September 14, 2002|When I purchased a copy of Bruce Campbell's memoir If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, the cashier at Indigo told me, "You know, he's signing copies of this across the street tomorrow."
"Yeah, how long do those things usually last?" I asked after explaining that I'd be interviewing the Chin-Man himself the following afternoon.
"Sometimes up to two hours!" he exclaimed. Then he massaged his hand as if suddenly afflicted with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
When Mr. Campbell's publicist called to inform me an hour prior to our scheduled chat that "Bruce is still signing, he might not make it," I felt those same sympathetic pangs of Carpal Tunnel. You see, that was at 4:30pm; "Bruce" began his autographing session at 1:00.
He did in fact arrive almost punctually, with Don Coscarelli--auteur of the Toronto International Film Festival entry in which Campbell stars, Bubba Ho-Tep--in tow. (In Bubba Ho-Tep, Elvis Presley (Campbell) and a black John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) ward off mummies together in their retirement community.) I greeted them with, "Long signing," to which Bruce answered, "Not really. We always book four hours."
Bruce Campbell is the Hardest Working Man in Showbiz. If you care to dispute that, you must not be aware that last year, while preparing for the publication of Chins, he had six film projects on the go and logged one season on the television series "Jack of All Trades", plus he records DVD commentaries with greater annual frequency than some of us call our mothers. Capping off his third audition for the dearly departed TV show "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.", Campbell told the producers, "If you cast me...I'll do everything I can to help you make this show a success." He kept his word.
The baritone Coscarelli also slaves away. It's hard to believe that it took so many years for the director of Phantasm and its three sequels to pair up with Campbell, the Ronald McDonald of the Evil Dead franchise, but the wait was apparently worth it: Bubba Ho-Tep is one of the most buzzed-about films at TIFF, nay, of the year.The three of us met in the Mezzanine bar of Toronto's Park Hyatt Hotel on Sunday, September 8, 2002. In the words of William Goldman, most of what follows is true.
CENTRAL: I promised myself not to ask you
if there'll be an Evil Dead 4.
BRUCE CAMPBEL: You can ask it, but it's hard to answer a question that's unanswerable.
you think Sam Raimi's too big to do that now?
BRUCE: He may long for the old days, you never know. Time will tell.
DON COSCARELLI: (to Bruce) Did you read some kind of interview with Sam where he was thinking about doing Evil Dead 4?
BRUCE: He's just a big joker.
are easy to tease.
BRUCE: The ones you tease are the ones you can.
had a good time making Bubba Ho-Tep?
DON: Uh...absolutely, yeah, 'cause I think it turned out good. It was a challenge. I mean, I didn't have to put on the make-up for what Bruce did.
BRUCE: (to Don) You just had to think.
DON: That's harder, that's harder than sitting in the chair. (to FFC) Do you get the Scream Channel?
I don't personally.
The waitress arrives and Don and Bruce order ice teas.
DON: Where were we?
DON: We went on this show, and I think it's the first time I ever had make-up put on me. So they put me in the chair, and they put this stuff on and I'm like, "This is weird." Then I started to think about Bruce, when we were shooting we had him in the chair every morning for at least two-and-a-half to three hours, we had to apply all this stuff on him, and then they have to pull it off at the end. And I was thinking, Oh, I don't think I could do this.
it become a faster process as the shoot wore on?
BRUCE: Yeah, in theory. I mean, we probably shaved twenty minutes off.
DON: If you wanna know something else--for the die-hard fans--when they watch the movie, the quality of the make-up improves.
DON: The first four days of make-up aren't as good--
BRUCE: The cameraman's trying to figure out how to film the make-up, 'cause this is ludicrous. It's like shooting an aging starlet.
DON: And that's what Bruce used to tell me. (to Bruce) I remember--
BRUCE: I looked like an old bag.
that benefit the old Elvis, if he looked a little haggard?
BRUCE: Depends who's shooting it.
if you can tell where the make-up improves, does that mean you shot the
film in sequence?
DON: Not quite, but we did start with the beginning.
BRUCE: We sort of grouped things together.
what made you think of Bruce for the role?
