Neve Campbell: Scream star makes London stage debut

She shot to fame fleeing knife-wielding psychos in Scream. But instead of signing up for a career of big-budget schlock, Neve Campbell took on indie projects and produced a film with Robert Altman. And now the great man is directing her theatre debut

Catapulted to stardom in the mid-Nineties in Wes Craven's blood-and-guts-in-high-school trilogy Scream, Neve (pronounced "Nev") was everywhere. Men's magazines voted her one of the sexiest women alive and everyone wanted a slice of her. Since then, however, the temperature has cooled. More ambitious actors might chafe at this, but Campbell is nothing but relieved. She has other things in mind.

She and her partner, the actor John Light, have recently returned from a Christmas spent ricocheting around her native Canada, catching up with her far-flung family. During the trip, John rummaged in his pocket, went down on one knee and produced a simple, square diamond ring. (She accepted.)

Things aren't stagnant on the work front either. The two of them recently finished shooting on Partition, a Canadian film set in India in 1947, and while he goes to Stratford-upon-Avon to play Brutus in the RSC's Julius Caesar, she has a succession of leading roles in forthcoming movies including The Mermaids Singing with Jessica Lange and Dougray Scott and Relative Strangers with Kathy Bates and Danny DeVito. Oh, and there's the little matter of her second project with Robert Altman.

Despite having moved in to an airy north London house only a couple of weeks before going away, she looks strikingly at home. In sweater and jeans, legs tucked neatly beneath her, she's wearing no make-up and looking seriously younger than 32. Nestled into a sofa surrounded by her three dogs, she's nursing a cup of tea and contriving, rather successfully, to look relaxed. Mention of Altman, however, elicits a slightly anxious laugh. "I'm nervous," she admits, dark eyes gleaming, "but excited." Those mixed emotions stem from the fact that the project, Resurrection Blues, is a play. Campbell is about to make her stage debut.

London has lately become littered with Hollywood stars, starlets and dim bulbs beefing up their career chops by appearing in safe vehicles that stretch their screen personas not a jot. But instead of cruising through a theatrical Hollywood retread such as the misbegotten When Harry Met Sally, she has chosen the penultimate play by Arthur Miller.

"It's a political satire," she announces crisply, "about an undefined South American country and the crucifixion of a man whom people believe could possibly be holy. It almost feels as if Miller took virtually every political idea he ever had and put them into one play. But basically it's about how the media affects politics these days. So it's dense but funny, which seems to me to be an interesting mix." Her character, Jeanine, is a failed revolutionary and niece of the dictator. At the top of the play she's in a wheelchair, having failed to commit suicide by throwing herself out of the window of a tall building - "I can remember passing the third floor on the way down and the glorious sensation of release." Does Jeanine's valiant but thwarted idealism make her the lead?

"No, and that's great! It's my first play and I really didn't want to carry it. Jane Adams, Maximilian Schell, James Fox and Matthew Modine all have more than I do." She has been looking for a play for some time and turning down inappropriate ideas. "I was offered Shakespeare here recently but that was absolutely the worst choice I could have made. I knew it would be much smarter to start on a more delicate level."

Actually, "start" isn't strictly accurate. The stage isn't a foreign country for her. Like many other girls who'd studied ballet from the age of six, she dreamed of ballet school. At nine she auditioned with 2,000 others for Canada's prestigious National Ballet School and, alongside six others, got in. "We started off dancing a minimum of five hours a day plus academic work. It's such a big thing to be there - you're constantly made aware of that." Nevertheless, five years later, with solo appearances with the company already under her belt, she became the first person in 50 years to quit the school.

Her Glaswegian father, a drama teacher, and her Dutch-born mother divorced when she was a baby. She now evenly describes her childhood as "difficult". Non-stop dance was physically draining but a way out of loneliness. "But by the time I was 12 or 13 I was constantly being told to cut back on the expression. It became all about technique. I started to hate it. I just thought, 'I'm putting myself through all this pain and stress and I'm still not allowed to express myself within the one thing I really love.'"

Fiercely self-motivated, she felt increasingly isolated. In a culture driven by fame at any price, her decision to ditch so promising a career looks almost bizarre. "I just wanted to be normal. I didn't have friends. I wanted some. I wanted a locker! You know those ones you see in high-school movies? We didn't have them."

Normality - and a locker - arrived via a school that was 95 per cent Jamaican. But she didn't abandon dance altogether and, just shy of 15 years old, found herself at a massive open casting call for Phantom of the Opera. To her complete surprise, she got it. "Suddenly I had left home, I was working and being paid," she says. "Everyone was 10 or 15 years older than me. And they were sane and adult and taking care of me." It was the beginning of a pattern that has seen her repeatedly winning independence while searching for support.

In modern fairy-tale fashion, an agent spotted her and guided her towards modelling. "I stuck it for two months and despised it." Acting in commercials led to TV and small movies and, at the age of 20, a brief spell rattling around LA going nowhere until someone put her up for two auditions. The second was to play studious good girl Julia Salinger in a new TV show called Party of Five. It ran for six years.

