In 2000, actor David Arquette became a virtual pariah in the professional wrestling world. In the course of promoting his slapstick comedy turkey Ready to Rumble, he was not only written into the WCW storylines in real life, but eventually crowned world heavyweight champion – a script even Arquette did not like. Fans felt the sport had jumped the shark, and poured hate upon both WCW and the star.
Twenty years later, and after film choices he himself said made his life a joke, Arquette seeks redemption in the sport he loves. In the documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette, filmmakers David Darg and Price James follow Arquette, now in his late 40s, as he learns to wrestle for real. The pursuit of credibility involves heavy training, hitting wrestling competitions held in backyards, and voyaging to Mexico to try out the famed and flamboyant professional wrestling style known as lucha libre.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a therapy session, a journey through the undercards of wrestling, and an opportunity for Arquette’s well-known family members to wonder openly what the hell David is doing.
How are you, and where are you?
I’m in Connecticut at the moment, on my way back to LA tonight. I’m doing good.
Can you give us a brief summary of You Cannot Kill David Arquette?
Yeah! It’s a love letter to wrestling. After being crowned the world heavyweight champion 20 years ago, I returned to wrestling to prove myself, to show the fans that I could do it, that I can be considered one of the boys.
Do you think you were successful in that?
I do. There’s a moment in the film where there is a death match which is kind of gruesome and scary. And in that room I walked in and they hated me, just as they had for 20 years. But as I left, they were cheering me. So in that one moment I really turned the whole crowd around. You know, there are always going to be haters out there, but it’s good to believe in yourself, and that is the message in the film that I had to learn personally: that I had to believe in myself and stop beating myself up.
Whose idea was the film?
It was my idea.
I got two stents put in my heart after a really bad reaction to a stress test, and when I came out I told my wife, ‘I’ve been thinking about wrestling.’ She thought I was crazy. I just knew I had to do this. It was something that had stuck with me for a long time. I wanted to stand up, I wanted to prove myself.
Your wife is a producer on the film, but doesn’t seem too happy at the beginning about your pathway. Why did she get involved in it?
Oh, she had to put up with a lot. She has to put up with a lot being married to me anyway because I’m a complicated, crazy, man-child. I have to give her all the credit though: she’s really the champion of this film. She produced it, she was on the phone with promoters, booking travel, and getting the film finished. She came up with some of the great ideas. And David Darg and Price James were tremendous directors who put a beautiful story together. I was really lucky to work with such talented people.
The film begins with a lot of vitriol aimed at you. What went wrong, back in 2000?
I think you’re talking about the first scene that we shot in the whole film. We went to this Legends of Wrestling event, and we wanted to interview [former President of WCW] Eric Bischoff there, but it was The Nasty Boys who put it together, Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags: they just weren’t happy for us to put a camera in their little safe space of this bar. So we got in a bar room brawl on our first day of shooting, and David Darg and Price James were like ‘I think there’s something crazy going on here.’
So it was just this rocket ship of adventure for two years, of independent wrestling and going to meet all these fans. It was a really mind-boggling experience.
You’ll have answered this many times, but what is the attraction of wrestling?
I love wrestling because I loved it as a kid. There is something about it that just sort of stuck with me. I love the larger-than-life quality to it – you know, these people with these flashy clothes. I like that it’s good against evil.
There’s a lot of that going on in the world right now, so I think it’s really interesting to tap into that, to tap into people’s emotions. I don’t know, there are so many things I love about it. You meet some really great people in the wrestling world.
The arc is that of a redemption story. Have you enjoyed fame?
There are definitely aspects that are really cool and beneficial. Just being able to make a living nowadays is important – so many people are going through hard times. The real benefit is being able to lend your voice to charities you believe in, to be honest. That is where the qualities of celebrity are best served. But being able to work with really talented actors, directors, and writers is an amazing gift. When that happens I feel very blessed.
The counter to this is that in some of the scenes you are doing backyard wrestling, and you’re down in Mexico doing independent wrestling. You seem happier in those moments. Which side of wrestling do you prefer?
Man. Well, the match in Mexico was just kind of a dream come true. I’ve always loved lucha wrestling. There is such a deep love of it in that country, for sure. And independent wrestling, I love that whole world. You meet a lot of really interesting characters. As an actor I’m always doing character study, trying to see why people have their certain ways, and that’s always fun in the wrestling world too.
