Christina McLarty and David Arquette Helping to Make Arkansas a Main Attraction
For Arkansans, a few names spring readily to mind when thinking of the state’s film connections. Billy Bob Thornton. Mary Steenburgen. Joey Lauren Adams. Jeff Nichols. Most folks probably wouldn’t think of David Arquette, though, nor his wife Christina McLarty-Arquette. From here on out, they should. Like poetry, one of Arkansas’ most-recognized surnames found love with one of Hollywood’s, and the rest is history that the Natural State is most certainly playing a part in.
Fate and destiny are some of cinema’s most powerful storytelling tools. You’ll find it everywhere, from rom-coms to horror and everything in between. It works because it’s popular, and it’s popular because it works. We humans are a romantic sort, so stories — and life — just feel better when it seems like it was all meant to be.
It’s hard to miss that romanticism when it comes to David and Christina. He, a descendant among a lineage of Arquette actors and actresses, a perennial journeyman and Jack of many trades; she, the journalist-turned-producer and daughter of one of Arkansas’ favorite families. Fate, for the sake of this story at least, brought them together. And they’ve got quite a script cooked up for Christina’s home state.
She says they first met at a mutual friend’s ’80s boat party. The New York University alum and former journalist at KATV-Channel 7 was well into her career trajectory to this point, which had taken her from those roots at KATV to blossoming at Entertainment Tonight. So “mutual friends” being actual movie stars had become fairly commonplace for her. David, however, was rather uncommon.
“David had about eight outfit changes because he loves costumes and wardrobe changes,” she says with a laugh about the night they met. “I guess it could be a ‘meet-cute.’ Is that what everybody calls them now [in] these rom-coms? It was definitely a random meeting, but obviously now we have two children together.”
The two dated for a few years and then married in April 2015.
But it was actually after having their first child together, Charlie, in 2014 that this current trajectory took shape. Christina had taken some time off to be home with him, and around this same time one of David’s friends, filmmaker Matthew Cooke, was having trouble finishing a documentary called Survivors Guide To Prison. The two agreed to come on board to help Cooke, and Christina felt her old flame for news and documentaries rekindle. The film, which features the likes of Cynthia Nixon, Danny Trejo, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Patricia Arquette, Ice-T and Macklemore, was released in 2018. It would be Christina’s first official producing credit, and actually motivated her to pursue a master’s degree in clinical counseling.
The Hope native was just getting started.
Like that night with eight outfits when he met Christina, David’s career has mostly followed the beat of his own drum, without much of a cast or mold to confine him. Sure, most are familiar singularly with his work as an actor, foremost for his role as Dewey Riley in the Scream franchise. But that’s only a piece, a sliver of what’s brought him to where he is today. David is quite the dabbler, also working as a producer, director, writer and professional wrestler.
“If you’ve been in this business long enough, you know that waiting around for the phone to ring or your next audition is going to drive you crazy,” he tells AY About You. “So you have to have other things going on. And you also never know what’s gonna become a reality and what’s not.”
He recalls a recent example of a script he worked on for nine years that, as it turns out, “nobody wanted.” So he and his friend converted it into a comic for Heavy Metal Magazine.
“You never know when things are going to come together,” he says. “So it’s good to have a lot of different pots on the fire.”
Recently, one of those pots has become quite clownish. Toward the end of 2020, he acquired the rights to Bozo the Clown, a project that he says took 15 years to finalize, but really his entire career to be able to pull off. All for a simple motivation, really — he loved Bozo as a kid, and always dreamed of bringing him back. That and, well, a rather comical analogy.
“Clowns often reflect society, and it’s just sort of a reflection of where we are, the fact that scary clowns are taking up all the air in the room,” he says. “So I really just want to help kids not be scared of clowns, to put a face out there of a clown that’s doing good and having fun, making people laugh.
“He had a saying, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.’ So if we can all sort of start adapting attitudes like that, that’s sort of the goal of it.”
But it was actually his grandfather — not Christina — that established his first connection to Arkansas.
Cliff Arquette was famous in the 1950s for his fictional persona Charley Weaver, the “wild old man from Mount Idy,” a place that sort of sounds like Mount Ida, the Arkansas town. Mount Ida would eventually claim Charley Weaver as a “favorite son,” and even establish an official “Charley Weaver Day” in his honor.
If Cliff were around today, one imagines the comedian would get a kick out of the irony that his grandson wound up with a woman who was born just a few miles south of “Idy.”
Whether destiny or coincidence, it’s a pretty good punchline.
After working on Survivors Guide to Prison together, the Arquettes became a production tandem — Christina feeling like her background in journalism had prepped her well to break into producing, and David always happy to have a few extra pots on the stove.
They screened the documentary at that year’s Filmland, a film festival put on annually by the Arkansas Cinema Society. Christina now serves on the organization’s board, and in December was elected president.
“It was that experience that led us to turn our attention toward Arkansas,” Christina says.
That attention began with 12 Hour Shift, a horror-comedy produced by the duo that was shot almost entirely at a hospital in Jonesboro.
“It was really a fun experience to come back to the Natural State and shoot a film,” she says. “And everybody was so supportive and kind and lovely, and it was just such an amazing experience.”
Off the heels of that came a project that hit even closer to home than home — You Cannot Kill David Arquette. The critically acclaimed documentary tracked David’s triumphant return to professional wrestling 20 years after winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. It won Best Documentary at the Charlotte Film Festival in 2020, and the Adobe Editing Award at that year’s SXSW Film Festival.
