Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them about.
The actor: David Arquette was born into a family of actors—his father, Lewis, starred on The Waltons, and his siblings include Pulp Fiction star Rosanna, the late Alexis, and the Oscar-winning Patricia. His long, diverse career has seen him ping between performing, directing, writing, and even professional wrestling. He’s perhaps best known for playing Dewey Riley in four Scream movies, but in some circles he’s infamous for his 2000 run as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. He’s taking professional wrestling a lot more seriously these days, grappling with some of the independent circuit’s biggest names. He’s still acting as well; he recently starred in an episode of Shudder’s Creepshow revival and in Mob Town, a period drama about a real-life meeting of the heads of the Mafia in 1957.
During Mob Town’s press tour, Arquette took some time to talk to us about his varied career, from bunking with a pre-fame Luke Perry to nearly bleeding out in a wrestling ring.
David Arquette: I got involved because Danny Abeckaser, the director, he’s a real good friend of mine. I’ve known him for nearly 30 years. He sent me the script and it seemed like fun. I loved the opportunity to play such a good character. He’s one of the good guys. He’s a state trooper who uncovers this plot for all of these mobsters throughout the country and the world to come and have a summit in upstate New York. He sees this incredible car: What is this incredible car doing in this town? He starts putting the pieces together and as a result, uncovers one of the major examples that the mafia existed in America and throughout the world, that it wasn’t just Chicago and New York. And as a result, they enacted the RICO laws.
The A.V. Club: Were you aware of this history before you got involved?
DA: No, I wasn’t. In the beginning of Analyze This, they do a little funny bit on it. But I didn’t know about this event at all. Danny had been wanting to tell the story about for a long time, and being a dear friend, I wanted to support him in whatever capacity I could. So he gave me an opportunity to play Ed Croswell, which was really great, and sort of humanize him and play this role. He sent me the script, and I was like, “Wait, you’re doing a low-budget, independent film, that’s a period film?” It’s just so difficult to pull something like that off, but he did it in a great way. So I was really happy for him.
Ravenous (1999)—“Private Cleaves”
AVC: Speaking of period films, Antonia Bird’s Ravenous has become something of a cult classic over the years.
DA: Yeah, it was a really amazing experience. We shot it outside of Prague and [in] Slovakia, so it was just a culture trip to be there. It had a long process. Getting to work with Guy Pierce and Robert Carlyle, he was amazing. It was during the wintertime, and we were holed up in this set, but also on location, where it was just kind of bizarre. It was a really weird time. It was really ahead of its time. The guy from Blur [Damon Albarn] did the soundtrack, which is incredible, and it really did have a tone that you didn’t typically see. It’s my personal opinion that there aren’t enough cannibal movies out there.
DA: It was really kind of wild. [S.] Craig [Zahler] called me about it, the director, and asked, “Hey, do you want to do this?” It’s a small role, I don’t want to ruin anything, spoiler alert, but I die early in it. I was like, “Okay. Two days work!”
I didn’t really know what was going on. I showed up to the read-through, and saw some of the conceptual drawings and ideas of the creatures, and the idea behind them, and their evolution. I thought, “Wow, this guy is just an amazing filmmaker,” the way he conceptualized all of this. So I knew at that point. And also, it was the second time I got to work with Kurt Russell. I’m such a fan of his; he’s a tremendous actor, although we didn’t have any scenes. Then I got to work with Sid [Haig], so that was really fun. I love Westerns in general, and horror, so the combo was cool.
AVC: IMDB lists your first role as “Two-Bit” on The Outsiders TV series.
DA: As far as film or television, yeah. I was an extra on a Nestea commercial. Christina Applegate was the main person in it, so that was fun to watch her, because I had been a fan of hers. And it was with Adrian Lyne, the director who did Flashdance. It was a cool experience. It was my first experience seeing a camera. I got discovered on the dance floor at a place called Florentine Gardens when I was 14 or 15. That was just fun to do something like that.
