BRUCE CAMPBELL LIVES!
THE CULT SUPERSTAR RETURNS TO retroCRUSH TO TALK ABOUT
HIS LATEST BOOK, MOVIES, AND GIVES US THE LATEST EVIL DEAD NEWS!
Bruce Campbell is a modern Renaissance man: a cult-movie icon, a best-selling author, a comic-book auteur and possibly the coolest guy in Hollywood -- probably because he actually lives in Oregon. His filmography reads like a fanboy's wet dream: The Evil Dead trilogy, Bubba Ho-Tep and the Spider-Man movies just to name a few. This summer Bruce is taking his show on the road to promote his new book Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way and his feature-film directorial debut The Man With The Screaming Brain.
Oh, and Bruce wanted me to mention his Web site. So here it is: http://www.bruce-campbell.com/.
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Let’s start with the Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way. I’ve made it most of the way through it. I just got it a few days ago…
That’s a dangerous thing to tell an author…
I was hoping that there wouldn’t be pop quiz.
…that you read part of it, yeah.
Well, I had a difficult time summing it up, do you want to take a crack at it?
It’s a mockumentary in book form. It’s me in a book where there’s a lot of stuff that’s supposedly taking place.
But unlike what they did in Spinal Tap or other mockumentaries, you appear as yourself as a character in the book.
That’s right. So it’s an autobiographical novel. How’s that?
That sounds good.
We’re learning new terms for the book.
Do you think your fan base will have any trouble separating "Bruce Campbell," the character in the book, from "Bruce Campbell," the real guy?
I hope so, because then we’ve fooled them, you know what I mean? Whatever they think - as long as they were amused.
No offense, but the Bruce Campbell in the book is kind of a boob.
He’s kind of an idiot.
I don’t think that’s really you. Is there any danger that people will say, “Hey, Bruce isn’t that bright?”
I’m willing to take that risk.
On the other hand, you bring up in the book that people confuse your personal abilities with the ladies with the abilities of the characters you’ve played in the movies.
The point of that part of the book was that I think people have a weird...I mean it shows you how powerful movies are. That they can get us to think stuff that has nothing to do with reality whatsoever. So it was a chance to poke fun of what people’s perceptions are of someone, and then what they’re really like.
I think most people have an image of a guy like Harrison Ford as being kind of a tough, capable guy - and maybe he’s like that. But maybe he picks daisies in his meadow at home in Wyoming. Who knows?
The book is a hodge-podge of different genres and one of the aspects is that it is supposed to be a “relationship book.” But what I got from the book is that giving out relationship advice will get you punched in the face and shot at.
Yeah. People should so stay out of everyone else’s relationships. My wife and I set up mutual friends of ours. We both knew this man, and I had met this woman. And we went, “God, these two – the way they act and the way they talk. It might just be perfect.”
Got ‘em together. Ate dinner that night. They left the restaurant together without us by the end of the meal. They ordered the same drinks. The talked about jazz, you know what I mean? It was out of the park.
A year later they had married secretly, then had a horrible split. There was abuse – all sorts of allegations. We went, “Holy shit, we are never going to recommend anyone to anyone ever again.”
There’s been a progression in your first two books. The first book was clearly autobiographical. The second is only autobiographical in the sense that you’re pulling from your life experience but there's a lot of fiction mixed in.
Yeah, it’s an autobiographical novel.
Are you progressing toward a time when "Bruce Campbell" will not be the main character of a book you write?
I’m not sure. We’ll have to see how it goes. I think eventually - but I don’t mind writing books like this because it’s about stuff that I know. Like, I don’t have an overwhelming urge to write a book about tulips. There’s still certain subject matter that I’m interested in.
I don’t know yet. I’ll probably get inspired if this book makes money.
Do you have any sense if the books are pulling in people who were not already Bruce Campbell fans?
Oh yeah, I got a Sunday school teacher that came up. He was an Evil Dead fan. I think ‘cause he was able to make the separation between reality and fiction. So I get weird, strange characters.
