"Get The Guy Who's In Those B movies In Our A Movie"
By Dan Epstein

Gadfly: So you’re ready?

Bruce Campbell: I’m ready, baby.

If you’re the king of the B movie, what does that make you in A movies?

In stunt casting, they say, "Let’s get the guy who’s in those B movies in our A movie. But let’s just make sure we give him a small part."

So they usually know who you are?

It depends. I’ve had directors who have hired me because they’re fans. But other times you have to break down the doors; they have no idea who you are. You have to show them. Within the entertainment business, it’s a sort of concentric series of circles of people who know each other. Sometimes it’s a no-brainer; the director says, "I want to put you in the movie." They call my agent and BOOM. Other times, I might get a call from my agent saying that there’s a script out there you might want to look at. I go for it, but there is no way I’ll get it.

What situation was it that allowed you to get involved with the new Jim Carrey movie, The Majestic?

The director, Frank Darabont, knew who I was. He has deep horror roots. [Darabont wrote Tales from the Crypt, The Blob and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors]. The Majestic has someone directing a B movie in it. So he figured I could star in the B movie within his A movie. So I continue to star in B movies.

Do you really recommend that people take a similar route that you did to becoming an actor?

I recommend that people read the book. It’s there as a primer for filmmakers if they want it. It’s just an idea to give them an idea of what we did. That’s what we did; it’s not necessarily the right way to go about it. We made a lot of mistakes. If a wannabe actor wants to read it, hopefully he’ll read it with a realistic eye of what it’s all about, at least from my point of view. Some actors go to Hollywood and bang, they’re Bruce Willis. Other actors have to slug it out.

It seems like a lot of actors are relatives of other actors or directors.

You can’t fight that. That’s classic nepotism. You can’t blame a guy for wanting to use his brother.

You lobbied hard for the lead role in the movie The Phantom, which went to Billy Zane. Were you glad when it bombed?

I’m not a hah-hah kind of guy. I was happy that I dodged a bullet. I was like, wooh, I’m glad I didn’t get it.

I think it would have been better if you had done it.

That doesn’t mean it would have made any money, though. Then it would have been even worse; I had no net loss. Because when you audition for something and don’t get it, it’s not a big deal. But if you get it and it doesn’t work, there’s more introspection. Then the studio would have said, "See, we shouldn’t have cast this nobody. From now on, only movie stars." That’s kind of what it is now. I just saw Ocean’s Eleven last night. Good Christ, how can you compare with that? It’s not fair. I know exactly why Julia Roberts is in that movie. Because [Steven] Soderbergh went, "I could get her; she’ll do it for me." Then the next thing you know, George Clooney calls his pals.

Even the role that would have gone to an unknown, like the Matt Damon role, didn’t.

Of course, that would have been generic actor 28-E. But they got Matt Damon. The only one they couldn’t get was Ben Affleck so they got his brother Casey. Ben was like, "Shit, I can’t make it. I’ve got more shots to do for Pearl Harbor."

Your book [If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor (St. Martin's Press 2001)] is very funny. Did you ever think it would be so huge, like when it appeared on the New York Times bestseller list?

The funniest thing is that it’s not exactly on the New York Times bestseller list. We got up to number ten on the business bestseller list.

What does that mean?

It’s for business books, industry books like by Jack Welch [CEO of General Electric]. Here’s me from east nowhere. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the same joy that we felt when Evil Dead went to number three on the video charts after twenty years. There’s Titanic, Lady and the Tramp and Evil Dead. It makes me crack up and realize that you’re working for some reason.

Even though the Evil Dead films are great and fun movies. Reading the book, it doesn’t seem like they were fun to make.

It wasn’t fun at all. It was the least fun, but creatively it was great. And that’s what kept us going.

What was the most fun?

I have a theory. It’s very dangerous to work on things and have fun because movies that are easy to make are hard to watch, and movies that are hard to make are easy to watch. I did a movie called Sundown: A Vampire in Retreat. They shot it in Moab, Utah, which to me is heaven because I love the desert and the isolation. I had a part where they only needed me two days a week for six weeks. The rest of the time, I was mountain biking, river rafting, hiking and getting lost in the desert. But yet the movie sucked. Those movies where you sit around in your chairs, crack jokes and tell stories about the good old days, those movies are going to suck. But if you’re never back in your trailer long enough to relax, then you’ve got a fighting chance.

Who are your favorite character actors?

I like Gary Oldman, but he has to stop playing bad guys. I would take Gary Oldman and cast him as the head of a Fortune 500 company as the good guy. I think he’s cool. I like this guy Jack Black; he’s pretty funny. He’s got to be careful, too. He doesn’t need any more of the "I’m the funny dope smoking guy, and I’m the outrageous guy."

He wants to do a dope smoking movie people actually see. He’s done, like, three or four of them.