The Outsiders was really tremendous. I was in high school, and I had done a play called The Seventh Son and my director, Ben DeBaldo [became] a really important figure in my life. Even though my family had done it, I didn’t think I had any talent, because I had auditioned for little parts here and there. I never really had an agent or anything, but if I’d heard about something I’d audition for it. I never got anything, I was always rejected, and kind of like, “Aw, I probably just suck.” But he really gave me the confidence, and I had an audition for The Outsiders, and it all sort of lined up.
As I was applying for colleges, The Outsiders pilot got picked up, and it was one of the first shows on the new Fox network, based on S.E. Hinton’s book. We shot this hour-long drama for it and Francis Coppola was a producer with Fred Roos, and I was just like, “Wow, this is amazing!” It got picked up to series, so they’re like, “Here’s a guaranteed 13 episodes.” So we went on air, and it did alright, but it didn’t do great, and they canceled us after about seven or something episodes aired. It was a real letdown.
Alexis [Arquette] had just done a movie called Terminal Bliss with a young up-and-coming actor named Luke Perry. And they had hit it off, and just as I’m just sort of getting this role, doing the pilot, a kid named Luke Perry moves into our house. Luke said to Alexis, “Yeah, I’m thinking about going out to Hollywood,” and Alexis told him, “No, come out now! It’s pilot season. You should come out. Stay at my mom’s house and go out for pilot season.” So he came out, he auditioned for pilot season, and he got [Beverly Hills] 90210. So when my show gets canceled and I’m super depressed, Luke comes in and he says, “My show got picked up!” And 90210 replaced The Outsiders. I was down and he took a rocket ship to stardom and the rest is history.
DA: Luke was really great. Luke helped me. He also put a really good word in for me on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And then he put in a good word for me on 90210. I got to play “Diesel” Stone. The funny thing, I was playing a drummer. I was doing these drum lessons, listening to the song over and over, trying to get it down. And I show up on set, and there’s this total hair band. We’re at Gazzarri’s, which was this old nightclub that is now 1 Oak or something. It was owned by this old mobster, allegedly. The band that’s there, they’re all rockers, but they said, “Listen bro, we’re playing our actual song, it’s our song in the show, and we’re a real band, and we have a drummer.” And I said, “Oh, okay. I’m supposed to be the drummer in this.” “Yeah, but we have a drummer, so we got this for you.” And it was a keytar. So I don’t know if you guys are aware of the fact that a keytar is not quite as cool as a drum set. It was pretty funny. Another funny parallel was that I was dating Axl Rose’s ex-wife at the time, and one of my lines is, “Axl Rose is a sell-out!” I’m playing this keytar, asking, “Do I have to say this line?” “Kinda, yeah. He’s one of the biggest rock ’n’ roll stars right now.”
DA: I was obviously new to the business, and it was an incredible opportunity. It allowed me to work with Rutger Hauer and Luke, who was a dear friend. Working with dear friends, there’s just a hidden history there that just makes it that much more grounded. So that was really fun. Paul Reubens has become one of my dear friends in life. So that was a blessing. He was friends with Luke, too. We all stayed really close and connected.
But I knew that at the time [writer] Joss Whedon wasn’t thrilled with the tone. I think the TV series is way closer to what he wanted initially. I think there was a little bit of, not a disappointment, but a desire to continue it. The funny thing is that Fox, for some reason or another, didn’t keep the rights to television. Somebody must have kicked themselves.
AVC: And you stayed in touch with Luke Perry?
DA: Oh, yeah. I loved Luke. We were friends. Luke was amazing. Luke grow up on a farm and knew about all kinds of stuff. He could build stuff. He had a potbelly pig when he lived with us. He just loved all that kind of stuff. He was such a gracious, sweetest guy you’ll ever meet. I miss him dearly.