So the books are not only catering to your fans, but also introducing new people to Bruce Campbell?
I think the real test is this book. The first book was an ode to that fan-base. This one...I still think is the same. You’re still talking about movies. There’s still a lot of me floating around everywhere. You can’t get rid of me out of this book. So I don’t know, we’ll see what they say.
Well, you got good reviews on the first book.
I dodged enough bullets on the first one that people took it pseudo-seriously. But I have no idea what the final compilation will be on this. They jury’s out still.
You have a unique perspective on the fame game. When I told people I was going to interview Bruce Campbell, there were two reactions.
The first one is, “Who is Bruce Campbell?”
Correct. But the second one is “Oh, my God! Oh my God! Bruce Campbell!” There’s that slice of America that thinks that you’re the Pope, Elvis and Brad Pitt – all rolled into one.
For those four people, yeah.
Well there’s more than four. To some people, you’re not famous at all, and to others you’re the biggest star in Hollywood. What’s that like?
I know. I know. It’s healthy. I like it. It allows me to not be consumed by it, but it allows me to make a living. I’m pretty grateful for winding up in that spot. It allows me really to just kind of be an actor. People don’t have $20-million-opening-weekend expectations for my stuff.
The beauty of low-budget movies is, you don’t have to have an army of people go see it on opening day. You don’t have to have people sleeping in tents waiting to see the movie to make money, so I’m fine with that. It’s a whole lot less time taken out of my life trying to make something succeed. I can pretty much just do stuff and it does what it does.
Bubba Ho-Tep would be a good example.
It’s a very good example.
The way that you guys got that movie made and distributed…
We pretty much just did it ourselves. The irony is that MGM distributed the DVD, and yet we couldn’t get them to look at it to save our lives earlier. So, go figure.
The DVD package was actually quite nice. That wasn’t some cheap thing they just threw out there.
No. you know they understood – because we tried to make it clear to them – that the buyers of the Bubba Ho-Teps and the Evil Deads don’t want the same, normal stuff. They want the good stuff. They want the real stuff.
I about to put out this summer volume one of my unabridged six-hour audio book of this same book.
Of Bubba Ho-Tep?
No, of Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way. We just finished it. We did it like a radio play. Not the “He said/she” said kind of audio book, because, again, the fans don’t want that.
They want…Like if you closed your eyes, this book would play like a movie. That was our approach for the audio book. You hear horn honks and car crashes and gunshots. It just plays out for you. It got so big that we had to do it in two parts.
That must be somewhat of a luxury to have that established fan base from your earlier film work, so you know that anything that you do within a certain range; there will be an audience there waiting for it.
Theoretically, so far that has been the case. So as long as I don’t insult them horribly with whatever’s coming down the pike, they’ll show up for the next thing.
I was looking for a common thread in the work that you’ve done where you have a little bit of control – Bubba Ho-Tep, your books, The Man With The Screaming Brain – and it seems like you tend to pick off-beat material. Is that fair to say?
It’s a very fair assessment. I don’t get the mainstream stuff really because I find it too bland. I know that B-movies and wacko cult movies – they’re not for everybody. Nor should they be. What I like feel mostly is that it’s such a big country and such a big world, that it can handle a bunch of different weird stuff. Sometimes when you counter-program, you wind up benefiting from that.
I’ll never forget the time my first book came around, I couldn’t get into Salt Lake City. They didn’t want me. I was the guy who was in those horror movies. This is Salt Lake. The big stores are controlled by the Mormons. I have no animosity towards them but if they read the book, they’d see how kind of harmless the whole thing was. That’s unfortunate.
So what we did was, we went to a mom-and-pop-owned bookstore. We had a line around the block and we sold out – quite a few books. It taught me that for every pop-culture there’s a counter-culture. And it’s very strong, and very vibrant. There’s a lot of people who are unsatisfied with generic entertainment. I’m happy to fill that niche.
That’s another advantage of working low-budget. You can do that sort of thing.
