Interview: Bruce Campbell
Here is a man who needs very little introduction. Star of the much loved Evil Dead trilogy, with film stealing cameos in all three Spider-Man movies, author of two books and now director of two feature length films. Bruce Campbell is as interested in his fans as they are in him, having turned the camera on them in his documentary Fanalysis and used extracts from their emails in his autobiography If Chins Could Kill. Now he’s directed and starred in the forthcoming film My Name is Bruce, which sees him play warped version of his real life persona, before being kidnapped by one of his biggest fans in the belief that Bruce can fight a real life demon as well as he does on screen…
The interview took place the day after the record snow fall and though he was suffering from a slight cold, was every bit as affable, high spirited, honest and passionate as you’d expect. Also if you’ve ever heard Bruce Campbell talk (or even act), you’ll know that he has a whole range of laughs, so I’ve tried where I can to describe them in all their variety. The interview started almost immediately following a casual introduction and became more of a conversation, the only difference being that I was face to face with one of my biggest heroes…
Bruce Campbell: So how did you get in today, was it trouble?
DoG: It wasn't actually too bad.
Did you tube it? How did you get in?
I got my girlfriend to give me a lift.
Hey that works great, I want that deal. [laughs] It's so funny, back home right as I was leaving it was gonna be a week of solid sunshine, then right as I come back its gonna start snowing again, so right as I got here I'm carrying this cloud of weather, it's my fault, sorry UK, sorry everyone!
It's good to have you over here...
I was here twenty years ago for Evil Dead 2, that was the last time I was here promoting something. I've been here for the oddball convention, like I’ve been here two other times just for one off weekends, but it's, y’know, nice to come back to where Evil Dead began, and I have no problem talking about the Evil Dead movies, so don’t worry about that!
Good, because it’s going to happen!
Of course it is, of course it is, but y’know the UK is where it started. We could not get arrested in the United States with this movie because no one wanted it, and then Palace Pictures over here picked it up. We started selling it overseas first and then that proved to the distributors in the US - y’know New Line Cinema which we called ‘New Lies Cinema’ - they at first didn’t want to have anything to do with it, then they saw how well it was doing over here, it was second to E.T in some screenings, then it came out on video and we beat The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, so all these wonderful little victories we were having, so then New Line Cinema went “We’ve always loved this movie!”.
Is the whole studio system still difficult?
Well you know I don’t really deal with that, Sam Raimi deals with that, I don’t. On My Name Is Bruce I had one guy to answer to, my partner Mike Richardson from Dark Horse Comics, that’s it, one man and his editing notes took fifteen minutes to address. What it was he wanted a line of Ted Raimi’s put back in, which meant that he was paying attention enough to go “Where’s that line!”, because I’d trimmed it just for time, because I feel that comedy should be eighty three minutes, it’s short, so that’s all I had to deal with and when you get that, that’s all you ever want.
Because then you’ve got full creative control.
Nobody told me what to do in any respect, the only enemy was the budget and that’s understandable, that’s a known foe, you can deal with that, you can fight that thing, because you make changes, you adjust your schedule, you cut scenes out, you do things faster, you simplify. So there was no politics - the politics though would drive you insane and we had that early on. The first Evil Dead we had total control, the second one we had less, Army of Darkness we had even less, because look – you’re getting more money each time, the first time was money from private investors in Michigan, they’re not gonna tell you anything, because legally they couldn’t even set foot on the set if we didn’t want them to, the way the partnership was structured. Part 2 was a combination of Dino De Laurentis, he gave us pretty much latitude and then Army of Darkness was an eleven million dollar movie and then we had to put some of our own money back into it, then the studio re-cut the movie and it was just a nightmare. It was a nightmare. So it’s nice to not have that and that’s why I stay in the low budget world, but it’s not like I can immediately go “I wanna be Brad Pitt” and then start doing that, but I like this world, I have no problem with it. Y’know people say “Are you happy with your career? How ‘this’ has turned out? Or did you envision yourself to be in more A-movies?” and I’m like “I don’t really want that”. If you’re an A- movie actor, people are going through your garbage and they’re waiting for you with telephoto lenses and shit like that, I’m like - I live in rural Oregon, no one even knows where to find me.
But you still have your dedicated fan base…
I mean I saw My Name Is Bruce back in November, they (Frightfest) did an all day/all night horror film festival in London…
They basically started at two in the afternoon and ran through till seven the next morning and your movie was midway through…
So a load of us (fans) got to see it on the big screen…
Oh wow! [chuckles]
And it was definitely a draw, certainly for someone like me you know…
Well this particular movie is done for the fans. I can’t say that about everything that I’ve done, I always have a little bit at the back of my head of what would people think about this or whatever, but this was very specific. This was pitched to me by Mark Verheiden who wrote it and Mike Richardson who owns Dark Horse Comics, they’ve known each other for years and were old mates. I knew them inadvertently through different things like comics and they knew I was looking for something, so they pitched the idea and I jumped all over it.
It certainly has things that made people laugh a lot, like the Guan-Di song…
[Laughs mischievously] –Guan-you, Guan-Me, Guan-Di!
