What can I say about Bruce Campbell that has not been already said? The man is loved and revered. He’s a living legend in the world of cult and “B” cinema and best of all… he is a good dude, a fact that I can personally vouch for.
A couple of weeks ago, I shot Mr. Campbell an e-mail asking for a little of his time to discuss the new home video releases of both Crime Wave (a long-lost, all-but-forgotten early effort by Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers) and the new Evil Dead remake. He graciously accepted my invitation for a short phone interview and just days later, I was on the phone with “the man” himself, discussing his career as an actor, producer, director and author.
Before you dive into this marvelous “Bruce-fest,” there are a few things I should mention up front. What you are about to read is great, but has very little to offer in the way of Evil Dead-related content. After you read this sweet, sweet interview I recommend you head over to Dreadcentral.com and check out the Evil Dead half of this lively conversation.
Also, there are two projects mentioned below that non-Bruce-fanatics may not know much about. Running Time is a very cool black & white (micro-budgeted) heist movie by Josh Becker that stars Campbell. It takes the technical novelty of Hitchcock’s Rope (an entire film shot in only one take) to a level that Hitchcock himself couldn’t have imagined… and I totally recommend it if you can find it. And lastly, The Clumsy Idiot was an ill-fated project that was at one time going to be Campbell and Sam Raimi’s follow up to Army of Darkness, but sadly never came to fruition.
So now, without further ado, find a comfortable chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee and light ’em if you’ve got ’em.
J. Blake: So how’s Miami?
Bruce Campbell: It’s getting hot and getting wet.
JB: Is it safe to assume you’re down there filming Burn Notice?
BC: Finishing it up, yeah. We’ve got two more months and then we’re done.
JB: This is probably the longest you’ve been on a project or show, right?
BC: This one takes the cake. Hercules and Xena were each six years, but I only recurred on those shows and directed some episodes. I wasn’t out there all the time, but yeah, this is the first gig where I’ve had to show up for seven years and that’s a while.
JB: Is the fact that it is ending bitter sweet?
BC: Yeah of course, because you get very used to playing a familiar character. So it becomes very comfortable and it’s just fun to do, because you’re not groping anymore how to do this or do that. And usually the writers start to jell as the years go by and the actors learn their lessons and they learn to work with each other. We’ve managed to kind of jell and because the writers have enough time, they got word early enough, that now they can wrap it up. They can tie a tiny little bow and make all the viewers feel satisfied. To me that’s key. I’ve been on a show that got cancelled in the off-season. I didn’t even say goodbye to half the actors. So sometimes it doesn’t end well, but I think our ratings were good enough that they kind of owed that to us, to give us a final season. The funny thing is that by saying it is the final season, I actually think our ratings will be up all season. People will be like, “Well this is it. I might as well tune in now. I haven’t tuned in the last two years, but I guess I will tune in this season.”
JB: It is good to hear that you think the fans of the show will be satisfied with its conclusion.
BC: Yeah, because that is really important. They are the ones that keep it on the air. You can’t screw with them. A buddy of mine, Rob Tapert—who ran Xena—he didn’t treat those lead characters so well at the end of that series and I was like, “You’ve got to be careful, man. People remember that in their heads when they think of it.” Audiences want to see this team ride off in a boat, into the sunset with mojitos in their hands. I mean that’s what I think needs to basically happen, but I don’t know what Matt Nix (creator of Burn Notice) has up his sleeve. He’s getting pretty edgy. You know he’s killing lead characters. So that’s when you know something is up! You’ve got to watch it, because anyone could get handed a grenade at this point.
JB: I think that most of your fans, people that know who Bruce Campbell is, think of you as an actor. I was hoping that today we could talk about Bruce Campbell the producer. Recently Shout! Factory released Crime Wave on Blu-ray.
JB: And in just another week or two, the new Evil Dead is coming out on Blu-ray.
