Exclusive: Rose McGowan Loves That Jawbreaker Remakes Are Coming, But Warns That “No One Will Ever Be Me”
On the twentieth anniversary of the subversive teen movie, star and author of Brave, Rose McGowan, remembers the making of a cult classic.
The only prom I've ever been to in my lifetime was the one in my 1999 movie, Jawbreaker. You know, the one where my classmates threw corsages at me… and screamed at me… and heckled me. It would prepare me for my later life, I suppose, but despite the projectiles and insults that I associate with my one and only prom — I look back on the set of that brash, punk, sardonic, wild movie with love. Everybody, from the director down to the extras, was in it together. We knew that it was really special, what it meant to the LGBT community, to have an out director, Darren Stein, creating his vision for a studio. A lot of movies are done by committee, and this one definitely wasn’t. We all knew we were doing something that the establishment wouldn’t like, but we weren’t afraid. We weren’t afraid of anybody.
It was slightly shocking that a studio backed the movie in the first place, though, considering the concept (mean girl remorselessly kills teen beauty queen with an iconic piece of sweet candy) and the fact that most gay directors at the time were considered “fringe.” But they did, and they let Darren go for it… on a meager budget (the average studio film cost about $50 million in the mid-90s; our budget didn’t even break $10 million). With limited budget came limited time, so we only shot for 30 far-too-short days with almost no oversight (meaning the studio did not appear to interfere with the content). But it was a great place and state to work in. There was nobody on set telling us not to do something; there was nobody telling us we went too far. We had a feeling back then that it was kind of the Wild West; Darren created this environment in which we could just be our wicked, delicious selves, and what came out of it was something that can’t be replicated — this genuinely punk sensibility — because we were actually able to say, “Fuck it. Let's do this.”
It’s the only environment in which my character Courtney Shayne could have been born. Here is a young woman who says, hours after killing her best friend (Charlotte Ayanna), with no struggle or doubt in her eyes, “I killed Liz. I killed the teen dream. Deal with it.” I don't know if you could create someone like Courtney, exactly as she is, now. I think that's in some ways a pity, because she was an absurdly heightened reflection, but a reflection nonetheless, of real life. We all know who the mean girls were. I had them at my school, you probably had them at your school, and in reality, they’re not necessarily the most PC people. They don’t always know they’re mean people; they just are. And so I studied them for a long time, and I took Courtney a little further. I played her like a bit of a sociopath, because sociopaths don't really know that they're sociopaths. They just are.
And while Courtney could have been created today, she wouldn’t be the same. It would need to be clear that Courtney has sociopathy, and that there’s something wrong with her. There would have to be a reason. Scalding, female anger isn’t something we are generally allowed to express on screen or in life unless it’s attached to a man. I'm angry because my man cheated on me, or I'm angry because I’ve been wronged by a man. But it's a rarity that a woman is just angry or bitchy because she just is. It’s rare that a movie doesn’t try to fix her anger, that lets her stay exactly as she is.
Jawbreaker, like Courtney, is angry, dark, and ruthless simply because it is, and because that’s what Darren wanted it to be. It’s why the movie got to be so punk-meets-sociopathy-meets-Bette-Davis-meets-hell-on-wheels. It’s why we were able to break boundaries and make the lead handsome guy (Ethan Erickson) give a blowjob to a Popsicle while my character holds a position of sexual dominance over him. It’s also probably why the studio caved at the last minute and promoted Can’t Hardly Wait (a classic in its own way, but it’s no Jawbreaker) instead of our movie. But it’s also why it broke through, anyway, and why we’re still talking about it 20 years later.
The love that exists for Jawbreaker isn’t classic, sweet nostalgia. It’s cooler, a little scarier, and a dangerous twist on that concept. Fitting, for the movie turned a sweet, classic candy into a murder weapon.
But even as that darker nostalgia opens the path for a TV series revival (co-written by Darren himself), it’s also what drives me to offer this to whoever fills Courtney’s shoes next: I wish you the best of luck, but nobody will ever be me.
And that's a very Courtney Alice Shayne thing to say, but it’s true.
As told to Kelsea Stahler.