In the wrestling world recently, I started wrestling again after 20 years—and his son, Jack Perry, who is Jungle Boy in AEW, is a huge wrestler now. He was wrestling on the same show as me, and it became this crazy event where I had an accident in the ring, I got my neck stabbed. It was my fault, by the way.
Luke and Jack were there, and they drove me to the hospital. They thought I was dying because it hit me in the neck. I get out of the ring and I have my hand on my neck, and I can hear Luke but I can’t see him because of the crowd. He says, “Davey, it’s Luke!” I said, “Luke, is it pumping?” He said, “It’s not pumping.” I was like, “Whew, I’m not going to bleed out right here.”
DA: You know, it’s funny, because I wasn’t really clear on the difference between a death match and a hardcore match, but apparently a hardcore matches is with tables and chairs, and death matches involve other things like barbed wire or light tubes. So I started doing some research on death matches. I didn’t know that it was kind of frowned upon by the older generation of original wrestlers. But I didn’t know the difference.
Part of the thing was that everyone thought I was just this punk actor who got this opportunity. So when it came up that Joey Ryan had injured his shoulder and he couldn’t wrestle Nick Gage, well, he’s one of the toughest guys in the business. I was like, oh, this is kind of a perfect opportunity to show people that I’m tough, that I’m not scared, that I can do whatever. But I got in over my head and I learned a huge lesson, which is that you have to stick to the program no matter what happens. You have to always obviously protect yourself, but if you do things… I pulled his legs when I wasn’t supposed to, which caused my neck to get cut.
I learned a huge lesson. It’s a really intricate, complicated world. People tell you some things when you train, but there’s some things that you can only learn from experience and from being in the ring. How to slow yourself down, that’s a huge part of wrestling. Time moves a lot quicker in the wrestling ring than you think. There’s a saying that if you think you’re going slow in the wrestling ring, slow down. Because there’s choreography—there’s an element of people seeing things in different parts of the ring—so you want them to be able to focus at the right places at the right times. To tell a story without dialogue, which has to be all in your face and your reactions and your moves and all the stuff. It’s really an intricate thing you learn from doing it.
I have no animosity toward Game Changer Wrestling or Nick Gage. I think he’s an incredible wrestler. I think he doesn’t get as much credit as he should.
Ready To Rumble (2000)—Gordie Boggs
WCW Thunder (2000)—Himself
WCW Monday Nitro (2000)—Himself
AVC: How much would you say your experiences on Ready To Rumble and WCW motivated your return to wrestling?
DA: That motivated it a lot. I did Ready To Rumble because I was a wrestling fan. I had gone to the live events. I saw Andre The Giant and Hulk Hogan when I was a kid at the L.A. Sports Arena. I never forgot touching Andre’s back and thinking, “Wow, this guy is so huge!” I was just a little kid. It was an amazing time.
To promote the film, they put me on some WCW shows. I was getting a big reaction, and the company at the time was kind of lacking in ratings, so they were like, “This would be a good opportunity to bring some eyes.” They made me the champion and I got on the cover of USA Today. It was a big sort of coup for them, but the fan base just revolted. They basically hated me for 19 years. I was the butt of everyone’s joke. “That’s a worse idea than making David Arquette the champion.” Whenever anything came up, that was what was said.
It was before the internet that we had done all this, so that when the internet came on, it just kind of amplified the voice. I’m literally at the top of the worst things in wrestling history, so I kind of just got sick of it. Because I was a wrestling fan, and I never had the opportunity to properly train. I never got accepted as one of the boys. I really wanted to do that. I wanted to train. I wanted to honor wrestling, in a sense, not be a smear on its history. So I really took it seriously, I trained, and I wrestled on an independent team for a year and a half. I have a tag-team partner, R.J. City, who’s taught me quite a bit about business and about doing it.
