms. McGowan didn’t realize was that the powers-that-be were using the guest spots to search for a new Essentials cohost.
“I KNOW MY name is not one you’d assume would be up there. Like, O.K., Carrie Fisher makes sense. O.K., the lady from the The New York Times makes sense. … Bogdanovich makes sense. Me? You look at that and think … what?” she said. Ms. McGowan expressed irritation with media outlets who’ve dismissed her, insinuating that she had seen only the 40 movies she discussed with Mr. Osborne. “I’ve been a little peeved,” she said. “I had actually already seen about 38 of them, though I did have to go back and watch them with a different eye. I like to watch movies over and over again, so it wasn’t like it was a hardship.”
Screening during Ms. McGowan’s reign (now through January 2009) will be such greats as Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, 1950’s All About Eve and the terrifying Charles Laughton thriller Night of the Hunter, about a religious fanatic who marries and kills widows for their money. “There’s an amazing movie. … Oh, and it’s the second movie I’ve mentioned where poor Shelley Winters drowns. Oh, Shelley, I have nothing against you! But that drowning scene in Night of the Hunter is so hauntingly beautiful,” Ms. McGowan said, pausing to anticipate the film’s critics. “It’s heavy-handed, sure, I get it. It’s just so smart. It’s very much a classic metaphor for the big person [Robert Mitchum] to proclaim for all to hear how Christian he is, and then there’s Lillian Gish, who probably only weighs about 90 pounds. … And she’s the quiet Christian, and it’s her behavior that speaks for her about her Christian belief.” Other favorites include the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (“They almost lost the original print because of nitrates. Every time I think of that my heart sort of stops”) and the Bette Davis 1942 standard, Now, Voyager. (“I just love it,” she said. “It was more innocent and a less jaded time for watching people onscreen. There’s also so much more you can get away with.”)
Her co-hosting gig with Mr. Osborne, whom she describes as “elegant, old school and lovely—exactly what you think,” is a dream, Ms. McGowan said. “I had no idea that they were even going to pay me. Seriously, a job where I get to sit and discuss these movies? Are you kidding me? I’ve been boring my friends for years!” The allure of an old-fashioned Hollywood picture is hard to put into words, though we asked her to try. “I want people to be better-looking than they are on the street. I want people to be better dressed than they are on the street,” she said. “I want the houses to be better. I think the rise of modern movies and the story of an everywoman and everyman … it’s like, who cares? I see that walking around.” She laughed. “Give me a show.”