That’s true. He’s a funny guy that’s been in movies no one ever sees. I like guys like that. Some actors make a terrible mistake. They should be character actors, but they try to be lead actors.

Like James Gandolfini.

Well, the jury’s out on him because he’s too busy right now to do a bunch of movies. We’ll see what happens when The Sopranos ends. I think he’s an interesting actor. He has a lot of presence. But guys like that.

You’ve played a lot of heroes, but I think the worst villain you played was the homophobic character who fired Ellen from her job on the first Ellen DeGeneres show. What was that like?

It was cool. It was Ellen’s idea to have a character that dissented. It doesn’t make sense to do a show where someone is gay and everyone is happy about it. There are pockets of America that would turn the show off. It was smart of her to do that. That was just a fluke.

From the book, it seems you have a love/hate relationship with Sam Raimi. What do you lean towards more?

It’s way more love. I hope I didn’t go overboard. Sam loved it. I went to visit him the other day—he’s still shooting Spider-Man like a year after I did my part. That poor bastard. We fell right back into our witty repartee.

He must be so excited to be doing that movie.

I think he is. It’s a big deal for him, and he’s not even over his head.

He’s been prepping for this movie ever since he was a kid.

For once, you have a director that was a fan of the original comic book. For some guys, it’s got to be total wet dream.

A lot of people, including me, are mad at him because now we’ll never direct it.

That’s right. "That asshole took my job!"

Whatever happened with you directing the feature film, The Man with the Screaming Brain?

Some things were not meant to be. We did everything we could.

You direct a lot of television, though.

I just directed some VIP episodes with Pamela Anderson. You cut your teeth wherever you can. But that’s how it works. If your directing resume consists of guilty pleasures like Hercules and Xena, then the industry says that you direct other guilty pleasures like VIP. But you can’t direct ER. But it’s all bullshit. If I can direct a Xena episode with fight scenes and blue screens, characters appearing and disappearing, half-men, half-horse and all that shit, then why the hell can’t I do an ER, where you turn on the lights and put the steadicam?

When is your documentary Fanalysis coming out?

It’s going to bundled with the Evil Dead DVD. We’re putting out a whole big reissue. We’ve retransferred and remastered it. It’s even coming out in the theatres in limited release. It’ll be the best-tasting cheese you’ve ever had.

What is the most memorable moment in your film career?

There isn’t a single one. You never get to the end. You’re never at the finish line and go hooray. Normally you feel like that when you finish a movie. I feel partly the best when my book hit the bestseller list. You’re not connected to any movie; this is just pure Campbell. That was nice. Now I’m playing with the big boys, and I’ve never written a book before. There’s a lot of snobbery with books, and I did it. It was a very good experience.

Have you gotten other book-related offers, perhaps to do another one?

Well, under my contract I have to offer my next idea for a book to my publisher.

What’s your next idea?

I already pitched three of them, and they didn’t like any of them. It’s Hollywood comes to publishing. It’s the same as movies—here’s how it works—and I didn’t realize it until a few days ago. It’s kind of amusing and depressing at the same time. They go, "That’s fine Bruce, maybe we’ll do those ideas some other time, but here’s what we think you should write." It’s based on what they think they can sell when it comes to you.

So they want you to do a genre book?

They want an over-the-top action thriller like one of these ridiculous, not so much Die Hard but bigger than that.

Like an Armageddon.

Exactly. So I think, "Okay, that has nothing to do with the three ideas I pitched you, but that’s okay." We’re going back and forth right now. You play the game. I want them top support for the book. So if I pitch a book and force it down their throats then who knows how much they’ll get behind it. But if it’s an idea they support and encourage, then they have no excuse to back off. If I write it for them, they have to promote it.

That’s the Hollywood aspect of it.

For If Chins Could Kill, the publisher’s expectations were pretty low. The original idea was to print 4,000 copies in paperback form. Then, fortunately, they got enough of a whiff of my following and made it hardcover. I was always lobbying for that because then you could release a paperback later. I think they realized the value of what collectors like, the whole movie geek thing. What happened is they printed 12,500—that was our first run. Now we’re up over 60,000. We’re upon to eight printings now, which was an unexpected surprise. So you figure now they’ll give you anything you want. Oh, no.

You would’ve thought you’d have figured that out by now.

Yeah, but publishing seemed different. Silly me.

In Bubba Ho-tep, you play Old Elvis.

Old Elvis, man. No one has done it before.

Which stamp did you vote for?

Hawaii comeback Elvis. There is no other. Fat suit all the way.

You seem like the type of guy who’d do an amazing Elvis imitation.

Let’s be easy on that amazing. I do a caricature. Plus the good news is that doing Elvis at 68, since no one has done it before, no one can say I suck at it, either. You’re not allowed to compare it to clambake Elvis.

This is the Elvis that used to fly all over the country to get bacon and peanut butter sandwiches.

