I always pushed to be the killer in certain films when the scripts had gotten thrown out or this or that.
Legendary actor Lee Marvin—best known for playing leaders of men whose bark was bad but whose bite was badder—had a cardinal rule about the roles he signed up for. “Always get yourself killed off in a picture that looks like it’s gonna be a success, sweetheart,” he advised his fellow thesps via Rolling Stone magazine in 1972. The implication of course was that, otherwise, you might end up making The Fast and the Furious 10. David Arquette, who turns 49 next month and was hardly born then, must have intuitively known that he was on to something special when he stepped into the shoes of agreeable-but-dim Deputy Dewey Riley in the original Scream—Wes Craven’s sleeper-hit revival of the slasher movie in 1996. Sequels, it is generally agreed upon, are no great shakes, but the Scream franchise tried to buck that trend with arguably jumbled results.
It is a little-known fact that Arquette was originally scripted to die at the end of the first Scream after taking a stabbing to the backside by Ghostface. It was later confirmed by Craven this was in fact the plan even after production started. The architect of horror even shot it both ways to err on the safe side, and it’s when test audiences didn’t take too kindly to Dewey being killed off that it was then decided he would survive the first go-around. Dewey has remained a beloved comic punctuation in the series—a wide-eyed idealist amongst the cynical movie brats that have been known to populate this universe. And despite appearing on the brink of death multiple times since, the deputy always managed to pull through, albeit not saving the day as much as he’d like to.
Now 25 years later—Jesus fucking Christ—Arquette’s Woodsboro lawman is set to return for Scream 5 alongside legacy cast member Courteney Cox. The film is slated for release next year.
On a macro level, you could say that Arquette has gone down a rather strange trajectory in entertainment, at one point courting the biggest controversy of his career after being crowned the WCW World Heavyweight Champion in 2000. He was swiftly branded the most hated man in wrestling by the sport’s die-hards. David Darg and Price James’s documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette charts the actor’s indefatigable efforts to return to the sport that stalled his Hollywood career—determined to redeem his reputation and reclaim his self-respect. It is a candid inside look at all that’s happened to him, including an incident at the tail end of 2018 when the actor was trending online, and not for any reason most people might expect. Arquette sustained life-threatening injuries during a wrestling death match on his “redemption tour,” was rushed to the hospital—with friend Luke Perry by his side—underwent surgery, and lived to tell the tale.
Anthem reached out to Arquette in Los Angeles via Zoom to get a closer inspection.
[Editor’s Note: The following interview was first published on August 19, 2020.]
To give you an idea of where I’m coming from in the David Arquette universe, I’m a total Scream baby. I watched the original eight times or something like that in theaters, and I wasn’t even old enough to buy my own ticket at that point.
[laughs] Oh my god.
Thanks for doing it. I actually went to film school because of that movie.
Aw, I love that, Kee! That’s awesome, man! I’m so glad. That’s what you always want, you know what I mean? We make movies so we can connect with people.
I’m going to be totally honest: when I sat down to watch You Cannot Kill David Arquette, I was a tad skeptical because I wasn’t sure that it was entirely real. But then by the end of it, I felt genuinely moved. When it comes to making this documentary, how do you feel about it today? Do you think it was very important that you created, literally, this document of what’s happened to you, at the very least for your own peace of mind?
Yeah. It really captured a period of my life, as far as coming to terms with a lot of stuff I’ve been beating myself up over for years. I’d been believing what I read: all these people saying you’re worthless and that kind of thing. It was a real eye-opening experience to take it on and stand up for myself and do all the stuff it took to get in that ring, travel city to city, take the bumps, fight through pain and all that kind of stuff. The real lesson for me was that I had to learn I am a champion, you know what I mean? You’re a champion. You’re a champion of your world and I’m a champion of mine. The fact that people are so quick to take other people down—it’s not what I’m about. I just learned to let myself believe in myself, prove to myself and everyone else out there that I could do this, and then have them come along on this journey with me. That was the whole reason we did this. The fact that it landed right now, hopefully, it will provide people an outlet for an hour and a half to just escape and forget about this whole thing [with the pandemic] for awhile.
