It was partly true – in 1997, Campbell’s cameo in the disco drama 54, revolving around the intersecting lives of visitors, employees and proprietors of the iconic Studio 54 nightclub, was beefed up during reshoots orchestrated by Harvey Weinstein. The disgraced mogul, then arguably the most powerful man in Hollywood, believed the casting of Campbell and her fellow late-1990s pin-up Ryan Phillippe meant the film, originally a queer, provocative trauma-beneath-the-glitter drama, could in fact be a mass-market teen movie. So he radically de-gayed it and turned Campbell’s character into Phillippe’s most significant on-screen love interest. It didn’t work, the film bombed, and director Mark Christopher had to wait 18 years to release his original cut.
For Campbell, it was the first sign that her visibility wasn’t as beneficial as she had first thought. A year later, she was cast in the doomed romantic comedy Three to Tango, a high-concept disaster in which Matthew Perry, always one of the Friends least likely to work on the big-screen, pretends to be gay to secure an important business deal. Campbell, as the love interest unaware of his heterosexuality, is a squawky, miscast nightmare.
“I knew the script wasn’t ready, my character in particular,” she told The Independent in 2006. “But my agents were saying, ‘You need to look beautiful. You want to be Jennifer Jason Leigh but you should be Julia Roberts.’ It ended up being bad and I was really bad because I didn’t believe in it. After that bombed, which it should have, I thought, I am not going to listen to other people.”
It’s the kind of quote that any number of actresses could make. But Campbell stuck to her guns. On the heels of Three to Tango, she negotiated a small 12-day window for her return for Scream 3 (likely recognising the franchise that made her name was on its last legs), wrapped up her six-season run on Party of Five, and starred alongside William H Macy in the darkly comedic noir Panic. She then began producing her passion project The Company, one of the last films directed by Robert Altman.