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Interview: Neve Campbell

It’s her party. Scream all you want

Neve Campbell

Neve Campbell

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A FILM CREW HAS GATHERED ON a scraggly beach near Miami, where Neve Campbell, nice girl, is about to morph into Suzie Toller, a booze-swillin’ three-some-lovin’ ex-con from Florida. Dressed in standard wrong-side-of-the-tracks wear (thin tank top, dye job, cutoffs, cheap rings on every finger), Campbell stands with Denise Richards, the comely actress who plays Kelly Van Ryan, a wealthy, popular teen. A light breeze, redolent of dead crab, stirs up the enthused mosquitoes. Places, everyone. Rolling.

Campbell paces frantically. “You don’t know Duquette,” she says. “I’m the one he busted. He’s a fucker, man. He’ll fuck us both over. I’m not going back to that prison. That’s what it was — a fucking hellhole.”

Richards: “Believe me, Suzie, this dickhead’s not going to send you anywhere. Stay strong, and he can’t do shit.”

Campbell [agitated]: “Man, I wanna smoke a joint.” [Stalks off.]

Most people know Neve Campbell as Julia Salinger, the girl next door on the heart-warming family drama Party of Five, or as Sidney, the imperiled teen in Scream (which, when you think about it, is Party of Five with a serial killer). Now they will know her — and, hopefully, come to love her — as Suzie, in her third feature, next spring’s Wild Things. It is perhaps unnecessary to add that this is a psychosexual drama.

WHEN SHOOTING FOR THE SCENE has been completed, the crew relaxes, chats and applies Off. Richards banters with the assistant director. But Campbell, parting the ratty sea grass, vanishes into her trailer. Neve? The path leading to it is short but atmospheric. With every footfall, a squadron of grasshoppers leaps as one, while unknown creatures skitter around in the undergrowth.

The door swings open. “Can I get you anything?” she asks. “Herbal tea?” Inside there’s a sort of wholesome, New Age vibe: incense, dried flowers, the herbal teas, CDs of Celtic music, a little white dog named Buster. Campbell has become adept at turning her trailers into miniature homes — this summer, in between the third and fourth seasons of Party of Five, she has shot two films back-to-back: the aforementioned Wild Things, co-starring Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon, and Scream 2, the sequel to Wes Craven’s surprise hit, in which there is a movie-within-a-movie based on Campbell’s experiences in Scream. “I’m doing the last weeks of Scream 2 and the beginning of Party of Five at the same time,” she says. “I’ll be doing seven-day weeks. I’m trying not to think about it.”

Even though she’s done up like trailer trash and is very thin (she’s on a special diet to simulate hard livin’), Campbell is still fresh faced and pretty, complete with freckles, hazel eyes and a body toned by years of ballet. She is friendly and genuine, the embodiment of her favorite word: positive.

“I’m able to grasp the concept of everything in life as a learning experience,” she will say, “whether it be negative or positive. If you can look at it in a positive way and learn something from it, then it is a positive.” She is also, as everyone who knows her will tell you, disciplined, focused and more mature than her 23 years. Rather than coast on her TV status with easy big-screen roles (she could, after all, drive down Matt LeBlance Wacky-Chimp-Movie Boulevard), she chose Wild Things, she says, to challenge herself and to avoid being pigeonholed. “I wanted someone who’s a lot less innocent than Julia Salinger,” she says firmly. And, indeed, it’s likely that Julia won’t make out with a girl in the coming season. “I got to kiss Denise in the film,” says Campbell, smiling. “It was fun.” She shrugs her shoulders rakishly. “We just sorta went in and did it.” She pauses. “Actually, we mixed margaritas and brought a bottle of wine in my trailer and got drunk first,” she adds.

Before the kissing scene with Richards, Campbell wrote a journal entry. This is it, roughly paraphrased: “Ok, I’m gonna make out with a girl for the first time in my life. It’s so interesting that a lot of times you learn things about yourself and have new experiences when shooting a scene, because they’re things you wouldn’t normally do in your life.”

Later in the film, Campbell reports, “there’ll be a three-some with Matt Dillon and Denise and me.” Rock on! “I am keeping my clothes on,” she adds. “It’s not about graphic sex.” But …it’s a ménage à trois! “It’s more about the characters and how lost and free they are.” Jeez.

Campbell may be playing a hardened rock chick, but she still exudes vulnerability, which is one reason why fans connect with her so deeply (during Party of Five‘s first season, one kindly but confused older couple from Georgia offered to adopt Julia). “There’s something about my sister,” says Campbell’s older brother Christian, who runs a theater company in Los Angeles. “She always had this determined look on her face. You always knew when she was pissed off — this sullen darkness would come over her face. She wouldn’t complain, but you knew she was upset. That’s her strength: She holds it all in, holds it close to the chest.” He pauses. “At the same time, that’s her weakness,” he adds. “It makes her sort of hard to get to. You wonder what’s going on in there.”

