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The rise of David Arquette was inevitable, when viewed from a historical perspective. His greatgrandparents were vaudeville duo Arquette and Clark. His grandfather was Cliff Arquette, who carved himself a niche as TV’s Charley Weaver, a “Jack Paar Show” regular. His father was Lewis Arquette, a journeyman actor and comedian, a recurring character on “The Waltons,” and a prolific day player, showing up on “Barney Miller,” “Fantasy Island,” “Simon and Simon,” “Remington Steele,” “Seinfeld,” and dozens of other popular television shows. A straight shot from the earliest days of American show business, through the dawn of television and the rat race of primetime, the youngest star in the Arquette dynasty was a long time coming. And alongside siblings Rosanna, Patricia, Richmond, and Alexis, the offbeat performer carries the torch of a hundred-year-old family tradition.

We first caught a glimpse of him in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) or maybe in Airheads (1994) or Beautiful Girls (1996) — and he had our attention. And when he stumbled onto the scene as the greenhorn Deputy Dewey Riley in Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), we found ourselves fascinated with this curious character, and struggling to discern what made him so darn compelling. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson nailed it in Scream 2. After reading Gale’s demoralizing portrayal of him in her book, Dewey retorts, “How do you know that my dimwitted inexperience isn’t merely a subtle form of manipulation, used to lower people’s expectations, thereby enhancing my ability to effectively maneuver within any given situation?” Arquette radiates an innocent fearfulness of the world, yet there’s a glimmer in his eye that suggests he might just get the better of everyone. The power of Arquette’s work is rooted in a fundamental oozing of eternal naiveté, beneath which lies a sly, savvy wisdom that packs a mean sucker punch.

Over the years, Arquette’s sneak-from behind maneuvers have earned him some detractors. When he pinned Eric Bischoff and became the WCW World Heavyweight Champion in 2000, many professional wrestling fans, to put it frankly, hated his guts for it. And with his starring roles in movies like the wondrously goofy Ready to Rumble (2000) — the catalyst for his wrestling foray — and the mile a- minute mutant-spider flick, Eight Legged Freaks (2002), Arquette admits to finding himself typecast. But it’s in films like Johns (1996), that explores the tragic lives of male prostitutes on the streets of L.A., and the bittersweet indie comedy, Dream with the Fishes (1997), about an affection-starved shut-in who takes his first steps into the world, that the actor’s fourth-generation pedigree truly shines through. And one needs only to watch The Grey Zone (2001) — about a group of Sonderkommandos, who assisted in the Nazi extermination programs during World War II, and executed a revolt at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 — to experience the range and pathos that Arquette is capable of.

Seen recently in the uproariously subversive Hamlet 2 (2008), and in episodes of “In Case of Emergency,” “My Name Is Earl,” and the sorely missed “Pushing Daisies,” Arquette is also executive producing ABC’s “Cougar Town” with his wife Courteney Cox and their company, Coquette Productions. And currently in post-production is The Land of the Astronauts, the story of a successful film composer’s fall from grace, and his battle with alcoholism and insanity that follows. These days, the quirkily loveable thespian is trodding the boards of Westwood’s Geffen Playhouse in the farcical social-commentary piece, “The Female of the Species.” His born-yesterday/ old-as-the-hills presence is in full force as Bryan, the hapless, kind-hearted son-inlaw of Annette Bening’s old-school feminist matriarch, Margot Mason. Julian Sands, Merritt Wever, Mireille Enos, and Josh Stamberg round out the cast, each of whom represents an aspect of their respective genders. With befuddled profundity, Arquette’s character challenges Bening’s about her underlying motives, suggesting that her pursuit of celebrity has always trumped her message. And all the while, Bryan begins to accept the fact that his wife is leaving him for a more manly man.

We meet with Arquette shortly before curtain. We find him genuine, open, funny, and after 10 years, still completely jazzed to be married to Courteney Cox — with whom he has a daughter, Coco Riley. Arquette offers us a bowl of matzah-ball soup, as we launch into his tale.

Venice: Tell us about Bryan, your character in “The Female of the Species.”

David Arquette: Bryan represents the new man. He has a very feminine side to him. And it was hard to find that aspect of him in the role, because when he comes in, he wants to save the day, and be their man. “I’m here!” But the more I kept reading it, it made more sense that I was — not the opposite — but very different from Frank [Stamberg], so that you could see why Tess [Enos] would want to be with someone else. And I know that she’s not happy in our marriage, so it’s not a big surprise.

And Frank represents the primal man.

