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Ash vs. the Evil Dead, photo courtesy Starz

Q&A: Bruce Campbell on the art of the B-movie

To any film geek, Bruce Campbell is the ultimate B-movie actor. Starring in the Evil Dead trilogy, directed by his lifelong friend Sam Raimi, he established an iconic figure in the annals of low-budget horror flicks: Ash. Single-mindedly wisecracking his way through hell and history, this blood-spattered, chainsaw-equipped character bore not a little resemblance to… Bruce Campbell. Although most beloved for his Evil Dead films, Campbell has also played a multitude of characters in everything from The Hudsucker Proxy to Raimi’s Spider-Man epics, as well as the title characters of his own TV series, Jack of All Trades and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. While still acting and directing in movies like Man with Screaming Brain and Alien Apocalypse, Campbell has also established himself as an author with his autobiography, If Chins Could Kill, and his novel, Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way. Since this interview ran, Evil Dead did indeed get a remake in 2013 (to mixed reviews) and Campbell returned to his greatest role in Ash vs. the Evil Dead on Starz (also featuring Lee Majors!). He even hosts Last Fan Standing, a trivia contest for genre geeks. Learn more at bruce-campbell.com.

Originally posted June 09, 2005


Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way: What’s this book all about?

About 320 pages. It’s a novel—and I’m the lead character. I take myself on an adventure outside of the B-movie world, and I venture into the A-movie world. I get an opportunity to co-star in a Mike Nichols film, and it’s my first chance to flourish in that world. I decide that I must finally prepare as an actor; I can’t just do it casually, I have to really get into it. Now, it’s Mike Nichols—one of the best directors working. And it all goes to hell in a handcart, basically. Because of me, this movie ultimately crashes and burns, and doesn’t even get released. So it’s a crazy romp in a fictitious world.

What inspired it?

Originally, the publisher and I kicked around ideas for a gag relationship book, but we couldn’t find a fresh angle on the whole thing. And we thought, “Well, you’d have a lot more fun if it wasn’t non-fiction.” It basically morphed into a novel so that we could go crazy with the story and portray whatever scenario we wanted. So it’s not a relationship book, that’s for sure.

Even though the title seems to indicate that it’s about making love the Bruce Campbell way…

People will just have to figure it out, that’s what I say. We’ve given them an obtuse title they can interpret however they wish.

Did you base any of it on your real life?

Most of what happens in the book is potentially true. And probably 80 percent of the characters in the book exist, but not necessarily under those names, so I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty.

What’s it like being a B-movie actor in the movie industry today?

No different than it was 25 years ago! You get up, you go to work, you do your thing, and then you move on to the next. What’s been good about the B-movies is that they’re being financed more and more by DVD companies directly because of the way the industry’s changed. So I’ve got a couple of deals coming up with different companies that I never would have had been able to hook up with before. So, the change in the market is sometimes bad, and sometimes the change in the market is good.

How have B-movies changed since you first started in the business?

B-movies have become A-movies, and A-movies have gone to television. A-movies have gone to HBO and B-movies are being made into A-movies, like The Mummy. That’s considered an A-movie. Bulls**t! That’s a B-movie! Mission Impossible? That’s a B-movie; it’s based on a TV show. What people call A-movies and what I call A-movies now are different. An A-movie doesn’t have a stupid premise. To me, an A-movie is not written for 17-year-olds—it’s an adult drama. That’s the main, fundamental difference. The Mummy is written for 17-year-olds. So the second you get into that, it’s a whole different ball game.

How difficult is it to play Bruce Campbell, the character?

It’s good because I can make myself an idiot or a genius—it’s up to me. People were wondering if some of the real characters in the book—like Mike Nichols or Richard Gere or Renee Zellweger—had any issue with it. And I said I hadn’t heard anything yet, but I doubt that I will because my character is the dumbest character in the book. So everyone in the book is portrayed as being rational, reasonable characters—except me. So I can have fun with my own world, I get to do that.

How does it feel have become “Bruce Campbell,” a cult character revered by fans?

I appreciate the support because it helps me do what I do. Because people support stuff, I can continue to make movies that I think a certain group of people will like. Fans are their own reward or punishment. If people are fans of something, it’s generally going to perpetuate it. If you support horror, you’re going to get more horror. So the fan support is terrific. On a day to day basis, it doesn’t change my life much because I live in the woods of Oregon, and my neighbors could care less. They’re unimpressed. And that’s healthy.

Do you ever feel constricted by how fans want to see you in movies?

Every actor is constricted like that. There’s the perception, and then there’s the reality. The perception is that I do mostly genre stuff, but I’ve got a movie for Disney coming out this summer called Sky High. That’s going to be PG at the most—no one dies, there’s probably no blood. So to me, I know that I’ve been in stuff that’s outside the genre. But it all depends on what fans watch. If fans watch Disney movies, they’ll see three or four things I’ve done for Disney. If fans only watch horror, yeah, that’s all they’re gonna know me for. So I don’t fight it. It is what it is.

Every fan’s wish is to see new Evil Dead movies. What can you tell us about those projects?