“He was tired of being trolled, and came back and proved himself,” Christina says. “And that was a really huge growing experience for me as a producer because I pretty much did every job on that film. So I really learned a lot, just as far as my own capabilities and also just learning all the different roles in film.”
The two, along with Bryn Mooser and Christina’s cousin Franklin McLarty, also founded a nonfiction entertainment studio called XTR. The company has worked on a number of different high-profile productions since its inception, including an untitled docuseries in the works about Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr.
In summer 2020, still among the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, an Arquette production called Ghosts of the Ozarks was approved to film in Arkansas. It made national news as one of the first films greenlit for production after the entertainment industry’s screeching halt. The film stars Thomas Hobson, Tim Blake Nelson, Phil Morris and David himself, as well as another venerable Arkansas filmmaker, Graham Gordy.
As the Arquettes and their ilk have brought more Arkansas scenes to the big screens, the state has become more accepting and hospitable to filmmakers in lockstep, thus creating an equitable snowball effect. In April 2021, legislators passed a pivotal bill providing more incentives to productions filmed in Arkansas, a move that makes the state a more attractive destination for actors, directors and producers, and also will provide a positive kinetic force to local communities.
“It really helps because when you provide these tax credits, it really has a halo effect for restaurants in the area, hotels … I think it’s just a great opportunity,” David says. He goes on to offer his respect to the people who made it happen because he knows it’s not easy deciding what the hard-earned dollars of taxpayers will go toward. But he believes that initiatives like this are the kind that “pay back and give back” through jobs, opportunities, tourism — a cinematic economic flow-through, so to speak.
Both David and Christina participated in the 2021 Filmland festival in Little Rock, to which Jessica Chastain, a Golden Globe-winning and Academy Award-nominated actress, was a special guest. When she arrived, one of the first things out of her mouth was how excited she was to be in Arkansas, and how many good things she’d heard about filming in the state.
“That kind of narrative is what we love to share with people,” Christina says. “Don’t go to Oklahoma City, don’t go to the other markets around us. Come to Arkansas because it’s just an incredible state, and really is its own character.
“I mean, if you look at other states that are really successful, like Georgia, New Mexico, obviously we’d love to be competitive with them — especially Georgia. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re moving in the right direct direction.”
During one of the recent trips David made to town, he visited the Arkansas State Capitol. The typical fanfare may or may not have ensued, complete with a legislator (who will remain unnamed) asking the star to sign his childhood Scream mask.
“I got all nervous,” David says with a laugh. “I think I misspelled something on his mask that he had from school. I feel so bad about it. I messed up his cherished mask.”
One supposes that is another bit of comedic irony surrounding the filmmaker and Arkansas. “Ghostface” has always been a thorn in his side.
As he (or she) will be again this month, with the release of the latest installment in the Scream franchise, for which David is reprising his role as Dewey. It will be the first film in the series in more than 10 years, and David is joined by most of the familiar faces of the beloved horror series, such as Neve Campbell and ex wife Courteney Cox, as well as some newcomers in Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid, Dylan Minnette and Jenna Ortega, who all appear to be this next generation’s targets — or killers.
“Scream is a classic whodunnit, so you never know what’s gonna happen,” David says of the upcoming film. “Matt [Bettinelli-Olpin] and Tyler [Gillett], the directors, were so incredible. They were inspired by Wes [Craven] and other filmmakers. They love horror. Their film Ready or Not had a great balance of horror and comedy. So the film’s really scary; it’s really funny as well. It elevates all the … worlds it came from before, and now Woodsboro’s more diverse. We have this incredible cast. I saw them all getting to know each other. It really reminded me of the original cast. … So I think people are really going to be pleasantly surprised.”
But for as comfortable as David has become in the role, one he’s played almost a half-dozen times over the span of more than 20 years, this addition to the saga was also new territory for him. It was the first Scream movie without director Wes Craven, who passed away in 2015.
“I missed him a lot,” David says. “He was a really influential person on my life as a mentor, as a … collaborator. It was a dream to work with him. He was just such a kind man.
“Originally, he didn’t even want to direct Scream. He was sort of trying to get out of the horror film world. But after they asked him a few times, he did. And thank God he did, because of just … some of the advice he’d given me on set. My mother was dying during Scream 2, and he sat me down — I was having a really hard time. He gave me a really fatherly, very kind, just man-to-man conversation. And I do feel it kind of changed the course of my life. There’s not a lot of people you meet along this road who care that much with no other intentions behind it, who just really want the best for you and believe in you.”
It’s a Craven-sized canyon the whole original cast likely felt when making this film. But David says he still felt his presence on set, like in the way the wind moved during certain scenes. “It definitely felt like Wes was around.”
Scream may be a wrap, but there’s still plenty of pots staying active in the Arquette home. The two spend most of their time in Nashville, Tennessee, with their two sons. David’s daughter from his previous marriage lives in Los Angeles, so he also fits in plenty of time to fly west to be with her.
In between — both literally and figuratively — is Arkansas. A home away from home where they can make movies, inspire the next generation of talent, and celebrate holidays with the McLarty family.
So as you head to the movies this month to see Scream, or grab a bite to eat in the River Market, or take a stroll through the downtown streets of Hope, keep your head up. You never know what Hollywood character you’ll rub shoulders with in Arkansas these days.
As for David Arquette — it’s a place he has grown to love as much as any other.
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