TORONTO -- Neve Campbell has gone from prey to predator.
The damsel who fought back in the "Scream" horror-spoof trilogy, Campbell now steps up with a racy femme-fatale turn in "When Will I Be Loved," which played Thursday at the Toronto International Film Festival one day before its U.S. debut.
Campbell stars as a vixen whose chief pastime seems to be setting traps for the Y-chromosome set, toying with the men in her life the way a cat plays with a mouse before dining.
For Campbell, 30, the character is motivated by the deep insult many women have felt, that of being intellectually and emotionally undervalued by men.
"I don't think at the beginning that she's a dark person, but she has put a certain amount of trust into the people who surround her," Campbell said in an interview Thursday alongside "When Will I Be Loved" writer-director James Toback. "When she realizes that her intelligence has been underestimated, it's offensive. It's incredibly insulting to her."
Campbell plays Vera Barrie, the pampered daughter of well-to-do parents who set her up in a gorgeous Manhattan loft apartment, where she's free to indulge her sexual appetites. With ferocious intelligence, Vera sees abusive, manipulative men mistreating women all around, and she makes it her mission to fight back.
She's constantly on the make, gathering phone numbers from guys on the street for future mind games and pausing in Central Park to pose seductively until she catches the eye of a lunkhead sitting on a bench, whose girlfriend explodes in a jealous rage. Vera triumphantly moves on, leaving one more poor sap behind her to sputter denials that he wasn't ogling the hot chick in the park.
"Vera is sort of daddy's little girl taken for granted. Her father's basically in the palm of her hand, and he has basically given her the confidence to walk over him and also do whatever else she wants to do," Toback said.
Viewers will have little sympathy for Vera's victims, since virtually all the men in the film are swine out to get what they can off women. Among them are Mike Tyson in a cameo as himself on a street bellowing obscenities at an unseen woman named Carol and Toback as a professor not-so-subtly hitting on Vera, whom he's considering for a teaching-assistant position.
As manipulative and predatory as they are, the men she encounters are rank amateurs next to Vera, a coldly brilliant strategist. Her masterpiece of vengeance involves her sleazy boyfriend (Frederick Weller), a wannabe movie producer who tries to raise seed money by promising sex with Vera to an elderly billionaire (Dominic Chianese, Uncle Junior on "The Sopranos") in exchange for $100,000.
Both men suffer the wrath of Vera and never see it coming.
Campbell relaxed her usual stand against nudity, appearing naked in several scenes.
"My only issue with nudity in the past had to do with the fact that most nude scenes have nothing to do with the scripts themselves or nothing to do with the characters, and they're solely there for box-office draw," Campbell said. "This film is about this woman's sexual curiosity and adventurousness, so to me, it made a lot of sense. It was important to see her in a very raw place."
Since her breakout role on TV's "Party of Five" and her big-screen success in the "Scream" flicks, Campbell has concentrated on more personal roles in smaller films such as "When Will I Be Loved."
Campbell produced and starred in last year's "The Company," a ballet tale from director Robert Altman, and co-stars with Christian Slater in the movie-business satire "Churchill: The Hollywood Years" as an actress playing the future Queen Elizabeth in a film biography of the prime minister.
"I'm just finding most of the studio pictures that you get sent are trash. They're just not well-written. The characters are not fleshed out," Campbell said. "I just got to a place where I tried to not analyze my career and not try and decipher how the industry or the audience was going to respond to my next film, and just focus on how I was going to respond working with particular people. Would I grow, and would I feel challenged and feel inspired?"