DON: Well I've always been a great fan of The Evil Dead. I was there Saturday night, Hollywood Boulevard in 1983, I think it was. We enjoyed the hell out of that movie, I mean it was radical. The honest-to-goodness truth is--and it's a real convoluted story--but I was actually talking with Sam Raimi and he suggested [Bruce] for the part. And he said, "I'll have Bruce call you."
BRUCE: I like things that are different.
Elvis someone all actors want to play?
BRUCE: Maybe. That wasn't what appealed to me, though. I'm not playing the Vegas, cool-man Elvis. He was a crusty bastard and kind of having a miserable time of it.
you find your way into that?
BRUCE: Pretty easy. Sit in a make-up chair for three hours you're ready to go. I take on the part of the character I'm playing--generally the happy character I'm playing, I'm usually a really happy guy during the shoot. But when I'm sort of a troubled character, I'm kind of an asshole during the shoot.
DON: (to Bruce) I remember I came up to you once and said, "Has Bruce gotten grumpy yet?" And you said, "I'm grumpy every morning, what are you talking about?"
what inspired you to cast Ossie Davis opposite Bruce?
DON: You know--
BRUCE: It was a dream.
DON: Yeah, it was a dream.
BRUCE: It was wishful thinking.
DON: I don't think we had the script. There's a very small pool of actors in that age range and with the right sort of...presence to play that, if you know what I mean. And I'm not sure there was anybody else that we could even think of. I mean, there were times when we thought we weren't gonna get Ossie and we'd have to look at the list--
BRUCE: Who was that..."Don't [sic] call me Mr. Tibbs"?
DON: Oh, Sidney Poitier--
BRUCE: Sidney Poitier, yeah.
DON: But he's got a certain refined quality to him, I don't know he's not as--
BRUCE: Yeah, he's not as (bugs out eyes) enthusiastic.
DON: Of course.
BRUCE: Ossie, he's just sort of like that.
Bruce and Don reflect on this and laugh.
DON: Yeah, to tell you the truth... The final scene when Ossie's actually having a fight to the death with the mummy, it was just amazing to see him do it on the ground at four in the morning, with a prosthetic mummy that guys were puppeteering from behind--
Bruce imitates Ossie Davis doing battle with the undead.
DON: It was right
out of Ed Wood.
DON: Landau, for which he won an Oscar. I was thinking about that while we were shooting it.
think Ossie Davis has a shot at a nomination?
DON: You know, the problem is just the genre.
BRUCE: [Horror movies] never get any respect. They're gonna go, "Bubba Ho-Tep? Blow me. You're not gonna get any awards."
DON: But there are some Chicago critics, they're on our website if you get to go to Bubba Ho-tep.com--if or when the movie plays in the theatre, they're gonna be pushing Bruce for an Oscar.
Bruce rolls his eyes.
Listen to this thing, it's amazing--
BRUCE: Don't go on, it's embarrassing.
DON: (to FFC) Have you seen the movie yet?
ashamed to admit that I haven't. I had a screening con--
BRUCE: Don't give us your sorry excuses.
have read every review of it out there, though.
BRUCE: (to Don) Will we get anymore from last night, do you think?
DON: Actually, the critic from TIME MAGAZINE, Richard Corliss was there.
BRUCE: (mocking) Guilty pleasure!
DON: Maybe he'll do a Toronto wrap-up.
BRUCE: He showed up, he didn't have to.
DON: He must've heard something about it. Have you ever been reviewed in [TIME], Bruce? Any of your films? Probably Congo.
BRUCE: Oh yeah, and probably Serving Sara.
DON: Isn't it weird? Movie like that's a guaranteed review. God forbid you could ever get Evil Dead or Phantasm reviewed.
BRUCE: The Atlanta paper reviewed Evil Dead: "Sam Raimi took every bad idea and put it into a low-budget blender." They hated it.
DON: I dunno, that sounds like a moneymaker to me. Interesting quote.
the title Bubba Ho-Tep kind of stigmatize the film?
BRUCE: (to Don) Is it a campy title?
