David Arquette Thought His Life Was Over. So He Became a Wrestler. Again.
For 20 years, Arquette lived with the shame of ruining wrestling. At a low point, he decided to make amends. He talks to Kevin Fallon about his bloody, chaotic return to the ring.
David Arquette is on his steed. The horse is making the last few steps up the mountain, until magic hour hits with just the right note of bewitchment.
Centered in its natural spotlight is the actor, slouched over the saddle. A ridiculous floor-length magician’s coat hangs off him, draped open to reveal the star’s shirtless belly, a slight paunch folded onto the saddle.
“I’m kind of sick of being a joke, to be honest with you,” he says, pulling a vape pen to his lips and inhaling as he gazes out at the vista. “If you’re part of the joke, it’s not as painful as if you are the joke. Hollywood doesn’t take me seriously. The sort of media thinks I’m a bit of a joke. A lot of these people haven’t seen what I can do in a ring.”
It doesn’t take long to learn that the juxtaposition between clown and therapist is the exact space in which David Arquette lives. Or that the statements he’s making about wrestling, as in the televised scuffle pageant that counts Donald Trump among its celebrity interlopers, are as sincere as they come.
Twenty years ago, Arquette infiltrated the world of professional wrestling to promote his movie Ready to Rumble. Producers and the organization determined that he would win the belt and become World Wrestling Champion. It was such a disaster that even his then-wife, Friends star Courteney Cox, publicly expressed her embarrassment. To this day, fans still consider it one of the worst moments in wrestling history.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette, a new documentary out Friday on its titular (still alive) star, centers on redemption. It’s the bootstraps apology tour of a lifelong wrestling fan who wants to prove that, if not back then at least now, he deserves a place in the ring. More broadly, the 48-year-old deserves a happy, healthy life, too, after suffering a heart attack and having two stents placed.
With his wife, Christina McLarty Arquette, by his side; his ex-wife in his corner; his famous sisters, Oscar-winner Patricia and #MeToo warrior Rosanna in the bleachers; and his three children cheering him on, it’s also time to prove that, whatever Hollywood has decided about him and his career, he’s taking control of his own story.
He’s a goofy guy, but he’s serious about it. He’s going to become a wrestler. Again.
That grin, crawling across his face like a caterpillar until it explodes into a butterfly, starts creeping when I ask Arquette about that horseback scene.
It’s hard to say, when it comes to his sincerity contrasted against the absurdity of the image at hand, if it’s more or less ridiculous than the time we see him strumming a ukulele while sitting in an Adirondack chair the height of a suburban ranch house, its size almost enveloping him completely as he waxes poetic: “There is an element that nobody really wants to grow up, you know? I love the way kids see the world. I hate growing up.”
“Wrestling’s funny,” he tells me in a recent Zoom call, acknowledging that the visual absurdity was on the part of producers wanting to make a visually interesting film. The nuggets of wisdom, however, are all genuine. “Wrestling’s serious. Wrestling’s scary. Wrestling’s challenging. And we wanted to explore all of that within this film.”
If you don’t think that David Arquette is taking it seriously at this point—his health, his family, his acting career, and wrestling—well, the joke is on you.
Pick a metaphor to apply to Arquette’s recent attempt to get back in the ring.
A lifelong fan of wrestling, a source of bonding with his father, that fans who worship the sport with an Olympian reverence remember his brief ’90s arc with such ill will is an itch that’s pestered him for decades
There was a time when TMZ might as well have paid him royalties, considering the amount of videos and news stories the Hollywood gossip site mined of the Never Been Kissed star in various states of intoxication and coherence.
The actor, who once appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue, is candid about the fact that he’s auditioned for the last 10 years without landing any of the juicy parts he was seeking. “Who would go out for 10 years of job interviews and not get any, and still go out on more?” he says.
In You Cannot Kill David Arquette, you watch him humble himself in the Virginia home of some amateur wrestling enthusiasts, who, even though he’s the highest-profile celebrity they’ve ever had in their backyard ring, boo him.
You see muscle definition begin to poke through his potbelly as he preps for a redemptive return to the sport.
You see him training in Mexico, paying his dues by wrestling in the streets of Tijuana, leaping off a ladder into the arms of amateur luchadores at a traffic light and panhandling for tips, just a hint of the acrobatics he’d be able to pull off weeks later as he rejoins the circuit.
You see the jest with which all of this is covered in the press, ignorant of the healing journey at hand.
“When you read those things, they only hurt you if you feel they’re real, if you’re believing what you’re reading,” he tells me. “That’s where the painful part was.”
