The actress was a bit slower to translate her appeal on the big screen. She made her film debut in the forgettable direct-to-video outing "The Dark" (1994) before finding success in a supporting role as a teenager dabbling in witchery in "The Craft" (1996), although co-stars Fairuza Balk and Robin Tunney had the showier roles. Campbell achieved her breakthrough as the put-upon heroine Sidney Prescott in the post-modern box-office smash "Scream" (also 1996). "Scream," directed by Wes Craven and scripted by Kevin Williamson, both parodied and emulated the slasher films of the early 80s and spawned the inevitable sequel "Scream 2" (1997), with Campbell's character now a college student. She fared less well with this outing, playing an aspiring actress targeted by a copycat killer (One set piece had Campbell "acting" in a school production that was unintentionally hilarious). Nevertheless, she returned to close out the trilogy with "Scream 3" (2000), this time returning from self-imposed exile to visit the set of a movie based on her experiences. Attempting to distance herself from the horror genre, Campbell was seemingly miscast in the role of a white-trash vixen (a former prison inmate no less!) in the uneven "Wild Things" and further floundered as a soap actress enjoying the nightlife of Studio "54" (both 1998). She debuted as a producer with the romance "Hair Shirt" (premiered at the 1998 Toronto Film Festival) in which she appeared as an egotistical movie star alongside her brother Christian. Campbell also landed the role of the mistress of an advertising executive in the triangular romantic comedy "Three to Tango" (1999) as well as a stint in the ensemble of the dismal comedy "Drowning Mona" (2000), but neither did much to add to her star power or build her acting resume, but she equated herself well in a series of less pop audience minded projects, including "Panic" (2000) playing the dark, edgy muse of an older man (William H. Macy) leading a stalled life; Alan Rudolph's frankly refreshing dramedy "Investigating Sex" (2001) as one of two female stenographers assisting two male sex researchers; and as F. Scott Fitzgerald's young protege, writer Frances Kroll Ring, opposite Jeremy Irons in the cable telepic "Last Call" (2002). Campbell's accumulated credits sufficiently impressed legendary director Robert Altman to turn the Campbell-penned story (ultimately co-written with screenwriter Barbara Turner) of a young ballet dancer poised to become a fictional Chicago troupe's next big thing into his next film, "The Company" (2003). The actress, who trained at the National Ballet of Canada as a girl, was cast as the rising prima ballerina Ry, around who Altman built a trademark multi-character tale filmed inside the famed Joffrey Ballet--Campbell's authentic knowledge of the inside world of ballet and her always convincing dancing allowed her to deliver her best, most nuanced performance to date. She followed up with the equally ambitious "When Will I Be Loved?" (2004), a noir-ish intellectually and erotically-charged tale of a indulged, sexually adventurous femme fatale artist (Campbell) who uses her powerful sexuality to advance her aims and control those who seek to use her. Although it was a daring--even brash--choice for Campbell, the movie suffered from writer-director James Toback's largely improvisational approach and characteristic--and slightly disturbing-- fetishization of his leading lady.
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