Nev Campbell was already tired of horror when "Scream" was fresh
There was a time when the "Scream" franchise was brand new, in the fall of 1996 when Wes Craven's clever riff on horror tropes first saw the dark of a movie theatre. I went to New York to interview members of the cast, including Canada's own Nev Campbell. She admitted she was already tired of the horror genre, having earlier appeared in "The Craft" and other chillers, as well as the stage version of "Phantom of the Opera." She liked doing the action scenes in Craven's scary movie, but there was no indication she'd still be "Scream"-ing more than a quarter century later, as she appears in yet another new iteration of the film:
NEW YORK — After 800 close encounters with a Toronto opera spook, Neve Campbell found tangling with a California killer to be a scream.
Make that "Scream," the newly opened Wes Craven horror movie starring the Guelph-born actor, which has all the slash marks of a hit.
The film sends up the teen terror genre even while perpetuating it, and the 23-year-old Campbell (her first name is pronounced like "Bev") is onscreen most of the time, playing Sidney Prescott, heroine and killer prey.
She's winning raves across North America for the way she delivers many of the script's sharp lines - such as when Sidney lectures the killer for being as predictable as most horror movie monsters.
"I love Sidney, and I loved the levels I was capable of adding to her, " the raven-haired actor says.
Much to her chagrin, Campbell has been tagged "the next Jamie Lee Curtis, " in reference to the latter's scream queen roles in horror classics Halloween and Prom Night.
She's worried about being typecast, but there's no arguing she has spent a lot of quality time with thespian terrors. And she started young.
Born to an Ontario theatre family — her mother ran a dinner theatre, her father led an acting troupe and the eldest of her three brothers, Christian, also acts — Campbell began her professional career at age 15, alongside the masked menace of "The Phantom Of The Opera."
As the youngest member of the original "Phantom" cast at the Pantages Theatre, Campbell played a ballet dancer in 800 performances of the show, a role that called on her years of training in Toronto with the National Ballet School of Canada.
Campbell co-starred earlier this year in "The Craft," a movie about a high school coven that uses witchcraft to gain revenge. Her lengthy resume also includes appearances in "The Dark," a potboiler about a cemetery beastie, and "Are You Afraid Of The Dark?," a popular TV scare show.
She's perhaps best known at the moment for her regular role as smart sister Julia in TV's "Party Of Five," a hit series about a family of orphans who must learn to cope with daily life on their own.
But her big role in "Scream" — she has more screen time than her better-known co-stars, Drew Barrymore and Courteney Cox — could soon have sidewalk gawkers calling "Sidney!" when they see her, rather than "Julia!", as they do now.
"I definitely enjoy portraying characters who have demons of some kind, " Campbell says.
"But I'm being very cautious in my choices now. I've had a lot of fun in this genre, but I think it's very important to me at this point in my career, because things are going well, to make the right choice.
"I don't intend to do a horror film or a thriller again for a while — but then I said that after 'The Craft.'"
She has had mostly good experiences working with ghouls, especially her first.
"It was such a trip for me, " she says of her "Phantom" debut. "I met Andrew Lloyd Webber and Prince, and it was the best experience in my life, still to this day."
During "Phantom" she also met Pantages bartender Jeff Cole, whom she married two years ago, around the time she relocated to Los Angeles from Toronto. Cole now works as an actor in L.A., too.
A woman of strong convictions, which her girlish laugh doesn't mask, Campbell had declared she would never star in an action movie. But making "Scream" — a very physical role, with much ghost grappling — made her hot to trot.
"I had so much fun doing stunts on this film, I was saying (to director Craven), 'C'mon, let me fall out the window.' And he said, 'No, ' and understandably so — he's had some bad experiences with stunts.
"I had a blast, and now it's 'Bring on the action films!' Forget the script; I just want to run and scream and fight."
Campbell is joking when she says "forget the script." She takes her acting very seriously and fought to keep her clothes on for "Scream," a big deal for this type of movie. There's one sex scene, but the nudity is negligible.
"I was being very careful, " she says. "The truth is, you're in a scary film, and you do want to be cautious of whether you're going to take your top off or not, and whether you're going to be having sex in the film. I didn't want to do that."
Campbell also carries a modest-sized chip on her shoulder about being Canadian. She loves the land of her birth, but she's vocal in her belief that Canada doesn't support its acting talent, forcing people to move to the U.S.
"You get to a place in Canada where you're not really recognized for your performance, " she says.
"People don't really know who you are. Unfortunately, we have this thing in Canada where we really respect American performers. If America has accepted them, then we'll accept them."
Landing the lead role in "Scream" indirectly put her in the position of realizing more of her ambitious life plans, which include producing and directing movies and TV shows, as well as writing and acting.
To work in Scream, Campbell had to cut ties with a Movie Of The Week project to which she had committed. The producers of this show cried foul and threatened to sue, but she cut a deal whereby she'd fit the TV movie into her schedule, as long as she could produce, create, cast and star in it. The MOTW people agreed.
"I want to have more control, and I want to have more creative impact, " Campbell says.
"Then you've got the whole thing."
(This story originally appeared in the Toronto Star.)