He’s funny, because he used to be a man’s man, but then he tried to be more sensitive and all these things, like Bryan, and then his wife didn’t want him anymore. She wanted a man. When he first comes in, he’s got a great speech about how women want men to be sensitive, and then once we are, you just knock us down. [laughs]

What do you enjoy about live theater?

I love the relationship with the audience. The connection you’re having with them, as you’re having this relationship with your fellow actors and the material. And how it’s all alive and transforming, and subtle differences. One thing that amazes me about Annette, is she’s just never the same. In every performance, she’s different. She is always very real, and going with the flow, with the energy that’s happening. I don’t think she’s ever delivered a line the same way twice. Where I’m probably a little more plotted about figuring out what works, and then trying to replicate it in a natural way. I love the relationship with the cast and the audience. There’s such a neat balance going on. We’re all playing a game together, and if it all works, and the audience is enjoying themselves, and we’re having fun doing it, and expressing ourselves, it’s a really great feeling. The hard part is you get off stage and you’re completely amped, and it’s 10 o’clock, and it makes it impossible to go to sleep.

Tell us about your upbringing. You were born on a Subud commune in Virginia?

Yes, Subud is a religious philosophy. You can be any religion and be a part of it. It’s non-denominational. It’s based on Hindu philosophy, Buddhism, and Islam. The person who started it was an Indonesian man, and those were his roots in philosophy. It had always been really open to any religion. My mother was born Jewish, my father was born Christian, and they both practiced this. My father ended up converting to Islam towards the end of his life, and my mother was just open to everything. She believed in Jesus, and different religious aspects. So it was always kind of wild, our upbringing, as far as religion goes. The funny story is that I was born on this commune in Virginia, and I was just a baby. My brothers and sisters, and around 30 families lived there. And then this guy named Bapak — which is, I think, “father” in Indonesian — came over to visit, and he saw this whole community in the middle of Front Royal, Virginia, outside of D.C., and he said, “What are you doing in the middle of the woods here? That’s not what my belief system is about. It’s about how everybody has their own gift, and it’s up to us to be the best people we can be, figure out what that gift is, work on that gift, and bring it out into the world, and make the world a better place.”

Did that affect how the community felt about itself?

Yeah, they all split! [laughs] We moved to Chicago! Literally, he came in and said, “What are you doing here? If you’re an artist, you should be where there are galleries, where you can paint and find inspiration. If you’re an actor, you should go where they’re doing plays and movies. If you’re a carpenter, you should go where they’re building houses.” So we up and moved to Chicago. My dad got involved with a lot of improvisation there, and my mother also taught an improvisation class.

Your dad was an actor, and your mom, too?

My mom was an actress, as well. She eventually went on to become a marriage and family counselor, and on her deathbed, she got her certificate. And it was cool, because my mom had a really intense childhood, so it was a really beautiful thing. It was like, “Mom, you made it! You graduated life!” It was a really beautiful thing for her to have achieved. She was a really smart woman. She learned all this stuff about her life. And my father passed away [at UCLA] across the street from the green room, upstairs. You can see the actual hospital room he died in. Our opening night was February 10, the date that he died. He did an improvisational play here once, so I thought, “Oh, man! This is intense.” I felt my father’s presence a lot. I have a director’s chair with his name on it, and I brought it up into my dressing room. It’s an older chair; I usually have it in my office. So I put it in the dressing room, and put a picture of him there. I just wanted his energy close. I went and took a shower on opening night, and I sat down on the chair, and it goes, “ktchhtt!” It ripped! [laughs] It was such the moment. I was alone in there, and I was like, “Dad, you’re such a joker!” He really is a complete joker. And it was just this really funny moment. My dad was the guy who walked around with the little fart machines, before anybody had them, and he would just do it in the most awkward places.

Where’s the funniest place he did it?

Oh, man, at the DMV, on the unemployment line. A line is always good, because it’s just awkward. And then once you get it, and get who his personality is, and get a little older, and not be so young about it, you’d actually play along with it. Which is the root and the fun of working improv, to go with stuff, and not stop it.

I’ve read that your family moved here so your sister could become more involved with acting.

No, actually, Rosanna ran away from the commune when she was 14. She moved out here and stayed with a family that our family was friends with. She totally made it on her own. I really give her all the credit in the world for re-igniting our name. I mean, our dad was obviously out there, doing his thing for 45 years or so, working as a professional actor. But she hit a stardom level that really got the name out there in a big way. And my dad’s father, my grandfather, was a guy named Charley Weaver. His real name is Cliff Arquette, but he played a character named Charley Weaver. And his father was in vaudeville with his mother. They had an act together. Actually, if you rent Waiting for Guffman, my father’s in that. He’s awesome; he plays the narrator.

