Cult actor Bruce Campbell is still most famous for his role as Ash in the Evil Dead trilogy, but has been making off-the-wall movies and currently appears in US TV series Burn Notice. His new film, spoof horror-comedy My Name is Bruce, is produced, directed and stars Campbell as he takes on the challenge of the one role he was absolutely born to play… himself! He talked to zap! bang! about his most recent activities.
Q: Shall we talk about politics?
Bruce Campbell: Hey, whatever.
Q: What do you think of your new president?
BC: I think it’s the best thing that’s happened in eight years. I hope we can get back to a little more of a balanced world. I think it’s huge and frankly I’m astounded that it actually happened, that it wasn’t somehow… he won with enough margin though… That Gore thing, with Al Gore when the Supreme Court stepped in? That was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever experienced. You go, “Wait, so this is a democracy, right?” Perhaps not. So, yeah, I’m feeling pretty damn good, pretty hopeful. I don’t even care if he screws up. He’ll screw up way less than his predecessor. How could you not? It was unbelievable. What kills me is that Clinton gets a blowjob in the White House. “Oh my God. Oh my God.” And then the other president, who’s responsible for thousands of deaths, what happens to him? Nothing. No impeachment. But God forbid you should have sex, because in America sex is bad, violence is good. It’s also true in cinema. You can’t kiss a nipple but you can cut it off with a pair of scissors. There’s something way wrong.
Q: Moving on to business. Whose initial idea was My Name Is Bruce? Did that come from Mark Verheiden (scriptwriter) and Mike Richardson (producer)?
BC: Yeah, they pitched it. I had been casually familiar with those guys for years, but they are old pals of each other. They go way back to high school, I think. They did The Mask together. They did Timecop together. So, they pitched it and I jumped all over it. Then we developed it together from there.
Q: Had you worked with them before?
BC: Only on the Evil Dead comics. Dark Horse did the Evil Dead comic and the Army of Darkness comic. Mark adapted both of those.
Q: Did you have much script input yourself?
BC: I did several drafts of my own. As a director, the writer hands you a script and then I have to go around and scout locations and go, “Okay, it can’t be this. It’s now this,” so you have to adapt it that way, to meet the reality of your budget. It can’t be 80 townspeople; it’s 30 or whatever. And the second pass I did was as an actor. Because I’m Bruce Campbell I know way more inside stuff than anybody. I can put in all those twisted conversations with fans that actually existed verbatim. So there are sequences in the movie that are word-for-word out of fans’ mouths that only I know.
You can’t kiss a nipple but you can cut it off with a pair of scissors.
Q: You produced and directed the movie as well as starring in it. Did that put a lot more pressure on you?
BC: No, it’s liberating. You don’t have to answer to anybody. If I’m going to make a low budget movie I don’t want to have eight people telling me what to do. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. I had one person to answer to and that was Mike Richardson who, ironically, loves movies.
Q: He’s the one.
BC: Yeah, I think he’s “the one” because he doesn’t live in Los Angeles. I’m continually shocked by how much contempt executives have for the motion pictures they make. These are guys with business degrees. They push widgets around all day and a movie is just a widget. “Let’s get that widget out. Keep that widget cheap.”
Q: Mike’s not like that.
BC: No, the spores haven’t gotten to him yet.
Q: There’s some nice ‘stunt casting’ in the film.
BC: Yeah, that was important. If you’re going to make a “fan-based” movie you’ve got to throw some bones out there. We made sure that all three Evil Dead movies were represented. Ted Raimi, of course, has been in all of them. Ellen Sandweiss was in the first one and then I got guys from the second and the third, so that was very intentional.
Q: And fun.
BC: Oh yeah, they’re all pals. They’re old friends so it was a chance to come back and work together again in a completely different setup.
Q: Additionally, there are quite a few new faces in the movie.