BETWEEN THEM, NEVE CAMPBELL’S parents have had almost as many marriages as Larry King. Her mom, who owned a dinner theater (she now manages her daughter’s fan club), and her dad, a high school drama teacher, split up when Neve was a baby; each remarried and divorced again. Then her dad took the plunge a third time. Growing up in Guelph, a town near Toronto, Neve was, as she puts it, “a serious kid.”

“When you don’t have a real solid family grounding, you kind of have to take care of yourself,” Neve says. “I had a real hard time relating to people my age. I don’t know, jokes just to be giddy didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.” She is seated at an outdoor cafe near her temporary Miami house, where she is methodically huffing down cigarettes. “I didn’t fit in at all in school. I was, like, the loser of my class.”

Oh, no. Not this again. How many more times, Lord? How many more times?

Campbell holds up a hear-me-out hand. At the age of 9, she explains, she enrolled in Canada’s prestigious national ballet school, where her serious nature and the fact that she “wasn’t rich” alienated her from the other kids. When it is pointed out that she was pretty, she shakes her head. “Everybody was pretty,” she says. “We were all being bred to be ballerinas. We all looked alike; our bodies looked alike.” She lights another smoke.

One year the boys wrote a song about all the girls in the class, ranking them from prettiest to ugliest. The last verse was, “Neve — aagh! Neve — aagh!”

“Oh, I would try,” Campbell says. “Like any kid, desperately, every moment thinking, ‘Oh, they smiled at me. Wait, maybe they do like me!'” She pauses. “I didn’t cry a whole lot as a kid,” she says. “I still don’t. Sometimes I’ll go through things, and my friends will be like, ‘Neve, why aren’t you reacting to this?’ I try to watch myself.”

A tall woman with a sculpted hairdo that would humble the court of Versailles approaches.” ‘Scuse me,” she says. “You was the girl in Scream?”

“Yes,” Campbell says with a smile. The woman, apparently satisfied, walks off.

Anyway. “So at 14, I kind of had a nervous breakdown and quit,” Campbell continues. “No one ever quit. It’s a fantastic school, trainingwise, but they also had, like, seven psychiatrists on staff with only 125 students.” For a year she went to a “normal” high school, where she immediately fit in (“I think, because I was so happy, that people felt that energy,” she says). She dropped out for good when she won a role in The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto and, at 16, moved in with Christian, who had been on his own for a while.

“Don’t get me wrong, our family is amazing,” says Christian. “It’s just discombobulated. So Neve and I could always depend on having each other, you know?” So began Phantom, an experience that Campbell describes, even at 800 shows in two years, as the best of her life.

It was during the Phantom phase, when Campbell was 17, that she encountered her future husband. She’s married, you know. Well, sort of.

WHEN THEY MET, JEFF Colt was a bartender at the Phantom theater. Now he’s an actor-songwriter-writer. “He wrote a musical called Star-struck that was produced in Toronto a couple years ago,” Campbell says. Uh-oh. “And now he’s gonna try and take it to New York and workshop it there.” They were together during Campbell’s early days as an actress (a Tampax commercial, a TV movie with the excellent TV-movie title of I know My Son Is Alive). When Campbell won the role on Party of Five three years ago (she has a six-year contract), she moved to Los Angeles, and Colt stayed in Toronto, where he hosted a children’s TV show.

Party of Five, about the lives of five San Francisco kids who raise themselves after their parents are killed in a car wreck, was, in its first two seasons, lauded by critics and ignored by most viewers. That small sliver of the audience that did watch, however, was obsessive, I drawn by the realistic story lines, quality writing and the eerie (and unprecedented) fact that the cast truly looked related. The cast acted like a family, too, says Campbell. During the first season, “we’d cook dinner at each other’s houses every weekend,” she says. “We really were like family.”

In an effort to boost viewer ship, the PO5 actors were schlepped to every mall, state fair and convention that they could stomach, but there was a constant feeling on the set that the show could be jettisoned. This fall it enters its fourth season in fairly good health, after last season’s finale — in which Julia married her bikeshop-owner boyfriend, Griffin — pulled in the highest ratings yet. Campbell plans to see her contract through. “Well, you don’t want to let down the people who have helped you out,” she says. “And, also, what’s it gonna be, Party of Four? It’s one of those circumstances where it’s not really possible, because the show is about us.”

“All the people on that show are really the nicest I’ve ever worked with,” says Jeremy London, a k a Griffin. “It’s just like a big family, and I’m not saying that to be kissing their ass. When I first got on there, I was going through some hard times, and they stuck by me. And Neve’s amazing. She came from a rough life and has managed to turn lemons into lemonade.” He pauses. “I sometimes think she’d rather be doing her movies,” he adds. “Sometimes you get the impression that she’s not really happy to be there. But she is. Happy to be there. I know she is.”

Campbell’s character has been through the damned mill: Two years ago, for instance, Julia got pregnant and, in a controversial move, decided to get an abortion. In the end, the network crapped out and, to Campbell’s consternation, Julia miscarried.