The guy who starts the play talking about how much he loves beans!

Yeah! [laughs] It was so great that he got to do that before he passed away. Chris Guest was really such a sweet guy to be a fan of my father, and to put him in his stuff. So in Waiting for Guffman, Eugene Levy’s character says that his family came from vaudeville, and they show a little picture, and that picture is of my great grandfather and great grandmother. He had eight kids, and vaudeville died, and he committed suicide, which is sad. But my grandfather, Cliff, had learned the trade, and made the transition from vaudeville to radio, and then from radio to television.

What did he do on television?

He was a regular on the original “Tonight Show,” “The Jack Parr Show.” He was the bottom-left-hand corner on “Hollywood Squares.” He did a couple episodes of “The Dating Game.” It was a funny thing in his later years. [laughs] He was a real character.

Your first critically acclaimed role was in Johns. How did you end up in that film?

I had auditioned a few times when I was a kid, and I’d always get rejected. I got rejected for years. Literally, for like six years. I’d only have a few auditions a year, which isn’t that many, so it’s not a big surprise that I got rejected — but I couldn’t even get an agent. It was pretty embarrassing. And then I just turned my back on it, and was like, “Fuck it! I’m gonna go nuts in L.A.” So I started running around this town, just being crazy in high school, doing graffiti art. My name was “Some1.” “KGB,” “Kids Gone Bad” — that was our crew. I got really into it in around ’86. We started really focusing on the art of it, and would pick out certain walls, and do a really cool piece.

So I was in high school, and some girls came up to me, and said, “Hey, they’re going to cast somebody from another school to play the character in this play. You should try out for it!” And I did try out for it, and I got it because no one else was available. [laughs] And I had to sing. It was an original play by Ben DeBaldo, the drama teacher, and he ended up really inspiring me to be an actor. Because, taking his class, and doing that play, and doing a few other plays, I found a love of acting again. And I really got into it. And also, I stayed after school, so I wouldn’t be running around and tagging. I’d have to study and do rehearsals. It’s just such an important thing. So I started focusing on acting, and I got a little more confidence. I got an agent at the Chasin Agency, and she got me my first job, and that was “The Outsiders” TV show. I was 17. And then I went on from that to do the original “Parenthood” television series, with Leo DiCaprio, believe it or not. It was cool and fun. After two years of doing that, I really felt like I had my bearings, as far as being in front of a camera. And that really led to my auditioning and getting the role in Johns.

Tell us about some of the issues that Johns explored, and the importance of that movie.

That movie was really important to me, and [director] Scott Silver did a great job. I got cast in it around three months before we shot it. So I had a ton of time to research. Growing up in Hollywood, I always knew some troublemaker kids, who ran away — little street hoods, you know? You’ve got to get to know these people. I was kind of one of those people, in my own way, with the graffiti, and running around. [laughs] My best friend’s older brother had a gang, so we’d hang out with them a lot. You can get into a lot of trouble with stuff like that. I lived right down the street from Santa Monica Boulevard, and at the time, we all hung out at the Formosa Café. So we’d go and hang out there, and party, and go nuts. And at the end of the night, I’d walk home, and I’d pay five bucks to whatever hustler I ran into, and just say, “Tell me the craziest thing that ever happened to you on the streets.” Or, “Why are you here?” And through that process, I met one guy who really seemed like my character. Tweety, I think his name was. He was this cool kid. I watched his mannerisms; he was this little gangster, a tough fuckin’ kid. I saw him a couple of other times, and talked to him, and then I saw him right before I shot the movie, and he was all skinny, and he had a big scar on his head, and he looked all fucked up. He said he got shot in the back of the head by someone in a car. They were like, “Fags!” And he was like, “Fuck you!” They turned around and shot him. And he went to the hospital, and it was this crazy fucking world. So a lot of the mannerisms, the stuff I had in my pocket, different aspects of the character, I got directly from that. And it really worked well, because some of the most shocking little moments, like when I go down on the one guy in the car, with the condom in my mouth, that’s how they said they do it.

That was John C. McGinley in the car.

Yes, that was awkward. Not as awkward as kissing Elliott Gould, but awkward nonetheless. [laughs]

Did that film lead into Scream, or did the two just happen at around the same time?

