A Survivor to Scream About
Neve Campbell on ‘Scream’ queer theories, and how Sidney still inspires the LGBTQ+ community
As Sidney Prescott, fierce fighter of the knife-wielding Ghostface since the mid 1990s, Neve Campbell has represented strength and survival to generations of LGBTQ+ people. When she first appeared in Wes Craven’s groundbreaking “Scream” in 1996, Campbell’s Prescott wasn’t like other teen girls seen in slasher whodunits, ones who inevitably meet their demise.
Sidney was virginal, knew better than to run up the stairs, wasn’t saved by a hero, and quickly learned that horror movie villains never die an easy death. She hasn’t demonstrated just physical strength, but also, now five movies in, an aspirational internal strength that keeps her fighting the evil force (sometimes forces) against her. It makes sense that the character — a smart, strong heroine –– was created by openly gay screenwriter Kevin Williamson.
Ten years after “Scream 4,” Sidney returns to Woodsboro again in “Scream” –– the fifth film –– after some horrific kills also draw back deputy sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and TV journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). They’re the legacy stars (which, in true meta “Scream” style, is acknowledged in the film), showing a new young cast of Woodsboro high schoolers how to survive the sick, twisted games of Ghostface. Games that Gale, Dewey and Sidney know all too well.
Though queer-coding has been noted in the franchise, particularly the longtime fan theory that original Ghostface killers Billy and Stu may have been closeted lovers, the new “Scream” knows this isn’t 1996 anymore. Consequently, there’s no reading between the lines, as one of the teens, Mindy, openly identifies as a queer Black woman (the actress portraying her, Jasmin Savoy-Brown, is also a queer Black woman).
While sharing her opinion on whether she thinks Billy and Stu were actually in love, Campbell celebrated the new film’s explicit queerness and talked about LGBTQ+ fans finding the confidence and strength in Sidney to fight their own battles.
This is one of those rare moments for me when I can honestly say, if you told little, gay Chris at 15 years old that he’d one day interview the person who played someone who represented survival and perseverance to him, he wouldn’t have believed you.
Wow, honey. Thank you.
You must get that from gay boys.
I do, I do! But it’s always really lovely. It means a lot.
Did you ever expect that you would reach that demographic when you did the first “Scream”?
I had no idea what demographic I would reach. Honestly, I had no idea of the success of these films or the impact that these films would have on people. I mean, listen, it’s an honor to play such a strong woman and someone who’s not a victim and someone who takes over and holds her own and won’t allow life to get away with her. But to realize the impact that has on other people’s lives and that it’s had a positive effect on people is the cherry on top.
We feel this way about Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in “Halloween,” obviously, as well. So why do you think Scream Queens like yourself are revered so much by seemingly gay men in particular?
Yeah, but also I think it’s not just gay men. I think it’s people who have felt shut down in some way in their life or felt they’ve had [to] sort of push a glass ceiling or been misunderstood or been bullied. So I think it makes sense certainly for the queer community and gay men. But I think also just for anyone who has struggled with bullying or challenges, and in their youth especially.
It’s the underdog rising above, right?
Yeah, absolutely. And as Sidney does that or Laurie Strode does that, it gives people that confidence that they can overcome.
It’s always a real treat to see you back in the role of Sidney, because it does this sort of thing where I’m 39 now, but there’s a part of me that feels the same way that I felt when I was a teenager. You carry that trauma with you.
Of course, of course.
And you know — you play this character who carries this trauma with her.
Absolutely. And I certainly had a level of bullying when I was a kid and struggled a lot, so perhaps that comes through in the character. And, of course, that is carried with us for the rest of our lives. But it’s sort of not letting it live you. That can be your history, that can just be a part of our tapestry, but that doesn’t have to be our present story.
It’s recognized in the new “Scream” that you are inspiring other young people.
Yeah, which is lovely. I mean, what’s great about these films is they’re very self-referential and they take a look at the genre itself, then they start to take a look at the characters within the film becoming icons themselves or characters that are portrayed in films. There’s always a level of that.
I’m happy that Kevin Williamson recently divulged how the “Scream” movies are coded in gay survival. It’s obviously something that some of us have known for a very long time. Did you know from the beginning that Sidney was a manifestation of Kevin’s personal experiences as a gay man?
Not necessarily. I think you always know that a writer is writing from something personal, some kind of experience that they’ve had. I mean, good writing always comes from something intimate, or meaningful, or a part of a person’s story. So I had a suspicion. But he never said it clearly to me.
