Neve Campbell Is Never Going To Play By Hollywood's Rules
Campbell opted out of the Hollywood scene in the late 2000s. Today, she'll only take a role on terms that work for her and her family, even if it means turning down 11 shows in a year.
You know when you’re watching TV and you see a celebrity on every talk show or local news affiliate all day? They’re usually peddling the same talking points and wearing the same clothes? That’s a good ol’ fashioned press day. I was a daytime talk-show producer for six years, so I know how it goes. Press days mostly consist of sitting around, meet-and-greets, and makeup touchups, but all that down-time can make for some good conversation. When Neve Campbell was in Toronto for her very own media merry-go-round, she graciously let me tag along for the day.
Neve Campbell is thinking about a bathtub. At 6:38 a.m., she saunters into the lobby of the Ritz Carlton in Toronto, pulling a grey suitcase behind her, and pours herself a cup of coffee. She offers the rest of our group — me, a publicist, her manager, and her makeup artist — a cup as she lets out a heavy sigh and says she wishes she could have made use of the tub in her hotel room. It’s the only time in the hours I spend with Campbell that she implies she’d rather be anywhere but curled up with her two sons, Caspian, 5, and Raynor, 1. But there’s no time for luxurious kid-free baths. Campbell has a full day ahead of press for her “Buy a Cup, Give a Cup” collaboration with Mott’s Fruitsations and the Breakfast Club of Canada to provide meals for kids in need.
When we step outside of the hotel to darkness and a steady stream of snowfall, I ask Campbell if she usually gets up later than the crack of dawn. “No, I have a one-year-old,” she deadpans before laughing. “My son would be freaking out right now, he loves the snow.”
Born and raised in Guelph, ON, 45-year-old Campbell, now lives in slightly less snowy New York City with her longtime partner, actor J. J. Feild. Campbell casually drops anecdotes about her sons in conversation, like most moms, but her willingness to share details about Caspian and his adopted little brother, Raynor, is rare, unless she’s explaining why she turned down the 11 shows she was offered last year.
“They wanted 24 episodes, which is 11 months out of the year, and they wanted to shoot somewhere that didn't make sense for my family,” she says. This is something you learn quickly about Neve Campbell: Her career is secondary to, well, just about everything else. After taking a year mat leave with Raynor, she’s currently debating her next job — a show with a script she says she fell in love with, but it shoots in Tasmania, Australia. If the timing doesn’t line up with her kids’ school, she’ll turn that one down, too. Commentary on Campbell’s ambition — or perceived lack thereof — is something that has followed her since she abruptly left Hollywood for London, England, in the late 2000s.
“I didn't quit the business. It wasn't about that,” she says, almost exasperated. “I think people made the assumption just because I wasn't showing up in things in America that I left being an artist, which I didn't.” Campbell appeared in British films and performed onstage in London’s West End. After the blockbuster and/or cult successes of The Craft, Scream, and Wild Things, and her six-season run on beloved series Party of Five, Campbell says it was time for a break from all the attention. Campbell, who is a retired professional ballerina (she quit due to injuries at 14), explains it like this: “I never strove to be famous; I was going to be a dancer, I was going to be in the corps de ballet the rest of my life,” she says. “No one teaches you how to be famous, and it's a lot to ask of someone in in their teens [and] twenties. I needed to leave.”
Fame and youth can be a disastrous combination — just ask some of the other young stars of the ’90s and ’00s. Campbell’s assessment of why she left Hollywood makes perfect sense, but I have another theory. I decide I’m going to ease into the day before I psychoanalyze Neve Campbell to her face.
By 7:30 a.m., Campbell has wrapped her first interview of the day at Breakfast Television, where she used her go-to, crowd-pleasing anecdote about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s obsession with asking people what they eat. They worked together on the big-budget film Skyscraper, and according to Campbell, Johnson has a compulsive need to dissect the meals of everyone around him since he’s on a strict “of course he is” diet. She calls this impulse his “food porn.” The anecdote gets laughs every time Campbell tells it because it’s funny and because her tone is equal parts understanding admirer and taunting friend. You want to be the recipient of a friendly inside joke with your pal, Neve. She’s good at this.
If you look at Campbell’s filmography, Skyscraper stands out. It came right after notable stints on prestige TV staples House of Cards and Mad Men, and it was her first film since the 2015 dramedy Walter. Based on her other work, Campbell is not the actress you would peg to play The Rock’s love interest in a jump-off-tall-buildings popcorn blockbuster.
If Hollywood is a game of strategic role choices and social media moves, Campbell refuses to play.
