Rose McGowan and Darren Stein on Jawbreaker

15 years after Jawbreaker, the teen-dream killer and director discuss its killer legacy

Jawbreaker
A never-before-seen image of the cast of Jawbreaker. "This was taken at a shoot that was held to do all the 'best friends forever' photos that adorn Liz's bedroom!" says Stein. "This was before we cut Julie Benz's hair into a bob for the movie." Courtesy of Darren Stein

"I killed Liz. I killed the teen dream. Deal with it," blares over the loud speakers at Reagan High's senior prom. These are the monstrous words that expose Courtney Shayne (played by Rose McGowan) as Liz's killer in Darren Stein's Jawbreaker – a #dark teen comedy about three girls who gloss over their homicidal mistake. Jawbreaker was a watershed moment for teen movies, heralding in a new generation of teen flicks post Heathers and Clueless. The plot was simple: a birthday prank goes horribly wrong and Liz – one of the "Flawless Four" – chokes to death on a jawbreaker. McGowan, the film's guiltless mouthpiece and the face of teen evil as Courtney, speaks on what it was like to make Jawbreaker 15 years ago with director Darren Stein – whose new film G.B.F. is now out in theatres.

Rose McGowan: (Jawbreaker) was my second film – or maybe it was my third – but I still didn’t know what I was doing, so I based my character completely on Gene Tierney in a movie called Leave Her to Heaven. She pushes her stepson who is in a wheelchair off a cliff. And when the husband is all, 'But why? Why did you do it?' 'But darling, we needed more time together.' It was logic-based. So my only approach to Courtney was she would probably pass a lie detector, it makes complete sense in her head, ‘And there’s not really a big deal and I don’t really understand what the fuss is about.'

DD: So she’s a bit delusional?

Rose McGowan: I think she’s a bit sociopathic, but in the best way. She’s a young, budding sociopath.

Darren Stein: Her reality is the only reality.

Rose McGowan: Exactly.

Darren Stein: For her, for her.

Rose McGowan: Which sounds like my life.

“I definitely had a complete vision for that film and Rose completely understood what that vision was. I remember seeing her for the first time in The Doom Generation at a special screening in LA and I was just like who? I mean, Rose was like a silver screen star. She was unlike anything I had ever seen in a modern-day context” – Darren Stein

DD: Rose, your career was kind of kickstarted at Sundance with The Doom Generation. What was your first time like there?

Rose McGowan: Well, I didn’t know what Sundance was because I was never trying to be an actress. I was found standing outside of a gym looking sour. Apparently that works for The Doom Generation, and I needed money for an apartment. So when they came up and they offered (the part) to me, I asked how much money it was. After numerous conversations it got down to money. And I was like, 'Ahh, okay. I’ll do it so I can get an apartment.' And I was going to go to Paris instead and whenever anybody asked me what it was – 'I don’t even know what it is. I don’t care, I want to go to Paris.' Anyway, I wound up there out of fate. I still didn’t understand entirely what was happening or the significance of it. Luckily, I’ve been educated through the years. It’s an amazing organization and it is much more than just a festival.

Rose McGowan Imperial Teen Polaroid
Rose McGowan casting polaroid Courtesy of Darren Stein

DD: Going back 15 years, what was it like working together?

Rose McGowan: I remember it being very quick. Very fast-paced.

Darren Stein: Yeah Jawbreaker was made by the home video division of Columbia Tristar. So we didn’t have the 10-20 million dollar budget that Cruel Intentions and Can’t Hardly Wait had – the bigger movies of the bigger studios. We had 30 days to make this movie; it was a very ambitious shoot, with very elaborate sets and costumes and camera work and lighting. It was definitely a fast production, but I remember having a great time. And we were all so young. You know I was 25 when we shot that.

DD: Really?

Rose McGowan: I remember crying because I became so overwhelmed with 10 pages of dialogue. All of a sudden it was like there was no sound in my head. All sound went out, there wasn’t even a stitch of dialogue and there were so many people waiting on me that I started crying. Which was funny because Courtney Shayne does not cry. Not in front of people. But then after a few minutes it all came back and it was fun.

DD: So nobody was there to comfort you?

Darren Stein: I comforted you!

Rose McGowan: No, everyone probably stared at me like, 'What the hell’s wrong with this girl?!' I get so frustrated with myself that I just get like, 'Ah!' But when you do a shoot like you’re doing that many hours a day that fast, at one point your brain just shuts down. Then you implode for five minutes in your trailer and then you’re fine.

