Bruce Campbell on being a B-movie staple on how Detroit, Bob Hope helped mold his acting career
Detroit — Bruce Campbell is a local legend, a horror movie icon and a first-rate ham.
The Royal Oak-born actor, 64, has been a B-movie staple in Hollywood since starring as Ash Williams in 1981’s “The Evil Dead,” the groundbreaking cult horror film he made in Tennessee and Michigan with his childhood pal Sam Raimi.
The pair went on to make two more “Evil Dead” movies — 1987’s “Evil Dead II” and 1992’s “Army of Darkness” — and they are credited as executive producers of the latest entry in the series, “Evil Dead Rise,” which is out now.
As Raimi became one of Hollywood’s top directors, he always carved out a place for Campbell in his films. In last summer’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” Campbell popped up as the Pizza Poppa, an ornery street vendor who beat himself up after being placed under a spell by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange. The small role called on Campbell to what he does best: get a laugh, wink at the audience and send up his own likeness.
Q: Growing up, was there a guy that you saw who did all sorts of different things in the entertainment world that you said, yes, I like this guy because he’s doing all these different things, and I’d like to do that someday?
A: Yes. Bob Hope. Not old Bob Hope, not the cue card Bob Hope that everyone remembers from his specials. Bob Hope did what I call the Big Five, and very few actors have ever done the Big Five. So the Big Five in his day was vaudeville, Broadway, radio, TV and movies. He did ‘em all. And guys like Cary Grant were like, ‘No, I never did television,’ he only did movies, and some guys just refused to do any anything else. But Bob Hope was like, ‘Yeah, sure. What’s this, radio? Yeah, let me do some of that.’ He was at a really interesting time period as he beat his way all the way through the industry. And he lived to be 100, that guy, so he did something right. I really respected that you couldn’t keep your eyes on that guy, he was always doing something else. I think that’s cool.
Q: What did you think was so cool about Bob Hope?
A: I just remember the way he would ad-lib. He always ad-libbed lines and he was always very irreverent and there was always one eye on the camera. I mean, he was one blink away from talking to the camera. In his movies, he never really played a character, he’s gonna just Bob Hope it. And he capitalized on the braggadocios idiot, the guy who brags. He knows everything, but he’s really an idiot. So that’s kind of Ash, the character in ‘Evil Dead,’ he became sort of like a Bob Hope, like a big bragging idiot. He doesn’t really know anything but he talks big, you know?
Q: Who else did you look up to in the entertainment world?
A: Over the years, there were a lot of influences. I was mostly influenced by the old-time actors, the Humphrey Bogarts, the Spencer Tracys, the Cary Grants. Those were all my favorites, because they were workhorses. They would finish on a Friday and they got a new movie on Monday. Actors these days don’t have anywhere near that output. Old-timey actors were making six, seven movies a year. Actors now are like one movie every couple of years. Actors now, it’s kind of bizarre. They invest in stuff like tequila. So George Clooney, he comes up with Casamigos, which is actually a very good tequila. Sells it for a billion freaking dollars. Don’t cry for George. Dwayne Johnson also has a tequila, and it’s a bad tequila. Bad tequila! There is a reason why George Clooney’s is always locked up, and Dwayne Johnson’s has never been locked up on any shelf.
But it’s weird. Some actors do the business thing. Ashton Kutcher just started investing in startups and whatever. Actresses do clothing lines, they do perfumes. Guys promote booze. It’s like they love their booze so, you know, perfect for an actor, right? Let me drink, it’s so great for my craft!
I think actors find different ways to do it now, whether it’s social media, or a lot of ‘em are activists, you know, they’re involved in one thing or another. They start feeling guilty about all the money that they earn, so they start a foundation to burn some of it or help their taxes one way or the other. Every actor’s kind of a different bird.
Q: You’re a big draw at conventions. What do you like about that world, and how have you seen it change over the years?
A: I like conventions because I like the interaction. I like asking where people are from and like, what do you do? My dad was in advertising for 35 years in Detroit, and he’s fascinated in the demographics. He goes, ‘Bruce, when you go to these conventions, pay attention.’ You know, it used to be just guys at conventions. My wife would go, ‘Have fun with your guys smoking dope,’ because guys would come up and give you a little joint, ‘cause they wanna smoke with you or whatever. It was never chicks with motel room keys, never any of that.
But now it’s almost 50-50, it’s almost 50% women. With ‘The Walking Dead,’ horror has become very mainstream. And I’ve been writing more. Once you put out autobiographies, you know, women can read how you were sad about this, and how this or that makes you feel, and you get to be a little more real. And I think women respond to that more than guys. Like, ‘this really made him sad,’ or ‘that divorce made him sad. That poor guy.’ It has evolved.
And women are way more inked up now, too. Dudes are inked up the butt, and women are a close second. I now know what to ask: I go, ‘How many hours you got on ya?’ They all know: ‘40,’ ‘50.’ I have a great collection of Ash tattoos and ‘Evil Dead’ tattoos on my phone. I probably have about 100 pictures of people’s tattoos.
Q: You’re probably used to the Ash tattoos. What was it like when you saw your first Bruce Campbell tattoo? Like a tattoo someone had of just you, out of character?
A: Well, one guy had WWBCD, What Would Bruce Campbell Do, across his abdomen. So when he’s having (an intimate moment), and I’m not gonna go there, that’s what the chick, or the guy, is looking at. What would Bruce Campbell do? I’m like, God, I don’t know. But my dad thought it was fantastic. Walking billboards, he would call them.
Q: It’s great advertising.
A: Great advertising! You ain’t getting that off.
Q: Have you given any thought to easing back on your career?
A: I’m kind of retiring on the installment plan. Like when I’m not working, I am off somewhere. I have a fleet of electric bikes. I have mountain electric bikes, commuter electric bikes, foldable electric bikes. They’re one of my favorite things, because electric bikes have really helped the geezer. Pedal assist is just the best invention, ever, in the world. And anyone who makes fun of an electric bike can shove it, because they’re just great. And I live in a very rural town in southern Oregon surrounded by absolutely nothing but old forest service road, so it’s a great place to just go get lost. And so when I’m not working, I’m not working. I’m a member of my local Elks club, ‘cause it was formed by actors back in the day as an after-hours drinking club. I’m part of my community now, and it’s really fun. I’ve just got a new office that was separate from the house. I realized it was time to get the office out of the house, so the house is just the house. There was no separation of church and state, business and pleasure. And so I’ve been working on that, ‘cause when you work too much, that’s a drag. It stops being fun.
Q: Was it important for you to find that separation between being off and being on?
A: Yes, I live in rural Oregon because no one gives (an expletive) about Bruce Campbell in rural Oregon. They just don’t care. They’re like, oh, you’re an actor, whatever. I don’t think I’ve seen your stuff.