If Bruce Campbell seems pigeonholed by his outsized reputation as king of the B-movies, you wouldn't know it from his resume.
His career has taken him from the low-budget horror debut of director (and boyhood friend) Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” to his current stint as wisecracking sidekick Sam Axe on the popular USA Network’s “Burn Notice.” In between he’s provided a voice for the animated “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” starred in the Elvis-battles-a-mummy-in-a-nursing-home dark comedy “Bubba Ho-Tep,” and developed an army of darkly serious fans.
This weekend, Campbell will present a newly restored 35mm print of “The Evil Dead” at Zombcon 2010 in Seattle.
In a phone interview from his Southern Oregon home, Campbell, 52 (“and still kickin’ ”), comes off much like many of the characters he’s played: witty, self-deprecating and bracingly candid.
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How does a Michigan-born, Hollywood movie-making actor who spends part of his year in Miami end up living in Oregon?
It’s the coolest place ever. But don’t say that in your article. I’m hoping you’ll say it rains all the time and its ugly and miserable and too damn mountainous here. The fresh air will kill you.
What will you be doing at Zombcon?
It’s all zombie based. (Actor) Ted Raimi will be there. There’s a Q and A, signings, we kiss children. If you’re a zombie lover, come on down. The print will be worth watching. It finally got a nice face-lift after 30 years.
You’ve been working with Sam Raimi since you guys were in your teens. Do you still have a great friendship?
I have no idea what he thinks of me, but I consider him a great friend. But he’s an A-list director now. He’s very busy. If I want to see him, I just go to a bar mitzvah in Detroit. He has like nine kids.
In the first “Evil Dead,” you do some major home redecorating by getting thrown through various bookshelves and scenery. And you’re not all that concerned when your friends go all zombie and eat themselves. Would it be fair to say your character, Ash, was kind of wussy?
Of course. You have to go on that journey of manhood with him (through “Evil Dead II” and “Army of Darkness”). By the third one, he’s just the ugly American. It’s an evolution of a filmmaker and actor getting more comfortable with the process.
“Evil Dead II” has elements of being both a sequel and a remake with much better special effects. Which is it?
It really is a sequel, it’s not a remake. Part two was born as an illegitimate child. I would love to do a version where you cut out all the (crap) and then it would make sense.
Have you reached maturity as an actor?
It’s an evolution. The movies I did 15 years ago I wouldn’t do now. In the beginning, I didn’t say no to anything. It takes a few of those to get to know how things work. There are vital criteria to a project now before I’ll accept it. (For instance) I don’t need to work with a first-time director for the rest of my life. They crawl around like a little baby, not knowing what to do.
You’ve been called the king of B-movies, and you wear that label proudly. What place do B-movies hold in the industry?
B-movies have to work harder. We never get the money or time (A-movies do). We are actually the most financially responsible. I would fire a lot of A-movie directors. The nice thing about B-movies is that they only need to appeal to eight people. I’m attracted to a lot of the weirder stuff.
“My Name is Bruce” is an entertaining self-parody, but how much of it is poking fun at yourself and how much is poking fun at your critics?
The movie pokes fun at everybody. I’m treated the worst. Mark Verheiden wrote the screenplay and I took it further. It was made for the fans, not the critics. The critics were brutal. The movie gave them the reaction as if I had just shot their dog. My response to most of the bloggers out there is: Put your gin down, go downstairs, and help your mother make breakfast.
You’ve been praised for performing one of the most dead-on incarnations of Elvis in “Bubba Ho-Tep.” The movie is also a searing commentary on the abandonment of the elderly. Do you think your image as a B movie actor and the horror-comedy nature of the film prevented you from getting more acclaim for that role?
Here’s the scoop: If you don’t make a serious movie, people won’t take you seriously. What they don’t know is even if you make a stupid movie, you have to work just as hard.
Bruce Campbell movies seem to show up as cameos on TVs in other movies. Is this becoming some sort of filmmaking tradition?
It started with the Coen brothers in “Fargo.” I can say I’ve been in an Academy Award-winning movie.
Sam Axe and “Burn Notice” are departures from the characters and work you became known for. Do you ever feel typecast?
People know me based on what they watch. The place I’m typecast is not in the industry. I’m limited by my fans’ perception.
When people recognize you these days, is it for “Burn Notice” or your earlier work?
It’s 50-50 now. Now that I’m older, I am much more visually associated with Sam, which is funny to me. Newer fans will find out I did “old stuff.” It’s always great to have people discover who you are.
Your horror genre fans are quite dedicated. At events, you ask fans with Bruce Campbell or “Evil Dead” tattoos to come up on stage with you. When did you first see your face on a complete stranger’s body?
It was 10 years ago. My record (for most tattoos at one event) is Austin. I signed eight different appendages that had me or “Evil Dead” (tattooed on them). I’m down with that. Hey, it’s advertising.
Would you ever perform in “Evil Dead the Musical”?
The play is too difficult. I’ve met a few of the actors. They hate me. They glower at me. They say, “I have to do this every night.” “Evil Dead the musical” – when it’s done well – it’s really fun and entertaining and when it’s not done well, it’s really fun and entertaining. As long as blood splatters the audience.
What will we see you in next?
I’m doing a “Burn Notice” TV movie – A Sam Axe prequel. We’re going to shoot that in Bogota, Colombia. That will air next year. Beyond that, I’m trying to get “Bruce v. Frankenstein” going – the sequel to “My Name is Bruce.”
Last year you and your “Burn Notice” co-star Jeffrey Donovan visited U.S. troops in Iraq as part of a morale, welfare and recreation tour. What was that experience like?
It was pretty freaky-deaky. It was good, bad and ugly. We rounded it up at Walter Reed Hospital. Our whole policy is to hate the war, not the warriors. I only have a problem with the old guys who send them to do it.
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 firstname.lastname@example.org