I think it probably led into it. Wes [Craven] was aware of me, because they called me in to play a different role, the Billy role. And when I read it, I was like, “I wanna play Dewey!” Just because he was written as this big, muscle man knucklehead. So I was like, “That’s a really funny role. I could do some fun stuff with that — and I get to kiss Courteney Cox, which is awesome.” I think I may have said that at the audition. [laughs]

Had you met Courteney before that?

I hadn’t, no. I met her when we had gotten cast, and we had this little mixer at Wes’ house. I came up and I was all flirty to her, and all cocky, and I was like, “Hey, how’s it goin’?” And she goes, “I’ve heard a lot about you.” And I said, “Yeah, well I heard a lot about you, too!” So we were flirting and whatever. And then she was up and taking off — leaving! She wasn’t there for too long; maybe an hour and a half. So after she had left, I said, “I gotta go, too. See ya!” I did a fast walk to my car, to see if I could catch up to her. She was in a Porsche, and she was like, “vroom!” and took off. So I run to my car, and start up my old ’68 Charger, I think it was. I started it up, but it was too cold, so I revved it, and took off after her, trying to follow her down the canyon, and she lost me. So I had to wait until rehearsals to see her again. [laughs]

Did she know you were chasing her?

No. I told her later, though. It was pretty creepy. I came up to Santa Rosa, where we were filming Scream, originally. So I’m sitting there, and she’s rehearsing, and she’s like, “I’m going back after this.” I was like, “What? What do you mean? You’re flying back?” She was like, “Yeah.” So I was like, “I’m flying back, too!” [laughs] And Jamie Kennedy was flying back, also. So I went, and it was probably the second time I had ever been in a limousine. I got in the limo, and there was vodka. I was just getting over a breakup, but I feel I used that a little to my advantage. Broken heart — it’s a good one, for any of the guys out there. [laughs] I proceeded to get pretty drunk on this vodka, and go on this plane with her. I think I might have cried, but it was all crocodile tears! Simply setting a trap! So, finally, we got to L.A., and she was like, “Bye!” Then she came back to Santa Rosa a couple of times. My hotel room was overlooking the parking lot, and I’d see her limo drive down and drop her off, and I’d wait, like, two minutes, and then I’d pick up the phone and dial her room number. And I would be like, “ring ring!” And she was like, “Hello?” I’m like, “Hey. Welcome back.” She was like, “What are you doing, stalking me?” I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing. What are you doing? I’m coming over.” She’s like, “No! No you’re not!” So we had our first date somewhere in there, and we watched Dead Man Walking.

That’s a rough film.

It was good. I fell asleep. She was like, “Great. Look at this guy.” But I was comfortable enough with her, and that was a good sign for me. So there you have it. I never shared that story before.

Well, thank you for sharing it. I loved Dream with the Fishes.

I love that film, too. It’s one of my favorites. And what was cool about that is I did Dream with the Fishes directly after Scream. I literally drove straight there. In Santa Rosa, I had bought either a ’69 or ’70 Riviera. It was second owner, and it was so cool. I don’t know if we were there during Fourth of July or something, but for some reason, I had a shit-load of fireworks in my trunk, and I drove the Riviera down to San Francisco, where we shot Dream with the Fishes. And it was just an amazing film. The first day we [filmed] we were all supposed to be on acid, and we stole a shot of being inside this aquarium.

And you had the Superman insignia tattooed on your chest.

Yeah, that was funny. [laughs] The worst fake tattoo ever.

I also love Ready to Rumble. It’s hilarious, and I think it’s a great story about you and Scott Caan getting called to this crazy adventure, where you help Oliver Platt become the hero that you’re convinced he is.

Thanks, man. I had fun with that film, too. I liked it a lot. People sometimes are critical of stuff. I like to look at things from the place of, “Is it fun? Is it funny? Is it entertaining? Is it a cool character? Are there other good actors?” And working with Oliver Platt and Scott Caan was amazing. And Brian Robbins was a great director. We had a lot of fun! We just enjoyed the whole experience. And then I got to tour with the wrestlers after that, and do the whole wrestling circuit. And I got to see this wild fuckin’ lifestyle that they live. And Ric Flair, alone! Hanging out with that guy was legendary. Just telling me stories. And he was really cool, because everyone was pretty upset with me because I came into wrestling when I was making and promoting a movie, and then I started wrestling. And I won the title, so people hated me for that. They were like, “Fucking ass.” But Ric Flair was really cool. He was like, “Hey, he’s one of us!” he said one time. And he told me stories about André the Giant, and all these people that I was into when I was a kid, like Hulk. And I got to walk through an airport with Hulk Hogan. It was a pretty amazing experience, because everyone’s like, “Hey,\ Hulk!” And he’s like, “Hey, Jim!” It’s the guy shining shoes. He goes through these places so much that he knows the guy’s name. They’re talking to him like he’s their best friend, which was pretty cool.