It got funnier the more times… [Bruce laughs loudly again]
Well there are people who’ve said that at the end of the movie. I’ve done a lot of Q&As because I did a twenty two city tour in the states, and after the movie one of the first things I come out saying is “You will never get that song out of your head for the rest of your life!”
I saw it, as I said, back in November [Bruce laughs again] and it’s still there, I was scribbling it down (on my question sheet). Another good thing to come from the movie is that it’s good to have you over here, because I remember when If Chins Could Kill came out…
And then you did the extra bit about the book tour (in the re-printed version) in the States and I remember saying that it was a shame that you don’t get over here that often, then I remember seeing the map of your book tour…
It was ridiculous.
It was just…
It was absurd - no it was insane, because that was the first book, so obviously I was willing to do anything. Subsequent tours are way more controlled, like the last one, the twenty two city one, we did it all by car and we had it all figured out. If you do two, or three, or four tours, you start to make a list of what you’re never gonna do again y’know? You never want to go do an event late at night, catch an early morning flight, then you get to another city and then you can’t check into the hotel ‘cause it’s too early and you’re bleary-eyed and it’s just one nightmare after the next, so we’ve learned a few lessons.
Are you going to get time to have a bit of a sight see…(apologies for the slightly lame question, but I just meant to ask if he was going to get a time-out while here!)
You know what? I’m always gonna come back to this city, I’ve been here many times, some times for business and I’m always gonna come back here, so it’s ok if I don’t see Big Ben because I’m here working, but we’re going to go up to Edinburgh and take a four hour train ride, but just walking round Soho I feel like a tourist so…
For the fans, My Name Is Bruce was a really strange movie, because on the one hand it seemed very much for them, because of the lines you have and the fact it’s about ‘you’ to a certain degree…
Well ‘yoouuu’ [together we both gesture inverted speech marks to emphasize it’s not actually his persona] with quotation marks!
Well this notion of Bruce...but then on the other hand you’re incredibly self-deprecating, the character of Bruce in the film is…Oh he’s an idiot, he’s a jerk, he’s a loser, but we would’ve done that regardless of whether we called him Bruce Campbell because we could’ve called him Dash Riprock, you know like C-grade actor and the story still would’ve functioned, but we decided that because of my background - lets go ahead and call him Bruce Campbell. But what it’s gonna do though - as a result there’s gonna be some confused people out there ‘cause you know there’s gonna be three people who go “I didn’t know he drank cheap whisky out of dog bowls [“or lived in a caravan!” I chime in] how depressing!”, but what are you gonna do? It’s a comedy premise so we felt that there were no holds barred, nothing was off the table.
And some might even say that’s a good thing, because it would mess with those selected few out there and it might help to calm their expectations of you [Bruce cackles], that they might approach you in a different way.
That’s true, that’s true! That they go “Wow I… I guess I don’t need to stalk him in an alley any more [I roar], he’s not worth stalking any more…”
I think everyone felt sorry for the kid (the character who plays and Bruce’s number one fan in the film and the person who’s responsible for bringing him to the town) as well, I mean he had that chainsaw made for you…
Well we actually… the original I tell him it’s too heavy, so I put the chainsaw down and then we cut to a pretty tight close up of the kid and we originally had some lingering music and Mike Richardson, you know the executive producer of this, said “That’s too horrible!”, because it lingered and there was this really sad refrain of music, where his (the kids) whole life had been crushed and so he thought that was too cruel, so we just left him with this blank look y’know?
Yeah that was good [Bruce chuckles]… and the…
And I hate that fucking chainsaw! So y’know…I had to get my little cheap shots in there somewhere.
Why did you hate the chainsaw?
It’s just a pain, they are too heavy, they’re too heavy! And in Evil Dead 2 I’m supposed to be walking round with it on my hand and it’s supposed to be going ‘putputputputputput’ and the only way to do it, to get the bit of smoke to come out, was to run a tube all down my arm, my sleeve, my pants, out my pant leg and twenty feet over to a little smoke machine. The only smoke that would carry that distance was tobacco, so it was always tobacco smoke coming out of there and at the end of the day they would pull it out and pull it all out and I’d have an inch wide nicotine stain down my entire body, so I’m like “Get this thing out of my face!”. Awful…. awful.
The other thing I noticed with My Name Is Bruce was the cast. Obviously there was a lot of in-jokes, because you had Ted Raimi…
We had an actor from every Evil Dead movie. I tried to get somebody from each of the movies.
I noticed a lot of them, but even I think even I missed some of them.
Well there’s Ellen Sandweiss who was in the first one, she plays my ex-wife and then Danny Hicks who had played the hick in Evil Dead 2, he’s just a farmer in this, he’s one of the gay guys and then the guy he’s with is the big blacksmith from Army of Darkness. So I decided just to have them say “Why didn’t they get that guy from Evil Dead 2?”, “No they should’ve got that blacksmith from Army of Darkness” you know.
How did you get them involved?
We’ve been friends, a lot of these guys they’re all friends so I just said “Hey come on, come up to work and we’re gonna make a movie”.
So it must’ve been quite fun in that respect.