“I did it because I wanted to do an action movie,” she tells me as we’re settling into a greenroom at the CBC to wait for her next round of radio interviews. It’s a simple reason, with no further explanation needed. Campbell only takes jobs she wants to. Period. If Hollywood is a game of strategic role choices and social media moves, Campbell refuses to play. She has an Instagram account but admits to having “never even seen Twitter.”
Our conversation is interrupted by a producer who asks her to sign a Scream mask. She signs it the way she always does, with Sidney Prescott’s famous line: “Not in my movie.” Throughout the day, Campbell is asked to sign paraphernalia that throws back to her Scream or Party of Five days. She doesn’t seem to mind. Campbell isn’t the kind of celebrity whose desire for privacy coincides with a prickly personality or disdain for the public.
Sidney holds up a lot better than most female protagonists of the ’90s and early ’00s, and Campbell says she can look back on her without cringing. “I love Sydney. I love that she's strong. She's a fighter. She's tough,” Campbell says. “She's someone who is searching for happiness but has terrible, terrible luck.”
Luck is something that Campbell admits to having a lot of in her career. She refers to her good fortune when talking about the sacrifices she made as a child performer.
“Do I wish I'd had some normalcy in my childhood?” she asks. “Yeah, for sure, but also I'm so lucky. I got to experience things that so many people don't.”
This is when I tell Campbell my theory about why she left Hollywood. Being a ballerina is a high-stress job, I say, and since she had to endure all that pressure so young, the scrutiny that came with fame echoed back to her dance days, so she opted out. Ambition didn’t matter. She couldn’t sustain all that stress again. When I ask her if my armchair analysis is right, Campbell replies, “You're absolutely correct.”
Later that morning, we’re on the road heading to the Entertainment Tonight Canada studio for the final round of segments of the day. It’s a long drive so I get to ask Campbell more about her Party of Five days and how she navigated being a young woman in an industry that isn’t always so kind to young women. Campbell then drops this bomb: She was making significantly less money than her male co-stars on Party of Five.
“I had worked for five years on the core Party of Five and Catwalk, I'd done Phantom [of the Opera],” she’s rattling off her résumé. “Scott [Wolf] and Matt[hew Fox] — I guess they were older than me, but they had not worked as much as [me] or Lacey [Chabert], and I knew that they were making at least a quarter more than us.”
I’m outraged on her behalf, but Campbell says she, like so many of her peers in the pre–Time’s Up era, just accepted the reality of the gaping gender wage gap in Hollywood. Even though the network was capitalizing on her Scream fame to promote Party of Five, Campbell knew nothing was going to change back then. Now, she puts it in her contract up front that she has to be “paid equal to whoever [her] male counterpart is.” Navigating salary negotiations, instead of just accepting what’s offered, is the one piece of advice she’d give to the young actors who are starring in the Party of Five reboot.
The new show will focus on five children who find themselves parentless, like the original, but instead of losing them in a car accident, the twist is their mother and father have been deported to Mexico. Campbell thinks it’s a brilliant idea but doesn’t want to be a part of it. “I don’t think it makes sense for me to,” she says. “It might take away from it.” Here’s another glimpse at what motives Campbell. She’ll sign the paraphernalia and show up to the conventions, but she knows when to check the nostalgia, step back, and let the next generation have its moment.
“My ambition has more to do with having a happy, content life and family. And if that life includes my creativity and my work, because I love what I do, then great.”
Between Entertainment Tonight segments, I ask Campbell about the generation she’s raising, and if her oldest son knows that she’s famous. “We didn't even tell Caspian we were actors,” she laughs. “One of the parents at his school told him. He was like, ‘You don't know who your mom is? Have you not seen Scream?’” Campbell gasps. “[Caspian is] five years old. No, he has not seen Scream! He came home and he said, ‘Mommy, are you Neve Campbell?’ It was very weird.”
Later, we’re waiting for Campbell’s car to the airport — she’s heading home to Brooklyn. There’s some final back-and-forth with the Mott’s team about the Instagram post she’ll put up to promote the campaign, and this social strategy talk brings me back to questions about Campbell’s career aspirations. She wants to use her celebrity for good. That’s clear. She’s a member of the Academy and votes every year but tells me that she doesn’t subscribe to the standard industry goal of winning an Oscar. So, before she goes, I need to ask Neve Campbell one final thing: What does ambition mean to you?
“My ambition has more to do with having a happy, content life and family. And if that life includes my creativity and my work, because I love what I do, then great,” she says. “My ambition is about being content within myself, growing as a human being, and having joy within my family.”
With that, she’s off to the airport, rushing to be home before bedtime.
For every cup of Mott’s Fruitsations purchased before the end of March, one cup will be donated to the Breakfast Club of Canada.