According to my doctor, I have permanent whiplash, so I have to figure out how to work around that. You know, do one match and I’m kind of injured for the next month or two. But it’s a really rough business. It’s tough, and there’s a lot that goes into it. It takes real dedication, and I finally got accepted by the boys, and I feel like I’m not an outcast in the locker room. It was a great experience, honestly. I shot a documentary that’s going to be making the film festival circuit coming up. We’ll have an announcement about that pretty soon. So that’s really exciting, too. It’s about my return to the ring. It’s sort of about finding myself. There’s a lot that goes into wrestling in general.
AVC: You have a “Macho Man” Randy Savage tattoo and you worked with him on Ready To Rumble. What was that like?
DA: He’s one of my favorites. I also bought a stage-worn “Macho Man” costume and I’ve gone as him for Halloween. I even took his costume to Burning Man once. I passed out Slim Jims. Just completely out there, but amazingly enough, he was ahead of his time, and a “Macho Man” Randy Savage costume at Burning Man fits right in. It’s perfect.
But on the set of Ready To Rumble, I was just like, “Oh ‘Macho Man,’ I’m such a huge fan of yours.” I do a horrible “Macho Man,” but he goes [in “Macho Man” voice], “Oh yeah, thanks so much, brother.” I asked him, “Do you mind me asking where do you live?” He said, “Tampa Bay,” or something like that. And we just started having this conversation, and he’s full “Macho Man” the whole time: “Ooh, yeah, well, we’ll do a scene.” Just blew my mind. I was just such a huge fan of his, and he was so sweet and gracious. Shane Helms, who did all my stunt work on that, he did the stunt where I get suplexed, and that’s my big regret, that I didn’t have “Macho Man” suplex me. But he did punch me, which was good. The funniest part is that there’s Oliver Platt, he comes up and he’s supposed to punch “Macho Man” and he actually connects. He freaked out! Little did he know that that’s what happens kind of all the time. Whoever thinks wrestling is fake is wrong. There are so many real punches that happen, real things. There might be one or two little missed moments, but most of those things connect in a very real way.
AVC: In a previous interview with Matthew Lillard, he made it sound like nobody working on Scream really thought it was going to take off like it did. What was your feeling?
DA: I knew it was special. Especially in retrospect, because there’s this certain thing that happens on certain films that do well, when the producers, the writer, the director, and the actors all kind of gel in an interesting way that you can’t really quantify. There was definitely that on the set.
For one, it started with a great script that was there already. The rest of the films that we did, they were always working on the script as we went along, which I think had an effect on the quality. So I love that they’re going back with this new one, the fifth one, from the script stage first. Get a great story that makes sense that really isn’t changing all along. So that will be exciting.
But yeah, we didn’t know if it was going to be this huge hit. The first week I believe it wasn’t a huge hit, and then it got a word-of-mouth thing happening, and then it started picking up speed, and then it became what it was. So it was super exciting to be a part of that. Definitely changed my life. I met my ex-wife [Courteney Cox] on it. There’s not many films where you end up with a child after filming. Or getting a divorce, like the fourth one. We met, we got married, we got a kid, we got divorced, all within the scope of those four films. It was a pretty interesting snippet of my life, for sure.
AVC: Was it surprising to you that Dewey ended up becoming one of the backbones of the franchise?
DA: Yeah, especially since I was supposed to die in the first one. My character died in the first one. And Wes Craven said, “You know what, David? Why don’t you show up tomorrow and we’ll put you in and roll you into the back of the ambulance, and maybe you’ll make it, and maybe you won’t.” That was his sense of humor, too. He was such a brilliant guy. He was an amazing mentor for me as a director and as a human. He gave me a lot of tremendous advice, personally. He had a lot of patience with me, as far as my ups and downs in my personal life. He really got me to focus and become a better man, to be honest.
AVC: Is horror something you’ve always been into?
