The movie and TV star talks about his work on the Evil Dead trilogy,
Bruce Campbell is best known to horror fans as the star of the Evil Dead trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness), which combined gore and witty kitsch to create films that stand as classics in the genre. He's also worked on numerous other movies (Congo, Escape From L.A., The Hudsucker Proxy), and had his own television series, Fox's The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. The Onion recently spoke to Campbell about everything from The Evil Dead to whether TV's Ellen will finally come out of the closet.
The Onion: I just saw one of your movies, Maniac Cop, last night.
Bruce Campbell: I pity you.
O: Actually, I enjoyed it in its own right. You went on to make a sequel after that.
BC: Yeah, but I got killed off in about 10 minutes.
O: I haven't seen it. I'm guessing I probably shouldn't.
BC: Well, it depends on how much you liked the first one. It's like any sequel: If you like the first one, rent the second one. If you didn't like the first one, don't see the second one.
O: How do you see yourself fitting into the pantheon of actors in sequels?
BC: Well, I've got a few Roman numerals. I think every actor would love to have a few Roman numerals after some of his movies. It proves that the other ones are 'successful.' You've gotta have a few of them. I don't know. What's your point?
O: I'm just trying to feel out what kind of projects you look for.
BC: I don't look for sequels. I've been in some part twos and not been in the part ones.
O: Which films in particular?
BC: I'm trying to think here. I know it happens. I know it happens. I'll think of it. I was in three Evil Dead movies, two Maniac Cop movies… Um… The closest thing I can see is recurring in television roles where you come back time and time again.
O: What other television roles have you done besides The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.?
BC: I've done heaps of them. I've recurred on Lois & Clark, the Superman show; I did seven episodes of Ellen last year. I've done two TV movies last year, then a bunch of other guest-star stuff.
O: So you've been keeping yourself busy.
BC: Extremely busy. Last year, aside from Evil Dead and Brisco, was financially my best year ever.
O: What do you look for when you're going for a part?
BC: I look for the part itself. I look for the story and the role. If there's no money, but it's a good part in a good role, I'll still consider it. Basically, the worse the role is, the worse the story is, and the more they'll have to pay me. It's a simple correlation.
O: Is there an equation like: Crap + Much Money = Maybe?
BC: Yeah. Basically.
O: Is there a part that you don't think you'd take?
BC: There are plenty of parts I haven't taken. I turned down more stuff last year than I didn't.
O: Do people who are familiar with you solely from the Evil Dead stuff come to you expecting you to take less money in crummy roles?
BC: No, I made a heck of a lot of money in the Evil Dead movies.
O: I know, but they have reputations for being lower-budget…
BC: Well, here's the bottom line: If they offer it, I don't take it. I get paid what I feel I'm worth.
O: You're also directing as well.
BC: Yeah, I've directed several episodes of Hercules.
O: Are those filmed in New Zealand?
BC: Yep. I just got back.
O: Why is it shot in New Zealand?
BC: Mainly money. They get 60 cents on the dollar in savings. A buck [spent] here is 60 cents there. They go there so they can save some dough. And it's a beautiful place. They have enough of a crew base there, and they don't have the full-on unions that we have here. They can do expensive stuff that's not all that expensive, so it's better all around. You can spend more money on production values and effects. Both Herc and Xena have a lot of effects.
O: Do you write any of the episodes?
BC: No, I have not done that yet.
O: Have you done any screenwriting?
BC: Well, I'm in the wacky world of the Writers' Guild of America. I had a couple stories that made it into movies. Two story ideas got made into movies. Beyond that, I've been writing for television recently, because that seems to be the way to go.
O: Scripts that have been produced?
BC: No, at this point, nothing has been produced. It's a completely different game you've got to get into.
O: You use the 'game' analogy. Would you say this is a fun game for you?
BC: Well, there are gaming elements to it. I can't let myself take it that seriously. It's all make-believe. I'm not going to lose any sleep over this industry. I went through a divorce partially because of this industry, so I no longer give it my full attention. I won't give it my life anymore.
O: How long did you give it your life?
BC: I gave it my every waking hour from 1979 to 1989, about 10 years. Then, from 1989 to 1997, it's been less time to better effect.
O: Have you concentrated more on the craft itself?
BC: Uh, no. I've just not said yes to everything. I started saying no in about 1989.
O: Have you ever watched a Jim Carrey movie like The Mask and said, "I could do that better and get paid a lot more"?
BC: Ah, I try not to play that game either. The "I'm better than you" game. He was in it, and that was a very appropriate role for him. I never have any sour grapes, you know? There have been very few instances where I have not gotten something and it turned into a big hit. Most of the stuff I miss out on turns into a bomb. I don't mean that arrogantly. It's just the way it turns out. I don't really feel like I've missed anything.
O: I know you have some production credits as well.
BC: I co-produced all three Evil Dead movies. I produced another something called Lunatics: A Love Story. I co-produced a picture called Crimewave. I executive-produced a picture called Easy Wheels. I'm scheduled to be one of the executive producers of a television deal at Disney. Whenever it comes to fruition, I'll be one of the executive producers. I've been involved in about five projects.
O: What do your production duties entail in those projects?
BC: As a producer? Anything that a producer does. Casting, budget scheduling, locations, post-production, editing. I've done my own foley. I've done post-production sound. Sitting and rotting in studios for hours.
O: I'm surprised you've chosen to dip into so many aspects of the business.
BC: I love the whole shebang. It's like a factory worker: Every factory worker loves job rotation. That's what I consider it.
O: Expect the Hollywood factory produces dreams!
BC: [Sarcastically] Yeah. I guess.
O: Where would you say bad taste ends and kitsch begins in the movies you work on?
