Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Neve Campbell

Dance, Girl, Dance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Neve Campbell Movies on DVD

Partial Neve Campbell Filmography:
The Dark (1994)
The Canterville Ghost (1996) (TV)
The Craft (1996)
Scream (1996)
Scream 2 (1997)
54 (1998)
Hairshirt (1998)
Wild Things (1998)
Three to Tango (1999)
Drowning Mona (2000)
Scream 3 (2000)
Panic (2000)
Investigating Sex (2001)
Last Call (2002) (TV)
Blind Horizon (2003)
The Company (2003)
Lost Junction (2003)
Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004)
When Will I Be Loved (2004)
Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005)
Relative Strangers (2006)
Closing the Ring (2007)
I Really Hate My Job (2007)
Partition (2007)

The great American filmmaker Robert Altman has worked with some of the most brilliant and larger-than-life collaborators in the world, from legendary screenwriters and cinematographers to scene-stealing stars like Warren Beatty and Robin Williams.

Yet no one has ever walked away with a Robert Altman film except Robert Altman -- until now.

Conceiving the story along with screenwriter Barbara Turner (Georgia, Pollock), actress Neve Campbell put together The Company as a dream project, a ballet movie that captured the day-to-day life of a ballet company without sinking into Flashdance territory. Wearing her second hat as producer, she approached Altman to direct and cast herself in a centerpiece -- but discreet -- role.

"I didn't want to do the story of the girl in the chorus who wants to become a pro dancer and gets there," Campbell says. "That story's kinda boring. As soon as you have a lead character in any film it has to be about them and you have to have the A-B-C plotline."

Instead, Campbell plays Ry, a dancer with Chicago's Joffrey Ballet who works nights and tries to make ends meet in an atmosphere where emotions run high and everyone yearns for attention. Altman's camera just as often settles on the other dancers as it does on Campbell.

The 30 year-old Canadian-born Campbell began her career at age nine, joining the National Ballet School of Canada. After five years of training, she became the youngest cast member ever to perform in Phantom of the Opera. She danced with various Toronto choreographers before falling prey to several injuries and slowly phasing into acting, hitting the big time with TV's "Party of Five" and the Scream films.

Returning to dance after so many years off was not so easy. "Most dancers would say that it's virtually impossible," Campbell says. "You can't take a week off without setting yourself back at least 2 months -- especially in classical ballet. Your body will start to go back to its normal state. Your leg will start turning in and your muscles are no longer in line in the way that they should be."

To get back into shape, Campbell trained 8-1/2 hours a day for six months, working with a physical therapist, taking classes, doing yoga and Pilates, training with a private coach and with the Joffrey Ballet. Not to mention that she had spent the previous four years visiting the company and getting to know the members -- many of whom appear in the film.

"There was no way this film would have worked if it seemed like I was the actor in the film," she says. "Because it's almost like a documentary it would make no sense if I wasn't up to par, but also if it seemed like there wasn't a natural camaraderie with the other dancers. I just didn't want them to feel that I should be treated any differently. From day one, I was in the studio at 8 in the morning on the floor with all the dancers, working as much as they were -- sometimes more because I needed extra coaching."

If nothing else, Campbell has the injuries to prove that she's a real dancer. In addition to arthritis in her neck, hips and feet, she played her most demanding scene in The Company -- a dazzling outdoor performance of "My Funny Valentine" -- with a broken rib.

"It's just part of the process for dancers," she says. "I had a really hard time with my body. But you get through it. It is what it is."

That performance was shot over a cold autumn weekend in Chicago's Grant Park in front of an actual audience. The producers took out a newspaper ad inviting people to see a free Joffrey Ballet performance and asking them if they wouldn't mind being filmed. The audience knew Campbell would be there but didn't know she would be dancing.

"It was my first time performing in front of an audience in 11 years," she says. "It was a really phenomenal experience, terrifying and overwhelming."

In addition to the actual dancing, Altman and Campbell attempted to present the rest of the film as a kind of symbolic dance. When Ry meets and begins a romance with a cook (James Franco), the film looks at simple moments from their relationship without depicting its rise and fall.

"It allows you so much freedom when you don't have to go for a beginning or an ending to a scene. You get to live in the moment," she says. "That [Altman] chose to have 'My Funny Valentine' play through all of my scenes with James made it feel more like a dance. I thought that was a really lovely idea."

The movie's other major element comes in the form of Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), who plays the company's director, a fickle, scatterbrained egomaniac with a lot of charm. In addition to his many other duties, he must stage elaborate ballets with very little money -- something Altman can definitely relate to.

"I think most artists are familiar with that," Campbell says. "You don't create your true art in order to make tons of money."

With The Company, Campbell has not only done herself proud, but she has also fulfilled a lifelong ambition. "I used to watch The Red Shoes and all the Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies. I used to swear when I was moving up in the business that I was born in the wrong era. I really wanted to be able to dance on film." And so she has.

January 9, 2004

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