If you’re a fan of pro-wrestling, you’re probably familiar with the time actor David Arquette (Scream) was part of the 2000 WCW season. During the Slamboree pay-per-view event, he even became the world heavyweight champion. The entire scenario was created to promote his new film at the time, Ready to Rumble, which saw two diehard wrestling fans help their long time hero return to glory after he’s unceremoniously ousted from their beloved wrestling franchise. Much like his character of Gordie Boggs in that 20-year-old film, wrestling fans can be overly passionate, and Arquette’s claim to the championship belt was met with hatred and disgust by the public.
And yet since childhood, Arquette himself has been a passionate pro-wrestling fan, and spent 18 years shrouded in shame from what was meant to be a simple promotional tool. He knew what went wrong, and he wanted to fix it. So, for the past two years, David Arquette has been slumming his way through the rank and file of the wrestling world, cutting his teeth in the indie circuit, even coming close to a brutal end when his neck was cut open during a rough and unapologetic deathmatch.
The new documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette follows the actor’s journey as he seeks redemption in the eyes of his critics. From the initial talks with his family and doctors, to the moment a broken fluorescent light bulb heats into his flesh, you’re sitting front and center for it all. We spoke with the actor-turned-wrestler about what this journey meant to him and how the results may have exceeded his expectations.
For wrestling fans who have followed this journey, what you’ve accomplished is no surprise. But were you worried at all that people outside that bubble might think of this as just a publicity stunt?
I don’t know, I really didn’t think of it that way… I think it worked the way it did because it’s a real story. I wanted to clear my name. I wanted to honor wrestling. I wanted to make a film that let people know what wrestling’s about. I mean, why would they get so mad at me if it’s all choreographed in the first place? Through the process though, I really did find out–and found out the hard way. This is the only way to do it. To really get in there and pay your dues.
You just said it right there; since these events are so scripted and are meant to be very colorful and outrageous, that initial backlash to the WCW event must have been shocking.
It was. I didn’t think it would be. When I first heard about the idea I thought, “This is terrible, we can’t do this, it’s the belt.” They explained about the publicity and that it would be good for the film, and that if I didn’t do it… that would be it. There would be no more promotion for Ready to Rumble, I wouldn’t go on the show anymore, I’d be no part of it. So I would go all the way to the pay-per-view event, I’d get to be the champ, but I’d also get to travel with those guys. I’d get to be part of the team, and that’s what I really wanted to do.
I got to travel with Hulk Hogan and Sting, and all those guys. For me, it was like being a kid. I got to go to a bar with Rick Flair and hear all their old stories. It was just mind-boggling for me. That was my favorite part of it, and I don’t regret any of it. I didn’t even think if people would see that as a publicity stunt. I knew I’d give it my all, and I would train really hard. I was more afraid of not doing it all and still not being accepted or seen as an outcast.
Of course the film also shows a lot of your private life, not just the wrestling aspect. I’m sure it feels strange to let people in to see all of that.
Yeah, it’s hard. I know that good art comes from being open and honest, and vulnerable, and revealing parts of yourself. I also wanted to do a lot of it in case anyone out there is going through some similar stuff.
One of my things is that I just beat myself up so much, and that’s pretty much what led to that deathmatch without me even being conscious of it, [is], “Why do you put yourself in these sort of situations? Why do you nearly kill yourself?” I had to answer that and come to terms with that. It’s a rough road, and a lot of it you don’t see on camera. Arguments with my wife, just the pain of hearing her say, “Do you want to die?” That heavy kind of stuff… I’m just glad I made it out, through to the other side.
You’re also putting yourself in situations, like when you join in with the backyard wrestlers. You might know what to expect, but you end up in an even more ridiculous situation than you’re expecting.
That was definitely more ridiculous than I was expecting [Laughs]. I actually wasn’t even expecting anything. I kinda knew, I had a feeling it was going to be some shotty little event, but I didn’t know it was going to be backyard wrestling. Even when it came to the street wrestling, I didn’t know I was going to be doing anything.
So when I first got out there, I did some old school wrestling move where I hurt the other guys knee and I felt so horrible about it. That’s the last thing you want to do, and that’s one of the main things I was always concerned about, “I just don’t want to hurt you.” That would just be the worst.
When it comes to the wrestling fans seeing you as an outsider, who didn’t deserve the belt, do you feel there’s an inverse of that? Where some of the biggest box office pulls are Dwayne Johnson or Dave Bautista, or John Cena.
Well, those guys are great, and I love the work that they’re doing. But the fact that Rick Flair is not on a CBS cop show is more the problem. I don’t get Hollywood. The fact that Stone Cold isn’t in a buddy cop movie is beyond my comprehension. They’re so great at what they do they would be incredible in that world. Part of it was wanting to expose Hollywood to the wrestling world and that kind of thing. We’ve since put Mick Foley in a film, Erick Rowan (Joseph Ruud) in a film. So I’ll just do my little part to get some of them involved.
I spoke to my friend who is big into wrestling and who also wrestles and asked him his thoughts on David Arquette as a wrestler. His words were, “WCW… joke. Now, bad-ass!” You really did accomplish what you set out to do.
It’s exciting, yeah. I understood what I was hated for before. I get it. I was hated because I didn’t pay my dues and do all the work and all that stuff. Now that I have, I’m getting that respect that I guess I was seeking. More so, I needed to find it in myself though. Because, I’m the one that took it all so personally. Ultimately, it’s really what you think about yourself that’s important… not what other people think.
This was meant to premiere at SXSW, but of course, COVID changed that. But were there events set-up that we didn’t get to see? Was there going to be a match or some announcement at SXSW?
Yeah, there was going to be a match with Effy at SXSW. I was so excited for that, I’m such a huge fan of Effy’s. But yeah, it all got cancelled and this is the new world. I’m just glad that there are still things for people to watch while they’re having to social distance. That’s my job. All we really want to do is entertain people. We want to put on a good show, we want them to have fun.
That’s literally why I’m in this business. It’s not really for any of the accolades. It might have been in the past with some things, but now it’s really just to put on a good show, and to enjoy myself in the process and work with the people I enjoy working with.
But you’re keeping up the practice during the pandemic, right?
I have been [Laughs]. I’ve rolled around a little. If there is any future to it, I’m not opposed to it. I love wrestling with RJ City, when we tag team, it’s really a fun time.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette is now playing at select drive-in movie theaters and will premiere on premium VOD on Friday, Aug. 28.