The “Scream” actor is on a mission to make people reconsider clowns — including himself.
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“Bozo is my hero,” David Arquette said on a chilly Sunday morning, as he spray painted a Frisbee-sized red circle on a warehouse brick wall in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. “We want to let that clown out.”
Dressed a bit clownish himself in a Bozo trucker cap, Mickey Mouse-pattern Vans and white jeans with a pair of pink tiger-stripe wrestling tights, Mr. Arquette, 50, who used to run with a graffiti-art crew in Los Angeles, was putting the finishing touches on a six-foot-tall rendition of Bozo the Clown.
Bozo is not only Mr. Arquette’s muse these days, but also his business. Earlier this year, Mr. Arquette, who is the youngest member of the Arquette acting clan, secured the rights to the character once billed as “the world’s most famous clown” from the estate of Larry Harmon, who popularized the character.
“We first have to help rehabilitate the image of a clown,” said Mr. Arquette, as he took a step back from his painting and pursed his lips with approval. “I want to help bring back kind clowns, and change the discourse. You know, help people understand that being silly is cool.”
As he sees it, clowns have been unfairly maligned. “There’s a lot of negative history,” Mr. Arquette said. “There was ‘Poltergeist.’ There was Stephen King and ‘It.’ That was a real problem. And then the Joker and Krusty the Clown.”
“Clowns,” he added, “are a reflection of society. And right now the scary clown is sort of where we are.”
He would love to bring Bozo back to TV. Various children’s television shows featuring the red-wigged clown ran for decades. For a moment, he almost succeeded in bringing Bozo to life at the Empire Circus, a new interactive carnival adventure that was supposed to open at the Empire Stores in Brooklyn this month, before supply-chain disruptions put it on hold.
In a sense, Mr. Arquette sees himself as Kind Clown Test Case No. 1. “All my humor comes from me being the butt of the joke,” he said. “All of my flaws and my stuff.”
In the 1990s, he found himself in the celebrity circus, thanks to scene-stealing roles as Dewey Riley, the charming if quirky deputy in the “Scream” slasher movie franchise, and his off-camera role as the charming if quirky husband of his “Scream” co-star Courteney Cox.
Scruffy, awkward and every-dude relatable, he was the perfect anti-Hollywood mascot for Generation X.
Or maybe he was a little too Gen X. Partying with the abandon of a Seattle rocker, Mr. Arquette battled with alcohol abuse, made headlines with drunken binges and saw his divorce play out in the tabloids before a second career as a professional wrestler, a move that may have tanked his reputation in both professions.
But now he’s back — maybe. In January, Mr. Arquette is reheating his Dewey character in the 25th anniversary reboot of “Scream,” which also features Ms. Cox (they are divorced now) and Neve Campbell, another original cast member, facing off against a new ghost-faced killer for Generation Z.
Remarried, sober and living a quiet life in Nashville, he said he hopes to jump start a movie career that had descended largely into bit parts and voice-over work. And this time, Mr. Arquette said, he is emotionally equipped to handle it.
As the youngest brother of five siblings in a fourth-generation acting family that included his sisters Rosanna (“Desperately Seeking Susan”) and Patricia (“True Romance”), he felt ambivalent about joining the family business: “I always felt like, ‘Uh, my sisters are doing it, my dad does it. I don’t know if I have talent.’”
One path that seemed open was to play the goof, eventually finding fame as the oddball among oddballs in the “Scream” movies, themselves highly meta sendups of ’80s slasher films.
Looking back, he said he was not emotionally prepared for the Hollywood glare. “I’m socially awkward,” Mr. Arquette said, “so I used to walk into a situation and dress really flashy and say, ‘OK, look at me, talk about me, look at me.’ Or, I’d drink to be outrageous or different. They were coping mechanisms.”
His detour into wrestling was his most outrageous move of all.
It was not insincere. Mr. Arquette was a lifelong fan who got to live out a dream following his starring role in “Ready to Rumble,” a wrestling comedy from 2000. “Just getting to see behind the curtain and learn some of the secrets of the trade, it was really a joy for me,” he said.
Wrestling fans bristled, however, when World Championship Wrestling anointed him with the heavyweight title in 2000. His Hollywood agents bristled too.
As the acting roles began drying up, he struggled with anxieties and addiction, as he recounted in the warts-and-all 2020 documentary of his wrestling career, “You Cannot Kill David Arquette.”
The nadir came when a wrestler named Nick Gage accidentally gouged Mr. Arquette in the neck with a broken fluorescent light tube in a 2018 match, leaving him gushing blood and calling out to his friend Luke Perry, who was sitting ringside, to ask if he was dying.
Since then, his life has settled down a bit. Mr. Arquette lives with his new wife, Christina McLarty Arquette, a film producer and former Entertainment Tonight correspondent, and their two children, Charlie, 7, and Gus, 4.
After he finished spray painting Bozo (with the building owner’s permission), Mr. Arquette strolled the grafitti-covered neighborhood, pausing to admire the street art.
“I haven’t seen anybody, I don’t go out anymore,” said Mr. Arquette, stopping at a lamppost to apply a sticker for the upcoming “Scream.” “I mean, if you don’t drink and you’re not looking to meet girls, there’s nothing out there.”
Making the reboot meant working with his ex-wife again. “I mean, we’re co-parents, so we see each other a lot,” Mr. Arquette said, referring to their 17-year-old daughter, Coco. “But when you work with someone you have a certain history with, there’s a built in, natural — it’s not acting at that point. You’re really truly experiencing emotions and life.”