The documentary is punctuated by some incredibly raw moments. Was it difficult going to those places? Clearly, you’re a very open individual.
I am a very open person, and it might be to my detriment sometimes. [laughs] Because, you know, people can run with it however they want. But it was important for me to be vulnerable and open and honest because that’s where good art comes from. All of my humor comes from a self-deprecating place. It’s almost like Dewey, for instance: he’s a cop, but he can’t get any respect and people don’t believe in him. It’s funny to play a character like that—to find that. I hope people enjoy [the documentary] and feel that they’re not alone if they’re going through any of the mental stuff that I’m going through or understand what it feels like to be counted out and not given the proper shot. They, too, can rewrite their ending.
There’s also something to be said about your disarming likability as a person. I don’t think this is a journey you go on with just anyone. One of the ways in which I connected to you was when you say, “I hate growing up.” That of course doesn’t automatically put you up there at the Michael Jackson level—the extremes of Peter Pan Syndrome. But there is societal pressure to grow up, to be a certain way, once you cross a threshold, which basically has to do with age. How do you combat that kind of prescription? How have you protected your childlike sense of wonder?
Totally. I’ve gotten to a point in my age where—these are just the things I like! [laughs] It’s just fun, sort of silly, stuff. I like to smile and laugh so it’s about, how can I create a world where I’m laughing and smiling more? That’s what it’s truly about. That’s why I wanna do projects that I love with people I love and really focus on subject matters that are fun to just shoot even, regardless of how they turn out. So that’s what I’m focused on now. Looking at the positive is really an important one because if you just focus on the negative, life gets dark so quickly.
In all your candidness, you’re also upfront about being “wired differently.” What was it like to hear that echoed back to you by a professional, as we see in the documentary when they do a brain scan on you? Is there a sense of relief that comes with that?
There is a sort of relief. Well, I kind of knew that my whole life. [laughs] I was wired differently. You kind of get it. There were all kinds of stuff while we were shooting that was really hard for me. My wife [Christina McLarty Arquette] had to kick me out of the editing room ‘cause she was like, “You’re too close to it,” and I was too close to it. That was a good lesson in trusting [David Darg and Price James] to tell the story. And even though it’s hard for me to watch it, it might help somebody or something.
As you’ve done with wrestling, Kris Kunkle, the aspiring DJ father you play in Spree, finds redemption in his own way. As it turns out, he’s not the goofy, throwaway person you initially make him out to be. Without spoiling anything, the final act finds him in not the best of circumstances and it’s a devastating moment for you. But you find the humanity in him, also. I wonder how you connected with that character.
You know, it’s funny. I mean, he is kind of like me in some ways? We had this day [on the shoot] where me, Joe [Keery] and Eugene [Kotlyarenko] toured around the city, developing this relationship, ad-libbing back and forth, and the camera was out. I would think, “He’s my son so I’ll give him advice,” while talking through something. But then I would have to turn it like, “That’s the good way of doing it. What’s the mean way of doing it?” [laughs] So then I’d totally have to be dismissive or critical or inappropriate. That gave me an icky feeling. Eugene is such an interesting filmmaker ‘cause he had this real vision of how he wanted these characters to be seen by the audience. They’re to be laughed at. They’re to be not even pitied. They’re not to be celebrated.
I know Eugene. I don’t think he would appreciate me calling him eccentric, but there’s no one like him. He’s super funny and intelligent—I do know that about him. This idea of going viral kind of harks back to what Scream was touching on from the get-go. The killers want notoriety. They want infamy. By the time you get to Scream 4, this is explicitly contextualized within the age of the Internet. If you could hit the breaks on any one aspect of social media, what would that be?
