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Neve Campbell crosses into film with ''The Craft''

”Party of Five” actress is content to go unnoticed in public, but has higher aims on-screen

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David Schwimmers of the world, take note. While prime-time darlings were trying (and failing) to make tidal waves with title roles on the big screen this spring, Party of Five‘s Neve Campbell eased her way into films more quietly, and successfully, with a supporting turn as an ugly duckling in the teenage black-magic drama The Craft. And though the 22-year-old’s cautious American debut cast a sufficient spell (with the film opening No. 1 at the box office, and its $6.7 million start surpassing Schwimmer’s The Pallbearer, Ricki Lake’s Mrs. Winterbourne, and Pamela Anderson Lee’s Barb Wire), she’s nonchalant about the promise of a two-track career: ”It can’t be the most important thing in your life. As quickly as it comes, it can go.”

If Campbell is wary of the spotlight, it’s because being the center of attention has burned her in the past. In 1993, before landing the role as the insecure Julia on Party of Five, she starred in the Canadian teen rocker series Catwalk (which aired briefly on MTV in 1994) before quitting over the direction of her character, Daisy, a singer/dance teacher. ”She became the sex symbol,” says the Toronto native, whose name rhymes with Rev. ”She was sleeping with every character. It was frustrating.” Campbell’s current costars aren’t surprised by her scrupulous image management. ”Neve’s nature is to take care of herself,” says Party sibling Scott Wolf. ”And so she does.”

Campbell admits that constant public adoration grates on her nerves. ”There’s nowhere I can go without being recognized,” she frets. ”[During] private dinners, people will be like, ‘Excuse me, I know you hate this, but…’ And it’s like, If you know I hate it, why are you doing it? That’s not part of what I wanted.”

To cope, she reads up on Buddhism and finds other paths to stability. On April 4, 1995, Campbell married her boyfriend of five years, actor Jeff Colt, in a spur-of-the-moment ceremony near Wimbledon, England, where she was filming the TV movie The Canterville Ghost with Patrick Stewart. The couple met at a Toronto theater — he was bartending, she was performing in The Phantom of the Opera — and now live in Los Angeles, where the rarity of married 22-year-olds throws even the young bride. ”My girlfriend just told me she’s getting married and I was like, ‘You’re what?!”’ she says. ”For a second I forgot.”

Now working on Wes Craven’s horror spoof Scream with Drew Barrymore and Courteney Cox, and soon to begin shooting Party‘s third season, Campbell is beginning to accept that she attracts attention, try as she may to elude it. She’s completed the requisite guest spot on Politically Incorrect, though she managed to remain on the sidelines during the customary slugfests. ”It was Jimmie Walker, Heidi Fleiss, and this extreme right-wing woman,” she remembers. ”The first two segments I didn’t say a word. They were all yelling at each other, so I just didn’t bother.”