BC: My leading lady [Grace Thorsen] is local to where I live in Oregon and the lead kid [Taylor Sharpe] was also local. To me that’s the fun of it. Nobody’s ever seen these people before. They’re small town people. The story is about a small town, let’s get small town people. And all the extras in the movie were actors who auditioned and didn’t get a particular part. So I just came back to them and said, “Hey, you didn’t get a speaking role but would you like to be one of the townspeople?” and they all said, “Yes.” It was a very organic, fun way to make a movie. I had no actors throwing tantrums on that set. Everyone was happy to be there.
Q: No arguments about trailer size?
BC: No, because there were no trailers. They just went back home.
Q: A lot of the movie is shot on a mini-backlot you had built on your own property. Was that planned early in production?
BC: No, we tried to use our local town. I live right outside a place where the whole town is of national historic interest. It’s a landmark, the little town of Jacksonville, Oregon. We couldn’t shoot there because they were having a big music festival that summer and thats their real bread and butter for the town. They were like, “You can’t shoot here.” So I went, “All right, the only choice I have is to build it.” I found a rancher, a local rancher whose deed for his property goes back to the actual year that they found gold, 1862. He’s one of these guys who never threw away anything. He’s got every vehicle he ever owned on the property. He’s got a crane from 1940. He had Studebakers, he had 1970s station wagons, every kind of strange thing. He also had the most outrageous building supplies you’ve ever seen. There was old barn wood, real legitimate barn wood that he had collected and stacked. All we had to do was nail it up and it was done. It was all aged perfectly. I also cut some dead trees down on my property and got a local mill in. There’s a portable mill that these guys hook up to the back of a pickup truck. They cut the trees down and made one-by-threes, two-by-fours, one-by-eights. It was a very fun experience because it was very grassroots, very kind of school play.
Q: It must have beneficial in giving you more control than you would have had if you’d been filming on location.
BC: I never had to block a street. I never had a shopkeeper going, “You gotta get out of here by five o’clock.” There was no traffic situation. There were no police officers. We actually saved money and, because it was private property, if there were any union issues or if they wanted to picket or do anything strange, they couldn’t come on my property. It was a non-union movie.
Q: So you were very much the boss? The buck stopped with you?
BC: Totally. Yeah. And Mike Richardson. He was the ultimate boss but he pretty much left me alone. If I’m going to be making a low budget movie I want to be left alone. I want to have the ability to do whatever and also the ability to say to the accountant, “Look, I don’t need this money here any more. Put it over here.” If I was just a director they’d go, “Don’t tell me what to do. I’ll ask the producer what to do.” If you’re the producer you simply tell them what to do. It just makes it easier.
Q: It makes you wonder why all actors don’t do it that way.
BC: [laughs]. I’ve no idea. It’s the greatest secret in the world. [laughs].
Q: Are there any plans for a sequel?
BC: The public will decide that. We have plans for a European version where Bruce is broke again and goes to do a convention over in Europe, presumably in Romania or Bulgaria, some strange place. And the creature in that would be a succubus.
Q: Have you seen Jean-Claude Van Damme’s new movie [in which he also plays himself]?
BC: I have not seen JCVD.
Q: What do you think of the timing of the release?
BC: Things happen in cycles. Actors die in groups. They make movies in groups.
Q: There’s a very funny sequence in My Name is Bruce where Bruce meets his fans and is not terribly polite to them. Presumably in real life you often find yourself in situations where you have to take a deep breath and count to ten.
BC: Oh yeah. Every line of dialogue in that sequence was verbatim. It’s all real, including the guy in the wheelchair. He was a real guy that I met at a convention who was easily the rudest person I’ve ever met in my life. In the movie I get to push him in front of a car. In real life you have to smile and nod, wish them well.
Q: So you had your fictional revenge?
BC: Oh, absolutely.
Q: But, generally, you like your fans.
BC: They’re my clients. They put my kids in college. How can you not like fans? As to why actors don’t interact with them, that always leaves me a little confused. They go, “Oh, fans are creepy. Fans are weird. They’re too obsessed. They’re psycho.” No, they’re shy. Most of my fans are scary looking on the outside, but they’re too shy to even look you in the eye.