The template for the likes of Dawson's Creek, this hour-long, weekly primetime show about five kids whose parents were killed in a car crash was the first teen drama with crossover appeal. It won the Golden Globe for best drama in its first season and made the names of everyone on it, including Jennifer Love Hewitt and Matthew Fox, now resident hunk on Lost. Hell, it was iconic enough to resurface as a punchline on Will & Grace. Once again, though, her public image and private self weren't matching up. "You're famous and doing all these magazines and you're in everyone's living room every week but you work 15-hour days, seven days a week, nine months a year and you have no life."

By this stage she was married to a younger Canadian actor, Jeff Colt. He followed her to LA but work got in the way. Disparity in their careers opened up cracks in the relationship and they divorced after five increasingly difficult years. She won't discuss it, other than to say that they married far too young. What she does allow is that leaving Party of Five was like becoming an adult for the first time. "At 27, after seven years in LA, I realised that all I knew about was the route from home to work and back again. I suddenly woke up."

And something else had happened in the interim. TV actors come with a stigma attached - even Jenifer Aniston can't shrug off Rachel Green. So Campbell had ensured that she made a film during the show's annual three-month hiatus. And in the second one she wound up in a small Northern California hotel with a bunch of virtual unknowns on the least likely of projects. Miramax's postmodern slasher comedy was written in a weekend, cost $15m, was called Scream and grossed (I used the term advisedly) $103m. Campbell grins. "We made jokes - hey, wouldn't it be funny if this movie works and next Halloween people are wearing the costume? And now every year they do."

Her fame began to curdle. She was even caught minding her own business in a lavatory while a fan slid a pen and paper beneath the cubicle door demanding an autograph, not to mention the rise of internet fan-sites boasting nude photos. "Of course it's nice that people pay attention and once a year you find yourself going on a site and seeing some nude picture of yourself and thinking, 'Hey, great body - it's not mine, though. That head looks a little big ...'"

Other offshoots of notoriety were harder to shrug off. Scream brought her stalkers. "It was upsetting." She falters a little. "And scary. It reached a point where I had to hire security and have my house done. I suddenly had to pay for my safety. I'd never decided I wanted to be famous, or even to act. It just occurred. I thought, 'This is my job, which I love and hopefully I'm entertaining people, which is a good intention.' Out of that someone threatens to kill you. That's a tough thing to comprehend."

Off-screen her intelligence is self-evident by the sheer speed at which she speaks. On-screen, she avoided repeating herself by swathing herself in eyeliner to play the disaffected, scheming bad girl Susie, doing sultry lesbian kissing with pouting, poolside Denise Richards in the cult sex'n'murder thriller Wild Things. What she shouldn't have done was make the Matthew Perry faux-gay rom-com Three to Tango. "I knew the script wasn't ready, my character in particular. But my agents were saying, 'You need to look beautiful. You want to be Jennifer Jason Leigh but you should be Julia Roberts.' It ended up being bad and I was really bad because I didn't believe in it. After that bombed - which it should have - I thought, I am not going to listen to other people."

With money in the bank and industry clout, she could choose to avoid badly written, high-profile pictures - she turned down Lara Croft: Tomb Raider - in favour of independent projects she felt passionate about, such as Panic with William H Macy and Donald Sutherland or Last Call opposite Jeremy Irons. And The Company, directed by Robert Altman.

Campbell spent eight years producing the movie, planning, structuring, raising finance, hiring the talent and crew. After 10 years, she returned to dance, to a level where she could pass as a leading dancer at Chicago's Joffrey Ballet. She spent months flying back and forth to New York to persuade Altman to direct. With a deal within sight, she went snowboarding and dislocated her knee.

"I was told I needed surgery and it would be a year before I could walk properly," she says. "I was livid with myself." And she couldn't tell Bob. She kept flying to New York, standing outside Altman's office, removing a leg-brace and trying to walk normally. "He'd say, 'The only reason I'm making this movie is if you can dance. Can you dance?'"

She rejected surgery in favour of intensive body therapies including rolfing, a deep tissue massage that lifts muscles from the bone. For six months, she trained eight-and-a-half hours a day. The pay-off? "I'm actually shocked to be able to say the film pretty much turned out exactly as I wanted."

Even defending her strongest achievement, she is self-possessed yet reserved. You realise that she's shy, an actress happier away from the spotlight. That's why she's enjoying Resurrection Blues. "This is about a group of people using ideas and techniques to really discuss and work the material."

Even outside work, London life is her perfect antidote to the barren LA life she so loathed. She giggles at the fact that living here meant she had no idea when the Golden Globes were on, much less who won them. Far better to be walking unrecognised around the city, or disappearing off for an afternoon at a museum. She sighs, understandably content. "It's really nice to go places with John and have people say to me, 'Are you an actor too?'"

'Resurrection Blues' is at The Old Vic, London SE1, 0870 060 6628, www.oldvicthreatre.com

Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

    A Different League

    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

    Steve Bunce on Boxing

    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf