An eleven and a half minute cameo may not be a typical selection for something as epic-in-scope as "the performance that changed my life", but I found it hard to think of a particular performance that changed the way I viewed movies or the craft as acting in general. I found the movies themselves are what have changed my life, and I've discussed them before (but I can't be bothered digging around the archives).
So instead I took a bit of a detour. I decided upon a specific scene that changed my life and that scene would be the opening sequence of Wes Craven's 1996 horror comedy thriller Scream. The film, which single handedly reinvigorated the horror genre (whether you like it or not), was ingenius in it's casting of the character of Casey Becker - a blonde seemingly all-American high schooler with a football jock boyfriend ("He's big! And he plays football! And he'll kick the shit out of you!") with a penchant for scary movies ("Halloween! You know, the one with the guy in the white mask who walks around and stalks babysitters.").
For a role that is actually just over eleven minutes long the makers decided to cast Drew Barrymore. She who was once a huge star as a child before descending into a drug-fuelled chasm. By the time Scream came around she was slowly making her way back into the mainsteam and it was these eleven and a half minutes that have pretty much solidified her place back in the world of film making.
The scene in question is a classic and created now a stock-standard slasher tradition - the opening scene murder. Usually played by an attractive well-known actress who becomes the first victim of the film's murderous villain. The scene in Scream is so incredibly scary and shocking in it's means (gutting? really?!) that upon watching it on VHS back in 1997 on a sick day from school (the mother had hired it out and I just happened to be in the room while she watched it) I was riveted. It struck me. It hit me at a core. Remember, I would have only been 12 at the time, too.
But you may be saying to yourself "it's not the performance!" but, oh - it most certainly is. Or, the performance is at least a major part of it, anyway. If I was to do an UMA award presentation for 1996 I would probably go as far as to nominate Barrymore for Best Supporting Actress (but, I would need to see more contenders first). If Judi Dench can win an Oscar for 8 minutes, then Drew Barrymore can be nominated for an UMA for eleven and change!
Barrymore puts so much into this small part that is transcends being a mere "opening scene murder" and becomes one of the scariest scenes in cinema history. The sight of nosey ol' Gertie from ET playing wicked games ("Jason! Jason!") on the phone with a mysterious hidden voice is fuckin' freaky, alright?! And if Barrymore sounds legitimately terrified it's because she is. Wes Craven actually threatened to murder a puppy just so she could look geniunely frightened. How sick is that?! I guess it worked though. There is pure terror in her eyes.
The reason though as to why Barrymore's performance (probably the best of her career, just fyi) changed my life is because of the effect it instantly had on me. This scene, this performance - as I said - instantly grabbed me. It got me hook, like and sinker. I continued watching this movie with the sort of hyper-scared enthusiasm that I think only younger people can have. I still get it after watching it more than one hundred times (I watched it once a day for about two months in 1997. I wore out the VHS for sure). I had seen movies before this that you could call "scary", but upon watching this one my eyes opened. "You can do this in a movie?" (I suspect this is the only reasoning for the continued Saw franchise, natch) I wondered how it was possible to elicit such a reaction from me. How could watching Barrymore fight for her life charge me up so much? I scared myself for a bit when watching it.
Scream lead me down a garden path to a place where I am today. After watching this movie I was intrigued as every other budding movie buff is around that age - "What else is out there?" My household soon got the crazy program of sorts called "The Internet" and it was because of Scream - and because of those eleven minutes - that lead me to seek out places on the Internet that could satiate my desire to know everything. I discovered websites such as IMDb, Dark Horizons and the like. I devoured film information. What movies were coming out, what movies were being made, who was being cast in what. I spent hours just letting my brain soak it all up. Those were the early stages of the film nerd I am now.
After the release of Scream 2 (a movie I like even more than the first) I started to visit forums about the franchise. I met a lot of fans. We discussed what could happen in Scream 3 (including who would be the opening scene murder, of course) alongside many other things Scream and non-Scream related. Many of them I am still friends with today. One of them, Jen, from Sydney is holidaying in Melbourne next week and we're catching up (we're going to the Pixar Exhibit at ACMI, funnily enough). Another, Jo, came all the way from Perth just to celebrate my 21st with me, and I've met others from California, Alaska, Sydney and somewhere in Holland, plus I've had the pleasure of knowing many others from all over Australia, America, England and various other places. So it changed my life in a personal sense as well.
It also got me writing from a young age, a past-time that I continue to this very day (clearly) and that I wish to persue as a career of some sort throughout my life. I began writing silly horror movies about killers on the set of a movie (which would, curiously, go on to be the plot of Scream 3) and other horror movie ripoffs - all of which would feature an opening scene murder. But nothing I, nor anybody else - professional or not - could ever compare to what Craven, Kevin Williamson (the writer) and Barrymore achieved in the opening of Scream. I may have been a sick twisted fifteen-year-old, but I'm fairly sure I wouldn't have liked Hostel then, either!
Barrymore's performance more than anything opening my eyes to what a person could do on screen. She made me feel for a character that I only knew for eleven minutes. It gave me an expectation for the future. If someone is capable of this in the short amount of time that they had, and in a slasher film no less, then why should I expect any less? It's not my favourite performance of all time, or one of my top 20 or 50 or whatever, but it was a vital part in (cue Thomas Newman score) The Evolution of Me... Coming to cinemas July 14.
I could post the final image of Barrymore in Scream, but it's tres gruesome (ENTRAILS! BLOOD!) so I'll exorcise good taste and leave it at that.