EXCLUSIVE: 'Scream' 20 Years Later -- Neve Campbell and Co-Stars Share Untold Stories From the Set

"What’s your favorite scary movie?"


It’s been 20 years since Ghostface slashed into theaters in Scream
and asked that infamously ironic question of a wide-eyed Casey Becker, played
by Drew Barrymore. Three sequels and an MTV series later, Scream is just
as revolutionary as it was upon its initial release on Dec. 20, 1996. 

By the mid-’90s, slasher films were considered dead and
buried (pun intended), thanks in part to a slew of poorly received sequels to
iconic franchises -- Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Freddy’s Dead:
The Final Nightmare
and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Until,
of course, Scream changed the game entirely. 

Praised by theatergoers and critics alike, Scream
grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office on a production budget of
just $14 million.  It was unheard of at the time for horror movies, and,
as a result, it fully revitalized the genre. Following the success of Scream,
a new generation of horror fans was treated to the birth of new franchises I
Know What You Did Last Summer
Urban Legend
,as well as the revitalization of long-gone icons, such
asChucky, Freddy and Jason

While many of the horror films that followed were box office
successes, none matched the originality of Scream. With the combined
efforts of director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, they created
a relatively simple slasher flick with one unique element: The movie was
self-aware. The characters -- Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Dewey Riley
(David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) -- knew about other
slasher flicks, spent much of their time referencing other slasher
flicks and ironically recognized that they were living inside of a
slasher flick. 

"There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie."

Randy Meeks

“Every generation has that one movie,” Williamson tells ET.
“There were no other horror movies. The ones that were coming out, they weren’t
very exciting.” 

“I wanted to write the movie and make the movie that I
wanted to see because it wasn’t going to be made and I felt like this was it;
it was just the time for it,” he adds. In addition to the first film,
Williamson penned the sequel as well as the last installment. (Ehren
Kruger stepped in to write Scream 3 while the screenwriter went off to
direct Teaching Mrs. Tingle with
Helen Mirren and Katie Holmes.)

While Williamson is now known for creating TV series,
including Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries, The Following and ABC’s upcoming
Time After Time, Scream was his very first script to be produced. “I was
a starving, struggling nobody who really just wanted to pay his rent,”
Williamson admits now. “I did not think it would live on the way it did.” 

Campbell, who was largely known at the time for Party of Five and went on to play Sidney
in all four films, shares that sentiment. “We were all at the beginning of our
careers,” she says. 

MORE: The 15 Scariest Films of the Last 15 Years

It’s almost hard to imagine the cast before Scream, but Cox was still an ensemble
player on Friends, which was only three
seasons in at the time, and she had to fight for the role as the tough-as-nails
reporter Gale Weathers. “I wrote a letter to Wes Craven -- I think I was always
known as being so sweet -- and I said, ‘I really can be a bitch!’” Cox says. 

Arquette knew from the beginning that lightning had struck
with the cast. "There was a scene I had with Courteney (Cox) early on in
the film at the school and it was the same day that a bunch of the kids were
there and the energy of all those people together let me know this was
something special," Arquette tells ET. 

Over the course of the franchise, Cox famously went on to marry
and eventually have a child with Arquette, who became the most famous of the
Arquette siblings during the mid-’90s. “She’s very witty and on her feet and
she’s got an incredible sense of humor,” Arquette told ET on the set of the
original film, adding: “She’s stunning to look at!” The two later divorced in

"Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative."

Billy Loomis

Rounding out the cast were Rose McGowan (Tatum Riley),
Matthew Lillard (Stu Macher), Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis) and Jamie Kennedy
(Randy Meeks), all newcomers with just a handful of prior film credits.

“It was really new for all of us,” Campbell says. “At the
time, we could see there was talent around us and we knew the writing was good
and we knew that people were having fun with the script and it felt very
elevated, but to us it wasn’t a star cast. It became a star cast later.”

It was Williamson’s brother who suggested Campbell for the
role of Sidney Prescott. “My brother kept saying, ‘I read the script and I
think it should be that girl from Party
of Five.’
And she had already auditioned! I went back and everyone had
already starred her name. She walked away with it.” 

Dimension Films

Campbell, who reunites with Williamson for the occasional
social dinner all these years later, was actually surprised to hear this. “I
didn’t know any of that; that’s amazing! It’s incredible and very flattering,” she

“People say to me, ‘How did you choose this role?’ and I’m
like, ‘Really, the role chose me.’ It was the perfect fit, I was really lucky,”
Campbell adds. “As an actress, especially at that age, in my twenties, it was
really fantastic to be able to play someone who wasn’t a victim. She’s strong
and holds her own and fights back and wins in the end and it’s a good message
for young women.”

“It was my first leading female role in a film and it did
really well and catapulted my career to a place that I never thought I could
imagine,” Campbell says. Today, her career includes lead roles in Wild Things and Robert Altman’s The Company, as well as notable
appearances on Mad Men and House of Cards

“Why do you want to know my name?”

Casey Becker

Campbell owes that big break to Barrymore, who was easily
the most famous of the cast members. “For a while, she was going to play
Sidney,” Williamson says. Instead, Barrymore volunteered to play Casey Becker,
who is killed off in the film’s first 15 minutes.  