A guy who’s got to get the blue ones after the red ones. Go quickly before the green ones kick.

I heard you met your current wife on a television set.

My wife Ida, yeah. We met on a movie called Mindwarp.

Were you apprehensive about being with someone in the business?

My first wife was an actress; that didn’t help. Ida was a crewmember; that made all the difference. Crewmembers’ heads are a little more in reality, and that’s good. All I can say is, never marry an actor.

I don’t even like working with them.

Actresses are their own breed. I love them to death, but when you get one that’s tough to deal with, just watch out. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I know all the tricks to calm them down. I’ve spent entire days of shooting keeping the actresses from freaking out.

I worked with an actress. I was just on the crew, and she didn’t know how to die. She said, "I can’t be dead enough." Everyone had lots of ideas.

Yeah, like, give me a hammer. I’ll take care of that for you, baby.

I read that you don’t sign autographs anymore.

That’s the problem with Internet urban legends. If you send me a three-by-five card, you aren’t going to get anything back because you don’t give enough of a shit about me to go to a convention or book signing. This past book tour, I was in fifty-five cities. If you can’t get off your ass and get to one of those cities, then I can’t help you. Change the oil in your car and drive a hundred miles, you’ll make it. I’m very accessible. I like it when I can see their faces, shake their hands and meet them. If I can’t meet them, I don’t want to do it because it means you’re collecting me or putting me in Lucite or you’re selling me on Ebay. Like the guys who come up and want a photo signed, but they ask me not to put their name on it. They want it generic to sell. I don’t know who these people are if I just send it in the mail. Then it just becomes too bleah.

How is the book doing outside the U.S.?

I don’t know. It hasn’t been released outside the U.S. yet. Part of the reason that and places like that are so ubiquitous now is because they didn’t need to release it in England because enough people were buying it on online. Don’t get me started. It’s a whole thing; it’s one of those dumb things. I tell the publishers, "Don’t you guys understand? Evil Dead started in England, overseas sales started it. Why aren’t we selling it there?" We will eventually.

I guess I have to ask about Evil Dead 4.

Go ahead.

How’s it going?

How’s it going. (laughs)

Is it ever going to happen?

Why would it when each of the other movies took ten years to make money? The shortsighted executives at any of the studios don’t want something that’ll make money ten years from now. It’s about the opening grosses, though I think a part four would actually make some money—as long as you kept a lid on the costs. Evil Dead made a lot of money, part two made money before we were even done shooting and Army of Darkness cost too much and didn’t make enough. And that’s all they remember. They don’t remember the other two movies. And on video, they’ve all made money. With Army of Darkness, Universal put out a very generic DVD. Anchor Entertainment in Troy, Michigan, God bless ‘em, said, "Hey Universal, could we sublicense it because we want to put out a special Army of Darkness?" Because Universal didn’t care, they put out the special one. People went apeshit for it to the extent that Universal called Anchor Bay and said that they want it back. Anchor Bay was like, bite me, because you guys were lazy and watched us make a lot of money because we actually bothered to put things in it that the fans would enjoy, rather than the usual studio cookie cutter trailer and boring commentary. You’ve got to jazz it up.

I watched Ghosts of Mars, which was my first mistake. It was a special edition, just b-roll from the set all cut together.

Wow. Just some guy with a video camera running around. So, fortunately, it’s the little guys who know what’s going on. It’s the little guys who wake the big guys up.

Why hasn’t Hollywood learned?

Because it’s all about the quick buck. When movies didn’t cost so much, it wasn’t that big of deal and you could let movies percolate. It’s the same thing that’s happening now in television. The market share is fragmenting so much that you’re not getting the same ad rate so they can’t spend as much on shows. So if an expensive show comes along, that sucker had better be successful in the first two weeks or they’re going to pull it. How many high-profile shows like the Bette Midler one or The Geena Davis Show are gone?

All the Oscar winners’ shows are gone.

They’re gone. They need some b-movie people in there. We’ll show them how to do it.

Are you going to be starring in another show anytime soon?

I hope not. Television and I aren’t real tight right now. It’s a killer; it’s a family killer, life killer and a physical killer. The only thing that it helps is your pocket book, and it doesn’t even help that if you get divorced, y’know. Seriously, it’s a real time sucker.

So what’s next?

Jack shit. I haven’t taken time off in about ten years so I’m taking about two months off. Then I’ll start a new book, whatever it is. There are a couple of movies that are percolating, but it’s hard to get excited about them until they’re real. Then Spider-Man opens in May, and Bubba Ho-tep will come out. There’s another movie I did called Servicing Sara.

That’s with Matthew Perry, right?

I almost have a real part in a real movie. It’s like a third lead—I’m Elizabeth Hurley’s ex-husband. I get to play the butthead of the movie.

Did you get to kiss her at all?

No lip locking at all. I think I kissed her good-bye.