The actress is an executive producer on the documentary "Swan Song," which premieres at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Neve Campbell is grateful for the life lessons she learned as a trained dancer before embarking on her Hollywood career.
The Canadian actress, best-known for playing horror heroine Sidney Prescott over five Scream films, has roots in the dance world, having trained at Canada's prestigious National Ballet School from age 9 to 14.
She's now in Toronto for the city's International Film Festival to debut the new documentary Swan Song, which takes audiences inside the National Ballet of Canada’s 2022 production of Swan Lake. Campbell served as an executive producer on the project.
"I have very few pictures of myself at the National Ballet School, but JJ [Feild], my partner, said, 'Oh, there's that one photo of you, and you look so determined,' " Campbell, 49, tells PEOPLE while looking back on her early dance days ahead of the festival from her Los Angeles home.
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"All of the discipline that I have, I take from dance," she continues. "The capacity to be able to listen and take direction, with humility, and an understanding that you're never going to be perfect, and that it takes work and drive to be good, and that no matter how hard you work, you'll never completely get there — that is the journey."
"That's what I learned, and I've taken that into the acting world," adds Campbell. "I think it certainly has fed me and it's helped me stay sane in a very challenging world."
Campbell says she became hooked on dance after her father took her to see a National Ballet of Canada production of The Nutcracker.
"I was 6 years old. It was my Christmas present," she recalls, smiling. "I said, 'I want to do that.' "
At 9 she auditioned for the National Ballet School and got in. Campbell describes her training there as "hard in many, many ways."
"It's hard for anyone," she adds. "The technique that comes out of the dancers there, and the love for the world and for dance that comes out of there is pretty phenomenal."
Campbell made the difficult decision to drop out of training at 14 despite having "loved the school," she says.
"I had just been having some mental challenges, just difficult to find the balance between wanting a childhood and following this dream," she explains. "I had had already quite a bit of injury. From 9 years old, at the National Ballet School, I was in physiotherapy weekly."
Just a year later, Campbell got a role in a Toronto production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. "Suddenly I was dancing professionally," she recalls of the early experience. "I was doing what I love to do. I was making friends. I was earning a living already at 15."
An agent happened to be in the audience one night, and "the rest is history," as Campbell describes it.
All these years later, Campbell says she can't believe she's experiencing a "full-circle" moment of bringing a dance documentary to audiences after all of her success in Hollywood. (Most recently, her Netflix series The Lincoln Lawyer was renewed for a third season.)
She's still pinching herself that she got to collaborate with legendary Canadian ballet dancer Karen Kain, one of the main stars of Swan Song, which follows the ballet company as it mounts a new production of Swan Lake directed by Kain on the eve of her retirement.
"She's one of the big reasons I became an artist," says Campbell. "She was the prima ballerina of Canada, one of the world. The ultimate goal was to get to where Karen was. I still remember watching her do Swan Lake when I was, I think, 9 years old. She was pure grace."
"It was one of those moments in my life where I went, 'Oh, this is what art can do,' " she says. "So getting to create this project with this team and acknowledge the work that she's done and watch her teach other dancers, pass the torch, basically, it was a really beautiful experience."
Swan Song will be released theatrically in Canada on Sept. 22. In Canada, it will later air as a four-part limited series on CBC Gem and CBC TV, premiering Nov. 22.
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