WASHINGTON -- In the late '90s, Neve Campbell was frequently described as one of the hottest young actresses in Hollywood. With leading roles in the TV series "Party of Five" and the "Scream" movies as well as "Wild Things" and "Three to Tango," she was celebrated as having a bright future.
But in 2000, after "Party of Five" concluded its run and "Scream 3" was released, Campbell essentially vanished (although she impressed critics with her quiet, thoughtful performance in 2001's "Panic").
Campbell attributes that mostly to bad timing and bad luck, but the outlet for most of her energy and passion over the past couple of years is only now being revealed.
It's called "The Company," a fly-on-the-wall chronicle of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.
Campbell, a former professional dancer in her native Canada, conceived the project and commissioned a screenplay from Barbara Turner, who wrote "Pollock," then persuaded Robert Altman to take the helm.
But that was the easy part, compared with the training the 30-year-old did as the only professional actress to play a member of the company. The rest of the roles went to Joffrey dancers, and to keep pace with them, Campbell wrestled her body back into shape after having quit dancing for nine years, in part because of injuries.
AP: How long did you train before the movie started shooting?
Campbell: I trained 8 1/2 hours a day for six months. I did 4 1/2 months on my own with a coach, doing Pilates and doing rehabilitation for a knee injury, and working on the dance pieces. And then I did another month and a half with the Joffrey Ballet, learning all the ballets.
AP: That sounds excruciating.
Campbell: Yeah, but it's what you need to do to be able to pull it off, to get up to par with a bunch of professional dancers. In no way did I want to go into that company and not be up to par, especially having been a professional dancer myself.
AP: Do you feel you got to that level?
Campbell: Yeah, I think I got there. I was worried that I wouldn't be, but once I got there and had the support from the dancers, I think I did.
AP: Were you risking serious injury?
Campbell: No, not really. I knew that certain old injuries would come up, but I knew I'd be able to handle them. I broke my rib three days before I got to Chicago, so I did the whole movie with a broken rib.
AP: At what point did you think Altman would be the right person to direct "The Company"?
Campbell: From the beginning, Barbara and I said this film has to be Altmanesque, because I didn't want to make a movie about the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who becomes a ballerina, or the girl who's in the chorus and wants to be the principal and gets there. We've seen that story and it's a little boring, you know? And it doesn't tell you a lot about the dance world.
AP: You make a distinction there, saying you wanted it to be "Altmanesque," but you didn't know he would actually do it.
Campbell: No. We just sort of had him at the top of our list. We said, 'OK, there's Robert Altman, and then, realistically, there's these 20 other people.' ... I think he just became fixated on dance. He found that he could relate to the artistry and not selling out. Dancers are those kinds of artists, and that's who Bob is.
AP: I understand he cut a lot of scripted dialogue, particularly between you and James Franco, who plays your love interest.
Campbell: It would have been a mistake to have a beginning and a middle and an end to that story line. Bob really wanted it to feel more like a dance so that it would meld with the rest of the film, and that's why he chose to have 'My Funny Valentine' play throughout each of our scenes, so that it was a pas de deux.
AP: You were previously vocally opposed to nudity, and in this film you appear nude briefly. What changed your mind?
Campbell: I've never been opposed to nudity. What I've been opposed to is nudity for box-office draw. With this, it's physicality, it's dance, it's comfort with your body. It's not sex scenes. If you look at European films you see a lot of nudity, and you don't question it, because you're looking at people (who) just exist. You see people get out of bed, and they're naked, you know what I mean? When the nudity only happens within the sex scenes, that to me makes it really obvious why it's there.
AP: Do you worry about being perceived as the girl from "Scream" trying to do something serious?
Campbell: What would be wrong with that? It's better than being the girl from 'Scream' who's not trying to do something serious. When you start in this business, you take the things that come at you. 'Scream' was great for what it was. For a horror film, it was intelligent, it was funny, it took a laugh at itself. 'Party of Five' won a Golden Globe, it was a well-written television series. It's really funny, people's perceptions. I got blamed for doing those things.
AP: Do you think "The Company" will help you get the sort of roles you've always wanted?
Campbell: I think this is going to help change a perception about me which was a misconception anyway ... why would you say a person's only capable of doing horror films, or they're only capable of doing a quality television show? Will it change that, are people going to take me a little more seriously? Yeah. I think so.