McGowan, the second-eldest of six children (plus two half-siblings), was born in Florence, Italy, the daughter of Terri, an American writer of French descent, and Daniel McGowan, an artist of Irish descent. Daniel McGowan ran an Italian chapter of the Children of Godto which both he and his wife held membership until 1978.McGowan spent her early childhood amid the group’s communes, often traveling Europewith her parents. Interviewed by Howard Stern, she stated she had avoided the group’s calls for members to become sexually active as children (“I waited till I was 14.”) and described the practice of ‘flirty fishing’ as “creepy”.Through her father’s art contacts in Italy, McGowan became achild model and appeared in Vogue Bambini and various other Italian magazines. Her parents returned to the United States when she was 10,when they divorced. She subsequently relocated to Oregon and then to Gig Harbor, Washington, where she also met childhood friend Rey-Phillip Santos. McGowan did not speak English until she moved to the U.S.
McGowan’s formative years were spent with her father in Seattle, Washington, attending Roosevelt High School and Nova Alternative High School. At the age of 15, she officially emancipated herself from her parents.McGowan pursued a career in the film industry during her late teens while enrolled in abeauty school as a back-up.
McGowan made her first appearance in a Hollywood film with a bit role in the 1992 Pauly Shore comedyEncino Man. Her role in the 1995 dark comedy The Doom Generation brought her to the attention of film critics, and she received a nomination for “Best Debut Performance” at the 1996 Independent Spirit Awards. McGowan was subsequently cast in a supporting role in the 1996 hit horror film Scream. She was the cover model for the Henry Mancini tribute album Shots in the Dark, which was released in 1996. She became the face of American clothing company Bebe from 1998 to 1999.
McGowan spent the majority of the 1990s appearing in a variety of independent films, including roles inSouthie, Going All the Way, and Lewis & Clark & George. In 1997, she appeared in the critically acclaimed short Seed, directed by San Francisco-born filmmaker Karin Thayer, and played opposite Peter O’Toole in the 1998 film adaptation of the Dean Koontz novel Phantoms. Notably, McGowan also starred in the 1998 dark comedy Jawbreaker, where she played a snooty high school student who tries to cover up a classmate’s murder. That role earned McGowan a nomination for Best Villain at the 1999 MTV Movie Awards.
In 2001, McGowan was cast as Paige Matthews in the popular The WB television series Charmed, as a replacement lead actress after Shannen Doherty’s departure from the show. She was offered to be a producer after the seventh season alongside co-stars Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano, but turned it down.The series ended its run on May 21, 2006.
During and after Charmed, McGowan tackled a variety of different roles. She portrayed actress/singer Ann-Margret in Elvis, a Golden Globe-winning CBSmini-series about the life of Elvis Presley, and also appeared in Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia.
In 2007, McGowan headlined the critically acclaimed Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double-feature Grindhouse, released on April 6, 2007. Cast in utterly divergent roles, McGowan appears in both portions of the film, as go-go dancing Cherry Darling in Planet Terror, and as Pam in Death Proof. She followed up the project with a role in the IRA thriller Fifty Dead Men Walking and a recurring role as a con artist on the acclaimed drama series Nip/Tuck. After a brief hiatus from film, McGowan shot a cameo in the Robert Rodriguez thriller Machete, a role ultimately cut but included on the DVD release, and played a semi-homeless junkie in the fantasy drama Dead Awake. In 2011, she appears as an evil half-human/half-witch in the comic book adaptationConan the Barbarian and guest starred in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as a grifter who targets New York sex clubs. McGowan headlined the psychological thriller Rosewood Lane from director Victor Salva, while she will also appear in the TV movie The Pastor’s Wife alongsideMichael Shanks. In 2012, McGowan will star in the feature film The Tell-Tale Heart, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. She will also headline the film Napa, as a Afghanistan war veteran turned Napa county sheriff.
McGowan’s name was attached to several recent films which ended up being unmade. Following the release of Grindhouse, she signed to play B-moviestaple Susan Cabot in Black Oasis, to be directed by Stephan Elliott. However, the film was affected by the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strikeand ultimately put on indefinite hold. Another project, a proposed film adaptation of the Sylvia Plath novel The Bell Jar alongside Julia Stiles,also never came to fruition. She was also attached to three projects to be produced by Robert Rodriguez, a remake of the science fiction cult classic Barbarella, a proposed television series titled Women in Chains!, and a big-screen update of the Red Sonja comic books. After several years of development, Rodriguez announced in 2009 that Barbarella had been canceled due to location difficulties, while Women in Chains! appears to have never gotten past the script stages and is believed to no longer be in development. In 2010, McGowan confirmed that Red Sonja had been postponed to fit Conancontinuity, and that the project may resurface depending on the success of Conan the Barbarian.However, a recent interview with producer Avi Lernerreveals that while the movie is moving forward, McGowan is no longer involved.
