In 2000, after the release of wrestling comedy Ready to Rumble, lifelong fan David Arquette got the chance to realize a childhood dream: for a brief, wild, and controversial period, the Scream star became a professional wrestler. You may not remember the pop-culture crossover in which Arquette, largely used as a comic-relief heel in World Championship Wrestling’s plots, actually won the World Heavyweight Championship, but certain hardcore wrestling fans do – and they’ve never let it go. Here was a flashy “Hollywood guy” who’d infiltrated their arena and seemingly made a mockery of their sport and the pros who’d trained decades for a chance to be in his boots. While he was only champ for 12 days, and quickly disappeared from matches soon after, many fans never forgave him. Arquette, in many ways, didn’t let it go either.
In the fascinating, revealing new documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette, filmmakers James Price and David Darg chronicle Arquette’s attempt at a legitimate comeback to the world of wrestling between 2018 and 2020. We follow along as he is confronted by fans who’ve held tight to their fury about his 2000 victory, dips his toe into the super-amateur circuit – an in-the-dark-backyard match is particularly memorable – and ultimately begins to find himself, along with his skills and strength and fitness, through rigorous training and determination. A sequence in the middle of the film, in which Arquette trains with a group of luchadors in the gyms and on the streets of Tijuana, feels like a real-life Rocky film. And just like a Rocky film, there are deep lows to go with these dizzying highs.
Arquette opens himself up here in ways few other actors of his notoriety would, letting the camera into doctors visits during which he is tranquilized and out of control, talking frankly about the disappointments in his life – on screen, in the ring, and at home – and never filtering the damage that’s been done to his body or his soul. In an interview leading up to the movie’s release, he told Rotten Tomatoes that he probably won’t be re-watching the movie – it’s too painful – but he doesn’t regret what he went through. “That’s really what I learned throughout this whole thing: to really be good to myself,” he said. Below, Arquette shares how he came to love wrestling as a kid, the importance of support from family and friends like the late Luke Perry, his excitement at returning to the Scream franchise, and why “no holds barred” was the only way to approach a documentary about his life.
Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: A lot of people who haven’t been following your off-screen career might be surprised to discover this obsession with wrestling. What was it about wrestling that really connected with you when you were growing up?
David Arquette: I saw Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan at the LA Sports Arena, and seeing Andre the Giant in person just blew my mind. I was just like, “What?” – I couldn’t believe it. It was so wild. I’d always seen wrestling, even before that, on TV, just here and there, it was always something that intrigued me, but that really got me into it. It was the whole Cyndi Lauper period, and I was a big fan of Mr. T and he was part of it. That whole time period really swept me up. Then my dad did the voice of a Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in the cartoon, and that had something to do with it. I remember going to some shows with my dad and my friends, and it’s just something we totally got into. I jumped off the roof on to a mattress [playing wrestling] and banged my head for the first time. Did the whole thing.
And Miss Elizabeth had an appeal, right? [Arquette has a tattoo of Miss Elizabeth, the late former manager of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who was a key part of the then World Wrestling Federation’s main plot lines in the late 1980s and early 1990s.]
Arquette: Oh, Miss Elizabeth had such an appeal. I remember, in doing research for this, I was looking back on old matches, just to get back up to speed and see if I remembered anything, and stuff just started coming back. Yeah, Miss Elizabeth had such an impact on me. I loved Macho Man, but I was like, “Why do you treat her so bad?” I didn’t understand the whole dynamic. If I had a girl like Miss Elizabeth, I’d treat her with more respect.
Did you want her to end up with Macho Man or Hulk Hogan?
Arquette: I wanted her to be with Macho Man, but I was a huge Hulk fan. I loved Hulk, just growing up. I bought into it. He was just so great at what he did, just setting it all up. Even seeing him now, working the crowd like nobody else could.
The documentary takes us back to the time when you got to fight, partly for the promotion of Ready to Rumble. How did it feel for you when you got the opportunity to then enter the ring on a big scale, have this crazy storyline which is almost ’80s-esque in its wildness, and then pin the guy and win the championship belt?
Arquette: It was exciting. For me, I always saw it as, “Wow. This is like a kid’s dream come true.” That’s how I was thinking of it, like a fan finally gets to become a champion. I understand now why people got so upset, but I didn’t at the time. I did think it was a horrible idea. I didn’t want to do it necessarily, but it also was explained to me that I could tour with them until the next pay-per-view. I was like, “Do you mean that I get to go from city to city and travel with you guys?” That’s also something I always wanted to do. I don’t know, I’ve always wanted to run away to the circus kind of thing, and it felt like that.