Darren Stein: Also the language was very alliterative, very complicated. A lot of it wasn’t easy to say. A lot of it was rhyming, and strange words, and it’s—

Rose McGowan: A lot of that stuff was very easy for me. I grew up reading Poe at age four, and as much as you escaped into movies, Darren, I escaped into books. That’s how I could see the world, and how I could experience travel – besides real travel – and how I could time travel and how I’ve done everything is through story. So for me, it was like the same language of a book I was reading. That’s been my only approach to acting, 'How would I bring this to life if it was a book?' So if there’s alliteration and a specific kind of cadence, I either really like it or I have no interest in it, predominantly. But that one was sing-songy and I liked it very much.

“I remember crying because I became so overwhelmed with 10 pages of dialogue. All of a sudden it was like there was no sound in my head. All sound went out, there wasn’t even a stitch of dialogue and there were so many people waiting on me that I started crying. Which was funny because Courtney Shayne does not cry” – Rose McGowan

DD: The teen characters in Jawbreaker are highly sexualized, but it kind of fits the plot. I was wondering if that's what you initially had in mind?

Darren Stein: Yeah, Jawbreaker was always meant to be a kind of mythic story. It’s not meant to take place at a specific high school in a specific town; it’s meant to be archetypes and stylish with a darkness that’s real and palpable. When I first came up with the idea for Jawbreaker it was a horror movie. And then when I started writing it, the female characters became more black comedy, or I’ll even say camp, because I don’t think camp is a dirty word. I think why the movie has transcended through the ages is because of the darkness and because it’s such a strong vision. It’s kind of like candy-coloured goth in a way.

I definitely had a complete vision for that film and Rose completely understood what that vision was. I remember seeing her for the first time in The Doom Generation at a special screening in LA and I was just like who? I mean, Rose was like a silver screen star. She was unlike anything I had ever seen in a modern-day context. So to be able to get her for Jawbreaker was amazing.

Rose McGowan on set
Rose McGowan on set Courtesy of Darren Stein

DD: Does Jawbreaker clearly have a message to it?

Darren Stein: Jawbreaker is so not a message movie, that’s what I love about it. It’s so nihilistic—

Rose McGowan: I think there’s a message.

Darren Stein: What is it? What do you think it is?

Rose McGowan: I think you should keep your enemies close. Duh.

DD: Before they kill you?

Rose McGowan: Exactly. No, it’s an anti-message movie.

Jawbreaker
Carrying Liz's body Courtesy of Darren Stein

Rose McGowan: I think there’s a really easy follow-up story for Jawbreaker too, by the way. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about it. But maybe now is not the time.

DD: No, now’s the time!

Rose McGowan: Okay, I think it does involve leaving a mental institution though.

Darren Stein: I love it.

Rose McGowan: After many years… Now everyone’s a drunken Orange County housewife but there’s a lot of other things to it.

Darren Stein: Oh my god. 

DD: This seems like it’s been thought about quite a bit.

Rose McGowan: There're actually a lot more ways that I could go with that, but this is just off the top of my head right now without revealing what I’m really thinking. Starts in a mental institution.

Darren Stein: Well, you know what’s funny? Rebecca Gayheart (who plays Julie) is actually in G.B.F., and she’s like the stepmother to the main character. People have said that it seems like her character from Jawbreaker grown up. This is how she ended up in the suburbs, married this wealthy older guy and she has a gay son.

DD: What sparked your interest with G.B.F. when you read the script?

Darren Stein: It was a teen movie that I had never seen before. It was culturally relevant where this character – the Lindsay Lohan, Molly Ringwald, Ferris Bueller character – was a gay kid. He becomes a commodity for these girls who run the school because it’s in fashion in some teen magazines to have a gay best friend. So I was excited to make a teen movie that was from the point of view of a main character in a mainstream context. I’m not interested in making films specifically for a gay audience, but because this movie read like a mainstreem teen film with a gay character it was intrinsically subversive, while still being important, because it hadn’t been done.

DD: Who wrote the line 'peachy fucking keen' that Rose says a few times?

Darren Stein: Well I did, obviously, but it came from Grease. Rizzo says, 'peachy keen'. And I love Grease – it’s such an influence on Jawbreaker for the '50s aesthetic and the girl gang kind of stuff, so I thought Courtney’s version of 'peachy keen' would be 'peachy fucking keen'.

