B-movie superstar Bruce Campbell is primarily known for playing the iconic, Deadite slaying, chainsaw wielding Ash Williams in The Evil Dead trilogy and Ash Vs Evil Dead. But when he’s not punching power tools into possessed peoples’ faces, Bruce loves to write. His debut book, the autobiography If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of A B Movie Actor, told the first part of his life/ career with that wisecracking, debonair joviality that makes him such a great lead; even when lassoed by intestines and being pulled face first into the arse of a reanimated corpse (see Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 2).
Bruce followed Chins with the unfortunately fictional Make Love! The Bruce Campbell way in 2005. His latest work, Hail to the Chin, is a calamitous, fun clumped account of the last fifteen years; covering his move to Oregon, repetitive car crashing, B-movie shooting/beer drinking in Bulgaria, playing Elvis Presley in Bubba Ho-Tep and many other colourful life/career moments.
After a weekend meeting fans at the Walker Stalker convention, HeyUGuys caught up with Bruce in Titan Publishing’s London office, in the run up to his UK/ Ireland book tour. Bruce was donned in casual attire (no sharp suit today) at a table in a back-office, half hidden behind a mountain of Hail to the Chin copies, which he was joyously signing (then sliding across the table) for store stock. Bruce chatted to us (while signing and sliding) about wising up to Hollywood, his budding love of writing, the sad but likely demise of Ash Vs Evil Dead and his dreams to produce/ direct a Doc Savage film/ series starring Dwayne Johnson.
HEYUGUYS: Hi Bruce, how was Walker Stalker?
BRUCE CAMPBELL: Walker Stalker was great thanks. I hadn’t been to Mother England in about ten years, since My Name is Bruce in 2005 or something. Back whenever there was a snowstorm. 17 inches or so, crazy amount! I remember the pubs were gonna run out of beer! It was bad. Getting ugly.
Sounds like a nightmare. You’ve just dodged our latest snowstorm to be here with your new book. How are you taking to writing now, are you loving it more than acting?
I do love it! It’s awesome. I’m gonna do more of it. Less movies. A movie costs a lot of money. The more it costs, the more execs get involved. A very dear friend of mine who has made some very big budget movies said the execs are all over him like a cheap suit, telling him to do this, do that. People are afraid of this, people are scared of that. People don’t like this, let’s cut it out! It’s all fear based. With this book, I have an editor, a very delightful guy, we have a couple of conversations and that’s it. If this book sucks, its 98% because I suck, and I mean that sincerely. As an artist, I want to take responsibility for my own work: right, wrong, good or bad, success or failure, whatever! I’ll accept failure because I will also accept success.
You collaborated with another writer on your latest book, how did you find that?
With Craig Sanborn, yeah. Long-time graphics guy who also did the cover. He’s great. I went up to where he lives in Portland Oregon, one of my favourite towns. We sat down for a week and started recording conversations and stories. He made the first whack at breaking them down into chapters. We then discussed which chapters and stories should be included. People are always wondering how deep you’re going to go. When you write about yourself, you have to decide on which parts to tell but theoretically you tell only the parts you want to, and only the best parts of those parts.
This book covers your life and career for the past fifteen years, up to the first season of Ash Vs Evil Dead.
It also covers the production of some great obscure films like Bubba Ho-Tep and The Man with the Screaming Brain. Do you think your new book will help your lesser known work find a wider audience?
Maybe, but I never know as an actor what’s gonna go across the big ditch; what’s gonna get to the UK or not. There’s no guarantee that the movies I make will ever come over here. You’re missing out on some good shit.
Have you started keeping a journal to log new film production memories?
I used to keep a journal, when I was younger. Now it’s all on iCalendar. Part of me wants to do a print out of the last ten years of my iCalendar just so I have it on paper. Where does all that go if my computer crashes? Nowhere. It’s funny, our email accounts are almost the best filing system we could ever have because you can put in a search for say, a contract somebody sent you, then just print it out again if you had to. As long as that server keeps serving.
It’s frightening to rely on something intangible.
It is, yeah! The funny thing is about people in the film business and fans is that, they still like to touch shit: the merchandise! This (holding up a copy of Hail to the Chin). This is a piece of merchandise. And in this case (looking at the book), not that it has any value to me personally, but an autograph on a piece of merchandise like this has value. Maybe that’s why books and physical media will never really die.
Despite a lot of movies debuting exclusively online?
That’s true but there are still a lot of people who want to hold, touch and smell an item. In this case (waving book), I think my fans will buy it at a signing to get their Army of Darkness poster autographed at the same time. So I’ll sell the book as barter. Buy the book and I’ll sign that dumb poster.
That’s what you’re doing on your current book tour?
