Hayden Panettiere on Reprising Scream's Iconic Final Girl, Kirby Reed
Scream VI star Hayden Panettiere breaks down Kirby's legacy, her return to the franchise, and finally facing off against Ghostface.
Scream is back and better than ever – with a massive factor in its modern success being the electrifying return of Hayden Panettiere and her fan-favorite final-girl-in-training turned final-girl character, Kirby Reed. But to truly appreciate this comeback, some essential context undoubtedly elevates this character's compelling reappearance.
When we first met Kirby in the 2011 film Scream 4, Panettiere immediately earned a dedicated audience for effortlessly filling the next-gen horror aficionado role that Randy Meeks once occupied. However, Kirby masterfully refined the archetype and actually offered the franchise even greater potential, similar to the initial trio of Sidney, Dewey, and Gale, for Panettiere's confident edge, knife-sharp delivery, and the all-important scream queen spark. As the film progressed, the immensely popular character then doubled down on her legendary status when faced with a horror-centric Ghostface question (offering the franchise its best rapid-fire monologue), where she then ended up as an ambiguous casualty of a killer reveal that cut deep. So deep that fans (myself included) continued to manifest a return after being left for dead – because any genre-savvy viewer knows it takes more to keep a true scream queen down.
Now, after a sneaky easter-egg reveal in Scream (2022), Kirby has completely returned to the spotlight, and as it turns out, Panettiere was just as eager to tell a survivor's story. "I've always been a believer that if you never actually see someone die, there's always hope… [Wes Craven] had even hinted he thought she was still alive." The Scream VI star tells us while promoting the new installment. "When I heard there was actually hope she may be alive, I called up the filmmakers and told them I wanted in! I wasn't sure if they would actually bring me back or not, but when I finally did get that call, I was so excited to play her again."
Despite the call taking place pre-Scream (2022), the film was already piecing its revamped cast and story together. However, Radio Silence (who was very vocal about a personal adoration for Kirby) maintained a similar hope for Kirby's game-changing franchise comeback. "They knew I wanted to come back. They weren't able to work me into [Scream 5], but I still held out hope for the next one." Panettiere divulges before elaborating on her hopes for Kirby. "We had been talking about [a new Kirby story], and I had pitched some of my own ideas to them in regard to what Kirby would be like all these years later… When the call with the offer finally came in, and after I had read the script, I was pretty much immediately in."
The proposed role for her character? FBI Agent Kirby Reed, who, in 2023, would set out to redeem herself after her nearly fatal encounter with firsthand betrayal. "I loved that they made her an FBI agent. What's not to love about being able to play a badass female who chases down monsters?!" Panettiere continues, "I love that her pain does not define her… she remembers it and uses it. Trauma definitely changes a person, but I love how she uses it to fight for others."
In the newest entry, Kirby's motivation to fight back and help others eventually leads her to the 'core four' group to assist in unmasking the newest iteration of Ghostface – giving her a hands-on presence that's integral to the survival of the newer cast members. In fact, Kirby is one of few characters who are present in the heightened, high-stakes final act, and that in itself is a rare opportunity that a majority of its franchise actors aren't able to experience. When delving into Scream VI's outstanding conclusion and finally going head-to-head with Ghostface, the powerhouse actor gleefully explains, "It was invigorating to do that scene as Kirby. It was like all of the healing and training she went through had prepared her for that moment to confront her previous trauma head-on." She then adds, "To look at Ghostface and no longer be afraid was empowering."
Outside of Panettiere's first fair fight with Ghostface, we also get to see the Scream 4 survivor share on-screen moments with Gale (Courtney Cox) for the first time, introducing a magnetic dynamic we didn't know we needed. Still, it's Kirby's newly explored connections to Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), or even Tara (Jenna Ortega) that creates organic narrative ties to Woodsboro and, in the long run, an off-screen family. "I loved interacting with all of the cast…everyone was really great, and we truly were like a family on set and off." The actor admits, reflecting on the filming experience before adding, "Courteney has always been so kind to me, and it was fun to be able to work with her again." But Panettiere's favorite relationship to explore in Scream VI? "I also really loved working with [Dermot Mulroney]. There are so many great scenes, but I'd have to say my favorite [on-screen] dynamic would be working with Dermot."
With Scream VI successfully bringing Kirby and Panettiere back into the fold by offering her a crucial part to play, longtime fans received one of the best genre pivots that horror has ever seen – introducing Scream's most unpredictable and evolutionary character tale in six films. And according to Panettiere, the future of Kirby remains unknown… However, this version of 'unknown' feels like a vast improvement over the now-addressed Scream 4 cliffhanger. "Who knows what the future will bring?!" The actor expresses before going on to share her gratitude. "I'm just excited that I got to play her again. This franchise likes to keep the fans guessing, so I suppose we'll have to see…"
Now that Scream VI has offered both franchise fans and passionate, die-hard Kirby fans the ultimate dream inclusion in a new installment; the adept actor hopes that her story connects to others through her overarching story. "There are two things that I hope the fans take away from Kirby's return." She begins. "One, you are not a victim of your pain. We all experience trauma in some form, but if you find a way to work through it and use it in a way that helps others, you come out stronger." Panettiere then concludes, "Two, to believe in second chances."
The livewire horror film Scream VI is in theaters now.