Rose McGowan: And later when I did (Death Proof) with Tarentino, he was like, 'I love how you say "fuck"!' So then I kind of flashed back to all the times I’ve said 'fuck' in movies. He made me say a lot of 'fucks' in his movies so then I remembered 'peachy fucking keen'. It works well, it’s memorable. Peachy fucking keen.

DD: I was wondering if you remember anything hilarious from being on set.

Darren Stein: Hilarious?

Rose McGowan: I’m the worst with that. I just liked the fact that it was called Reagan High School and Darren was excited that it was the first high school that had been Reagan High School.

“I felt really bad for Judy Greer because when she was Fern Mayo, everyone ignored her and just pretended she didn’t exist” – Darren Stein

Darren Stein: I felt really bad for Judy Greer because when she was Fern Mayo, everyone ignored her and just pretended she didn’t exist. But then when she was a celeb, people kind of suddenly paid attention to her. I remember her feeling, you know, kind of torn. Because even as Vylette she was a bit monstruous. She had that crazy platinum blonde coif; she had that crazy hot pink Elvis jumpsuit.

Rose McGowan: I’ll tell you this, when I met her, she was a lot more Vylette with me than she ever was Fern Mayo. 

DD: How so? 

Rose McGowan: Just naturally.

Darren Stein: You know how actors… It was so much fun though.

Rose McGowan: What? It was so much fun. It was a really happy time. 

Darren Stein: It’s tough when actresses are doing parts like this where they’re so nasty to each other. I think it’s only natural for that to continue off screen a little bit because your character kind of infuses the vibe, you know?

Rose McGowan: I was like Queen Bee and people reacted to that, and it wasn’t that I was going around being Queen Bee, I just was Queen Bee. And it happened to be in that situation. People react to you in that situation. You’re like, 'I’m not bad, I’m just drawn this way.'

Darren Stein: It was amazing. And of course I was just relishing in everything because how can you not? It was—

Rose McGowan: Darren seemed quite excited, yeah he was so happy. 

DD: Do you think Jawbreaker was a precursor to Mean Girls?

Rose McGowan: I can’t say really because I’ve never seen Mean Girls, but how many times have we seen people walking down hallways in fours? It might’ve came from that. But it was funny when they did this, because it was Screen Gems – which is Sony – and they were trying to decide if they should push Can’t Hardly Wait or Jawbreaker and they picked Can’t Hardly Wait, which if I do remember did not do so well (Can't Hardly Wait grossed $25,339,117 and had a budget of $10,000,000). So obviously they picked the wrong horse on that one. (Jawbreaker) has gone on to live forever and take on its own life and that’s been amazing. And coming from Darren’s brain, good job dude!

Darren Stein: I remember going to see Mean Girls at the Chinese Theater and being a little bit bitter because I felt like structurally it was pretty clear that it was influenced by Jawbreaker. But that being said, without Heathers there would be no Jawbreaker. Jawbreaker was influenced by Heathers. So I feel like it’s all very space-time continuum in a way? A teen movie hierarchy slash the passing of the torch.

Rose McGowan: I feel proprietary towards things that I’ve actually done and I’ve seen people rip off, like my physical actions, which is weird. You’re like, 'Wait a second, that’s me! Or something I’ve created!' That’s weird. But all artists – my husband is an amazing artist and there’s this critic now I think in Taiwan that’s knocking his stuff so hard, it’s hilarious. But you can be offended by it or roll with it.

“It was punk rock and dark and it did not pull punches. It was really, for lack of a better word, cunty” – Darren Stein

DD: What do you think was the appeal of the film for audiences?

Rose McGowan: It was pretty punk. 

Darren Stein: Yeah, it was punk rock and dark and it did not pull punches. It was really, for lack of a better word, cunty. You know? And I don’t think there are a lot of American directors making films like that, especially not at that time. And it’s so interesting because I was just reading an article on that: how in 1999 there were 15 teen films released. Fifteen. It’s funny, you know, because a lot of the teen films that were made in the '90s had several straight-to-video sequels and Jawbreaker never had any, which I thought was good because those are kind of cheesy. It gave Jawbreaker that mystique of just being Jawbreaker. But with all this passage of time, it could be interesting now to revisit it. It would definitely be a straight up cult. 

DD: Straight to video, straight to Netflix, whatever it is these days.

Darren Stein: Straight to your subconscious.

G.B.F. is released by Peccadillo Pictures and is in cinemas now

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