That’s right, if I was spending 100 million bucks, there’s be plenty of “chefs,” plenty of people with ideas. If you make a movie for a million and a half or two bucks, there’s only about three or four people that make decisions.
This is your second book. When you’re filling out your resume now, do you put “Bruce Campbell: Actor-Author”?
I’ve started to do the hyphenating. This is my first feature film, so I’m going to add the next hyphenate.
So it will be “Bruce Campbell: Author-Actor-Writer-Director-Producer?”
The Man With The Screaming Brain really your Streisand pic. You’re a quadruple-threat in this one.
Yeah, I just gotta be careful to make sure it’s not Yentl.
This project has been bouncing around for a long time, right?
Yeah for a hundred years. I’m embarrassed to say that the idea was first given to my partner David Goodman from a buddy of ours, in a rowboat in 1986. It’s been germinating, percolating, attempting to be funded, three-quarters funded, half funded, you know. I was falling apart.
We were pretty much throwing in the towel, but then SciFi Channel jumped in and partnered up with some other people and got it made.
You’ve made a lot of comparisons between this movie and the Jack Lemmon comedy The Out-Of-Towners.
It’s The Out-Of-Towners with a brain transplant. It’s an American businessman and his wife; [they] go over to Bulgaria. He’s a pharmaceutical magnate, and he’s looking to diversify his company. So basically, he’s just looking to make some money. He’s the ultimate capitalist in a former communist country.
Through a series of crazy events, he ends up getting half of brain replaced by that of a KGB communist. So you’ve got the capitalist/communist sort of issue. The only thing they have in common is that they were both murdered by the same gypsy woman. So, they kind of team up to find out what’s going on with her and to exact revenge.
It’s a seedy story taking place in a strange place.
After all the time that you spent trying to get this thing funded, did you end up getting to make the picture that you wanted to make?
That’s sort of a yes-and-no answer. While we were filming, it was similar to how I wanted to do it. But what it became from [where it started in] 1986 – it’s unrecognizable. Through a series of events it was ultimately determined that we will shoot in Bulgaria. It wasn’t an option.
I saw that my friend was shooting a movie [in Bulgaria] before me. And his movie was taking place in Portland. “Yet all of hees acktors are tolking like theese.” (Boris & Natasha accent)
So what do you do? You have to loop all those actors. And it always makes a movie sound weird. I don’t care what anyone says. Eighty percent of the lines of dialogue in that movie were replaced.
I felt that was a mistake. So I urgently rewrote [The Man With The Screaming Brain] for Bulgaria. When my actors start “tolking like theese,” it’s okay because they’re from Bulgaria.
That makes sense.
To me it does. And I saved money on art direction because you’re not changing street signs. The original story was East L.A. Who am I going to use for a Latino? A gypsy? You can’t get away with that crap in this day and age. So, anyway I thought, “Let’s just put a pin in that.”
So you shot the whole film in Bulgaria. Do you have any tips for the Bulgaria-bound tourist?
Yeah. Bring a lot of bribe money. And watch your luggage.
Is that what it takes to get things done over there?
Yeah. It’s the fall of communism. They’re embracing capitalism. But a result, the police aren’t paid much of anything. So they carry these little sticks with a symbol on the end of it, and they flag you. They’ll just pull you over to quote: “Sort it out,” or “Pay the bill.” You go to a little place around the corner and pay them. And it’s because you were talking on your cell phone or your seatbelt wasn’t on or whatever. They’ll get you for anything.
It was a little weird, incredibly safe, city of Sofia. It was really odd to be on the edge of a transition. Every building that was being built during communism; when communism fell, they walked away from the building. So you’ve got maybe 1,000 unfinished buildings in the city – right next to brand new hi-rises. They’re still sorting out who owns what. With communism everything was owned by the state…Packs of stray dogs that we would feed every morning.
I guess that’s better than the alternative.
Then them feeding on you? Yes. But it shows you that they have bigger problems to worry about than even dogs. Some of it was very shocking. Some of it was depressing But they got along just fine without America. They got along fine without us before and after. It’s nice to see a fully functional society that’s swinging into a new thing.
