By Aaron Hillis
In his half-century on this crazy orb, Bruce Campbell — beloved deadpan star of the “Evil Dead” trilogy, “Bubba Ho-Tep” and USA Network’s current hit series “Burn Notice” — has also been a director and a two-time New York Times best-selling author, but that’s not how he’s typically described. “I get all kinds of weird titles,” says the man himself. “Cult fave. Horror icon. Genre legend. I get them all.”
For his second directorial feature, a horror-comedy and love letter to his fans called “My Name is Bruce,” Campbell sends up his own persona as a vulgar, womanizing, alcoholic, washed-up dunderhead of an actor named Bruce Campbell, naturally. Confused for one of the two-fisted characters he plays, Bruce is kidnapped by a teenage fanboy in hopes that he’ll rid a small town of a resurrected Chinese warlord, with inevitably ludicrous results and multiple Ted Raimi cameos. Campbell called me before the film’s release to talk about awkward fans, harvesting his lavender, and why he thinks the Three Stooges are funnier than the Marx brothers.
There’s already gossip about a possible sequel called “My Name is Still Bruce.” Was that your idea?
Well, you have to make sure this first one makes a little bit of dough. We have an idea and the money, but we’re waiting to push the button. The original idea was pitched to me by [co-producer] Mike Richardson from Dark Horse Comics, and Mark Verheiden, the writer. I thought it was a chance to make fun of myself for an hour and a half; it sounded like a great idea. Behind the premise, even if you remove the Bruce Campbell [character], I like the idea of kidnapping a B-movie actor known for being a hero to be your hero, and he goes, “What are you, crazy?” It’s a little bit like “My Favorite Year”: “I’m a movie star, not an actor.” In this case, he’s neither.
So, tell the truth — did you shoot in Oregon because it made sense to the story, or because the state has a hell of a tax break for film production?
I’m always going to favor where I live, so I was going to shoot in Oregon regardless of the tax break — but that wasn’t bad either. My partner, Mike Richardson, lives in the Portland area, so when he pitched this idea to me a couple years ago, I thought, “Hey, you’re an Oregonian. I’m an Oregonian. Let’s make this in Oregon.” We shot on my property. I built a Western town on my property.
I read somewhere that you live on a lavender farm?
There’s lavender on it, but it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s a farm. We just have a couple acres of lavender that makes our house smell lovely and wonderful. It was there when we bought the property. We harvest once a year. We have a place in Eugene where we pitchfork it into a truck, just like Farmer Joe, then they distill it. You get 30 pounds of organic lavender oil that you can put in or around anything. It’s good for cleaning, it smells good, it’s actually a natural disinfectant, and it’s calming and soothing.
Maybe it’s the lavender talking, but you’ve always seemed like a nice guy. When you’re working in comedy, why do you think you excel at playing oblivious, pompous jerks?
[laughs] Maybe I’m an oblivious, pompous jerk, I don’t know. My feeling is this: As a filmmaker or as an actor, I like to see a character with some sort of arc during the course of a movie. What happens to this character? So, I find if you make them a little more despicable at the beginning, they’ve got somewhere to go, somewhere to improve. “My Name is Bruce” is the pseudo-redemptive story of a man falsely named Bruce Campbell.
You titled your first book “If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor.” How do you feel about being slapped with that label?
It’s actually fine because I like movies that are a little off-kilter or weird, and those usually wind up being the B-movies. I’m now in a B-television series because you’ve got your networks, those are your A-pictures — and then you’ve got cable, your B-television. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. Hey, if you get bitten by a radioactive spider, that’s a B-movie. Even though you spend $200 million on a movie, it can still be a B-movie. “Transformers”? Come on, guys, this is a kids’ toy here. Let’s watch the Transformer transform! It’s not gonna fool me.
A moment in this film reminded me of that old William Shatner “SNL” sketch where he tells off a Trekkie convention: “Get a life, people!” Have you ever had frustrating moments with your fans?