BC: It's a fine line. Some people think the first Evil Dead movie was hilarious. Other people thought it was reprehensible.
O: I remember seeing the review on Siskel & Ebert when it came out.
BC: Well, the first one got "Dog of the Week." The second one got sort of a guilty pleasure. I don't know if they bothered to review Army of Darkness.
O: Did you stop paying attention to reviews at that point?
BC: I stopped paying attention to them after we saw the gamut on the first Evil Dead movie.
O: What else do you see yourself working on in the future? What is your dream project?
BC: Believe it or not, I don't have a single dream project. I have a number of dream projects. It's projects with different sensibilities. I wrote a script about logging in the Northwest. I have another project about a broken-down actor who goes to do dinner theater in a small town and redeems himself. You know, lots of weird stuff. It's not all splatter. That was just a fluke: We made a horror movie because we wanted to make sure our investors got their money back.
O: If you were to advise someone on how to make a film and see some kind of return on the investment, what route would you tell them to go?
BC: They've got to pick their genre, but they've gotta pick something they're willing to rot on for about four years. That's how long it took us to do the first movie. We started shooting in '79, and it didn't get into theaters until '83.
O: When did you finish shooting it?
O: Were there any continuity problems with people…
BC: Oh sure. They had to go back to school. They left. We just said, "Leave your clothes. We'll take it from here." I mean, it was a real hodgepodge situation. I was 21 and [director] Sam [Raimi] was 20, so, you know, we didn't know what we were doing.
O: So you still work closely with Sam Raimi?
BC: Well, not officially. He executive-produces the Hercules stuff, so I work with his company a lot. I helped co-found that company, so I have ties to it. I left it in '86, officially.
O: You left him as a partner in '86?
BC: Yeah. 'Cause I knew he couldn't always use me in all of his movies, and I knew I wanted to do other stuff. But we constantly work together. I was in American Gothic. That was his show.
O: Which episode?
BC: It's called Meet The Beetles. I get eaten by beetles.
O: I didn't see that one. You were also in The Hudsucker Proxy, which he co-wrote, right?
BC: Sam? Yeah. He did. And he did second-unit directing on it. Now, were you aware of the fact that Joel Coen [of The Hudsucker Proxy and Fargo] was the assistant editor of the first Evil Dead movie? He goes way back.
O: Where did you all meet?
BC: Joel "Give Me A Cup Of Coffee" Coen. Um… We met Joel in New York. We were doing post-production on The Evil Dead, and he just worked there.
O: So, you were 21 when you started this. What were you expecting to get out of it?
BC: You know, it's a rocky thing. We just wanted to go the distance. We had no expectations. We wanted to make a movie, get it in theaters. That was the goal. That's the holy grail. It happened to be successful. That was the icing.
O: When you went back to do the second one, was the idea there to distance yourself from the seriousness of the first?
BC: Yeah. Our second movie was a bomb—Crimewave, which the Coen Brothers also co-wrote. This is back in '83. It bombed, so we had to go back to something safer. We went back to the sequel, but we didn't want to do the same thing, so we did kind of a parallel-universe sequel.
O: A lot more over-the-top.
BC: A little goofier. Our Super-8 movies that we did in high school were all slapstick.
O: So you and Sam Raimi actually met in high school and were doing stuff since then?
BC: Oh, yeah. I met Sam in 1975. I actually just finished doing a movie this last summer with a guy I met in '71.
O: When you're just depressed as hell about what you're doing, and you're on your eighth 16-hour day, what keeps you active?
BC: Well, if the work is good—like I enjoyed very much the TV show Brisco—then I don't mind working that many hours. But if you're working on a piece of junk for that long, yeah, it gets to be a problem. So it can really, um…
O: So choose your poison carefully.
BC: Absolutely, because you're going to get a mouthful each time. You could get an overdose. Be happy with what you choose. Make peace with it. I've done projects where I was angry while I was doing it, and that's just not a good idea.
O: Does it reflect in your overall performance?
BC: It might. The point is that it might. It also reflects on how you work with other people. I don't want to have a bad experience in either case. The trick is that if you accept a cheeseball movie, and you know it's going to be cheeseball, then don't gripe. Do the work. Do the best you can in the situation.
O: Do you see yourself in the tradition of some of the early exploitation stars, like the Roger Corman camp of the '50s?
BC: Well, hopefully I can wind up somewhere other than [Corman regular] Dick Miller. I've broken into mainstream television, so I feel I've already come a little past that. There are probably enough people who know me for Brisco; probably more people know me for that than know me for The Evil Dead. And then there's guys like you who didn't know I did any television other than Brisco—that last year, I worked probably half the year doing television.
O: I try to watch television…
BC: The fact that you don't, that's no reflection on you. Maybe you're a guy who reads books. More power to you.
O: You mentioned American Gothic, and I watched that frequently. And you mentioned Ellen, and I've watched that a few times.
BC: I'm a recurring character as her boss. I play this guy Ed.
O: Aren't her bosses hippies?
BC: No, no. After they sell it, I'm appointed to run it.
O: That's about where I fell off the train.
BC: Well, don't look now, because I've already had my run. I'll be coming back when she has kind of a coming-out episode.
O: Is that going to happen?
BC: Yep. It's been plotted and planned.
O: All I've heard is people bandying about the idea that she might do it.
BC: Well, I think this is the year.
O: That's about it, unless you have any final statement…
BC: If you ain't got socks, you ain't got much. But if you got 'em, you might as well pull 'em up. That's my final statement. It's a statement of self-sufficiency. We should all be more self-governed.
O: Would that put you in the Libertarian camp?
BC: Not quite, 'cause they carry guns. I'm not a gun guy. But I'm all for people carrying their weight.