DA: Yeah, I love horror films. I love the horror fans, especially. They’re so dedicated. They’re so knowledgable. They’re my kind of people, that’s what I really love. There’s an interesting crossover with wrestling fans. Horror fans, wrestling fans, comic book fans. The Comic-Con genre is a really sweet spot for me. I just love interacting with the fans. I’m a fan myself. It makes it kind of easy to geek out with them. I cast Jason Mewes in a film I directed [2006’s The Tripper] because he’s such an icon in that world. It’s a community.
AVC: Was it cool for you, then, to pop up in Shudder’s Creepshow revival?
DA: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I got to work with Greg Nicotero, who’s part of KNB [Efx Group, which] did all the special effects for Buffy; they did Ravenous. I used them as well for The Tripper, and Howard Burger and Greg Nicotero are just such heroes of mine. I loved going by their warehouse and their workshop and seeing all the crazy stuff they’re doing.
So to be able to work on Creepshow, which was one of my early favorite films as a kid—I used to go to the movies alone all the time. I had to entertain myself a lot. I was the youngest of five kids, and my parents at the time were just trying to scratch a living together. I would have weekends to myself, so I’d take a bus to a movie theater that had two theaters in it. So I would buy a ticket and just spend the whole day at the movie theater, just go from movie to movie. I saw Creepshow at one of those, and thought, “Oh man, this has the perfect combo of something scary but it has this humor.” I think it did have a real impact.
AVC: When you worked on Riding The Bullet, did you get a chance to meet Stephen King at all?
DA: No, I didn’t. I’m a huge fan of his. He wrote an incredible book called On Writing, which was really inspirational to me. I read that before I wrote the script for The Tripper with Joe Harris, an amazing comic book author. It really just helped me focus. I didn’t get to meet him, unfortunately. But it was a really cool film. [Director] Mick Garris is also a real legend in the genre, and just a really incredible human being, a real beautiful person. It’s funny, some of the people that do some of the scarier films are some of the nicer people I’ve met in this world. That goes for horror fans as well. There’s something to the exorcism of that kind of stuff that allows you to be a good person, in a weird way. It’s opposite of what you’d think.
DA: That was really a pivotal experience. Tim Blake Nelson and I had done a miniseries called Dead Man’s Walk, not to be confused with Dead Man Walking. It was three months in the middle of west Texas with Harry Dean Stanton and Edward James Olmos and Johnny Lee Miller. We just had an incredible time. Harry Dean Stanton would sing at these little cantinas across Texas. I got to know Tim Blake Nelson really well, and we stayed in touch. When this came out, he was gracious enough to allow me to play this part. I’m half-Jewish, my grandparents on my mother’s side escaped the Holocaust, so it was really an intense experience. I’d read a ton of books on the subject matter and gone to museums and really learned a lot.
But this one specific event that happened at the beginning of it really kind of blew my mind. We were setting up for my first scene, and we were filming in Bulgaria, and they had recreated to scale a crematorium setting. It was really intense, the whole set-up they had was a factory for burning human bodies. It was awkward because we’d go into this room with all of these naked extras who are all painted to be corpses. I was averting my eyes so I wouldn’t make anyone uncomfortable, and I’m dressed as a Jewish prisoner who’s doing the dirty work of these Nazis. So we’re getting ready to roll and there’s no dialogue in the scene, it’s just for a montage sequence, but it’s hot and they’re really burning these fires and you’re shoving these bodies and some of them are mannequins and some of them are human. We’re not shoving the humans into it, obviously, but we’d shove some of the dummies into the fire. And then the humans were loading, we were loading a real human onto the thing to get ready to push her in. So I’m sitting there, and I’m waiting to do it, and they say, “Okay, rolling,” and I turn to pick this woman up, and she looks just like my mother. She’s got her head shaved, and my mom had been going through cancer at the time, so she had a shaved head. I looked down and see my mother and it was such a shocking moment that I just lifted her up with the other person and put her on the thing and was just completely emotional about it. It was really one of the most personal and intense experiences I’ve ever had on a film set.