I don’t like the Hollywood umbilical cord because I don’t want to take notes from a guy who has a business degree.
Q: Has the success of Burn Notice affected how you pick and choose your projects?
BC: No. TV and features are pretty strange bedfellows.
Q: Is it cutting in to your time, schedule-wise? You’ve had a very prolific career to date.
BC: It is. It’s seven months out of your life every year. Sometimes you can do stuff in between and sometimes you just don’t have time. And sometimes you don’t want to. After working for seven months, that’s like working on a Michael Bay movie. I don’t really want to do anything for at least a couple of months. I want to go and hide under a rock and suck my thumb.
Q: Has it made you a household name yet?
BC: Hopefully not. I don’t want to be a household name.
Q: It is doing very well though isn’t it?
BC: We just beat — I just in fact got an e-mail yesterday — we just beat the networks. We’re cable. You’re not supposed to beat the networks. We beat a re-run of E.R. on NBC. Ironically, NBC is our parent company, so we beat our own company. I kind of like that. I’m very gratified for that success because you never know with TV. George Clooney was in 15 pilots before he did E.R. You never know if something is going to take or not. But we go back for season three in March. Back at it.
Q: Can you tell us what happened with Bubba Nosferatu?
BC: Take a guess. Why do you think an actor wouldn’t do a sequel?
Q: Well, that’s sort of why I asked.
BC: I know, but I love to play this game. Just take a wild guess.
Q: You weren’t happy with the script?
BC: Correct. And the script, I have realised over the years, is everything. The script is all you have. A script is the blueprint for your building and if the script is pointing sideways, like this, even with the best director, the best cinematographer, the best actors, your building is still going to look like that. If it’s a funny shape on paper it’s going to be a funny shaped movie.
Q: Was Don [Coscarelli] not willing to bend and allow you to shape the script to your liking?
BC: Well Don — and I give him credit — Don is a stubborn son of a gun and that’s what makes him successful as a filmmaker, because he doesn’t want to be deterred by things. We hit a point where the parts in the script that I liked the least were his favourite parts. We just decided, rather than getting into it and getting into each other’s faces and arguing, we just decided to walk away. Because he’s the filmmaker, he can go and make his movie. He’s going to make it with Paul Giamatti and Ron Perlman. It will be sufficiently twisted.
Q: Was Joe Lansdale not involved in the writing?
BC: No, and for me that was the first sign. If that wasn’t the case, I was like, “Why not? Why wasnt he?” That’s all I have to say on that.
Q: My Name Is Bruce captures the independent spirit of your earlier films and that seems to be more of an aesthetic thing than a budgetary thing. Do you particularly like that independent feel and spirit?
BC: I do. I don’t like the Hollywood umbilical cord because I don’t want to take notes from a guy who has a business degree. I just don’t. Hollywood is always a horrible collision of art versus commerce. I’m kind of amazed that any good movies come out of that system. If you really think about it, you’ve got guys who are bean counters making movies. Yet, if it was all run by artists the trains wouldn’t run on time. Everyone would be irresponsible and they’d never get anything done. I guess you probably need a little bit of that, but I’ll take as little as possible of that financial oversight because I don’t want to go over budget. I hate the concept of going over budget. I don’t need a guy to tell me to not go over budget and if you empower me with the tools to steal money from one budget category and put it into the other I can be a very good ally, as a producer-director-actor, in making it happen in an efficient, timely manner. It gives us a reverse arrogance. An electrician said this to me one time on a TV show that we were doing. He said, “We can do what the feature guys can do. We can slow down and spend more money. Can they speed up and spend less money?” And the answer is usually no. I’d like to take Martin Scorsese and ask him to shoot a television show in seven days. Now, he might be able to do it because he comes from Mean Streets… he would grab the camera and shoot it himself, but a lot of filmmakers can’t do it. If you can make a B-movie, you can do anything. That’s my theory.
My Name is Bruce is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday, March 2nd.