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David Arquette Talks 25 Years of ‘Scream,’ That Shocking Scene and What’s Next

SCREAM, (aka SCREAM 5), David Arquette,
©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Col

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read unless you have seen the 2022 horror film “Scream,” currently playing in theaters.

The “Scream” movies know about rules. Since the series launched with the first film in 1996, inspiring countless homages and parodies, a few things have been constant. One of them is David Arquette, who has appeared as Dwight “Dewey” Riley in all five films. Though he’s had a number of close calls, the affable fan favorite character seemed untouchable, along with original cast members Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott and Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers.

(Last warning: Seriously, stop reading now if you haven’t seen the new “Scream.”)

Perhaps that’s why it’s such a shocker to see Dewey’s death in the new installment. After taking Dewey from goofy deputy to town sheriff, the new “Scream,” finds him at a low point, battling with the physical and emotional trauma from his past encounters with killers and single after Gale has gone off to New York for a prominent job.

His fate takes place after Dewey has helped rescue new protagonist Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) who is recovering in a hospital. After stopping the killer known as Ghostface, Dewey urges the rest of the group to safety before going back to finish the job. But it’s the killer who gets the upper hand, finishing Dewey off for once and for all.

It’s a gutting scene that has elicited a hugely emotional response from fans. Notes Arquette with a laugh, “People do seem more upset about the death of Dewey than the near-death of myself.” (The actor had a real-life brush with death when he was in a wrestling ring and his opponent smashed a florescent light tube over his head, cutting his neck.)

Following the death of Wes Craven, who directed the first four “Scream” movies, the new installment is written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick and directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. And though Arquette is still processing Dewey’s fate, he says there are no hard feelings – he thinks they’re great filmmakers.

While Dewey may be gone, Arquette has a lot to look forward to. Off screen, he’s an owner of the Bootsy Bellows clubs and a partner at XTR Studios. He’d be up for doing another horror film – particularly with Ari Aster, who he’s a big fan of. He recently purchased the life rights to Bozo the Clown’s story and has been studying clowning – he jokes he’s been talking about it a lot lately because he wasn’t allowed to say anything about “Scream.”

But with the film finally in theaters and No. 1 at the box office, Arquette spoke with Variety about saying goodbye to Dewey, missing Craven and what that last day on set was like.

So how did you find out Dewey was going to die? Was it a conversation with the filmmakers? I’m guessing you didn’t find out by reading the script.

That’s exactly how it happened. (Laughs) My heart sank when I got to that page, for sure.

That’s how you found out? What did you do in that moment?

I read it. I put it down. I took a deep breath. It was sad. I mean, it’s something that I’ve been a part of for so long. So I had to process that. But I get it, I get the emotional stakes that were involved to draw on.

So what were your conversations with the filmmakers like? Or did you just never speak about it?

We definitely talked about it. My concerns were some of the other things that were in there that, in my opinion, weren’t very Dewey. Like, I understood him being in a dark place, but never thought he was a drinker. So those were more of the conversations I had with them. And they cut some stuff out that was originally in the script that we even filmed. So I think seeing it later, they were like, “Yeah, it’s maybe too much.”

So once you processed Dewey’s fate, how did you feel?

You know, I’m an actor. It’s their film. The writers and the directors, that’s their new concept. So I respect that and we honor that… Like on a television show, if you go in as a director, it’s a writer’s medium. It’s an actor’s medium, they’ve been playing these roles for so long, you just go to try to fit in. So I saw it as helping them fulfill the vision they had for this new direction.

I mean, you can’t take Sidney. Sidney is a survivor. And there was something noble about it for Dewey. He was there to protect Sidney and the people of Woodsboro. There was a scene [between Dewey and Gale] and there was a take they didn’t use where I was super emotional. I sort of ad libbed: “I’m a failure. I couldn’t save Judy, I couldn’t save my sister.” I think it was actually too emotional, like it was too much. And a lot of that emotion that I was going through at that time was mourning a loss. The loss of Wes was heavy on our hearts, especially in that scene.

I actually love that the movie addressed how Dewey is dealing with the trauma of the past and addressing the fact the attacks have taken a toll on him physically. It made me think of Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven,” this gunslinger coming out of retirement.

Dewey always had this love of Clint Eastwood and wanting to be this sort of macho kind of tough guy, grizzled person — but he never was. That’s how I approached this character from the start, he tried to be tough and the sheriff, but he wouldn’t get the respect. It goes back to the classic line in the first one: “When I wear this badge you treat me like a man of the law!” He’s really not that person.

But in this film, I do feel like he commands respect.

He did but he also made these fatal flaws. As the actor that’s played him for so long, I knew that he needed to shoot [Ghostface] in the head when he had the chance. So you sort of have to play this game with yourself — he’s trying to protect the people to make sure they’re safe first.

I’m imagining his death was hard on Courteney and Neve as well? Were you all upset?

I think a lot of it just had to do with the fact that Dewey’s character was kind of Wes-like. So there was a sadness in that. Throughout filming, there was a real feeling of mourning and missing someone you love so much.

Did you ever base him on Wes or any of his mannerisms or his spirit?

No, but I think Wes infused a lot of that in me. Wes would come up with these funny things, like Dewey eating ice cream while the other sheriffs smoked. Or the scene in the first film with him and Gale: “Do you know what that constellation is?” “No, what is it?” “I don’t know, that’s why I was asking you.” Moments like that, where his humor crossed over.

What was it like on set shooting Dewey’s death scene? I’m assuming it was the final thing you shot as Dewey?

Yeah. It was really difficult because it was during COVID, so its harder to have that connection with the crew because you’re not hanging out after work. So I did the scene, I went to the hotel, and I just kind of sat with it. Then I packed up and left. It was a big portion of my life coming to a close and a lot to process.

And then you had to keep it secret for so long!

That was hard! I’m kind of an open book, so I would get flustered. And I’m not a good liar, so I had to be really careful.

So ultimately there are no hard feelings?

There is absolutely no hard feelings. The filmmakers are really great. But it’s been hard to process. And then there’s little things, like you do a photoshoot with the cast lineup and they’ll say, “Okay, now everyone who lives, stay.” Moments where it just brings up like, being a little kid left out of the baseball game.

That’s heartbreaking! That’s like the family portrait in “Encanto” when they leave Mirabel out!

I loved “Encanto”! (Laughs) But good storytelling, good filmmaking, you have to be willing to break hearts. So I get it.

Have fans gotten very emotional talking about it with you?

It does seem like people are more upset about the death of Dewey than when I had a near-death experience in real life. (Laughs) The fans are the greatest. It’s been one of the biggest joys of working on these films.

What’s next for you?

This is a funny thing. On the opening day of this big film that I made that goes No. 1, I do two voiceover auditions and put myself on tape for a series. No matter where you are your career, you still have to go out and you still have to hustle. And you have to diversify, or you’re going to go crazy waiting for your next audition.

So we have another Bootsy Bellows [club] that just opened at Sofi Stadium, along with our Hollywood location. There’s a lot going on with XTR Studio with my wife Christina and Bryn Mooser, who’s incredible. XTR has six films in Sundance this year. My wife is a producer on the Magic Johnson documentary, which is just amazing. Bozo.com is up and running. And I’m going to New York to study with Healthy Humor, an incredible organization that works with over 15 hospitals throughout the U.S. providing joy and entertainment for kids and families going through a really difficult time.