That’s right, essentially. Sort of bartering.
You’ll get a load in. The Evil Dead has been considered a cult franchise for many years. Do you think with Ash Vs Evil Dead, it has finally crossed into the mainstream?
I don’t think it ever will. Which is why it’s probably going to be cancelled. We’re struggling. The ratings are not as high as we wanted and we may have hit that crossroad where a cult movie can’t connect with a pop culture audience. Television is designed for a broad audience; it’s the shotgun approach. We want everybody to watch the show. Not everyone does but the people that do fucking love it. They’re orgasmic! But that number of people is not enough to float a network. So we’ll see what happens.
To me it seems The Evil Dead has always been for the fans. Has the series gained a lot more younger followers who are going on to discover the original trilogy for the first time?
Yeah, for sure! And they’re great. Most of the fans are very docile and quiet. Very subdued. They wait for two hours in line and say nothing, which is ok, but I try and pry information out of them.
It must be quite nerve wracking for them especially if they’ve only seen you on screen before.
Yeah, I guess, it’s surreal. Like seeing your teacher after school. Trying to adjust to meeting some guy you’ve only seen on screen before, who is now suddenly right in front of you so yeah, it’s got to be weird.
Has the shoe ever been on the other foot? Have you ever found yourself star struck?
Me? Sure! In the green rooms of many chat shows. A green room is an international holding station for tea, coffee, crumpets and complaining. It’s where an actor is allowed to approach another any other actor. That’s where I first met William Shatner. He’s a childhood idol. You have to figure out what your approach is in those situations.
The Evil Dead fans are a devoted, considerate bunch. I think horror fans in general are.
That’s right. And what the new Evil Dead fans appreciate is that there is no content restriction for the series, but you don’t get that for free. You can get restricted content for free on your cable package but if you want something unrestricted on HBO, Showtime or Starz, you have to pay for that. A lot of people just want to pay one cheque. They want to pay one bill every month with one platform, which is a shame because they’ll wait for the show to get to their platform but that could potentially spell doom for that show because they’re not watching it when you need them to. We need them to watch it now, not two years later on Netflix. And that’s what’s going to happen. Mark my words right now in this interview! Two years from now I’m gonna be one smart son of a bitch. But right now I’m an idiot.
You’ve always done well at playing the idiot.
Yeah. I’m an idiot like a fox.
You’ve also always been one to get dirt under your nails and dive headfirst into the stunt work. How are you finding it now though, in later years?
It’s harder but I have a great stunt man now: Todor Lazarov from Bulgaria. I met him during The Man with the Screaming Brain in the mid-2000s. Never thought I’d see him again and then he wound up working on Spartacus in New Zealand and got in with the stunt crowd there. That’s where I ran into him. I said “Todor, what the hell are you doing here?” and he wound up being my stunt double again. He does a great job. We beat the shit out of him every year.
How about the younger cast, how are they taking to the stunts?
They’re great. We beat the shit out of them too. Ash has a daughter in this season and boy, I think she gets more blood than I do, so I’m loving that. Get the new punks! Dana (DeLorenzo) cracks a rib every season. I blow a hamstring every other season. It’s physical stuff.
You and Tom Cruise, still showing them how it’s done.
Yeah but Tom’s silly. What he does makes for a great promotion and he does way more than any other actor but what Tom Cruise does is one hundred per cent unnecessary. Any stunt guy can do the same thing and no one will know the difference. I mean you can go “hey that’s great, it’s Tom Cruise” but he has to insure himself. Don’t think he’s getting insured! No one will insure that. He’s getting his own private insurance for those stunts; guaranteed. A Financier will say: “You are not throwing Tom Cruise off that building into that thing.”
Could you give him a run for his money?
No way, he’s a tough son of a bitch. I mean, the guy’s great. He’s a great movie star. He has totally figured out how to be a Hollywood movie star and he’s done it for years! I’m not that disciplined. I also wouldn’t want people going through my trash.
What do you think you would’ve become if you wasn’t an actor?
A park ranger. I love the outdoors and hiking around. I live in a rural part of Oregon so I would totally do something like that.
Is it true you were a security guard for a brewery back in the day?
Briefly. 1987 for six months. Run out of money. Moved to LA, thought I’d have a couple of projects going. Nothing happened. So I thought ok, time to work as a security guard.
I’ve done security work. It’s good for some but others, only when you’ve got to do it.
That’s right. Being a security guard is generally easy. It just sucks eight hours of your life away.
If Ash Vs Evil Dead is cancelled would you consider directing again?
I’d like to! My wife and I have developed at least a dozen projects since we knew Burn Notice was going to end years ago so we’re ready to dance. Nothing big, all small, indie, home grown stuff, shot in my home state.