BC: Yeah, well, your life goes in circles, I guess. It is all coming back around in a parallel universe. Crime Wave has been a long time coming. That movie definitely needed to get out again, because there’s going to be just one person out there that hasn’t seen it, that is going to just love that movie. Most people will go, “What the hell was that?” But some people will like it, because it is an early Coen Brothers work. It was one of their first things and I think they’ve scribbled it off their résumé, but it is important to see early stuff—early Sam Raimi, early Coen Brothers. It was our second movie, where we tried to make a studio movie. We tried to make like a fake high-budget movie, but it wound up being kind of ridiculous and low-budget. But there are still some peaks and moments in that, and just the production of it I thought were worthy of a DVD commentary. I had always begged this guy that I knew was eventually going to get around to doing it. I said, “If you do it, you gotta bring me in. I gotta do that commentary. The story must be told.”
JB: Yes and the commentary and interview on that are both great. I like hearing you talk about the films you’ve produced and to hear about that aspect of your career.
BC: Yes it is a whole different side that most people don’t really realize, but it has kept me plenty busy. If you’re partnering with Sam Raimi, as a producer on his movies, you’re going to be kept pretty busy. We kept pretty busy.
JB: You guys formed Renaissance Pictures for Evil Dead and you were a producer on all those early pictures.
JB: I think that the average person and, unfortunately, probably even a lot of people in the entertainment business don’t really understand what a producer does.
BC: No, they don’t.
JB: Can you talk a bit about what your role was on those early films?
BC: It is weird. There are different titles obviously. In the movie business an executive producer puts the money together. They are a guy that knows a guy that knows a guy. They got your money from half overseas, half here… an advance from Sony, etc. That is your executive producer. Other than that he doesn’t really do shit and that’s fine, because the guy got your frickin’ money. He doesn’t have to do anything else. That’s huge in the film business.
Then the producers are the ones that actually make the movie. They hire, fire, edit, cut, mix, shoot… everything else. The executive producers come and smoke a cigar on your first Friday night. “Hey how’s everything going?” They will be on set for about twenty minutes. So that’s why on the Evil Dead remake I’m listed with Rob and Sam, not as executive producers, but as producers. And yet, on the original movie we listed ourselves as executive producers, because we thought that was cooler than just producers. We didn’t really know the difference. (Laughs.) So we thought, “Let’s just take executive producer credit.” We raised the money and we made the movie. It changes from movie to movie, but TV shows are the most ridiculous.
Watch the opening credits of The Simpsons and just count how many producer credits there are. You’re going to need a big piece of paper, because it breaks down into “executive producer,” “co-executive,” “co-producer,” “supervising producer,” “creative producer,” “associate producer.” It is just ridiculous. It can get very convoluted, but mostly the producers are the head honchos that make the movie and executive producers put the money together. Now in television, executive producers, they are the bosses. They are the guys like Matt Nix who created Burn Notice, he’s one of the executive producers and they don’t dole those out too easy. There’s only about three or four of those, because those are the top dogs in TV. Then there’s a bazillion producers, because what you do with a writer is, you don’t give him a raise, you give him a producer credit. So that’s why there are four hundred producers on all TV shows. They are just writers that didn’t get a raise.
JB: Going back to Crime Wave for a second, I take it that it is not a film that gets viewed very often in the Campbell household?
BC: (Laughing.) Oh my God, I watched it the other day just because of all this. “Let me see, when was the last time I actually sat down and just watched this movie?” And holy cow! It is a movie from Mars. It really is and I still enjoy the same parts I’ve always enjoyed and I still waited for the same parts. You know, (laughs) because I’m still thinking about the behind the scenes. The whole time I’m watching the movie I’m like, “Oh yeah that guy was crazy that day.” “Alright I remember why that didn’t work.” “Oh yeah the stunt guy got hurt that day.” You know it was just one series of disasters coming back. Even these old crew members who worked on the movie, whenever I run into these guys on a set or something back in Detroit, they still talk about it. “Oh that Crime Wave, that one was a bitch!” The teamsters hated it. Everybody hated it.
JB: At some point after Evil Dead 2, you decided to phase your way out of being a partner at Renaissance Pictures.
BC: I did. That is exactly right. That is exactly the timing.
JB: Can you talk a little bit about what prompted that decision?