Now that you’ve directed a feature made for television, do you have an interest in directing a feature film?
Now see, I consider this a film. And what people will be seeing in the theater is the feature structure. What they’ll see on the SciFi Channel this September is going to be the eight-act TV structure. I put it back in a different shape for the theatrical version.
It’s the same movie, but in my mind, it was always a theatrical [production]. So I always had swearing in it. And the TV people, they just get a TV version. That was my take from the get-go, and I just had to talk everybody into it. And I managed to do that.
The SciFi Channel, you’ve been kind of their bread-and-butter the past few years.
We’ve done okay for them. And the fact that The Screaming Brain got made, can actually be traced back to another thing I did for SciFi that unexpectedly good ratings. They called the next day and said, “Hey what do you got going?”
I said, “Well, you’ve got a script there. You’ve had it for two months and nothing’s happened.”
They said, “Really?”
I said, “Yeah, check out The Man With The Screaming Brain.” The next thing you know they want to do it. You see how that works?
You’re doing a Screaming Brain comic book?
With Dark Horse, it’s coming out May 11th. The first issue is already out. And I’m going to start a movie with Dark Horse this fall.
Dark Horse is getting into the movie-production business?
They sure as heck are, and I’m going to help them out.
Have they produced before? I know their properties have been made into films.
Oh yeah, Mike Richardson. They did The Mask. This is not new to them. But they’ve started a DVD tie-in. So I’m going to make some movies for them hopefully. We have an untitled Bruce Campbell project I’m going to start in the fall.
I noticed the comic is billed as "The Director’s Cut."
Only because you can make everything perfect in a comic. They were bitching to me about shooting at night, so I reduced my night shots. An artist reloads his ink, and voila! He’s got darkness.
You pretty much have an unlimited budget.
Absolutely! You can have a vista that goes on forever. You can create your own weather. Your own exact expression that you want. The framing. Everything. You’re limited only by the artist’s imagination.
That’s a third medium that you’ve tackled after film and books. Are there aspects of each that you enjoy?
I love the whole ball of wax. It’s all creative stuff – or it can be. I just get tired of doing the same thing over and over again. It’s also, honestly, hedging my bets because the industry is changing in so many weird ways. I just want to be a part of various things. Even videogames. The new Evil Dead videogame is out this fall through THQ. And this one is pretty serious. We’ve just wrapped it up. This sucker’s going to be a real game. It’s the third in the series.
Is it following the plotlines from the earlier two games?
Oh, I’m sure you’ll find some throughline. I don’t even pay attention to the plots anymore. The most important thing is to get the settings right and the tone and the characters.
I want to spend a little time talking about your other upcoming projects. You have a part in the Disney flick Sky High?
Yeah, that’s going to be a fun flick. It’s kind of a throwback to the Disney live-action days. The fact that Kurt Russell is in it is really fun.
What's your part in the picture?
I play Coach Boomer. The whole movie, the premise of it is this: It’s a teen, high-school comedy, only the high-school happens to be full of superheroes. So my job as Coach Boomer who’s a former superhero – big booming sonic voice – he decides if you’re going to be a superhero or a sidekick.
Kurt Russell, who is a superhero, his son turns out to be picked as a sidekick. So he has to reconcile that in a Disney way.
You’ve done some things with Disney, The Love Bug. Are they restricting at all? I’ve heard some people say, “I don’t like working with Disney so much.”
Well they’re tough guys. There’s no question about it. They’re probably the hardest negotiators. They treat you like family and pay you like family; that’s the joke – the business about Disney.
[Disney has] incredibly nice people who actually make the movies. At the administrative level, that’s hit-or-miss. They’re hardball business people. You’re hiding under this “happy mouse” face, but these people are out to make money.
But they’re incredibly aggressive in how they promote stuff, so you know that if you’re going to be in a Disney thing, as an actor – you know that somebody’s going to see it, probably.