In the documentary, we see how a lot of wrestling fans over the years became pissed off that a “Hollywood guy” came in from nowhere and took the belt. But at the time when you participated, did you feel accepted by the wrestlers you were working with?
Arquette: Not really. They didn’t really want me to do anything. There’s this whole thing, like, I couldn’t beat anybody up because of who I was, so nobody wanted to take the heat from me; nobody wants to look bad. They also had some insurance policy, so they wouldn’t let me fight; I couldn’t get hurt or something. So, I’d typically get beat up, somebody would come and then roll me on top of the other person, and that’s usually how I would win each of my matches. So, that was pretty funny. Coming back [into wrestling more recently], there was a lot of that still – people not wanting me to beat them up and that kind of thing, but a lot of people were cool about it.
There’s a scene early in the comeback that the movie documents, where, after a scuffle with some angry fans in a restaurant, you go outside and you’re frazzled and say to the camera, “I get it, I get it.” It’s tough stuff, it’s a really raw film. Did you know, going in, how much you were going to expose yourself and how vulnerable you’d have to be for this film, or did you sort of lean into that in the process?
Arquette: Well, I know that being vulnerable, being open, and being honest is where you get the best art from. When you do the best interviews is when you’re being honest and revealing stuff about yourself. So, I knew I had to be open about it. I didn’t know where it was going to go, how crazy it was going to get, and how far we’d take it. I never imagined being in Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s top 500 wrestlers or something like that. That was never even in my mind. I just wanted to go back and properly train and learn about why people got so upset. I just wanted, also, to be able to enjoy wrestling again without having this attitude.
But I realized through the process of it that the attitude I was having, and the reason it hurt my feelings so much, is because I was believing what I was reading. I was telling myself all these things like, “You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough.” All these negative thoughts that I would then treat as if they were real so, when you read it, it’s kind of like confirming or something. That’s what I really learned through this whole process, that it doesn’t matter what anybody says. It’s what you believe in yourself. It’s how you feel about yourself, that you have that confidence, that you have that self-pride.
We also get to see that you have a pretty amazing support network in your life. Obviously, your kids and your wonderful wife are there, and your sisters and your brothers are involved in this documentary, as well as your ex-wife. How important has that been, not just for this comeback, but for dealing with any setbacks in life, to have that level of support around you?
Arquette: It’s been really important. They’ve had to put up a lot with thinking I’m dying a couple of times and all that kind of stuff, and just all the craziness that goes on with this whole wrestling world. They were really scared for me to wrestle and everything, but it’s been really important.
My wife [Christina McLarty] – not quite single-handedly – but she really did produce this from the ground up. She worked with these amazing directors, David Darg and James Price, and they really put a great movie together. They kicked me out of the editing room at some point because I was too close to it and had so many feelings about it all. It’s really hard for me to watch to this day. I’m not sure I’ll ever really watch it again. Maybe when I get much older.
Yeah. I was going to ask that, because there are really transparent doctor’s visits, there’s you getting violently beaten and cut in that “death match”… I can’t imagine it was an easy decision to include those things, but then also to re-watch those things must be incredibly difficult.
Arquette: Yeah, it’s really difficult, and it was really hard to reveal a lot of that stuff. But at some point you allow yourself to be exposed, and you put it all on the line, it’s really what you have to do. I really did want to prove myself and, ultimately, I just needed to learn a few lessons that I’d been trying to learn for years. Even some of it that I knew, but it just really had to click like this had to be the catalyst.
There are some great highs in this as well, and I think in the Mexico sequence it’s really great to see you, there, come into your own. When you first did that leg move on the luchador who was training you…
Arquette: Yeah, the flying head scissors.
Is that what you call it?
Arquette: Well, it’s called the huracarana.
How did it feel when you finally nailed that? I wanted to cheer. I was at home alone, but I was like, “That’s awesome!”
Arquette: It felt awesome, but it also was like, “Did I do it right?” I was like, “How did it look?” They were like, “It looked amazing.” That’s also a testament to these incredible Lucha wrestlers. Whenever you work with really great wrestlers, they always make you look so much better. I was impressed by the way it turned out too. I don’t think half of the huracaranas I did after that one looked nearly as good.
That brings us to the death match towards the end of the movie, and you’ve spoken about that, where your neck is accidentally cut by a broken light and you have to be rushed to hospital. I was watching it and you looked kind of like you knew something was not right here even before you stepped into the ring. Did you almost hesitate to take that match in the moment?