Is the Bruce Vs Frankenstein movie still on the cards?
That may or may not happen because you’ve got all these weird rights issues. The one game that I am kind of tired of playing is the rights game. If you write all your own stuff, you never have to deal with any of that shit. It’s when you do derivative stuff like sequels and remakes that you always have to get involved in the legalities. So that may go away. There may be simpler stuff in the pipeline though. Enough with the studios! I’m the studio now.
You’ll always have The Evil Dead fan-base to fall back on.
Conventions are good to go to! You can really see what’s going on.
You’ve got the Weekend of Hell convention in Germany next month.
In Dortmund yes! I’ve never been there. I’m curious as to who’s going to show up. What are they watching? Who are they into?
Dortmund is very famous for its football/ soccer.
And for its 50s architecture! Because that’s when they rebuilt it, after World War 2. The allies bombed Dortmund because that’s where they were manufacturing. It was very industrial. What do you bomb during World War 2? The industrial sites. So the allies bombed it and it was rebuilt in the 50s. So apparently it has some great examples of 50s architecture. Plus I think it’s very green, they have bike paths now and parks. I like that. It’s like the second act legacy of an industrial town that has come back… from the dead.
Do you find that while writing, reflecting on the past, is making you feel different about the future?
No. Each book will be different. I will write the third of these in fifteen years: the final confessions. The first one (If Chins Could Kill) was a little wacky in tone, goofier. This one is more mature. The third one… who knows. It may get even more serious. I’m only going to be interested in writing about movie sets for so long until I start wondering what else is out there. I’m thinking about writing a book of essays next. I would rather be considered as a writer than a writer who writes about movies. So that will be the next step. We’ll see if the publishers want to take that leap.
Would you consider writing more fiction?
Yeah, my second book was fiction so I’d go down that road again. In Hollywood, if you walk into an executive’s office and throw a screenplay on their desk, they won’t give you the time of day. You throw a published book down and it’s like getting a loan from a bank by proving you don’t need any money. So, I may write fiction to get it made as a movie. If you can get your book published without the studio, you proved to them you already have value in the market place.
Hasn’t the film business always been like that though? Or is it becoming more so because the market is changing due to the tech and net advances?
I think it’s always been that way. We don’t always like to admit that the arts are so dictated by commerce but this book doesn’t get out there for free. There are costs involved in making it, creating it, designing it, printing it, shipping it: a lot of moving parts but thankfully not as many as a movie.
Was it easier in the 80s and 90s?
Well the budgets have changed. Movies used to be two, three, five million. Then they’d get to twenty and then they’d get to fifty. Now they’re either five hundred thousand, two million or sixty million up. So the mid-range is out. I’m not sure why. A lot of movies are going VOD. When I check through coming attractions for new movies I see films I’ve never heard of before but they’re new and suddenly out now! There are still a lot of movies being made but more money is being spent on fewer productions.
At least there’s a platform for these movies. Maybe the popularity of Netflix will encourage more mid-range investment.
I think what happened was that middle class went to television because that’s where the writers have all gone. In television a writer doesn’t get trampled on. In the US system, the movie writer is typically a little man on the totem pole. In TV, the writers are all producers, so they can have their cake, eat it and say “don’t change my words”. They can enforce that in TV and be more protected. You follow the material, not the genre. So TV is where it’s at.
A couple of years ago you mocked up a fake Dr Who poster featuring yourself as the time lord and put it on Twitter.
Oh yeah that was just a good April Fool’s joke but I was stunned! It showed me how many Doctor Who fans are out there. I thought it would get a thousand responses but this was like twenty thousand responses! I thought “what the fuck is this?”! The Evil Dead fan base has wonderful people but once you look at Dr Who it’s like, wow! I did not know that it was that popular.
Is there an iconic character like Doctor Who that you would love to play?
Doc Savage. I loved that as a kid. You know who would play it well now? Dwayne Johnson. He’s actually the only guy, according to the book, who would come close. He’s six foot six, built like a brick shithouse, his eyes are golden pools that light reflects off. He’s perfect. I’ve read every single one of those books and would love to produce a Doc Savage film, or series. If anyone wanted to get someone really faithful to the original material, who would do a great job directing it, I’m your man! And I’d get Dwayne Johnson. Dwayne, you should option that if you haven’t already! He can get any movie made now, with any actor.
I would love to see that. Thanks very much for you time today Bruce and good luck with the book tour.
Thanks a lot man! Any time.
Bruce will be signing copies of his latest book in Dublin, Manchester and Glasgow. For further details see: https://www.bruce-campbell.com/events.asp. He will also be appearing at the Weekend of Hell horror con in Dortmund, Germany on 7th and 8th April (www.weekend-of-hell.com)