Sometimes that’s not bad. It gets depressing after a while, B-movie after B-movie that’s going straight to DVD and you don’t know if people are watching it or not. With Disney – this sucker’s gonna get out. I think it’s going to be fun.
You mentioned movies that people don’t see. My Tivo grabbed Running Time for me the other day.
Oh, that’s a cool movie. I like that movie.
I was adding it together with your books and the documentary on land management you’re working on, A Community Speaks, and I wondered if you are starting to seek out more personal projects.
What happens is when you first get into the business, all you’re trying to do is just work. After a while, you start to see the work that bores you, the work you don’t really want to do anymore. And then stuff comes up. Your life changes. You mature. You’re interests diversify, just like anybody’s would.
And for me I have a filmmaking skill. And I live in Oregon in the middle of a bunch of public land. It sort of occurred to me, “What happens to this land? What do you do on it? Who owns it?” So we took a very non-controversial approach, my wife and I. We’re in the middle of editing down 55 hours worth of footage.
I think it would be worthwhile just for educational purposes. We’re not trying to get anyone fired.
Was it difficult to tackle that issue without it becoming political?
No. Because we didn’t take a stance. If we were like pro-environment or pro-industry, we’d get a lot of cooperation from one side but not the other. In this case, they both were very eager to tell their story. And we were very eager to hear it – as a citizen and as a filmmaker.
What we had to do, actually, is help people in reverse. Let’s say there was a guy that you didn’t even agree with his philosophy. You had to be careful to be invisible, so that he could tell his story. And you had to not try to bait him or argue with him. We told all of our interviewees, “We’re not going to have an argument here. We’re going to have a discussion. You’re going to tell me what you know about this topic.”
I think that was a good way to go, because people in many cases felt underrepresented in the past. No one ever heard them talk before. You know, like an unemployed logger. Let’s go to his house, and see what’s going on. I thought it was well worth it. As a result, we got the blessing of the local timber guys. That opened the door to many other industries – like talking to a trucker, who normally would be very skeptical.
What we had to do was help out guys who are not well-spoken. Like an environmentalist, you push a button and they can talk for an hour. They’re very used to pitching, being in front of people, making presentations and being very passionate. A logger, you’re going to interview him and he’s gonna go, (working-class accent) “Ayep. A-Nope.”
So you have to really craft your questions so that you get him to talk. Then you have to cut away to a bunch of stuff because you are stringing his sentences together. So we find we have to help one side, and the we also have to shut up the environmentalists. We’ll make sure that we don’t let them repeat themselves. And you get them back on track, because sometimes they’ll go off on tangents about some issue, and you’ll go, “Well, that wasn’t the issue.
You’re shying away from activism then.
I don’t play that game. I may fall on one side of it. Everyone tends to. You kinda can’t help it. But I actually think there are so many ways to appease all sides. The more my wife and I became involved with the issues; I actually felt we became more informed than a lot of the other people
There were solutions that were under many people’s noses, if you just got every one to talk. So, I don’t know, I’m not really that kind of “save the whale” activist. But some things intrigue me.
Now this is your second documentary.
Yeah, the first one was about fans.
Is there something about the genre that appeals to you?
Oh documentaries are fantastic. I love ‘em. I think they’re the coolest genre. If you’re a true filmmaker, you’re trying to be careful about how you manipulate stuff. You can really tell a compelling story. Real people fascinate me. Actors are only so interesting. But a real person who’s been in a real battle, for example, that to me is just compelling as hell – getting their story. I love Ken Burns. He’s a great filmmaker.
That’s a contrast to Michael Moore’s style, which is more activist in nature.
Well again, Michael, he has an opinion. If you agree with it, great. If you don’t, you’re not really going to like it. I give him credit for going for it. He’s expanded the documentary into – I don’t like the word “propaganda” per se, but it’s his point of view. It is very political.
I think a documentary should transcend it.
Do you have an idea of what form this documentary will take? Are you looking for a series on PBS? A feature release?