Was it a lot of fun to be in the ring?

It was. They didn’t tell me a lot about what I was supposed to be doing. They would block it out just briefly, but they didn’t want me to do anything too dangerous. I really wanted to get a little more active in the ring. But what are you gonna do? I’m an actor, not a wrestler.

I’d like to talk about The Grey Zone. I read that your mother was the daughter of Holocaust refugees.

Her parents were. I’m so bad about this kind of thing, but I think my grandfather was, her dad.

I’m wondering if that influenced your decision to take the role, or how you portrayed the character.

They escaped Poland to Russia, I believe, and then came to America. He was rolled up in a carpet. The Grey Zone was a special film for a lot of reasons, for me. Tim Blake Nelson is an amazing person, actor, and especially, a director. He’s just phenomenal. I had worked with him, years back, on [the 1996 TV miniseries] “Dead Man’s Walk” — not to be mistaken for Dead Man Walking — which was the “Lonesome Dove” prequel. We spent three months in West Texas, playing cowboys and Indians, and having a whole set with live horses and guns. It was the most fun. Harry Dean Stanton would play the guitar at night, and we’d all go to the nearest saloon and pretend we were cowboys. It was awesome. And Jonny Lee Miller was in it, and he’s a dear friend of mine. So we had a great time, and then I got to audition for Tim — and he remembered me from that, and I was lucky to get that role. It’s not something that people typically would have seen me in. Whenever somebody goes out on a limb like that, I always love it. If it’s with me, or other interesting casting. People are so quick to pigeonhole you in this town, but it’s amazing when people have confidence, and can see past the audition. Although, in that one, I think I had a good audition, because Tim’s very particular. He’s also an actor, so he knows how to help someone come into a room and make them feel comfortable. So it was an amazing experience. I got to go to Bulgaria. Tim gave us a list of books, and we read all of this amazing poetry, and watched witness accounts, and read books about the Sonderkommandos.

This is a group of people whom you seldom hear anything good about, because of what they were doing.

Yes, and it was one of the darkest moments in our history as humans. But to then find humanity in some of these characters is what was interesting. It was a very serious film. There was no joking around on the set, obviously. You just do your thing, and stay focused. It’s great when you get to be in something like that.

Switching gears, let’s talk about The Tripper, the 2006 horror film you directed.

It’s political satire; it’s a comedy wrapped up in a horror movie. It was a really huge undertaking. We didn’t have any studio behind us, or anything. We independently financed it, and independently produced it, and independently distributed it, and I think we made 37,000 dollars. [laughs] But it did better than it appeared to do. I did want to make a cult classic, and I think by definition, cult classics have to be box-office bombs. And not that it is a cult classic, but maybe someday it will have a little place. There’s someone who just actually placed us tenth on the best horror-film characters, for Ronald Reagan.

You’ve got Scream 4 coming up.

Apparently there’s just been a finished script. I have yet to read it, but I’m very excited to. I think they’ll probably make us read it in a closet somewhere.

You obviously keep in touch with Courteney, but do you keep up with other members of the cast?

Yeah, we saw Neve [Campbell] recently. She was in town, and she came over and hung out. It was awesome to see her again and chill. I’m so excited she’s doing it. I’m pretty sure Wes is doing it. It’s a great group of people, and Kevin Williamson writing it is perfect. And relaunching it all with so much time in between. There’s so much material for him to play with in pop culture and horror films.

There was an amazing scene in The Tripper, where Lukas Haas sings to Jaime King’s character. It’s really beautifully shot, and quite touching.

Thank you. I got a lot of heat for that, because this was a horror film. But one of the things is that it’s Lukas’ original song, and he was playing it on the set before we shot that scene. I was like, “Listen, Lukas, when you come back, would you mind us using that song in the movie?” And he just changed the name; it was written for another girl. And so we did, and it was just beautiful. I love Lukas anyway, and it was my movie. [laughs] I was like, “No, I’m not gonna cut it.” It’s the calm before the storm, and it’s what’s beautiful about hippies, and that kind of open mentality, and that kind of creative expression, and just a beautiful song.

I thought that scene made the film, and I’d love to see more stuff like it.

I wanted to do something silly and fun, but I think if I did something else, then definitely. My favorite movies are things like Kramer vs. Kramer, and films that have depth, and soul, and heart to them. ▼

“The Female of the Species” runs through March 14 at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit


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