It All Started With a Little Bug
Actress Rose McGowan on her unplanned love affair with the Boston Terrier
There’s an old adage that goes something like: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Whether you’re a believer or not, you get the idea. Our intentions are oftentimes rendered irrelevant by fate—like the seemingly insignificant act of taking one road and not another. Or, in the case of actress Rose McGowan who, by simply choosing to run a quick errand at a Los Angeles mall, happened upon the new friend that would ultimately change the trajectory of her life’s focus.
Best known for playing the character Paige Matthews in the hit series Charmed as well as for her contributions to independant cinemas, particularly as Cherry Darling in the Planet Terror segment of the Tarantino/ Rodriguez juggernaut, Grindhouse, the name Rose McGowan has graced “sexiest people” lists more than once. And while she has been linked romantically to an internationally acclaimed musician, a Hollywood director, and a beefy men’s health magazine editor, she will be the first to admit the love of her life actually had four legs. Her name was Bug. And they met the night Rose’s plan included nothing more than a quick stop at the mall.
MD: You are currently based in LA, and back-and-forth to New York. But I understand you were born in Florence, Italy. When did your family move to the United States?
RM: We moved here when I was about nine years old. The first place we lived was Colorado, which is so amazing. MD: Your dad is an artist of Irish descent and your mom is a writer of French descent. How did being raised in a multi-cultural environment by two such presumably right-brain people shape you as a performer?
RM: Well, I had no desire to be an artist. Or anything freelance, for that matter. I remember being small and making myself that promise. I found it unsettling, the uncertainty of what the next job would be. I promised myself that would not be my life. And yet, now here I am.
MD: While you have appeared on the covers of Seventeen, Maxim, and FHM—not to mention Modern Dog—one of your earliest appearances was in Italy’s Vogue Bambini. How old were you when you hit the pages of Kid Vogue?
RM: I guess I was about five years old. I was in ads for a children’s brand with my sister Daisy, who had blond ringlets and big blue eyes. I had dark hair, which they cut off. They put me in overalls, and they had me handing her flowers. So I was the boy. Which annoyed me to no end.
MD: Were you always an animal person?
RM: Always. They were absolutely always a part of my life. When I was living with my mom in Oregon, she had cats. And I would hold kitten races. Not anything that was cruel or hurtful for them. My mom’s cat, Miss Prickles, had had kittens. So I would get the neighbourhood kids together to place bets and then we’d have these little kittens race to the finish line.
MD: That’s quite industrious, really. When did you become passionate about dogs?
RM: I was getting ready to start working on my second movie, I believe it was. It was the evening before we started shooting. And I happened to walk by this horribly depressing pet store in Beverly Centre. Thankfully, this place is not there now. I could see this dog… her eyes were going in different directions. Her little paws were going through the cage. She was sitting in urine. It was awful. And before I knew it, I had a Boston Terrier. I named her Bug. Bug was the love of my life. I know you can hear the waver in my voice right now, but…Bug died about five months ago. I was doing the new Conan the Barbarian movie and it was so stressful. I just wasn’t sure whether she was going to make it. But she held on for three more weeks after I got back. She almost made it to 14 years old.
MD: I’m so sorry. That’s heart wrenching. Was Bug an only child?
RM: No, I got her Fester as a friend. I actually got him from the same place. I sort of looked at it as high-price rescue. And even though Bug was the one with all these horrible medical issues, in the end Fester died quite unexpectedly. Turns out, he had a brain tumour. I would’ve moved mountains to save him. To save them both. It’s funny… well, actually, no it’s not funny…but I spent well over $250,000 on surgeries and procedures. I would buy my olive oil at the 99-cent store, just so I could afford the medical bills. Bug was so accident-prone too. She was allergic to bees, which she would try to go after and catch in her mouth, so I always had to carry an epi-pen.
MD: Who are your dog kids now?
RM: After Fester died, I adopted Happy, from a rescue called Boston Brigade. His name was Colt, and that is so not a Boston Terrier name in any way. I got him because I knew Bug wanted to die, and it was like she didn’t want to leave me without knowing I would be taken care of. It gave her peace, or something. The great thing is, in the city of West Hollywood, there’s a new ordinance that says pet stores can only sell rescues. And after Bug died, Happy was really depressed. I happened to go into this awesome store called Spot on La Cienega in LA, to pick up treats. And I saw this thing…it looked like an ewok, or…I don’t even know how to describe what it looked like. Turns out she had been a hoarder’s dog. She was only three pounds, and 90 percent of her fur was missing. She was so infested with fleas she had no red blood cells left, so she had needed a number of blood transfusions. The next thing I knew, I’m leaving with this mini-Pomeranian. Her name was Tina. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to be an actor with a dog that can fit in my purse, named Tina. So I renamed her Sasquatch. She’s six pounds now. She and Happy are quite the team.