In one line in the movie your brother Richmond says ‘David wants love.’ Is that a fair comment?
[Laughs] Yeah, I think that is a fair comment. I mean I love love. I want to spread love. I try to open my heart to others. I’m not big on putting people down or bullying people. That’s part of the reason I wanted to come back: I felt I was being bullied. I just don’t like that feeling. So I wanted to stand up. But yes, love is my main goal in life.
Kayfabe is the word used in wrestling to describe staged events that are pretending to be reality. Is there anything in You Cannot Kill David Arquette that you feel follows that kayfabe idea?
We tried to respect kayfabe. I mean in one part we show behind the curtain. It’s fun. I never wanted to know anything that was going on: they always just sort of sent me on this journey. I knew I wanted to start from the bottom and work my way up and train properly and all that. But the bar room brawl – I’m sure people think things were set up, but they weren’t.
Meeting with DDP (Diamond Dallas Page) I knew we were going to talk about what happened in the past and I was going to ask him for some help. But it’s a fun adventure. David Darg and Price James did an incredible job. David Darg does documentaries for things like the Ebola outbreak – he was out there filming all that stuff – and Price James does more comedic storytelling stuff, so both of them together really captured this form of storytelling. I think they did a great job.
How have wrestling fans reacted to the movie?
For the most part I think wrestling fans have enjoyed it. You’re always going to have your haters out there, so I’m just trying to let it live as a journey that we did, and hopefully people love it. It has gone both ways, but most people have enjoyed it.
Wrestling is obviously very big in America. Do you think that affects the way that Americans communicate with each other?
As big as wrestling is in the world and in America, it is still a niche audience. It’s this weird world. It crosses over a lot – I see that a lot of wrestling fans are horror fans, and you have different fan bases that cross over to a certain extent. There is a ‘wrestling world’, so it is a microcosm of America for sure, and a lot of what is going on here. But you have different promotions throughout the country that are doing different sorts of things, or stand for different stuff. You get a feeling for who to work with and who not to work with. But you hear some stories!
A lot of your family members appear in the film. Sometimes they are not complimentary. Were they generally supportive?
Yeah, they were generally supportive. I love my family a lot, and I love the fact that they were part of this. My wife Christina, I just can’t give her enough credit for producing this film and having to deal with the whole wrestling world, and really coming through. She is my hero. I have a six-year-old daughter and she wasn’t completely embarrassed by it, so that was also a huge accomplishment.
You had a film crew in with your family life for one or two years. Did that affect the family dynamic at all?
They weren’t filming at my house for all that time – we went on the road a lot. But I went on the road without them and captured a lot of this stuff on my own, or the different promotions would capture it. It is weird having a camera in your face and having to be really open and vulnerable, but it was a fun experience. I don’t know what else to say: it was a once in a lifetime journey that I’m glad I went on. I am sure I would never do it again though.
In the film you show quite a lot of your body, from the wrestling to a spray tan scene. How do you feel about letting the world see you minus clothes?
[laughs] Oh, you know the spray tan…There is a humorous undertone. I was a really big fan of Andy Kaufman, and I loved his involvement in the wrestling world, being another actor and wrestler, so there is definitely that undertone. This is one of the comedic moments. But you learn quickly in wrestling that you’re always kind of semi-nude, so you have to get pretty used to that part.
And your body takes a bit of a beating in the film. Has everything recovered?
Yeah, everything has recovered. I mean, I still have pains in my neck and back – it sticks with you a long time. It’s a painful sport. There is a lot you have to go through. You have to train quite a bit so that your body is prepared for the impact it’s going to take. It’s kind of like being hit by a car every time you step into a ring.
What comes next for you?
I have Scream 5 coming out, which I was really excited to work on. We missed Wes [Craven] tremendously, but it was great to work with Courtney [Cox] again. And Matt and Tyler [directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett] did an incredible job bringing this really wonderful cast of young actors together. I think the Scream fans, and horror fans, and film fans, will really enjoy it.
This interview was first published in the December 2020 issue of SNACK magazine. You can read the full magazine below on your smartphone, tablet, or pc.