DON: I don't think it's anything like that. I think it may be an unintelligible title to someone who has no idea. That's why the movie opens up with a definition of what Bubba Ho-Tep is, which is--okay, I'll give away the opening of the movie. There's "Ho-Tep," which is an ancient Egyptian surname, families, pharaohs or whatever. And then "Bubba"--
reference. BUBBA Ho-Tep. I dunno, if the movie gets enough press...
It's funny how no matter what the name is, if a movie gets to a certain
level, that name just becomes the movie's name that people use, it just
becomes part of the vocabulary. If it doesn't reach a certain level--
BRUCE: I'm just waiting to see the guy come into Blockbuster and go, (dumb guy voice) "I'm looking for a movie... Bubba Ho? Bubba Ho-Tep? Bubba Homo?"
DON: That's part of it.
BRUCE: It's a Bubba picture.
it difficult to get the movie made?
BRUCE: To get the money together, that's always difficult.
DON: It's not like anybody would spark to the story. Joe Lansdale--the short story is based on his work--is edgy and different, in a good way. A lot of filmmakers have been trying to make Joe Lansdale books. David Lynch had an option, a book called The Big Blow. We had Kathryn Bigelow, the woman who did Near Dark, she tried to get one of his books. But I had the honour of being the first to get one done.
BRUCE: If Bubba makes money, I told Don we should go through all of his stories, take a look at them, see which one to do next.
it's the very first filmed Joe Lansdale adaptation?
BRUCE: There's been a lot of bold talk, but no one's actually brought the big guy to the screen. Don took good care of him, too. He was happy with it. Ask the writer, that's what I say. Ask the writer what he thought.
faithful to the source material?
BRUCE: All the good lines are Don's.
DON: Yeah, of course.
DON: But I really treated it like The Bible. I really tried not to change much of anything. I added a few things, but the dialogue pretty much came straight from the book, and the storyline certainly.
it ever easier to get a movie like Bubba
BRUCE: It was never easy to get money for anything.
DON: You're always going into uncharted territory.
BRUCE: Any shmo can pick up the phone and go, "Show up on Monday, we're making a movie," and hang up. It's what allows you to pay that person after they show up... You're in L.A., you can get anyone. A producer's a good phone-caller. Well, that's not true, I mean, there's many, many other things that a producer does.
does seem like there was an era when it was easier to get a film like Phantasm
DON: They tried just to homogenize things from the horror genre, where you've got Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the Seventies and today you've got Scream. They dilute it to make it acceptable for mass consumption.
that mean you've had clashes with the MPAA over Bubba Ho-Tep?
DON: Actually, we haven't submitted it yet. And I was watching the movie last night, Bruce, to see if I thought there was anything that could potentially be NC-17. One thing I think about is that rib sticking out, I just noticed that in one spot they're gonna say, "You gotta cut that shot in half." Which wouldn't be the end of the world, but, I just know the way they work.
BRUCE: Um, boy, you've got a couple of words that begin with "f."
DON: It's an R-rated movie, I'm not denying that.
BRUCE: It's so... A guy gets hit on the head a couple of times, I mean there's very little blood.
DON: We do have lubrication. That's where things get scary with the MPAA, when they try to change--
BRUCE: (to FFC, highly sarcastic) I guess you'll have to see the movie.
so sorry, guys.
DON: That's okay.
the MPAA hassled you in the past?
DON: Oh yeah. On the first Phantasm, they nearly gave us an X rating. [The distributor] knew that that was the movie that was gonna save that company. Somehow, their head of post-production went over there, I dunno if he had a bottle of liquor or whatever--that was back in the days that you could do this. And then, without any cuts, we got by... When we came back on Phantasm 2, they just hammered us on the ball sequences.
BRUCE: I remember on Army of Darkness, it was just sad. On the first two Evil Dead movies, we didn't even go through the ratings board. Army of Darkness comes out--this is a movie with talking skeletons, okay? NC-17.
DON: Oh my God.
BRUCE: And you go, "Okay, you guys have got your head completely up your ass." The opening scene of Goodfellas, he is bound, and they're torturing him. He's still alive. The guy sticks him ten times in the opening scene--that's an R-rated movie? How dare they. How dare they.
goes back to genre.
