From Wes Craven to Robert Altman: Neve Campbell’s 10 best film performances
“I find the most interesting and most daring scripts tend to be for independent films.” – Neve Campbell
Canadian actress Neve Campbell rose to prominence with her performances as Julia Salinger on the Fox drama series Party of Five as well as Sidney Prescott in the immensely popular slasher film franchise Scream. Although she trained as a ballet dancer when she was young, injuries prevented Campbell from pursuing it as a career and she transitioned to acting at the age of 15. Her first starring role was as Daisy in the Canadian drama series Catwalk.
Campbell reflected, “In my 20s, it all hit so fast and so big that it was a little overwhelming. Wonderful, obviously, and I’m very grateful for it, but it got to a level, also, where the kinds of things that I was being offered were not the things I wanted to do. I was constantly being offered horror films, because I was known for horror films, or bad romantic comedies.”
She added, “For a long time, I was told to be concerned about people’s idea of me [regarding] the choices I was making and what it would do to my career. No matter what your choices are you truly have no control about what people think of you. It also gets boring doing that because you end up not making choices for yourself. I’m just at a point where I want to do work that is interesting, that challenges me and I want to be around people that inspire and push me. The choices I’ve made has caused this kind of independent idea of me but I just want to have fun.”
On her 47th birthday, we revisit some of Neve Campbell’s best film performances as a celebration of the popular culture icon.
Neve Campbell’s 10 best films:
10. 54 (Mark Christopher – 1998)
Mark Christopher’s 1998 drama film is about Studio 54, a world-famous New York City discotheque. Starring Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek and Neve Campbell, 54 is a story of complicated relationships and an investigation of popular culture. Campbell plays a soap-opera actress called Julie Black.
Christopher said, “What drew me initially was the love of disco music. The good stuff. Not Disco Duck, and not the big car commercials, but the sexy primal dance music that also has violins, horns and fantastic vocals. Disco music represented this sort of freedom.
“I was in graduate school at Columbia, and I wanted to do a disco American Graffiti. One of my teachers, Paul Schrader, suggested that I do my disco American Graffiti at Studio 54. So that was the initial draw.”
9. Castle in the Ground (Joey Klein – 2019)
This recent drama features Campbell as a mother of a teenager who finds himself in the middle of the opioid epidemic, struggling with addiction and violence. Campbell puts in a strong performance, perfectly capturing the psychological conflicts that such a role demands.
“When I read this script, it felt important and prevalent,” Campbell said in an interview with CBS. “Addiction is a tough topic, but an important topic. I thought that the script was harrowing, but well written. For me as a mom of two boys, it was not difficult to imagine what it would be like to say goodbye to my children. That was important to get right.”
8. Scream 4 (Wes Craven – 2011)
Campbell reprises her most iconic role as Sidney Prescott in the 2011 installment to the Scream franchise. The film follows the sinister events which take place when Sidney visits her hometown after ten years. Scream 4 is definitely a step-up from its immediate predecessor and Campbell displays her comfort in playing the familiar character.
“It’s been 15 years now that we’ve been doing these characters, so it was not difficult to jump into,” Campbell said. “I had fun watching the films again, before we started this, just to get a sense of it. It was really nice to see that they still held up really well. But, no, it wasn’t difficult to get into character. With Sidney, it’s just imagining her circumstances and doing it.”
7. Wild Things (John McNaughton – 1998)
This 1998 neo-noir crime thriller stars Neve Campbell and Denise Richards as two high school students. Richards plays a wealthy and popular student whereas Campbell’s character is a poor outcast. The film gained notoriety because of its explicit portrayal of sexuality.
“I wanted someone who’s a lot less innocent than Julia Salinger,” Campbell explained why she chose to do Wild Things. “I got to kiss Denise in the film,” says Campbell, smiling. “It was fun. We just sorta went in and did it. Actually, we mixed margaritas and brought a bottle of wine in my trailer and got drunk first.”
6. The Lion King2: Simba’s Pride (Darrell Rooney – 1998)
The follow-up to the beloved and acclaimed 1994 original, The Lion King 2 follows the adventures of Kiara (played by Campbell), Simba’s daughter. She escapes from Timon and Pumba, venturing into the forbidden lands and befriending Kovu, the son of the primary antagonist of the first film: Scar.
According to Darrell Rooney, the film was heavily influenced by the famous Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet and the final draft gradually became a variation of Romeo and Juliet. Although it never really achieved what the original did, it’s a good sequel and Kiara is an interesting addition to the world of Lion King.
5. Reefer Madness (Andy Fickman – 2005)
Andy Flickman’s 2005 musical comedy is based on the 1936 eponymous anti-marijuana film and is an adaptation of a 1998 musical by Flickman, Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney. Kristen Bell stars as Mary Lane, a “good” girl who feels bad for her friends who smoke weed.
The musical features some great acting and great comedic performances. At times it feels like it is deliberately bad but even that adds to its comic element. Campbell delivers a fine performance as Miss Poppy.
4. The Company (Robert Altman – 2003)
Robert Altman’s 2003 dance drama stars Campbell as Loretta “Ry” Ryan, an aspiring ballerina who performs with the famous Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. Campbell draws on her own experiences as a dancer, adding another element to her character.
Campbell praised the acclaimed filmmaker, “I loved Robert Altman. I’m so passionate about that man, and with James and Robert, their egos don’t get in the way of the art. There are so many directors in Hollywood who want to think it was all their idea.
“They don’t invite their artists to bring their art to the table. But Robert and James want you to argue with them and suggest the new concepts and ideas. Altman creates worlds, you know. Robert to me is more of choreographer than a film director.”
3. Scream 2 (Wes Craven – 1997)
The popularity of the original film ensured a sequel just a year later. It focuses on Sidney’s (Campbell) life in college. She finds herself to be the target of an even more outrageous psychotic killer. Scream 2 added to the legacy of the franchise in a positive way and further pigeonholed Campbell as a specialist of the horror genre.
“It’s been funny,” Campbell reflected, “because people think I chose to be a horror film actress. Scream was the first movie I got as lead, so that’s what I did, and it ended up becoming huge. But that was not the genre I chose. I don’t watch horror movies.”
2. Panic (Henry Bromell – 2000)
Henry Bromell’s 2000 crime drama revolves around the life of Alex (played by William H. Macy), a married hitman who is going through a midlife crisis. He goes to therapy where he meets Sarah (Campbell) in the waiting room, a neurotic and witty young woman.
Alex is ordered by his father (the killing is a family business) to terminate the life of his therapist because his father fears Alex is ratting him out. Alex keeps turning to Sarah as he tries to figure out what to do, developing an interesting chemistry between two conflicted individuals.
1. Scream (Wes Craven – 1996)
Undoubtedly the most iconic role of Campbell’s career, Scream was the film that exposed the actress to a mainstream audience and made her an indispensable member of a beloved film franchise. Set in the sleepy town of Woodsboro, Scream conducts a terrifying, hilarious and self-reflexive examination of the horror genre.
Craven said, “Most of the scripts that come across your desk are terrible. They’re derivative, they’re ugly and they’re just gore for gore’s sake.”
“I found it a very appealing script,” the director added. “It’s really wonderfully written, it’s very funny. It’s scary when it means to be scary, extraordinarily well-informed about the genre itself.”