BC: Yeah, it dawned on me and I still to this day have a damn good relationship with Rob and Sam, so that was not the issue. What the issue was, was after Crime Wave… I had gotten shot down for the lead in that movie and that was a big surprise to us. We just sort of assumed, if we’re partners, then fuck it. Then that’s the way it is. Sam directs, I act, Rob produces. You know, we split it up, but once that happened I went, “This is going to be an issue.” So we did Evil Dead 2, which was a good experience. That sort of got us back on the rails again. It didn’t go over budget. It was well-received. So we were kind of like, “Alright, good. I guess we’re not kicked out of the film business. I guess we can keep doing this.” So that left us with a good taste in our mouths, but it dawned on me, just clear as a bell one day. I went, “I can’t expect Sam to star me in every single one of his movies.” There’s just no way. He was starting to be approached by studios and you can’t boss studios around. There are about four guys in Hollywood that can boss the studio around and it wasn’t us. So it really just became clear, because Darkman came up too. With Darkman, I think Sam was kind of interested in possibly having me be in it, but at the same time he was getting overwhelming pressure. “Does anyone know him overseas?” He started to get a lot more criteria for his stars. So I knowingly backed out of that partnership so that I could take my own road. You know what I mean?
BC: It was pretty much as simple as that and I thought it would be freeing those guys up. I still wound up in every other of Sam’s movies anyway. So it doesn’t really matter. I just don’t need to show up at the office every day, but when I’m back on a film set with him, it is just like the same old thing. Now it is funny, because if I trash talk him a little bit, we always get that kind of going and he’ll berate my performance and I’ll defend myself in some obnoxious way and the crew members now, they look at me like, “Who’s this guy giving Sam Raimi lip?” People treat him like he’s a big shot director now. They’re like, “Yes sir. How high sir?” My favorite thing is getting onto his film sets and acting like a jerk and then watching the crew member’s reactions. I’m like, “Hey this is Sam. He’s Mr. Raimi to you, but he’s Sam to me.”
JB: With Burn Notice coming to a close, are there any projects you’ve got coming up that you’re excited about?
BC: I am. I am. Um… it is nothing that I can actually talk about. Not because it is so special or secret, but it is just that a deal is being done for a new show with a familiar… um… (Long pause.) Hmm, what could I even say? It would be a whole new thing. It would be a whole new thing, but it is a possibility for a new show.
JB: Fair enough. Do you have any desire to put your directing hat back on?
BC: Oh I will! I will, because when it dawned on me last year that Burn Notice was going to end, I went, “Oh that’s right. In order to make movies you need to have scripts. Where are your scripts?” So I made a deal with a buddy of mine back in Detroit, just an old time friend named Josh Becker who we did a bunch of low-budget stuff together…
BC: That’s a really cool old movie that like zero people have seen and it is okay. If you’re looking for a cool movie, that’s it. It’s a really groovy little piece. I did that right after McHale’s Navy, because I was looking for something completely different. I was like, “Josh get me out of this studio bullshit movie making process.” “Yeah let’s make this movie.” That was really a fun process, but basically I hired Josh to write four screenplays from four different genres that I would, of course, immediately start shopping upon Burn Notice’s demise. So yeah, I want to get back into the movie business a little bit. I miss it! The three of us realized doing this [Evil Dead] remake, we had so many conference calls and meetings and stuff like that and we fell back into the same comfortable pattern, we were like, “Guys, we need to do more movies. Like what’s happened here? Why haven’t we made another movie?” So that was good. It reminded me… and the movie didn’t bomb. So it will allow us to potentially work together again and I actually have two projects that I would need to go through them to get done… and both of them are very familiar to fans. I want to partner up with those guys on them.
JB: Wow that’s exciting. Can you give me any hints?
BC: The four projects with Josh are a Walking Tall type flick, a psycho thriller, a dopey comedy and a rom-com. The other two projects can’t be mentioned by name, because it would let the cat out of the bag way too soon.
JB: Any chance The Clumsy Idiot will be resurrected at some point?
BC: Oh good God. (Laughs.) I’ll tell you, like Man with the Screaming Brain, the problem with those projects is they go south on you and you don’t even know that it’s happening, because you’ve been with it too long. You don’t even know what movie you’re making anymore, because you’ve been with this idea for like 18 years. So with The Clumsy Idiot, that would be like 27 years later and I think it would just be a colossal mistake. I had my one folly like that and I don’t need to do it anymore. I don’t need to pursue an idea for 20 years now. I’m good.
JB: Out of curiosity, what was that project exactly?