In addition to film and television, McGowan lent her voice to the video games Darkwatch, playing a femme fatale named Tala, and Terminator Salvation, playing a troubled soldier named Angie Salter. She also co-hosted the TCM’s film-series program The Essentials alongside Robert Osbourne in 2008, discussing classic Hollywood film, a subject close to her heart.
While dating Marilyn Manson, McGowan appeared in a music video for the song “Coma White”,and also performed backing vocals on the song “Posthuman”.Both of these songs are available on the album Mechanical Animals.
McGowan appeared on a Brian Transeau track called “Superfabulous” from his album Emotional Technology, which was also featured on the finalCharmed soundtrack, The Final Chapter. The song has been featured in several films, including Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and Raising Helen.She wrote and recorded a song titled “Protection,” which was featured in her 2001 film Strange Hearts.McGowan has also appeared in theImperial Teen music video for “Yoo Hoo”, which was featured on the Jawbreaker soundtrack. She also recorded the theme song from the 2010 file, Dead/Awake.
McGowan has expressed interest in recording an album of her own. During an interview with Living TV, she said, “I was actually thinking of going back and doing more soulful tunes and older tunes…and I would love to, when I have a little bit more time.” In the Charmed episode “Sense and Sense Ability,” McGowan performed, in character, a cover of the Peggy Lee classic “Fever”. In 2007, it was announced that McGowan would be performing three songs from the Planet Terror portion of Grindhouse. These songs were released on the soundtrack by the Varèse Sarabande label. The songs are entitled “You Belong to Me” (a Dean Martin/Jo Stafford cover), “Useless Talent #32″ and “Two Against the World”.
McGowan lived in Seattle, Washington, but currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She was in a very public 3 ½-year relationship with rock musician Marilyn Manson. After a formal engagement lasting two years, McGowan ended the relationship over “lifestyle differences”. Prior to the release of Grindhouse, there was speculation that McGowan was dating director Robert Rodriguez.In May 2007, it was reported that they confirmed their relationship while appearing hand-in-hand at the Cannes Film Festival. On October 12, 2007 it was announced by Zap2it.com that McGowan was engaged to Rodriguez.They planned to wed in 2009,but reportedly split on October 2, 2009.
McGowan has admitted to sleepwalking as a child. “The weirdest spot I ever woke up was a snow bank in Montreal. Now I just speak Italian in my sleep.”
McGowan is an activist for LGBT rights, and campaigned against Proposition 8, which sought to illegalize same sex marriage in the state of California.McGowan is known as an activist for Boston Terriers. She herself has two, Bug and Fester, and has personally donated to various Boston rescues. McGowan reportedly encouraged friends to donate toBoston Terrier Rescue Net, and according to BTRN: “Having fallen in love with Bug and Fester, her friends donated generously. It amounted to a considerable contribution, which will go a long way in helping BTRN and the needy volunteers who selflessly give to deserving Bostons.”
McGowan caused controversy during the making of Fifty Dead Men Walking when she stated “I imagine, had I grown up in Belfast I would have 100% been in the IRA.”
According to an article in the New York Post, McGowan suffered serious injuries in a car accident early in 2007. Riding as a passenger, her car was struck by another vehicle and the force of the impact drove her eyeglasses into her face. McGowan is quoted as saying, “I didn’t realize I was hurt until I put my hand to my face and felt the flap of skin. My glasses had sliced me under my eye.” After obtaining the services of a plastic surgeon, McGowan is reported to be suffering no long-lasting consequences from the incident.
Of her acting method, McGowan said “I’m not really one of those people who goes and writes some big backstory and agonizes over characters…For me personally, it’s just kind of more instinctive. But I don’t have kind of an acting background. I fell into it accidentally.”
In late 2009 McGowan was amongst several celebrities who participated in the protest NOH8.
Rose attended the 2010 USO Gala in Washington D.C. to support United States troops in a David Peck gown.