If I could hit the breaks? I would just—this is kind of funny: I want to create an algorithm that would recognize mean-spirited comments or people just being cruel to each other. If you signed up for this algorithm, this app, whenever someone is being mean, on your Instagram feed, for instance, their whole thing would turn red. And you would have to tell them like, “Oh man, you’re red,” or whatever. There would be no anonymity to being an asshole. If you’re a troll or something, people would see you for that. So if I could change anything about the Internet, I’d make people be kinder to each other. It’s such a waste of time, everyone being so mean and critical.
So hold people accountable for their unprovoked meanness. That seems fair enough.
Totally! And just have more fun with it all. I talk to my daughter [Coco Arquette] about it: “What do you like about TikTok?” She said, “The algorithm recognizes what I like in humor and music and then filters more people like that.” So it’s literally like making friends in a way with people who have similar tastes as you.
That’s the positive aspect of it.
Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
David, are you growing out that mustache for Scream 5 right now?
That’s right. I am.
That just thrills me to no end.
Good, good, good. [laughs] That’s awesome.
I know you can’t divulge anything right now, but I haven’t forgotten all those theories. Some people think you were the third killer in the original—to this day. Anything’s possible, I guess. That would be the longest con if you turned out to be the killer in Scream 5.
I know. That would be amazing. I always pushed to be the killer in certain films when the scripts had gotten thrown out or this or that. I always thought it would be interesting for him to have a take like that. That would be amazing if it literally went back that far.
You were also originally scripted to die in the first one. You shot it both ways, is that right?
Yeah, I was supposed to die. [Wes Craven] put me on a gurney and had me roll out as a dead body. But then he said, “This time, just put your hand up.” Wes saved me. I was supposed to die in the second one as well, I think—or maybe not. Maybe I always just show up at the end.
So how much do you actually know at this stage? Is there a full script?
I know that Courteney Cox signed on. There are several scripts.
Really? Is that to throw people off?
[David puts on a mischievous grin] Yeah, it’s probably something in that world. I can’t really talk about any of it.
It was just announced yesterday that Melissa Barrera was cast in a key role.
Oh, that’s awesome.
If you nerd out on Scream as much as I do, the casting process is part of the fun. That must be fun for you, too, no? These are people you’re gonna be playing with.
I tend to not get too much into it because I wanna keep it out of the Scream world and keep it more in the Dewey world. It’s more what I read in the script and how I meet them out there, you know what I mean? And then once we’re there and everything, I have a good understanding. I’m always friendly to people, but I don’t know if I’d meet them beforehand. I don’t know… It’s such an interesting thing to be a part of a movie that’s lasted 25 years. It’s crazy.
It’s incredibly rare. You guys caught lightening in a bottle. I remember Entertainment Weekly’s review of Scream: “Dead on arrival.” That was harsh. But with each consecutive week, the movie was making more money than the last at the box office. That’s unheard of.
Yeah, it’s really special. It doesn’t happen. [laughs] It’s really hard to make movies people like, much less have all the things come together, you know what I mean?
You, Courteney and Neve [Campbell] are the legacy cast members. As an Arquette, you also come from a Hollywood dynasty. You must think about this from time to time: what do you want to leave behind?
It’s really love that’s all that matters ultimately. It’s all that matters that you’ve left behind. You could leave behind pain and hurt, too, but that doesn’t matter matter. I mean, those things matter as far as you affecting people, but the love you leave behind really reverberates and carries on, you know what I mean? It carries on with the people you’ve lost. It’s what you remember them for. So I just hope to make more of love for the rest of my life than pain.
When South by Southwest ended up going virtual this year, you screened You Cannot Kill David Arquette at your home to family and friends. That must’ve been fulfilling.
I was just really thrilled with the way it turned out and how people sort of connected with it. It’s hard for me to watch it. I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again because it’s really super difficult. But it was interesting watching the reactions—everyone screaming and gasping. It was a real visceral reaction, which you don’t really get all the time in films.