“I wanted the biggest star of the film to be in that opening
scene,” Williamson says of the sequence that would become a staple of the Scream franchise, with Jada Pinkett-Smith
(“It’s pretty iconic. My mother is like, ‘To this day I can’t watch that,’” she
says), Liev Schreiber, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin and Lucy Hale all taking turns
to die in the franchise openers. There were even talks of getting Alicia
Silverstone, who was fresh off the success of Clueless. “But that was all of five minutes because
the very next day, Drew Barrymore said, ‘The thing I love about this movie is
the opening scene. I want to play Casey. That’s who I want to be,’” Williamson

“It was amazing for me because when I watched the film, I
was actually scared,” Barrymore told ET in 1996 while promoting the film. “I
mean, it is so scary that even though I was in it -- I was there, I knew
everything that was going on, the mechanics and everything -- it was still just
a flat-out scary scene.” It was so scary that the Motion Picture Association of
America clashed with Craven over the scene’s violence and intensity.


“My favorite memory is the first night. Standing outside in
the rain, all of us just huddled together, freezing to death while the phone
rang and Drew Barrymore picked it up,” Williamson recalls. “It was my first
film, the first night, I was in tears. You couldn’t talk to me. I was just
walking around in tears.” 

“It was one of the best written scenes I've ever read in my
life,” Barrymore continued. “I mean, what Kevin Williamson did with this script
is just, it's a masterpiece.” 

“The opening sequence of the first film is genius,” Campbell
agrees. “A lot of people tout it as one of the best opening sequences of any
film in many years. I think that’s fantastic.” 

For the cast, the moments offscreen were just as enjoyable.
“The cast would hang out in the mornings because we would shoot all night,”
Campbell says. “We would get in cars and go back to our hotel and we would be
covered in blood and there would be people going to work at 6 or 7 a.m. and
they’d see me covered in corn syrup. The look on those peoples’ faces was
always humorous.” 

“What’s the matter, Sidney? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Billy Loomis

“We would close all the curtains and hang out and have a
drink,” Campbell reminisces. “We were sitting in one of our bedrooms and we
were like, ‘Could you imagine if this was good enough that there might be a
Halloween costume?’ And we were like, ‘No, that couldn’t possibly happen!’ And
now it’s 20 years later and I still see the Halloween costume every year in all
the shops. It’s pretty amazing.”

Williamson gives much of the credit to Craven, a famed
maestro of horror
who created the Nightmare
on Elm Street
and The Hills Have Eyes
franchises. “This script could have gone so wrong. We met with different
directors who saw it as a comedy. They never saw it as a horror movie,” he recalls.
“Wes was the perfect choice, because he read it and said, ‘This is scary.’ He
was like, ‘Forget the comedy, let that ride, we have to make this movie scary.’”

“I make movies about fear and terror,” Craven told ET during
a visit to the 1996 set. “People say, ‘Why would anybody want to go be scared?’
I say, ‘They pay money because they are
scared, and they want it to be exorcised.’” 

MORE: Wes Craven's 7 Scariest, Most Influential Horror Films

In addition to Williamson, Craven’s participation was a huge
draw for everyone in the series, making it all the more difficult when he
passed in the summer of 2015. “He was a really wonderful man,” Campbell says.
“He had a fantastic sense of humor…You’d be shooting these horrific scenes and
you would just hear him giggling after he said, ‘Cut.’ It was a little bit
twisted but wonderful.” 

“He was incredibly talented and made fantastic films,” Campbell

“Wes Craven is just the greatest man,” Cox says. “I love

“My favorite memory of Wes is watching him watch an
audience during an early Scream screening,” Arquette says. “He would chuckle like a little kid when the audience would jump out of
their seats.”

“It was a huge loss,” Williamson laments. “He was a

“No, please don’t kill me, Mr. Ghostface, I wanna be in the sequel!”

Tatum Riley

And it’s that loss that likely will prevent the franchise
from continuing, at least in theaters. “Wes and I, when we were starting Scream
we had plans for Scream 5 and 6,” Williamson says. “Now
without Wes, I feel like you have to sort of answer the questions of how and
why, and I don’t know how to do it without Wes and I don’t know why to do it.”

“It would be tough to do it without Wes,” Campbell says,
agreeing with Williamson. “His vision was so clear and he was so good. I think
it would be painful. It doesn’t mean it would never happen, but it would be
challenging. Nobody is talking about it at the moment.” 

And while fans everywhere may be crying out in disappointment
at this, they too must ask the questions. The first film was a commentary on
classic horror films, the second on sequels, the third on trilogies and the
fourth on reboots and remakes. If there were a fifth, what exactly would the
plot be? 

“If some filmmaker could answer that question, then go for
it and I will happily buy a ticket and go see it and cheer it on,” Williamson

Even if the film franchise doesn’t continue, it’s had a
lasting impact both on the genre and its cast. 

“Horror movies at the time were going straight to video,”
Williamson says. “I just remember it took on a life of its own. Word of mouth
is what made Scream.” By 2011, the
four films in the franchise had a combined worldwide box office revenue of over
$600 million. 

As to why it still resonates with fans today? “It’s a great
movie,” Campbell puts it simply. “Kevin Wiliamson’s writing was fantastic. Wes’
directing was fantastic. The casting was great.” 

“It was a fun summer away,” Campbell added. “And we ended up
making a film that people really liked.” 

That would be an understatement.