On The 20th Anniversary Of The Craft, Neve Campbell Talks Her Scream Queen Legacy, Slowly Rebuilding Her Resume, And Her Role On House Of Cards
“If you were to try to write about some of the clowns running for president at the moment, I think you’d say it’s not possible. Nobody would buy it.” Having spent a handful of years out of the spotlight, Neve Campbell is throwing her hat into the presidential race—on television, that is—as campaign strategist Leann Harvey on Netflix’s excoriating political series, House of Cards. A blood-pumping, accelerated take on the American political circus, the series was first criticized for being too over-the-top to be believed, with its characters resorting to murder and blackmail to earn their ranking offices. But, in today’s electoral reality, as Campbell points out, truth might actually be more outlandish than fiction.
That isn’t to say that the show runs low on thrills. Joining series stars Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Michael Kelly, Campbell is captivating viewers with her grand return to the sort of high-drama TV that launched her career—who could forget Julia Salinger on Party of Five, brooding icon of post-grunge adolescence, who turned teen angst into an art form and influenced a generation of young actresses who’ve winced and exhaled in her resounding wake? Now a veteran of film, theater, dance, and TV—including Robert Altman’s The Company, which she produced—Campbell is bringing a whole new level of graceful craft to the role of Harvey, an Underwood political hire with machinations that would make Karl Rove’s head spin.
“She is a very strong, driven, slightly calculating woman,” Campbell says of the character. “[Series creator] Beau Willimon is always very clear about what he wants and we had a good conversation about the character when I was deciding to do the show. I liked the idea of a woman in this political world who already has a certain amount of success, but is in a place where she is deciding what to do next, who is thrown into an arena of very strong men—and women—and has to stand on her own and climb. Getting to play a character who gets to stand up to Frank Underwood or who goes toe-to-toe with Claire was very appealing, because it’s not often in female roles that you get to play someone who doesn’t have a huge amount of vulnerability, or who doesn’t depend on that to be appealing. It’s nice to play her because she’s strong and she’s unapologetic.” If it sounds like a far cry from running away from Ghostface in the Scream franchise, the connecting thread might be that allure of staring into the void, while leaving room for some dark humor to seep in at the edges. “The characters are reprehensible,” Campbell says. “They’re dark. Beautifully dark. So, if you commit to that, I guess you’re playing into that energy.”
After relocating to England for nine years to enjoy motherhood and step away from the business, Campbell has chosen to tiptoe back into the fray with small but eventful roles on beloved series like Grey’s Anatomy and Mad Men, slowly building her résumé back up at her own pace. “For me, coming back to America is about first, being present as a mom in the way that I want to, and then, stepping back into the industry by making smart choices that aren’t necessarily leading roles,” she says. “Small things that pop and say that I am willing to work and can do a good job. Of course, when House of Cards came around, for me it was ideal. I can be a part of an ensemble that’s respected, in a great role, but I don’t have to carry the show. I was asked to audition and I was excited at the prospect. When I got it, I was superbly happy. I couldn’t have asked for it to be better, honestly.”
Campbell was initially a fan of the series, though motherhood had put her behind on her Netflix queue. “I have a three-and-a-half-year-old, so I am always watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or Power Rangers,” she says with a laugh. “But what I had seen of the show was fantastic.”
Once she landed the part of Leann, she made sure to catch up through season three. “It was fun to be experiencing the show, knowing I was going to be a part of it. But, at the same time, it’s weird to then not just be entertained by it, because you know you’re in it. When you really admire something, you just want to see it and be entertained. That’s how passionate I am about this show.” So, has being a part of the shadowy action ruined the suspense for her as a fan? “Oh no,” she says. “I’ll keep watching it because I’m such a fan of the other actors in the show, the choices they make, the writing that Beau does, and all the other characters. I’ll absolutely watch it.”
When season three left off, the Iowa caucuses were just beginning. When season four picked up, the candidates were stacking delegates in a reality parallel to the one we were experiencing with Clinton, Sanders, Trump, and company in real time. “Each season has been timely in some way. I don’t think that is accidental on Beau’s part,” Campbell says. “Making the choice this season to be around the political race was very conscious.” Playing Leann, Campbell says, has made her more attuned to the ins and outs of the business of American elections. “I’m more aware of what’s going on behind the scenes, what’s real, what’s not, and the antics that are being played out, especially with this campaign today. I think, during filming, we all felt like what’s going on at the moment in America is more showy than the choices you make as an actor for the show.”
Campbell’s political moment coincides with the 20th anniversary of both The Craft and Scream, two films that defined the edgy, self-aware, mid-to-late ’90s teen movie resurgence. As Sidney Prescott, Campbell became her generation’s unrivaled scream queen, earning horror icon status which, unlike Ghostface, she’ll probably never outrun.
“I have been having these conversations because it is 20 years,” Campbell says, “and I’ve signed so many autographs recently. I’ve seen Skeet Ulrich, Matt Lillard, Rachel True, and different cast members from each film and it’s been really nice to revisit the movies with them, because we’ve realized that they still stand out. It’s nice to realize that we made some things then that entertain people enough that they still enjoy them now, and they’re getting passed down. If you’re in this business and you can say that you managed that on a few films, it’s such an accomplishment, because it’s a rarity.”
Scream 5? “I would love to,” she says, assuredly. “We’ll see what comes, but absolutely. I would love to.”