BRUCE: Well of course. Nobody's gonna say anything because it's Scorsese, and it's reality-based.
violence in Saving Private Ryan seems to have set
the new standard in MPAA hypocrisy.
DON: Spielberg has always gotten away with it. I mean, they invented the PG-13 just for him.
for some silly questions. Bruce, you're a big Monopoly freak: With all
these new editions of Monopoly out there, why no "Evil Dead Monopoly"?
BRUCE: There's an Evil Dead board game.
DON: Is that still around?
BRUCE: It came out a long time ago, it's pretty much hard to find now, I think. (to FFC) But no, are you kidding? Monopoly wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. C'mon, Milton Bradley, yeah they'll jump right at that.
BRUCE: No, I think you'd be surprised.
Laughter all around.
BRUCE: That's Ma and Pa, that's like apple pie, Monopoly. That's like teaming up the Chevrolet with Evil Dead. "Have a piece of pie, watch Evil Dead, sit in your Chevrolet."
BRUCE: Of course he is. He's alive in our hearts.
DON: Bruce had an interaction with Elvis but he's not allowed to talk about it.
BRUCE: It was a very interesting situation, I spoke with him on the phone.
BRUCE: No, we contacted him.
DON: We are negotiating to have him make an appearance on the [Bubba Ho-Tep] DVD, maybe comment about the movie.
BRUCE: For the DVD, I was thinking maybe we could, like, get him to comment on it.
DON: (laughs) We should do a commentary! A commentary track!
BRUCE: (as Elvis recording a commentary) "This old guy, he came down the road. He's a good actor."
DON: Maybe we could do something in the voice of, you know--
BRUCE: Yeah, on a separate track! Evil Dead has two tracks. See, now you're thinkin', buddy.
DON: You got me going.
BRUCE: (as Elvis) "Bubba Ho... Bubba Ho-Tep... Hey, what's the meaning of that?"
Don laughs, I laugh, Bruce laughs. Then, uncomfortable silence.
to the IMDb, you two are doing a Phantasm movie
BRUCE: (to Don) How's the shoot going?
BRUCE: You'll find
the IMDb is about eighty-three percent accurate. That other seventeen
percent is a killer.
DON: We've got this cool script that Roger Avary from Pulp Fiction wrote, he won the Oscar.
BRUCE: It's good, it'd be great to do, but it's like any other movie--where's the cash, man? Where's the cash?
DON: We should get that taken off the IMDb, though.
BRUCE: Euh, it's so annoying. (dumb guy voice) "I thought you guys were making another Phantasm together!"
DON: We've talked about it, it would be fun. If we got the right level of budget where we could make the effects really big--
BRUCE: Yeah, it's a fairly ambitious little script.
DON: And there's an interesting role for Bruce that I think he could have some fun with.
Ho-Tep was the first time you guys have worked on any project
DON: Yeah, yeah. Of course. We're doing good, we're having a good time.
BRUCE: We'll be doing even better if [Bubba Ho-Tep makes] money. Then we're both geniuses. It's a fickle business.
you a workaholic, Bruce?
BRUCE: Uh, I guess so. I hate to think so, but I gotta admit I am. You know my kids hate me, my wife disowned me, my dog won't bring me the paper anymore. He just holds onto it and grrrrrrrrrrrr.
BRUCE: You know what? Part of me thinks that it's necessity. You make a movie, you have to get out there and sell it. People are always like, "Hey, what movies have you seen here in Toronto?" "Nothing." "Why?" Been selling this movie, we've been back to back to back with geniuses like yourself.
BRUCE: You have to do that, but at the same time it's an intangible thing, 'cause you go, "What if I never showed up at all, and this thing still got a deal?" You ask yourself this question, and then what if you didn't show up and you didn't get a deal and you go, "Oh man, I'm kicking myself, maybe I should've been there." I'm selling my book, and I feel compelled to go to various cities and sell it, which worked the first time around, so now we're doing it for the paperback. It's a weird, necessary evil. And then you travel with work. I live in Oregon, Don made the movie in Los Angeles. You gotta go where you gotta go.
come you don't live in L.A.?
BRUCE: Ever been there?