Had there been conversations on any other “Scream” movies following the first movie, given the fact that now he’s opened up about it?
We were actually just talking about it at a dinner a few weeks ago, and it was really the first time he revealed it to me that succinctly. I think he’s become clearer about it as well over the years. Probably because he’s been discussing it and talking about it, he’s able to express it more clearly.
Does it have you reinterpreting Sidney and what she means and what she stands for when you think about it through his very specific lens?
I don’t think it would change my portrayal because, inevitably, my portrayal came from the words and came from a pained person, a person who was damaged, a person who was troubled, who’s trying to overcome. So, whether that be gay or straight or whatever, it’s a very similar story, you know? So I don’t think the portrayal would need to be different.
Well, I guess not the portrayal so much as going back in your mind…
And looking at Sidney differently knowing this information now.
I think only because of people like you, I’ve had a sense of that already. I’ve had a sense of the impact that she’s had in that way and that she touches people in that way, so I can, in looking at the films, see those moments where that would have that impact.
There’s this part in the new “Scream” where Sidney says, “I’m bored.” Which is so funny because it really is what you feel when you’ve gone through so much and you’re like, “Come on. “I’ve gone through this, do better.”
[Laughs.] Been there, done that, seen it before, come on. Really? Give me more.
I obviously talked to a lot of queer friends of mine before our interview. They had a lot to say about the character as well, but a friend of mine wanted me to ask you: What do you have to say for yourself for bringing out all the baby queers in the ’90s?
Very proud, very proud of it. [Laughs.] Listen, you know, I grew up in the dance world, so I was in National Ballet School by the time I was 9 and, to be honest, the majority of the boys in my class were gay, because a lot of your community are drawn to the arts and drawn to that world and feel more accepted and _are_ more accepted in that world. So that’s been my upbringing. Also, I grew up in Toronto, which I think [has] the second highest gay community in North America, so, you know [laughs]. I love Toronto for that. So listen, if I’ve had an impact in that way on that community, it means a great, great deal to me.
Yeah, and let’s note here that it’s not just with “Scream,” but “The Craft” too.
“The Craft” as well, I know. And “Wild Things” and “When Will I Be Loved.” There’s a slew of movies. [Laughs.]
There are so many theories about “Scream.” I’m sure you’ve heard them all at this point, but there’s one in particular that I wanted to ask you about: the dynamic between Billy and Stu in the first “Scream.” You’re looking at me like you know where I’m about to go with this.
Are you wondering whether there was a burgeoning love relationship going on there?
Perhaps, perhaps. Yeah, it’s very much a possibility, and now that Kevin’s out and talking more about that, I would imagine that’s a big part of his thinking.
When you say “perhaps,” what makes you think that it’s possible?
Well, I don’t know clearly, ’cause Kevin hasn’t said to me clearly that’s what it is, but it is a possibility, right?
If you were to theorize…
If I were to theorize, I would say that there was perhaps some confusion with them. Pretty confused guys. [Laughs.] And that maybe some of their anger comes from not being allowed to be who they want to be, if you wanna go there. [Laughs.] What do you think?
I do want to go there. And I think Stu was hotter for Billy than Billy was for Stu.
Yeah, yeah. Yes.
At the very least we can say that the first film was queer coded, and we don’t live in a world anymore where that’s acceptable. And that’s something I really appreciate about the new “Scream” — that there’s a queer woman of color in it and her sexuality is so matter-of-fact. What are your thoughts on seeing the progress we’ve made throughout five “Scream” films?
Well, thank god, right? We needed to get to this place where it just becomes fact and it just becomes true, then we accept the fact that we’re all different, and we’re all here. We don’t need to pretend that certain groups don’t exist anymore. It’s a great progression. But at the same time, I was reading an article on BBC yesterday about that Bert and Ernie cake in Ireland that was ordered. It was a man who wanted to have a birthday cake and have Bert and Ernie represent his gay openness and strength, and the bakery refused to make the cake for him. It became a big court case and he won the first court case, but he just lost the second. So, we’re not necessarily there yet, obviously, in every country. Hopefully that will shift in the future. But at least, in some places, it’s getting better.
The new “Scream” is an important step, culturally speaking. I think about how many people there are like me who are young and will see this movie and feel like, “That’s me on screen.”
Yeah, absolutely. And being represented clearly and openly and without shame — yes, a beautiful thing.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Chris Azzopardi is the Editorial Director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate, the national LGBTQ+ wire service. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.
Photo by Paramount Pictures