MD: Your dogs each have such an amazing story. In what ways do you support the rescue movement today?
RM: This may sound weird, but I actually troll the Internet for dogs that need surgeries that might otherwise be unaffordable. And I help out in any way I can. So I donate a lot to the ASPCA. I’m also a big supporter of Boston Brigade and the Boston Terrier Rescue Network. For my birthday every year, my friends know that when they come to my party, all 20 or 30 of them have to each show me a receipt that proves they’ve made a donation to Boston Terrier rescue. It’s mandatory. Even if they only donate $5, every little bit helps.
MD: Can you tell us what it is about Boston Terriers that means so much to you?
RM: It all started with Bug. I’ve become obsessed. Overall, Boston Terrier owners are obsessed. People come up to me all the time with tears in their eyes when they see me with mine. “Oh, that reminds me of the Boston Terrier I had as a child.” They really are the American Gentleman.
MD: You’ve said you “fell into acting.” What’s the story there?
RM: I’d gone down to LA to look at colleges. I stayed with a friend who, as they say, had a friend who is this amazing producer. She told me there was a director who was looking for a very specific look for a project he was working on and was I interested in acting? She was very persistent. The funny thing is, growing up I had had a huge crush on Napoleon….
MD: Like you had pin-ups of Napoleon on your wall, torn out of Tiger Beat?
RM: Yeah, not the most normal crush but, yes, Napoleon. At the time I was visiting my friend in LA, I was trying to save enough money to go on a pilgrimage to Paris to visit the Chateau de Malmaison, where Josephine had lived. So I asked her: How much? And sure enough, taking the job would get me to Paris. Afterwards, I went back to Seattle, and was told I had to go to this thing called Sundance, and I didn’t know what that was. I had been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. It all just sort of happened. You know, unlike a lot of actors, I was born without that whole “dying to be famous” thing. Short of having a Pomeranian that fits in a purse, I don’t really fit the cliché. When people ask me how to break into acting, I can honestly tell them, I have no idea.
MD: What did you learn working with screen legend Brian De Palma in The Black Dahlia?
RM: He and I got along like white on rice. I am obsessed with classic film, and he was very animated when talking about it. He’s a very shy man, a lot of directors are. But yes, I wanted to bow down, he’s just that good. It was four days of work, and we shot in Bulgaria. Yes, a lot of those old Hollywood scenes, set in the 1930s, were shot in Bulgaria.
MD: You dated a high-profile, sometimes controversial, figure: Brian Warner, better known as musician Marilyn Manson. Can you give us a peak into what he is like as a person when the make-up is off and the camera is not on?
RM: Which was always, when he wasn’t performing. You know, you love who you love, and he was the smartest and funniest person I’ve ever met. I knew it when I overheard him once, talking in the hallway: “Fester, I’m your new step-dad.” We would stay in at night, and I would order jadeite online from Martha Stewart and he would paint watercolours. He painted a few pieces of the dogs that I still have.
MD: What do you tell people who are in the market for a new dog about why they should consider rescue vs buy?
RM: That [rescue] dog will love you for all time. I adopted Happy when he was nine years old. Sure, it will bring on heartbreak sooner. The idea that somebody could have a dog and just dump it after all of those years…. It angers me so much when people treat them like old clothes. Mutts are amazing. Every breed is amazing. And almost every breed has its own rescue group too.
MD: It sounds like you have some exciting projects coming up, with the 2011 release of Conan the Barbarian. Can you tell us a bit about that?
RM: My character’s name is Marique. It’s my third role that was originally written for a man. Thankfully, they changed it to a woman. I think it works better. Steven Lang, from Avatar, plays my dad in the movie, and we added a lot of pathos to the role. The world that was created for this film is a fantastic world, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m so over-the-top excited about it. I enjoyed myself immensely.
MD: You’ve managed to keep very busy in an industry that can be fickle. You still leave time for taking on passion projects, like animal rescue. What is it you are most proud of as a woman today?
RM: I took two years off because of a major illness in the family. So many people get caught up in a panic about taking time off, worried they’ll be forgotten about. The reality is, this is my one life. I stick to my convictions,