BRUCE: I wanna have a contrast. Don lives in a nice neighbourhood, nice and quiet, he can hear the birds chirping. You can find those cool places [in L.A.], but I wanted to get out.
not disadvantaged by living in Oregon?
BRUCE: Well here's what I really thought: One year I did a list, I did two columns of where I worked, whether it was in town or out of town. Sixty percent of it was out of town in that one particular year, so therefore it doesn't really matter what state you're living in, if you're always working in another city other than Los Angeles. So I'd rather live sixty percent of the time somewhere else. That other forty percent, they go, "Well, we're not gonna bring you in, you should be local," then those jobs go away and you go, "Good riddance." But it's been fine, the industry's changing, they don't shoot as much in L.A.. They shoot like crazy here in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal... The industry is diversifying. Pretty soon, Don'll have to move to Toronto.
For some reason, we all burst out laughing.
you feel like you're ready to take a break?
BRUCE: From what? This interview?
the book signing and all that crap.
BRUCE: It's weird, we're like firemen in that you work long periods, but then you don't have a regular job. On Monday, Don can do whatever he wants.
DON: That's true.
BRUCE: Cool off. Take the kids somewhere, you go shopping, hang out with your wife. And then, I'm that way too when I'm not off doing some dog-and-pony show. It's weird, during this book tour, I'll go away for ten days, be home for three or four, and then for ten days--that's my cycle. It still probably averages out. I probably work more weekends than most people, because that's a day for screenings and book signings.
do you make yourself so available to fans?
BRUCE: It helps the freak factor. It helps the stalk factor. People only stalk you when they don't know where you are. Why be a stalker when they can see me and more or less date me or something like that, that's my theory. I'm still working on it.
DON: Give them their five minutes, or two minutes depending on...
BRUCE: Ten seconds to two minutes.
do you get rid of a fan who's being incessant?
BRUCE: Tell 'em to leave.
BRUCE: I'm pretty used to that now. One guy came up today and got four things signed, then he stood back in line again and got two more things signed, then he brought up another thing. Finally he's going around the store grabbing things that had nothing to do with anything, and he finally came back and goes, "Can you sign the other side of this?" And I went, "No. You and I are done, sir." I don't know how else to say it. You've overstayed your welcome. And sometimes you see the look in their eyes, it's like, I've been betrayed, you only signed eight things! That's when they meet you in the parking lot--"If I can't have you, no one can!"
BRUCE: We're sitting here laughing, hahaha. Later tonight I could be in an alley with a guy going, "Here's your Evil Dead!"
Bruce makes stabbing motions. Major laughter.
BRUCE: Your questions need to be more focused so that we don't stray. Wait, are you accusing us of straying?
I always ask directors this, how rigorously do you plan the visuals?
DON: As rigorously as possible, there's no question. For me...pre-production, I work it 24/7. Usually it's, you know, eight weeks to prepare a movie, something like that. I always end up starting, like, twenty weeks out. I'm working every day, I gotta get as much done now because this is gonna be something that I won't be able to take care of later. The problem is, if you get like two or three weeks out from the start of the shooting--that's its own race in itself, and I always find myself starting to lag. Maybe I spend too much time, but the thing is, it's also a relief because when the first day of shooting starts, it's comforting to know I will never have to do any more pre-production again. It's closed and I can start.
I did my first film when I was nineteen years old, very low-budget deal, neighbourhood friends. We hired a semi-professional crew. When that first week of shooting was done, we were already a week behind schedule. It was terrible, and they quit and/or were fired. So we have these guys getting into these arguments in front of me, going, (bellowing) "You need to do your homework, you weren't prepared. You didn't know what you're doing." It always stuck with me, and so every time I'm about to go out onto the set, I'm thinking, Geez did I do my homework? So I try to get my shots in order so I don't look like an idiot. That's the long [answer] to a short question.
what about you?
BRUCE: What do you want?
you like rehearsals, improvisation?
BRUCE: Depends on the script and the situation. Everything has to be taken differently. I've been on some TV shows where you're not allowed to change a word, not a word.
being one of them?
BRUCE: They shoulda changed the whole concept, but that couldn't be helped.