Oh yeah. It was the closest to getting back to the days of high school amateur film making. Where you didn’t have the restrictions, y’know that was it, you could just go do it, no one was telling you to do anything.
I’m in that position at the moment strangely, where I make short films and so now I’m looking to push to that next step….But make sure as you progress that the world that you’ve created never changes, because what happens is film makers operate in this wonderful, free environment until they get into the studio system and until they get money from people and then that world collapses, because it’s not what they planned. We went from Evil Dead to Crimewave, which was our second movie, written by the Coen Brothers - complete studio fiasco. We went almost double the budget, we had union actors for the first time, Hollywood actors for the first time and we were from Detroit, which is a very working class city where you don’t have any nonsense. There’s no divas, there’s no bad behaviour, you show up at your factory job- hungover or whatever, you just show up and that’s our approach you work, you gotta do it. So we witnessed those extremes, where we had no intervention on the first Evil Dead, and then the second film was just a disaster. You can’t help but have a bad reaction, so we immediately did Evil Dead 2 because we thought ‘this is terrible’ let’s go back to what we know, this is bullshit. So that’s my advice to you. [I laugh] Don’t change your set up, just try and get it as free of an environment.
(At this point I get the ‘two minutes left’ signal and state) Two minutes? Sure. Wow that went really quick.
You can have five, don’t worry about it. [I laugh in my first proper geek wobble at being told by Bruce Campbell that I can have extra time]
I have to ask, even though I know you’re going to get asked a thousand times but… Evil Dead 4?
Well let’s do both – lets do the remake and the sequel. (Unfortunately with time running short, the remake wasn’t covered)
You know Sam and I have nothing but good feelings towards those movies. We have nothing against them and I don’t try and run from them or anything, but Sam’s got five kids, he’s making Spider-Man 4 that’s another two/three years. I got a five year commitment to a TV show Burn Notice.It’s doing really well…
It’s the number one show on cable in the States, we just beat the networks. I just got an email yesterday saying it’s the first time we’ve beaten the networks and you don’t do that on cable. So I’m not going anywhere - I have to be in Miami seven months out of the year and Evil Dead movies take two/three years to make. Sam can’t make it, I can’t make it, we don’t know when we’re gonna do it. Plus let’s face it, we don’t look at each other and go “Man we gotta make another one of those”, I mean those movies are a nightmare. It’s much easier to just sit there and watch the movies, than it is to make them. I have a whole different perspective than the person sitting in a comfy chair, watching them on TV. [he chuckles]
Of course, that’s why it’s always good to have the commentaries.
And what happens, the difficulty is, that occasionally I’ll say something in an interview or Sam’ll say something like “yeah it would be fun to make another one.”
And then everyone goes…
[He blows a very loud ‘rasp!’] It’s all out there, so we’re half responsible for it.
I think in some ways though that it’s quite nice to have them as they are, because essentially you have a perfect trilogy…(the end of my question was going to aim towards the fact that sacred trilogies keep having a fourth instalment made, which sometimes detract from the originals)
But you know even with our trilogy - there was never supposed to be Evil Dead 2, Ash is dead at the end of the movie. Part one – an evil entity raises up to him, he’s dead, DEAD! So he was resurrected by bad box office from our second movie, so even that trilogy is really wonky, and each movie that we made we didn’t have the rights to the previous movie because they belonged to different people, so we had to use different footage and people thought Ash was dumb enough to go back to the cabin again, with new friends. So you know even that trilogy is very confused in and of itself, but what would really make that work is to cut them all together and cut out all the recap and have it play as one continuous movie, which you could do.
You realise that someone’s going to try and do that now.
[I get given the go ahead for one more question] I was just going to ask about Bubba Ho Tep, I showed it to my girlfriend the other night, she’d never seen it before and it is still just fantastic.
It’s a cool little movie, very oddball.
I think what’s great about it, is that it’s really sweet in its nature…
That’s why I took it. It’s not a horror movie, it’s like two old guys figuring out what to do… it’s a sociological rumination on what you do with old people – Oh! and they fight a mummy. I mean that’s really the bottom line and that’s why I took it ‘cause it is a sweet, oddly sweet little story, it’s not jaded.
And your character and role was really nice and understated.
Yeah but it’s the script, it’s a good Joe Lansdale script and I’m not doing the sequel, they’re doing a sequel, but we couldn’t agree on a script.
It’s a shame but…
It happens all the time… It does and Don Coscarelli and I decided to not get into it, we didn’t want to jeopardise a friendship over a movie, ‘cause the elements that I didn’t like, he loved and our gap was just too big and I’m like “Go make the movie.”
That’s fair enough.
So just quickly, what’s next for you?
I go back to work and do my day job. I go back to Miami in March and I’m there until August.
Wow. Well thank you for taking the time to talk to us!
And thank you for coming, thanks for making it in, weather and all!
MY NAME IS BRUCE (cert. 15) will be released on DVD (£19.99) and Blu-ray (£19.99) by Anchor Bay Entertainment on 2nd March 2009. Prior to the DVD release the film will receive a limited theatrical release from 13th February 2009.