Meanwhile, after that first season, Campbell was involved in a drama of her own when she and Colt decided to get married — sans family. “I was doing a movie called The Canterville Ghost in England, and he was still living in Canada, and . . . and . . . that was the time I had open,” says Campbell, laughing. “I always vowed I would never get married because no marriage in my family had worked, really. But you get to a place in your relationship where you’re like, ‘OK, it’s time.'”

So they invited the Canterville crew and had a “very quiet” wedding. “My family wasn’t happy about it, obviously,” she says. Out comes a cigarette. Huff. “They’re incredible people,” she says. “I just didn’t want to deal with problems.”

When asked about his brother-in-law, Christian simply says, “Uh … let’s just say I’m a brother.” Well, what’s he like? A good guy? “Sure, whatever you want to say,” he hedges. “Let’s just call this the protective-brother syndrome.”

“Jeff is very generous and very understanding about my career — and he’s incredibly funny,” Campbell says.

A few weeks after our chat, it is announced that Campbell and Colt have separated. Campbell will not discuss this. She will only send a fax.

“Jeff and I have been together for over six and a half years,” she writes. “We’ve been through a lot, and we’ve learned much from each other. However, we have come to realize that both of us have some growing to do, and we need to be on our own for a while. There has always been much more depth to our relationship than the press and public could see. Jeff and I love each other very much, and that’s going to continue.”

DURING THE SAME BRIEF HIATUS that Campbell got married and did The Canterville Ghost, she decided, “What the hell, I’ll do a feature film, too!” Ergo, The Craft, the story of four misfit girls — four hot misfit girls, of course — with supernatural powers. Apparently, there wasn’t a lot of caring and sharing on the Los Angeles set. “I was told that it was going to be with four young girls,” she says. “We didn’t really seem to click, and I don’t know what the reason was for that. Rachel True and I became best friends, so that was good. But it was just four very different personalities. You just try to get through the day.”

A homeless woman approaches Campbell. “Got a dollar?” she squawks. “I got three kids and a dog.”

“Get lost,” barks Campbell. “I’m doing an interview! Hit the road!”

Of course, that is not what she said. “No problem,” she actually replied and handed her a buck. Ten people approach her during the course of an hour. Half of them know who she is, and the other half are simply drawn to her, asking for a quarter, the time, one of her Marlboro Lights.

Last summer, Campbell spent her hiatus giving a solid performance in Scream. “We were shooting in Santa Rosa, a small town outside San Francisco,” she says with a dreamy look. “We all stayed at the same hotel; We’re all in wine country. So we’d work all night, all bloodied up, then go back to the hotel, close the curtains so we could pretend it was night, and have a bottle of wine and talk, and listen to music.”

“When we were shooting the ending sequence in a house in Santa Rosa,” recalls director Wes Craven, “every time the sun set, Neve and I would go outside for five minutes and watch the sunset together. I think we sort of felt like, ‘This is where you find your calm.'” (Wes Craven, a gentle soul — who knew?) “I think Neve runs very, very deep,” he adds, “and is incredibly physically strong, so she can deal with the really killing schedule that she is on.”

There was one thing about Scream that riled Campbell, and that was a certain line of dialogue, a line that was just plain mean. “With my luck,” Sidney says at one point about who would play her in a movie, “I’d get Tori Spelling.”

“Neve tried to think of one clever line after another to replace that,” Craven says. “I said, ‘Well, just say it once.'” Spelling, of course, now joins the cast of Scream 2 (along with Jada Pinkett, up-and-comer Jerry O’Connell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Sarah Michelle Gellar).

“Tori was very sweet about it,” says Craven. “I said, ‘Look, we made fun of you, but we made fun of everybody. You’re part of a charmed circle.'”

“NOT BAD, HUH?” CAMPBELL ASKS as she gives a tour of the airy yellow house that the folks at Wild Things have put her up in. It’s very fancy: chandeliers, a curving staircase, enormous palm trees, a pond stuffed with huge koi fish. A journal lies on the kitchen table, written in her crabbed hand.

“You know what the perfect day would be?” she asks. “Wake up late, get a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and some friends, and take it to Centre Island [near Toronto] with some friends, and throw a Frisbee and drink beer. It’s one of those days I’ve been thinking about for the last few weeks.”

Campbell has the three-day weekend off, but she has no plans. “I’ve been training,” she says vaguely. “And I think some people from the crew are going out to dinner. I don’t really know. When you’re in a city where you don’t know that many people …” She walks aimlessly down the hall. Campbell looks especially small in this lofty house. “I keep to myself a lot, I guess,” she says. “Probably I’ll go have coffee and write in my journal. That’s all I’ve been doing.” Her jaw sets. “And you know what?” she asks. “There’s positive things about being on your own for a while.”

A car arrives. It’s time for Campbell to return to the dead-fish-scented beach. “Well, goodbye,” she says and holds out her arms to give a hug.

Let’s discuss hug etiquette. You know the point in the social hug where you’re conditioned to sort of break away, usually after, say, two to three seconds? Well, she kept going and gave a real one. For a moment it was almost uncomfortable. Then it was kind of nice.

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