'Scream' Veteran David Arquette Is Excited to See Where the Horror Franchise Goes Next
The man who’s played fan favorite Dewey Riley for over 25 years reflects on Wes Craven, favorite scary movies, and the unforgettable advice he learned about decapitated heads.
This post contains mild spoilers for Scream.
It’s hard to believe that Scream just celebrated it’s 25th anniversary. Now, the meta-horror film franchise’s long-awaited fifth installment arrives in theaters this weekend with hopes to terrorize and introduce a new generation to the slasher genre’s infamous masked menace known as Ghostface.
While many consider Ghostface the franchise's undeniable mascot, there are a few other faces who’ve appeared in every installment, making them equally iconic when it comes to horror’s pantheon of protagonists. We’re talking, of course, about Scream’s holy trinity, which consists of the eternal final girl herself, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), headstrong journalist Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), and last, but not least, the lovable Barney Fife-ish Dewey Riley, who we saw grow from a dopey deputy in the 1996 original to the plucky sheriff of Woodsboro in 2011’s Scream 4.
Dewey is played by David Arquette, who’s sort of become the franchise’s cat with nine lives. Sidney and Gale certainly have scars from the many blades (and sometimes bullets) of multiple Ghostface copycats, but no one has knocked on death’s door more times than Dewey. The guy’s had his fair share of close encounters with Ghostface, resulting in fatal stab wounds and a severed nerve. He was even bludgeoned with a bed pan once. In fact, he was seemingly left for dead during the third acts of Scream and Scream 2, with the former originally intended as his big exit from the franchise—thankfully, it didn’t pan out that way. According to the '96 film’s DVD commentary, he was kept alive due to strong responses from test-screening audiences. Since then, Dewey Riley went on to become the fan-favorite leading man, someone who even has his own theme song.
But how many lives does he have left? Just days before the release of the fifth installment (simply titled Scream), the man who’s played Dewey for over 25 years talked to Thrillist about his favorite scary movies, his thoughts on MTV’s Scream series, and what it was like shooting a Scream sequel for the first time without its original guiding light, the late Wes Craven.
I must say, as a big horror fan, it’s an honor to talk to Deputy Dewey Riley.
Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that. That's really what brings me the most joy about this. When fans love the films, and when you meet them at conventions or just see them on the street, it just means so much. Because I do this to entertain you guys, and we all kind of grew up together, in a weird way.
This is the first Scream movie that's not directed by the great Wes Craven. As an original cast member, did that take some getting used to? Was it a bit strange taking direction from someone other than him?
Yeah, it was weird. I know Matt [Bettinelli-Olpin] and Tyler [Gillett] were inspired by Wes, so that was reassuring. But it was hard, I mean, Dewey was in a darker place this time. I was a little confused and said, "This doesn't really seem like the character," but they had a real direction they wanted the script to go in and a sort of specific character place [for Dewey]. And I get it. In seeing the film, I could see what they were going for, and it was interesting. It kind of nailed down the realism of the Scream franchise, where one of the main characters' lives didn't turn out the way he'd wanted, and that doesn't really happen all the time.
I think some fans will be surprised about the down-and-out state of Dewey’s life is in this one. When you first read the script, what was your reaction to finding out that Gale and Dewey were no longer together? Because in the fourth one, it seemed like everything was perfect for them.
There were a lot of internal conversations about why and how it comes down to that. He says in the movie that it was because he couldn't take the big city, but I personally think it was more connected to maybe losing his sister or wanting to be back in Woodsboro in case anything happened again. He was so traumatized by the whole experiences of the past that he wanted to be there just in case this happened again.
With you, Neve, and Courteney being the Scream holy trinity on set, did Matt and Tyler come to you for any feedback about your character or any guidance on how to nail the feel and tone of a Scream movie?
Yeah, they were really collaborative and open to things, but they were definitely setting a more gruesome and scarier tone with humor within. Wes and Kevin Williamson definitely set up the humor element, but they played some games with the camera, which I think is fun for the fans. Yeah, they definitely talked to us about character, but we did have disagreements on certain things. And it's funny—some of the stuff that we disagreed on didn't end up in the film.
I’m going to have to dance around some spoilers here, but let’s just say that a big thing happens to Dewey in this movie. You've played this guy for over 25 years now, so I imagine you had a lot of opinions and feelings about Dewey's fate. Were you cool with what they envisioned for him?
I didn't really have a say. I mean, I could have not done the film—that would've been a say—but yeah, I don't know. They had written a really great script, so I trusted them, and I think they really came through with it as well.
Scream fans love Dewey. I know you have a Twitter account with over 72,000 followers, so are you bracing yourself for a huge emotional outpour after fans see the movie this week?
That would be nice. You know what, I remember what I did say to them. I said, "Have you seen my wrestling documentary? You know what it's called? It's called You Cannot Kill David Arquette." [Laughs] That was a funny moment.