BC: It’s a slapstick comedy. Not much to say beyond that.
JB: Any chance you will be putting the author hat back on?
BC: I am. That’s another thing I realized. I’m not spitting out any more books and that annoys me, because I really like writing. It’s a whole new world, the literary world. And that’s how you get more girls… at your book signings.
JB: (Laughing.) Oh yeah?
BC: Yeah, if you write they go, “Oh, he’s a thinker too.” When the guy with the chainsaw can put a sentence together, they like that. It gives them more reason to show up. So yeah, there’s another book coming. It a sequel to “The Chin” [If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor], because by the time it comes out it will be about 15 years ago. It came out in 2000 or 2001. So yeah, it’s going to be basically a sequel and I’m going to do another tour again in probably like 35 cities. I’m tempted to do it in small towns. Like a medium-sized town tour. In the big cities, people don’t like going back into the big cities after they’ve gone there for work. So I might do like the Gary, Indiana-type tour.
JB: Have you ever considered filming them and releasing like “An Evening of Stories, Questions and Answers with Bruce Campbell”?
BC: Those things have floated about. I did a couple of appearances earlier this year that were a weird kind of format like that, like a larger couple of venues. For some reason it came out of nowhere. They showed Army of Darkness and I did an intro and then a Q&A afterward. That was sort of called “An Evening with Bruce Campbell.” Some of it has morphed into that, because I always try to do a pretty raucous Q&A at conventions and torment the fans, and give them shit and give them lip, because they really relax quick when you do that. If it is too formal they sit there on their hands and they are already pretty socially shy people as it is. So I say it is better just to torment them.
BC: (Laughing.) It’s good. I give them money sometimes. I give out like dollar bills and five dollar bills for gas. You know for anyone that came the furthest. Then the cheapskate who came from a block away, he owes me five dollars. I judge tattoo contests. Yeah so, I don’t know it may morph into that one day.
JB: Well with Netflix and services like Epix, it seems like it is the perfect time for that kind of thing.
BC: And I have high hopes for Video On Demand, because that helps low-budget filmmakers like me. Then you can just go, “Screw the distributor. I’m just putting it on Video On Demand.” Just let people know about it and they can just download it, because nobody watches live TV anymore. I mean they have to really drastically revise the ratings system, because some shows have been cancelled, because they didn’t know the ultimate amount (of viewers). They found out later that it had like a million more viewers per week than they thought. People watch it a week later, they streamed it or whatever. I hope they work that out so the shows get a fair shake! So they go, “Nobody is watching it on network TV, but they sure are downloading the hell out of it. So alright, let’s keep it on the air.” And they need to find a new way to involve advertisers. That’s what drives the wheel.
JB: Yes you’re absolutely right about that. Is there anything else you want the fans to know about the Crime Wave Blu-ray and DVD before I let you go?
BC: I think with Crime Wave, I hope that people like it, because we tried to do such a departure from Evil Dead. If you look at the two movies side by side you’ll go, “Oh my God! This came out of the same Sam Raimi brain?” From that respect, I enjoy it. There’s not a single drop of blood in the entire movie. Only a couple of people die, but it’s basically… there’s a lot of violence, but it is basically like the “Roadrunner and Coyote” type violence. It is very much cartoon violence. So it is not a horror movie, it is a silly comedy. A guy at the Seattle Film Festival introduced it the best, once. He came out to the audience and this was the only good screening it ever had. He said, “Folks, what you are about to see is a very silly movie. So everyone, just take a minute and put your silly hat on and then let’s watch this silly movie.” (Laughs.) And as everyone watched it they went, “Yep! Man, yep… this is a silly movie alright.” And then we actually got applause in a couple of spots, because of how silly it was. So just put your silly hat on when you watch Crime Wave and have a good time and enjoy the fact that it finally came back from the dead. And this was a chance to make the film look good, because there are a couple of sequences that look really good in the movie. It’s actually not shot by some hack. It was Robert Primes who is a legitimate D.P. [director of photography]. So it’s a chance to finally see what the movie should look like. It’s not a crappy VHS from 1986.
JB: Well thank you so much, this was great. I really appreciate you giving me a little bit of your time.
BC: Thank you sir. Have a good afternoon.