It’s hard to say. I think I’m going to get it down to about three hours and go from there. I’ll start shopping it. I can’t really shop it around yet.
Let’s see what else I know about your upcoming projects. You’re doing The Woods?
The Woods! Creepy movie for MGM. It’s a cool filmmaker named Lucky McKee who did a film called May, a very disturbing film. It’s a very bizarre movie, a very good movie. So he’s going to bring a new spin on his first studio movie. Patricia Clarkson and me and Agnes Bruckner is the young girl. I get to play dads now. I’m old enough to play dads.
Is that a good or a bad thing?
That’s a great thing. That’s fantastic. Let the girl [do it.] She’s getting covered in dirt and blood. Everything happens to her and then dad shows up, “Hey, everything okay, Honey?” It’s a great situation. I don’t have to get covered in nearly as much blood.
And the prosthetics are properly cut down as well.
Everything gets cut down. It’s perfect. I have no problem aging on film.
I have to do the fanboy stuff because if I don’t people will write in and complain that I didn’t. So let’s start with the Evil Dead remake. What can you tell me about it?
Sure. The remake will probably happen. We’re not really apologetic about it because we feel it’s our series to do with what we wish. We’re not resurrecting somebody else’s 30-year-old series. It’s our own, and we’re going to treat it extremely carefully.
So these big fans, part of the “say it ain’t so” group of people, who are disturbed by the idea. You know look, we’re going to figure out a cool story to tell that will hopefully be scary like the Evil Dead movies. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have a character named Ash walking around.
That’s a work in progress. It’s probably a couple of years away. It probably will get made. I will not be in it. What am I going to play? The old guy at the bait shop? (Cheesy voice) “Careful kids! I’ve heard stories about that cabin!” You know. That’s just a side project for us.
Now [Evil Dead] Part IV, which I know is the other question: People just have to understand the current logic of events. [Evil Dead and Spider-Man director] Sam Raimi’s not an idiot. He’s got a pretty good deal going right now. So he’s going to spend most of his waking hours doing that.
I think when he’s no longer able to do that is when he’ll go, “Hey, what about those Evil Dead movies?” And who can blame him? I’ve got plenty of stuff to keep me busy.
So I actually think that one day it will get made. But it will have to be after things settle down. Because right now, Sam’s a golden boy.
He’s also not going to make a $100 million version of Evil Dead. That’s why you got to wait until he’s ready to do something else.
Evil Dead probably doesn’t really need $100 million to tell the type of stories you want to tell.
We’d never have $100 million.
You mentioned how small budgets let you do more personal projects, but Sam’s work on the Spider-Man pictures shows the value of marrying vision with money.
Sam needs big-budget movies. From the first Evil Dead, his ideas were always big, and always difficult to pull off, and always complicated. That’s really been his M.O. He’s not a difficult man, he just has difficult ideas to pull off. But then the finished result is generally pretty fun. We were never able in the Evil Dead movies…I felt bad because we were never able to give him the support that he needed as producers. He needs a big budget. He needs time to shoot. He needs lots of effects. He needs to be able to do these crazy shots – depending on what your movie is.
I think he’s that pig in that trough right now. Now if he can think it he can do it.
I’m glad that in the talks with the remake and the sequel, there’s no talk of doing the kind of thing Lucas did with the original Star Wars trilogy.
I think that’s a crime. It’s a cowardice act. It’s unfortunate, but he can afford to cheat.
Well, I’ve exhausted my short list of smart-sounding questions. Is there anything else I missed?
No, I think you pretty much got it all. I do encourage people to go to the website, bruce-campbell.com. Only because people always go, (nasally annoying voice) “Where you gonna be? Where you gonna be?” And the answer is there.
Do they sound like that?
They sound exactly like that.
Check out Bruce's site to find out when he's coming to your town! If you're in Sacramento on June 11th, Bruce will be signing copies of his new book at Borders AND screening his movie The Man With The Screaming Brain at The Crest Theater. CLICK HERE for more details.
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