Bruce Campbell on Bruce-O-Rama, Evil Dead Rise and the politics of stardom

Campbell brings his game show/movie screening hybrid to Kansas City April 27
Bruce O Rama

Bruce-O-Rama. // Courtesy Bruce-O-Rama

For a certain subset of movie fans, Bruce Campbell needs no introduction, but here it is anyway: He’s the star of the original Evil Dead trilogy, the TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., great cult classic films like Maniac Cop and Bubba Ho-Tep, along with regular roles on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess and Burn Notice.

On April 27, Campbell is bringing his Bruce-O-Rama tour to the Uptown Theater. Think of it as part game show, part movie screening, and part informal chat. The event includes a “Last Fan Standing” competition where audience members can show off their knowledge of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy for prizes, after which Campbell will introduce and screen one of his own movies, complete with live commentary.

Just a week prior to Bruce-O-Rama, the Lee Cronin-directed Evil Dead Rise, will have its theatrical release. Campbell and original Evil Dead director Sam Raimi both served as producers on the film, which is already getting positive feedback following its festival premiere at SXSW.

We spoke with Campbell about the new movie, Bruce-O-Rama, and, among other things, the less-than-desirable quality of The Rock’s tequila (go figure). Here’s our conversation.

The Pitch: So, we can’t start without asking about Evil Dead Rise. What can you tell us? 

SXSW, in Austin, we couldn’t have asked for a better platform. This movie is the next generation—we’re out of the cabin, a new filmmaker, new cast, and an urban environment. It’s really about the books these days, those darn Books of the Dead. We find it in a new place and it’s a new story. But if you think of it, going back to Army of Darkness there are three of these things, so you can do a lot of different things with them. You talk about the Multiverse of Madness—I got your multiverse right here. There’s a lot we can do with it. Lee Cronin, who directed and wrote it, is the new boy genius. We think he did a great job.

What has it been like to work on the new films as a producer? How much input did you and Sam Raimi get to have, and how much did you want to have?

Bruce Campbell Approved Photo 2

Courtesy Bruce-O-Rama

As the keepers of the gate, we want to make sure they’re in the same sandbox, but also give them some flexibility. We gave Lee a tremendous amount of leeway, though budgetarily not so much. As producers, we’ve gone over budget before. None of that is fun. The filmmaker has to be forthright with us about what they want, and we do the best we can in giving it to them. 

Maybe Lee will complain about this, but I don’t think he will. He got one of the best crews in New Zealand to back him up, really first-rate. We did some stuff that’s a little unsanctioned in the Evil Dead world, but as Sam explained, you’ve gotta let that dog run. If you rein in these guys too much, they lose their interest.

How much of that approach comes from your experience with this series? 

We just hated going over budget because we always got in trouble. Movies are incredibly stupid with money. A certain blockbuster in which I had a very small role had recreated several blocks of New York City, and it was the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I thought, “Wow, some other production is really gonna enjoy using this.” And the production guy was like, “Oh, no, no, no, nobody else gets to use this. Only us. It’s gonna be gone; we’re tearing it down.” You gotta be greener about stuff like that. People should be able to reuse that.

Fiscally, they overshoot so much. One of my favorite tweets was from Hugh Jackman looking tired in the back of a car early in the morning, and he says, “Maybe the last reshoot for Wolverine. We’ll see.” I’m like, “The last reshoot?” So you’ve already had several reshoots. Studios want every audience member in the world to like every scene. These things really get inspected. To me, as an actor—I dunno, man. I like to do my work and move on. 

Apart from the Evil Dead movies, is there any work of yours that surprises you with fans’ connection to it? 

Really, there’s more stuff I wish there had been more connection to when it was happening. I wish more people connected to The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., but looking back, you get more perspective. That show wasn’t just a western or just a sci-fi. I think traditional western people were like, “What’s this sci-fi crap?” and sci-fi fans were like, “Can we skip this western business?” It wasn’t quite for anyone. 