I’ll start with a theory: My theory is that the more of these movies that you make, the less impact they have. We’ve done three of them. To me, that’s 12 years’ worth of work. I don’t need anymore. But I understand the demand because people enjoy it and they think the movies are fun. But the trick is to keep it fresh. I tell people, “Tell me the plot of Nightmare on Elm Street 8, I dare ya. Or Jason 7.” They all blend together; it all just becomes mush. And the rules change, and you run out of ideas, and you have to dick around like, “What is it going to be? Ash Goes to New York City?” I don’t know. It may very well happen one day, but Sam’s busying doing a little thing called Spider-Man right now, so I don’t know if he’s going to reverse his engines anytime soon.

What about the rumored sequel with Ash battling Jason and Freddie?

That was a legitimate rumor, in that there was a brief discussion with New Line Cinema about it. But look at the realities of it. First you start with the creative realities of it, and that would be Freddie, Jason, and Ash all have different realities—they have different worlds the characters operate in. They have different rules: How strong are they? What are they capable of? How do you kill them? And obviously, with Freddie and Jason, you can’t kill them. There’d be no reason for me to be in those movies unless I killed them and walked away alive, the victor. I’d have to get that in writing. I mean, there’s no question about it—otherwise, why would I do it? I’d rather sit home and pull lint out of my navel. So creatively, we found it to be fairly constricting; and in discussing it with New Line, the only control we would have had is over the Ash character. So, sure, he could have snappy one-liners, but what if all the other storylines and dialogue sucked and we had no control over it? So, creatively, it was pretty bankrupt, I thought. And economically, you’re splitting the pie with two other franchises. That’s not what it’s all about. And I think the fans would have been ultimately disappointed.

What about the potential remake of Evil Dead with another director?

That’s pretty legit as well, but we have to focus our attention on it. We’re all busy doing other things right now. I think it’s going to happen, and I think we have a right to rip ourselves off. We’re not taking somebody else’s idea—this is something that we started, that we nurtured and created. The point is we still fully intend to scare the s**t out of people. It may be called Evil Dead, but I doubt that we’ll have the character Ash, I doubt if we’ll go back to that same cabin. It’s a remake of an Evil Dead thing, but there are lots of evil things and lots of dead things. There are lots of stories you can tell within that framework. I would personally, as a general rule of thumb, go low-tech—I’d get real simple and real primitive, just scare the living crap out of people, make it the scariest movie they’ve ever seen.

Do you think Sam Raimi will ever go back to making movies like that?

He might, but Sam’s always had a pedigree for high-budget filmmaking. I mean, he always makes movies beyond his means—so Evil Dead is a low-budget film in many ways, but in many ways it’s kind of a high-budget movie. We shot for 12 weeks; low-budget movies don’t shoot for 12 weeks. Doesn’t happen. They shoot for three or four or five weeks tops. I’ve got a buddy who made a movie in 12 days for a legitimate company that’s going to sell the movie. I’m like, forget it. So who knows? But right now he’s in a gravy train that’s going in a different direction.

What can you tells us about your upcoming cameo in Spider-Man 3?

Sam doesn’t tell me shit until three weeks before the shoot. He’ll just tell me, “Don’t do anything in January.” He and the agents will work out some dates, but you don’t get the script. They’re not passing out dick to anybody. I don’t know how they get these movies made—no one gets a script. And then when I get my two pages for whatever scene I’m in, it has “CAMPBELL” in giant letters. If that sucker ever got out, they’d know who to hang—they’d come right for ya. They’re Nazis over there! So I have no idea. Sam just said, “I’m putting you in the next one.” I went, “Shit yeah, you are.” He seemed to agree. So I don’t know—we’ll do something stupid.

What’s it like to work on film projects with someone who’s a lifelong friend?

It’s an unfortunate thing to know a guy so well, because Sam knows back to when we were doing dumb talent shows as the Bonzoid Sisters, dressed in long underwear doing bad acrobatics—just stunts and flips. So he knew everything that I could do or not do, and he would exploit it. And I think that’s smart as a director.

Have you found that your movie parts are changing over the years?

Now it’s great—getting older, I can play fathers. In The Woods, this Lucky McKee movie, I get to play the girl’s dad. So she gets covered in all the blood, she gets tortured, and I get to show up and say, “Hi, honey! How’s everything going?” It’s great!”

Which movie do you think you’ve had the most fun working on?

That’s dangerous, and that’s why I don’t look for a fun experience making a movie—I think movies should be hard. It means you’re doing something right. The movies I’ve had the most fun on sucked. They’re something about them that wasn’t engaging, and I think it meant that not everyone was putting in time or effort or whatever. I’ve had some projects that were dream projects, shooting in Utah, beautiful time of year, I only worked two or three days a week, I get to hike and mountain bike—but the movie sucked when it was done.

So I don’t use that criterion anymore. I use the criterion of “most satisfying.” The Evil Dead movies were satisfying because they got me into the movie business, and Bubba Ho-tep was satisfying because it was a completely independent film. The term “independent” is so over-used it’s unbelievable. If you’re a Fortune 500 company, guess what? You’re not independent—I don’t care what you say. If you raise money through doctors, lawyers, or an LLC—okay, you’re independent. On Bubba Ho-tep, the money was put up by the filmmaker. That’s independent. And it wound up being distributed by a major studio on DVD, MGM. Bingo. That’s a success story, to me, because we proved to them that we didn’t need them. That’s how it works.

Coury Turczyn

Coury Turczyn is a concerned consumer of popular culture. Got an interesting story idea or an amazing financial opportunity to share? Contact him at coury@popcultmag.com.

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