Arquette: No. It’s a wrestling match. We had the whole thing planned out. There are certain things that went wrong with it, specifically that I pulled his legs when I wasn’t supposed to, which caused the light to stab me. I actually caused that to happen, but I didn’t know it was going to happen, I didn’t try for it to happen. I learned a big lesson in that: to always stick to the plan. We had a whole story we were telling, but it kind of went off track. Marko Stunt, a really amazing wrestler, got injured right before [I went on]. I think three people or four people got really badly injured that night. It was just full-moon type of night.
What were your feelings after that night, going to hospital and being injured in that way?
Arquette: I had all kinds of feelings. I’ve run the gamut of them. My wife was really upset. She was like, “Do you want to die?” and I was like, “No, I don’t want to die, but…” I was in a lot of pain. I was in a lot of emotional, personal pain that I hadn’t really uncovered to the extent that I have now. I had to address a lot of stuff from my past, a lot of things I was telling myself. I’d just beat myself up my whole life, and it was really time to stop doing that. That’s really what I learned throughout this whole thing: to really be good to myself.
That’s great to hear. One of the things we see near the end of the film, and following that sequence, is your really close relationship with Luke Perry. Then you fight his son, Jack Perry (a.k.a. the wrestler Jungle Boy), in a really great and uplifting finale. What kind of support did Luke and Jack give you in that moment and through this journey?
Arquette: Wow. Jack Perry, he’s such a cool guy, man. He’s never drank, never smoked. He’s never done anything. He’s got a level head on his shoulders. He’s really like a movie star, like an old-time movie star. He’s got a really great attitude. He’s a funny guy, too. It was really great to sort of connect with him. I’d met him a few times, but it was me going back into wrestling that kind of brought us all together, and I got to see Luke again for the first time since Alexis’s passing and I was able to bond with Jack. [Alexis Arquette, David’s sister, died in 2016.]
I asked Luke, “How is it to watch Jack Wrestle?” He’s like, “You know what, David? He’s my son, so I sit there in complete and utter fear every time he wrestles.” It was so scary for him, so I was like, “Oh, wow.” So, we got to bond on that.
Then Luke saved me [the night of the death match] and took me to the hospital with Jack. It’s just so amazing to see Jack’s career take off. He’s at AEW [All Elite Wrestling] now, wrestling, Jungle Boy. Then us sharing the time in the ring was really… I don’t know. It was healing because we had all just gone to Luke’s funeral a couple of months earlier. It was his mom’s birthday that night [of the fight]. It was just a moving night. To be able to share a wrestling ring with him, he’s such a talented wrestler that he made me look really good. It was probably one of my best matches that I had. It was fun. We told a really fun story. We were joking around a lot.
It’s a beautiful moment to watch, and it’s a beautiful way to end the film. Changing gears to the future. In this movie, I think it’s your wife who talks about how you felt typecast with some of the Scream movies and that playing Dewey Riley – who is one of my favorite characters of all the time – put you in a hole, career-wise. And now we know you’ve signed on for another Scream movie. How do you feel about returning to the role now, after all these years?
Arquette: Actually, what she was talking about, in retrospect, that I can see, it was more my feelings, personally. It’s really easy in Hollywood, with all the rejection and all the stuff, to start feeding yourself that, “Oh, ugh, blah, blah, blah.” You just get complainy and bitter. So, that’s more of what was being talking about. I’ve always loved playing Dewey, it was a huge break for my career, if anything, and I don’t blame wrestling in any way for the downward aspects of my career. It’s more the choices I made, doing a bunch of AT&T commercials or getting TMZ to shoot you when you had drunk too much outside of a club. Stuff like that had more of an impact on my career than something like Scream, and Scream was a real gift in that sense.
I’m excited to return as Dewey. It’ll be sad without Wes [Craven] there, but these filmmakers that are doing it were inspired by Wes and have always loved him, and they love making horror films. It’s great to be able to carry on the legacy and work with Courteney again, and hopefully work with Neve again, and Kevin Williamson’s involved. So I’m excited to play Dewey again.
The title of this film is You Cannot Kill David Arquette, but can you kill Dewey? He’s survived… a lot.
Arquette: I don’t know. I hope so. I love playing the character, so that would be good.
Just finally, what do you want people to take away from this documentary when the credits roll? What do you hope they think about your journey and you after they’ve seen this film?
Arquette: The whole thing I say is: I am a champion, but so are you. You know what I mean? You’re the champion of your world, I’m the champion of mine, we’re all great in our worlds, and that’s what I want people to know. Don’t let anyone write your story for you, you can do it yourself. You can write it, you can stop beating yourself up, and you can do anything you want.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette is available to rent or buy on VOD on August 28, 2020.