In a departure from the loveable character Dwight “Dewey” Riley in Scream, actor David Arquette made a hard right turn and transformed himself into profits first oil executive Elliot in the film On Sacred Ground.
Arquette spoke to Showbiz Cheat Sheet about what attracted him to the project and how he transformed into Elliot, a character with a belief system contrary to his own.
What is ‘On Sacred Ground’ about?
On Sacred Ground is based on the true events during the 2016 construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline that runs through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The film follows Daniel (William Mapother), a journalist and military veteran, and Elliot (Arquette), an oil company executive, who find themselves on opposite sides of the fight during the construction of the contentious pipeline.
As the story unfolds, the two characters go down separate paths during one of the most heated protests and confrontations with Native American tribes in modern US history.
In the film, Daniel is hand chosen to write pro-oil articles because of his vulnerability and his right-leaning political views. Elliot’s commonality tie to Daniel was through their military bond. “He’s ex-military. And he’s kind of subconsciously oblivious to it or consciously oblivious to sort of the impact it’s making,” Arquette said about his character. “Justifications for why he’s doing what he’s doing. There’s a lot of different opinions in this world and different people’s take on certain things. So when playing a role like that, you kind of have to believe what they believe to a certain extent.”
David Arquette explains why playing ‘anti-woke’ Elliot was ‘easy’ in the movie
Fans of Arquette’s work will see him in a totally different light. But he said playing Elliot was almost “easy” and he leaned into a full departure from his own set of beliefs. When Daniel tells Elliot he’s starting to see the protestor’s side of the story, Elliot becomes angry and frustrated with the journalist. But then he openly laughs when Ricky (Frances Fisher), another oil executive who tapped Daniel for the work, says Daniel is “off the reservation.”
Arquette said it comes down to allowing the character to be his true self. “You have not a facade, but a really thick layer of protection and, defiance. And just belief,” he said. “It’s kind of straightforward, no real deep thinking about it. It’s kind of an anti-woke vibe, so it’s kind of a simple character in a sense. You’re not really digging too deep.”
David Arquette’s sisters protested the Dakota Pipeline construction
Arquette, who comes from a family of activists, said both of his sisters, actors Patricia and Rosanna Arquette protested the construction of the pipeline. “Both of my sisters went to the protests,” Arquette recalled. “My sister Patricia provided outhouses through her organization, GiveLove.org. Environmentally friendly latrines. And then my sister Rosanna also was there protesting the pipeline.”
Filming On Sacred Ground provided him with more insight into the controversy, Arquette said “So I knew a little about it,” he recalled. “I didn’t know a ton about it. I learned a lot through the course of the film, watching the film about the broken treaties, and about the points where the pipeline got so close to the mouth of the river. And the impact it had on the people there.”
On Sacred Ground explored how the main driver behind the pipeline was to position the United States to be a major global player in oil. “I mean, one of the biggest points is that it’s a complete violation of a US treaty that’s never been honored in our judicial system,” Arquette said. “I think it’s so tied up in profits and certain aspects that won’t allow them to sort of take it up in court.”
Filmmaker Josh Tickell hopes the film raises awareness. “After being at Standing Rock we learned there is no environmental issue that is also not an indigenous justice issue,” he said in a statement shared with Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “Our hope is that this film can be a bridge between those two communities.”
On Sacred Ground, which stars David Arquette, William Mapother, Amy Smart, Kerry Knuppe, Frances Fisher, Irene Bedard, Mariel Hemingway, and David Midthunder premieres in select theaters and On Demand on January 13, 2023.