DON: What was that?
BRUCE: It was a soap opera that I was in, in a clip [they used] in Fargo.
used to watch it.
BRUCE: How? How'd you get it? You didn't see that.
BRUCE: No, that's a different one. That's not my show. I'll bet you a thousand bucks.
BRUCE: No, she's not in the one that I was in. I was in such a cheeseball local one, it was only on in Detroit. Detroit only.
strikes again. No wonder my memory of you in that was so hazy.
DON: Isn't that interesting. I'd like to see that.
BRUCE: But rehearsals are very good depending on what you're doing. If you're doing an action movie where things are blowing up all around and you have single lines of dialogue every day, what's the difference. Who cares, it's all piecemeal, you're putting it together. Those things are more just meeting with the director to talk about tone. With a movie like Bubba, we did a few days. Scheduling--it's hard to get everyone together in the room. With any kind of drama, if you have any kinda dialogue, sure, rehearse. So that when you get to shooting--people have already argued with Don, for example. (whiny actor voice) "I wanna give it a try over by this window." "Fine, try it!" And then you go, Okay, that didn't work, either. So that when you shoot, everyone's signed off on it. They've already pitched Don. Don can go, "Remember that chair? We're gonna do it just like we rehearsed." Then Don can be very specific with a shot, because they've already agreed to the blocking. If he's got a whole thing planned and no one's agreed to the blocking, [an actor] can go, "I wanna do this by the doorway!"
The only battle
I've seen that was really masterfully handled with an actor was by Sam
Raimi. 'Cause he had to get used to actors who had opinions. He never
dealt with actors who had opinions before. On the Evil Dead
movies, he was like, "Whatever, shut up. Stand on your mark. Don't
screw up my shot." Then on Quick and the Dead he's
got Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo Di Caprio, Sharon Stone--
BRUCE: Then, Russell Crowe was sort of mid-Shemp.
Bruce proceeds to retell the chapter of his book on The Quick and the Dead soup to nuts. I hadn't read it at that point, which of course got me another ribbing; in any event, I've opted to not rehash one of the best parts of If Chins Could Kill here.
"Brisco County Jr." ever come out on DVD?
BRUCE: On DVD? Well, they shoulda thought about that when they put the videos together. The videos are out, I did liner notes for each episode. DVDs would be better.
DON: Did they have the entire series on VHS?
BRUCE: Yep, 26 episodes and a two-hour pilot.
they all aired?
BRUCE: Yep. A lot of people said the very last one was not, which of course was the second half of a two-parter. And at the end of the first part, we're dead.
what I thought.
BRUCE: Our characters were shot by a firing squad. And then Fox didn't air the last one in obviously enough markets that people go, "Why'd you die at the end of "Brisco"?" I didn't die! You know the professor with the...and we save the town and... And then finally, we put it together, that in two or three big markets Fox just didn't air it. "Ah, show's going off the air, just take it off now."
DON: Oh man, how weird. The puzzling nature of television.
BRUCE: Even more, the theme for "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." was used for the Olympics.
DON: You mean they sold it off, or they just took it?
BRUCE: When I first saw that, it was an invasion...I was really freaked... [Warner Bros.] went, "No, this could be used for anything."
now when people watch "Brisco County", they're gonna be like--
BRUCE: They took the Olympic theme!
question. (to Don and Bruce, respectively) What's next for you, and what's next for you?
DON: Starting with me. I'm working on the distribution end of things.
BRUCE: You can joke that Don's work is done--it's not. The independent filmmaker, that's where they earn their chops. They not only have to raise the money themselves, they not only have to shoot the movies themselves without much help, they have to find distribution. Because there's no pipeline for the independent filmmaker, you have to create your own opportunities. Which is why we need to get more respect than we are. We work harder than the "A" people, the little people work harder than the big people because we have to.
DON: Yeah, so that's what I'm working on. Thank you for that, Bruce. Now I'll answer Bruce's question. I'm working on a 35-city tour--
BRUCE: Only 25.
DON: 25-city tour to promote the trade paperback version [of Chins]. And currently he's starting work on his new book, and I kid you not, it's called, "Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way".