This Scream movie tackles “requels” and toxic fandom. Let’s say years down the road, someone tries to pull a 2018 Halloween and says, "Hey, let’s make a brand-new Scream that ignores parts two through five," and they ask you to come back. Would you be game for that?
I don't know. There's virtually a whole new world where you can find real estate, and who knows? The whole world's going to change in a second, so anything's possible. I love playing the role of Dewey. It would have to be the right thing, though. It never happened, but I actually pitched a podcast, and it was about the 10 years in between these two films [Scream 4 and 5] and why you never hear about other Ghostface killings—because Dewey stops them.
It took 10 years to get another Scream movie, and who knows if we’ll ever get another sequel that reunites the originals again, so was there a big emotional sendoff when you shot your last scene? When you, Neve, and Courteney wrapped filming, what's it like on set during those moments?
Well, they're all sort of separate. I didn't have any real scenes with Neve, and Courteney wasn't there when I wrapped my final scene. But yeah, I wasn't really emotional. It was kind of strange, because we shot it during COVID and I never got to really know the crew as well as I would have liked to. Everyone's wearing masks, and you don't really introduce yourself the same way, and it was just odd. So that was a little difficult.
What would you say is a quality you most have in common with Dewey? Are there any strong similarities between you two?
I feel like people sometimes underestimate me. I feel Dewey gets underestimated a lot, where they don't take him seriously, or something.
If this is your last time doing a Scream movie, or playing the character, what are you going to miss most about this guy? Would you consider him one of your all-time favorite characters that you've ever played?
Yeah, definitely. I've never had a role that I've had the honor of playing for over 25 years, so it's charted the course of my life. I met my first wife [Courteney Cox], we got married, had a child, and got a little solace in this film franchise. And then I met my new wife [Christina McLarty] and had two new kids as well, so it's been sort of a lifetime. I rarely ever get that opportunity, but I love working opposite Courteney and Neve—they're incredible actresses. And this new group of actors are so talented, and it was an honor to get to know them. To see how Woodsboro is evolving is really special, and how they're tapping into different aspects of technology, culture, and horror films. But I'm a fan as well, so I'll be excited to see whatever’s next.
Seeing as you’re a fan of the franchise, what were your thoughts on the MTV’s Scream series?
I only watched the first one, and I couldn't really connect with it, so it was kind of odd for me to watch. I remember feeling like, "Oh, this seems like a different world. I don't know if I want to cloud my brain with it." I didn't really watch too many of them, because there's something personal about these films to me. I was talking to Wes about it, and he said, "They chopped the head off, and I told them it was going to be a bad idea, because it was kind of a bouncy head." And he told me that, too, when I directed a film. So whenever you chop a head off in a film, you have to weigh it down, because nobody ever really weighs it down. It's a funny conversation I had with Wes.
What's your fondest memory of Wes Craven? Is there something that he said to you, or a particular moment that always stuck with you?
I was doing Scream 2, and my mother was sick, and he sat me down and gave me a real man-to-man talk about getting my life together: "I know that you're going through a really hard time right now, but we love you." And it was such a sweet, kind gesture. But also, when I directed my first film, he was really instrumental in being a mentor, reading the script, and also giving me a list of films to watch—he was really supportive. He also put my band on the soundtrack albums to Scream 2 and 3, which was an amazing opportunity just to support somebody who was in the music world. And he really would support in so many ways: He cast my father in Scream 2, and my brother Richmond in Scream 3.
Wes was an all-out hero of mine. And then, one of my favorite moments is, I used to work at a newsstand on Melrose and we used to hand out these little flyers for free screenings. I got one, and I read the description and it was for Scream, and I had just shot the movie that summer. And I was like, "Oh, this is the movie that I just shot!" So I went, and they saw me in line, and they said, "You can't be here—you have to fill out these papers!" And I said, "Well, I'm here." They said, "All right, you can watch from the back." So I got to see the movie before the rest of the cast, and I got to watch Wes Craven watch an audience watch his film, and it was just so fun, because the audience would scream, and then he would just laugh. It was great. He had a really wonderful sense of humor.
Do you have a favorite Scream movie?
I think it’s the original, for me, just because we were all so young. It was such a new age. The film really had a success that I hadn't experienced before and really opened the doors to a lot of opportunities, but the fact that I have my daughter, Coco, and that's really so wonderful. Her and my two other boys are the most important things in my life.
I’m going to sound like Ghostface here, but what’s your favorite scary movie?
I always go back to The Shining because I just love Jack Nicholson's performance, and the direction of it. And I think it just impacted me when I was younger, but nowadays, with Hereditary and Midsommar, there are such twisted films out there. Get Out was incredible. I just love the films that are out there now and the way horror's evolving, being taken more seriously. And Jordan [Peele] did a great job with Get Out.
This interview has been edited and condensed.