Typically, a celebrity participates in a documentary when it’s canonizing their legacy. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one so willfully participate in a project that spotlights their failures, that includes raw footage of them belligerently drunk, seeking mental health advice from doctors, and more than once, peeking through the spilling light of death’s door swung ajar.
“To be able to believe in myself and prove myself, it was fulfilling in that way.” Besides, he says, those celebrity fluff documentaries are boring as hell. Who possibly enjoys, or even takes away anything from them?
“I think a lot more people have feelings of self-doubt or insecurity or anxiety and depression than a lot of people talk about,” he says. “So I didn’t really worry about being judged. I did want to reveal myself and open myself up. You do it so somebody else who is going through something similar won’t feel as alone.”
It’s striking that Arquette’s entire tribe shows up for him in the film. Interspersed amid scenes of the star putting his life on the line for an arguably ludicrous pipe dream of returning to wrestling, their support speaks volumes. It’s his famous family. It’s his children. It’s even his ex-wife.
“We met at Scream 1. We hated each other at Scream 2. We got married at Scream 3. And we got divorced at Scream 4,” Cox jokes about their relationship.
Remembering what it was like when he dabbled in wrestling the first time, to the confusion of just about everyone in his life, she admits that at least he went for it full-stop: “He looked like he should have been in Earth, Wind & Fire but instead he was going to wrestling matches. And he was so loud. It was kind of embarrassing. There was nothing small about the way he embraced wrestling.”
When I ask whether a memorable Friends arc was inspired by this chapter of their lives, in which Cox’s character on Friends, Monica, is disturbed by her boyfriend, who is played by Jon Favreau, deciding he wants to become a wrestler, Arquette does the “Arquette”—that thing you can already picture just by hearing his name, where he shakes his head downward in an inverse parabola, chuckles soundlessly, runs his hand through his hair, and then gazes up at you with a shit-eating grin on his face.
“It’s notorious that the whole time they were doing Friends, they would pick stuff out of everyone’s life and kind of weave them in somewhere, either with that character or with others,” he says.
In You Cannot Kill David Arquette, the actor’s current wife, host and producer Christina McLarty Arquette, puts into context why this seeming lark is actually so existentially important. “As interesting as wrestling is, he feels like crossing over into that world caused a lot of directors to not take him seriously,” she says.
She has a fantastic monologue, too, that sort of sums up his entire career, or at least where his career seemed to go off-course.
“In the late ’90s he was on the cover of the Hollywood edition of Vanity Fair with that elite group of movie stars, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey and Will Smith,” she says. “Those guys have gone on to be the biggest movie stars in the world. I think David has a lot of sadness about the fact that he could have been that. But instead he went on to do the Scream movies and he kind of became typecast as the goofball. That’s what everyone remembers him as, the cop from Scream. It was also around this time in his life that things started getting weird. I think his involvement in wrestling was that last straw. People did not get it. They thought he was crazy, and it really hurt his career.”
Arquette admits that while everything she says is undeniably true, its inclusion as exposition in the film is in pursuit of a producer’s tidy narrative. The real story is much more complicated than that, especially when it comes to a person who is an addict and never adhered to a career “strategy.”
“There’s so many more things that caused the derailment, like drinking,” he says. “Doing a string of commercials I probably shouldn’t have done. I’d always just pick whatever I want. A lot of the time, it’s whatever jobs I get. So people I don’t think knew really where to put me or to take me seriously as this or that. People often don’t take comedic actors seriously.”
When you participate in a film that bears your name and also the word “kill,” it invites thoughts about your own mortality.
The climax of the film takes place at a death match in which Arquette undeniably proves himself in the ring, but ends up getting injured so badly that he is rushed to the hospital. A shard of glass slashed his neck perilously close to his carotid artery.
Looking back now, feelings about life or death are only heightened. It was Arquette’s best friend Luke Perry who was with him at that match and who took him to the hospital. Weeks later, Perry died. Arquette’s final match in You Cannot Kill David Arquette is against Perry’s son, Jack, known in the ring as “Jungle Boy.” (You try not to cry while watching it.)
“After the death match my wife was like, ‘I just feel like you want to die,’” he says. “I was like, no, I don’t want to die. But that feeling is inside me. The feeling of this being so hard, feeling like you don’t want to go on and beating yourself up so much that essentially it personifies itself in nearly killing yourself.”
But that’s why he made this film.
“There’s a lot of behaviors that I had to sort of come to terms with and understand why I was doing them. There was a lot of trauma that I needed to unpack and understand and sort of address all these issues that I've been grappling with for so long.”