Pa. native says fan conventions are a 'Scream'

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Jul. 16—BOARDMAN, Ohio — Nancy Anne Ridder greets fans at one of a few dozen folding tables placed around the perimeter of an 'event room' at Holiday Inn-Youngstown South in Boardman. She's there for Mahoning Valley Comicon, a convention featuring actors, comic book artists and other guests.

On the table in front of her are 8x10 glossy photographs, available for signing, and a doll depicting Ridder as she appeared more than 25 years ago, when she played a small but crucial role in one of the most popular and influential horror films of the 1990s.

"A booking agent reached out to me during the 25th anniversary last year," Ridder says of how she first got involved in the convention scene. "He said 'there's a big fan following for the bathroom girls.'"

In a scene early in Wes Craven's 1996 slasher flick, the film's heroine, Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell in all five Scream films to date), hides in a public restroom stall as two other high school students — one a classic blonde cheerleader and prototypical 'Mean Girl' type, the other a more distinctive-looking brunette in bob haircut and purple sweater share certain less-than-flattering rumors about Sidney's late mother.

Though Ridder has only seven lines and a few precious minutes of screen time as the bob-haired brunette, her scene introduces themes that would be pivotal to the series, and to Sidney's character arc, for at least the next three films.

Since doing her first con in Maryland in April 2022, Ridder — who appeared in eight feature films, one short film, and one commercial before leaving show business due to an abusive relationship — has seen a dramatic impact on her career and reputation.

"On Facebook I went from 800 friends to 4,800 overnight," Ridder says. She's done two more cons and a host of Zoom and YouTube interviews since then, and last Sunday — after closing up shop at the Holiday Inn — she was off to shoot a scene in a low-budget horror film directed by the event's organizer, local filmmaker Travis Bowen.

Born in Levittown, Pa., in the swingin' 70s, Ridder grew up as a military brat, spending time in California, Florida and Virginia as her father, a captain in the Navy, was transferred around the country, typically serving three-year stints in each locale.

She studied acting at Washington, D.C.'s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, then theatre at Northwestern University in Chicago, before moving to Los Angeles at the age of 22.

"I had parents who were into the arts, and they started taking me to the theater when I was very young," Ridder says. She credits late actor Yul Brynner's performance in "The King and I" with igniting her passion for the performing arts.

"That's when I fell in love with acting," she says.

After going to high school with comedian Dave Chappelle and attending college with "Pitch Perfect" director Jason Moore, a friend — Julie Plec, who happened to be legendary horror director Wes Craven's assistant at the time — got Ridder a $75-a-day job as stand-in for the character of Sidney's during the Scream casting process.

Ridder was there as actresses Alicia Witt, A.J. Langer, Brittany Murphy and Campbell — who ultimately won the part — read for the role of Sidney, and "the little Nancy Anne spin" she put on her reading of Sidney's lines in another key scene, in which the killer confronts Sidney for the first time, earned her praise from Craven and a (slightly) larger role in the finished film.

"He came up to me after we were done and said, 'That was excellent!'" Ridder says. "And on his way out the door he said, 'Have her read for one of the bathroom girls.'"

Ridder first auditioned for the role of the cheerleader — "the worst audition I ever did," she now recalls — before getting the call to play the Mean Girl's 'nerdy sidekick' instead.

"They called on Wednesday, I was on a plane on Thursday, and we were filming Friday," Ridder says of the whirlwind production process.

She recalls practicing her lines with cheerleader actress Leonora Scelfo — now also a player in the con game, slated to appear with Ridder at New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival in September, in their hotel room, and having lunch with Happy Days TV actor Henry Winkler while on set.

"We shared lemonade together," Ridder says with a smile.

Ridder would go on to appear in films featuring the likes of John Goodman, Paul Giamatti and James Ransone. She met future actor Michael Gandolfini — son of the late Sopranos star James Gandolfini — at a birthday party. She spent 12 years in New York City, living for a time in an apartment building used for exterior shots in the TV show Friends, and has appeared in many stage productions. She's been doing professional theatre since age 9.

She's slated to appear in films shooting in Maryland, Kentucky and West Virginia in the coming year, and has a small role, appearing via FaceTime call, in the upcoming film A Night of the Living Dead, based on another classic horror film — guess which one! — which was shot on location in Pittsburgh, Evans City, Zelienople and surrounding areas in the late 1960s.

And she still gets residual checks for her appearance in Scream — "a few a year, for anywhere from $30 to $13" — though she claims a McDonald's commercial advertising $.99 chicken nuggets was ultimately the bigger money-maker.

"Can you imagine Flo from the Progressive commercials?" she says, laughing. "She's making bank!"