I’d say 90 percent are mostly shy, quiet, reserved people. You got your five or ten percent that are either a little snotty, they want to take a cheap shot, or they torment you about stuff incessantly that you don’t think is that important. Sometimes someone comes to meet you, and they just want to show you exactly where you have to sign on their poster: “No, no, no, not there — sign there! No, not that pen — this pen!” That person and I have no interaction whatsoever as a result because they’re obsessing about how this has to be perfect. You can look at it on a wall, but it was actually a lousy experience between us. That’s disappointing sometimes. I try to do what I can to talk to people and discourage antisocial behavior.
When you’re 60 years old, do you think you’ll still be asked when a fourth “Evil Dead” will happen?
You can’t help it. If the series is popular, it’s just a natural inclination: “When do we get another one?” I don’t think there’s even a doubt that we won’t one day, but Sam Raimi just signed on for part four of “Spider-Man,” so it’s kind of like, “See you later, alligator.” The only time I’ll see him is on his own set. Sam brings me in as a wringer to torment Tobey Maguire [in each “Spider-Man”]. But life intervenes, you know? We’ll look into it when we get to it. It’ll be me as old Ash.
Like Indiana Jones, you can hand over the reins to a new generation.
Exactly. It’ll be a young guy, a Shia LeBeouf character, and I’ll limp along behind, coughing. I’ll say “I’m getting too old for this shit” once every 20 minutes.
“My Name is Bruce” name-drops a ton of your films, some more well-known than others. Are there any films hiding in your oeuvre that you believe are underrated or misunderstood?
Yeah, “Running Time” is pretty under-watched. I don’t know if it’s underrated. It’s just a teeny little black-and-white movie that’s about 70 minutes long, but it’s a cool, real-time crime drama. Anchor Bay put it out [on DVD]. The good news is if you buy some of my old stuff on Amazon, one of these movies is bound to pop up because they link it up: “If you like that product, you’ll love this one!” It’s okay, things get discovered as they get discovered. Probably when I get hit by a bus, they’ll bring all the old movies out.
Now don’t say that. What about 1985’s “Crimewave”? How can a hilarious little gem like that, directed by Sam Raimi and co-written by the Coen Brothers, not yet have a stateside DVD release?
It should, because it would have the mother of all commentaries. I’ve got such a commentary waiting for that movie. It was an incredible disaster on almost every level after a very successful run with “Evil Dead.” That was our second movie, and it was like running 70 miles an hour into a brick wall. It was a really educational process of dealing with a studio for the first time, union guild scheduling, horrible Detroit winters, stunts, accidents and difficult actors. It was just ridiculous. I liken it to “Brazil” in that it’s good in ten-minute chunks. The fact that the movie ever got made is amazing, but I guess that’s the trick — trying to disguise all that when you actually make the movies.
If that film perfectly embodies anything, it’s how much you and the Raimi family love the Three Stooges. Don’t think I didn’t notice the Shemp brand whiskey in “My Name is Bruce.”
Yeah, there’s “Shemp’s Olde-Time Whiskey,” and at one point, Bruce jumps on a truck to leave town, and it’s “Moe Manure Hauling and Disposal.” In the Western town, there’s “Larry’s Livery.” I have all the boys represented.
But let’s get down to brass tacks. Don’t you think the Marx brothers were funnier and more sophisticated?
Look, it takes sophistication to be funny. You still have to plan things out. You have to execute it. I liken the Marx brothers to Charlie Chaplin: very clever. They had some really funny, crazy stuff, but they had some boring, banal stuff as well. Get Gummo and Zeppo out of there, nobody wants them! With the Stooges, it’s visceral. It’s all really simple, and they had longevity. You can debate about comedic styles. I didn’t find Buster Keaton particularly funny, but I found him amazing. Same with Charlie Chaplin — I didn’t think he was funny, but inventive as hell.
[Photos: Bruce Campbell in “My Name is Bruce,” Image Entertainment, 2007]
“My Name is Bruce” has begun a 21-city tour, with its next stop in Philadelphia on November 5th. For more dates and locations, check out Bruce Campbell’s official site here.