David Arquette is something of a love-him-or-hate-him actor: given his penchant for energetic, eccentric performances, reactions to his work vary wildly between passionate enjoyment and just as passionate exasperation. In his latest project, 'The Legend of Hallowdega,' Arquette seems to have found his soul mate in director Terry Gilliam, a filmmaker who is himself no stranger to odd material and even odder execution. A short about (in Arquette's words) a "redneck scientist who's trying to discover why Talladega is such a dangerous racetrack," the film went live online over the weekend, and the actor's collaboration with Gilliam seems as likely to polarize audiences as anything else they've done, albeit this time in a format some may find mercifully short while other say it's not long enough.
Cinematical spoke to Arquette last week via telephone to discuss his starring role in 'The Legend of Hallowdega.' In addition to discussing the evolution of his collaboration with Terry Gilliam, he offered a few insights into how he found the character, and talked at length about the way even a short film provides real and significant challenges for actors – even when they're as endlessly energetic as he is.
Cinematical: When Terry Gilliam called you and asked you to be in 'Hallowdega,' what did he say about the project?
David Arquette: I got this call from my agent saying "hey, do you want to do this Terry Gilliam short?" I was like, are you f*cking kidding me? He's one of my favorite directors of all time – I saw 'Time Bandits' like 25 times – and I was like, yes, I can't wait to work with him. And then I had a phone call with him and he just has such a great sense of humor, and he's such a light, loving artist. He's just so amazing, and I was thrilled. He told me about the story, and he said I'm playing this sort of redneck scientist who's trying to discover the legend of Talladega – why's it such a dangerous track? It was amazing, because Amp Energy Juice came up with the concept of bringing Terry Gilliam, myself, Justin Kirk and Dale Earnhardt Jr. together in this NASCAR setting with this really sort of offbeat story. So I just loved the idea of a redneck scientist – it's just so funny to me (laughs). And the way Terry directs, he's really supportive and he's got a great sense of humor and he really lets you fly with it and he tries different things.
One example is that when I was in the wardrobe fitting, there was a guy who was doing a fake tattoo on me, and he was a real tattoo artist, but he's got these punk-rock pants on with all of these punk-rock patches all over them and fuzzy animal skin and all of this weird sh*t. He says, "I want you to wear his pants." I was like, dude, do you mind if I wear your pants? The guy was like, yeah – go for it, man! So I wore his pants, and then [Terry] gave me this vest and he says, "okay, I want you to take this vest, and here are some markers, and go research Robert Flood and alchemy, and then draw anything you want on it. So I took it home and just drew all over the vest and there were a bunch of the crew back at the hotel and I had them draw all over the vest and write their names and do whatever, but it's just an example of how his brain works. He cast some of the supporting parts with people from the community and grips and electric and the art directors, and it's just a different process. It's so relaxing and creative, and it was just a blast.
Cinematical: You're known as a performer for your energy and passion. When you're working with Terry, how easy was it to fall into a good creative rhythm with one another?
Arquette: The first day, we shot just a few things, and I was kind of on the fence about how my performance was. I was feeling like I was maybe being a little over-the-top, and I didn't know if it was going to come off as realistic, so the second day I decided to try to walk to Talladega. It was a 20 minute drive, so I started walking, and then I got a couple of rides and I hitchhiked a little, but at the end I got to the freeway and I walked for about a half-hour down this road that leads to Talladega – just because I thought this character would probably have done that a thousand times. I picked up all of these knick knacks on the side road and I put them in my tent. But one problem was that I didn't study my monologue as much as I should have, and I didn't have it down quite so well, and Terry was really cool about working me through it and letting me put pieces of paper in certain places so I could jar my memory. He just went with the flow; he was like, "don't even worry about it." But it also brought this energy of like me scrambling for my lines, and it brought a craziness out of the character that was so inherent and just character-driven that it really helped me.
Cinematical: With a short film, do you feel like it's more important to know your character inside and out when you go to shoot, or is it the same as a feature or TV show where you have more freedom to explore and discover during shooting?
Arquette: Doing a short film has definite benefits, and drawbacks. But one of the benefits – or drawbacks – is that you only have a finite amount of time to define your character and to get your message across. You kind of have to jump in really wholeheartedly and just believe in it, commit to your choices, and it makes it a really quick process. But it makes it a lot of fun, because it's like Terry usually does these epic films that are so complex, but on something like this he was able to sort of sit back and have some fun with it and no one was taking it too seriously. It was fun to really sort of be thrown into his crazy, artistic world.
Cinematical: Was there anything that surprised you when you were working with Terry Gilliam, given your prior familiarity with his material?
Arquette: Not really, but what surprised me was that he is incredibly humorous. I mean, I knew that about him anyway from his directing, but you know when he likes something when he's laughing uncontrollably. He just comes up and he's like a kid in candy store with all of these tools that he knows so well, and he knows the camera and the art direction really well, so it just kind of made it really easy. Just having him come up and laugh, he's just got such a childlike air about him that certainly helped us really quickly kind of connect together.
Cinematical: Is there anything you did in Hallowdega that you're particularly eager to see how it came out?
Arquette: It was such a cool shoot and he's such a maniac of a character that I just want to see where the subtleties are within it. Because that's hard to sort of feel as an actor when you're playing such an over-the-top character; you want everything grounded and you try to do everything from a character-based, real place, but you never really know how it's going to come out. And then obviously Terry brings so much to the table in post, with the art direction and all of the scenes that he shot that I wasn't apart of, I just want to see it all come together and to see the sort of magic he puts into his films come to life.
For Arquette's revelations about his upcoming role as Dewey in 'Scream 4,' click here for our exclusive story about the sequel.
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