David Arquette: Only part caveman

With his role in “The Female of the Species” at the Geffen Playhouse -- only his second onstage after a whirl in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” -- David Arquette turns a new page in his career. And not a second too soon, at least as far as the youngest sibling of the famous Arquette acting family is concerned. In Joanna Murray-Smith’s farce, Arquette plays the slow-witted, apron-wearing husband of a woman who really wants a bad-boy caveman. The play, which runs through March 14, also stars Annette Bening as a famous narcissistic feminist author. The son of the late therapist Mardi and actor Lewis, Arquette has been married for 10 years to Courteney Cox and is the father of 5-year-old Coco.

How did you get involved in the play?

I’ve been looking to do things -- I’d done a few movies and television that I wasn’t so crazy about.

Like what?

I don’t want to sell anyone down the river. I could just tell by my friends’ reactions. I just don’t want to do work like that. Life is too short. Or long.

A big part of this play is an examination of gender roles. There are a couple of statements about what women want: “Women aren’t passionately aroused by nice guys.” And “they want a caveman.”

I think it takes all kinds. Part of the joy of this play is the conversation that develops between the characters, everyone looking for something different.

What kind of guy are you?

I’m a nice person, but there are mischievous elements to me for sure. I don’t agree with your stereotypical roles within a relationship. . . . I think a man’s job -- especially within a family -- is to balance more than lead. There’s a cheesy bumper sticker that says, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” And the fact of the matter is women are more complex than men. We’re simpler as far as what makes us happy, what we need out of life.

What is that?

Food, sex, entertainment, competition, laughing. . . . And I think that whole caveman thing, there are aspects of it that ring true to me, but not in the conventional sense.

Which were you before you got married?

I was a bit of a troublemaker, for sure. . . . But I’d sown my oats pretty early. I wanted to fall in love and get married and be faithful. I think one of the most difficult things for men to do is to be faithful, honest, true in a relationship. I guess it goes back to the way we’re raised, or even genetically. . . .

I think one of the greatest things a man can do is to be a faithful, honest man. It’s not easy. Not that I desire anyone else. My father made mistakes in the fidelity department. He has passed away and I don’t mean to disgrace his name in any way, but we’re all pretty honest, my family. And I think it’s really important for a man to not make the same mistakes that their parent has made. My mother and father stayed married for most of their lives, and they separated when I was 19, but on his deathbed, my father said, “Your mother was the love of my life, and I really wish I would have worked harder at that.”

You sound so grown up.

I’ve grown up recently. My father passed away on Feb. 10 [2001], and that’s the opening night here. He did a play here as well. And he passed away right across the street [at UCLA Medical Center]. There’s this weird energy, and I feel my father a lot right now, his spirit. I think when you lose both your parents, you’re kinda like, you’re really a man now.

Your parents sound unconventional -- your mom was Jewish and your dad converted to Islam.

I was born on a commune in Virginia, and it was a religious philosophy put together by a man in Indonesia, and it’s called Subud. That’s an abbreviation for Susila Budhi Dharma. It’s a combination of Hindu, Buddhism, Islam philosophies. The whole belief system behind it is we’re all here to do God’s work.

How do you think having a Jewish mother and father who converted to Islam affects your worldview in 2010?

I feel compassion for both sides. Ultimately, I don’t think anybody’s right, as far as the religious philosophies. Anybody who’s going to say our way is the way, it just doesn’t resonate with me. We’re all humans, and if we can come together on that level and just respect each other, then we can start talking about it. I have a lot of problems with Islam and their treatment of women. But then there are also certain aspects of our culture that are really horrible and damaging. I’m conflicted. I like burlesque shows and puppet shows.

Who says you’re not a complicated guy?