I’ve done some other movies that would be great to have distribution for. I did a movie years ago called Running Time that was in black and white and all done as one shot. It was an early one-shot movie. I thought it was really cool, but this movie was made for a buck and a half and had no distribution. Some things have to be found over time. 

Do you have any roles that got away?

I tried to get one studio leading role in The Phantom. I’m delighted Billy Zane got it instead. The movie bombed, so I’m ok with the result. But it was an interesting process I didn’t really like. I even met with Robert Evans, who was the head of Paramount, at one point. It was great to meet guys like that I’d never met before, but there was a lot of politics involved. I remember I met with the casting director last because I wanted them to know I’d met with everyone above them first. It’s just the kind of bullshit you have to do for something like that. It’s a strange process that wasn’t that organic. I’m not a political dude like that. I like straightforward information, not to have to work my way up or any of that horseshit. I’ve never liked anything that didn’t have anything to do with movies. The rest of that process, I never understood and didn’t want to.

Recently, I was replaced in a TV show that’s now an Emmy-winning show, and they replaced me with an actor who I thought was shockingly similar to me. They paid me for the whole thing, so I wasn’t fired; I was replaced. It’s one of those things where you get on the phone with your lawyer and assure them you were doing your job. I got along well with the star of the show, so it was literally that they wanted something different, or someone had a friend.

I pride myself on being really professional and being a team player, and I have a good reputation for not being a troublemaker, so that struck me as odd, but they paid me for the unfilmed episodes. That’s pretty rare of an instance, but it does happen. You have to do a little soul searching, but you know, “I didn’t fuck up.”

So, you’ve mentioned you don’t like politicking around getting roles. How does that inform your approach to your work?

There are things you can care about and not care about. Some actors are very good at being movie stars, but not so much as actors, because they work it. Like, Dwayne Johnson is half actor and half businessman. He can’t help himself. Like, he’ll tweet: “Hey folks, I’m really excited about that one-millionth case of Teremana tequila that’s coming out.” Ok, you’re selling shit and making a lot of money off people who aren’t buying your movies. But, unfortunately, it’s not that good. That’s my big beef with the whole thing. If your tequila was good, maybe that would be something else. 

Tom Cruise is an amazing movie star. He gets it. I resisted Top Gun: Maverick at first, but then I saw it, and they nailed every beat they had to nail. Some actors back in the day—Paul Muni did a lot of black and white movies; he prided himself on being a different character each time. Studios were like, “Dude, nobody knows who you are because they don’t see you.” You never see Tom Cruise not as Tom Cruise.

I’ve been told point blank that I won’t get a project because my agency isn’t “these guys.” But who says the biggest agent would be better for me? My agent at APA has been there so long we don’t even talk about shit anymore. They know how I work. I like having a good professional association. I just need to look for good stuff.

Okay, time to talk about why we’re really here. What is Bruce-O-Rama?

Bruce Campbell Approved Headshot 2

Courtesy Bruce-O-Rama

We’ve actually never done Bruce-O-Rama before this. I’ve toured with Last Fan Standing, the game show portion, and I’ve done “evening with”-style watch parties before. We thought we’d mix it up and give people a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.

We start with the game show, which was originally created as a military trivia show that I hosted once. I told the guy who created it, “Dude, if you changed the questions, you could bring it into my world, horror, sci-fi, fantasy. Just ditch all the boring shit and ask the fun questions.” We tried that, and we’ve been having a lot of fun with it. 

I’ve also done the “watch with” where I have a clicker, and I can pause the movie, and then there’s no overlap of audio from the movie and me telling stories. It’s kind of a combo platter; game show first, and anyone who comes in can win. There’s no vetting, no pre-qualifying. Now, because of Evil Dead Rise, the studio has given us some swag that we can give the winners. 

You once told Joe Bob Briggs on The Last Drive-In that you’d like to die on stage at a convention. What is it you like the most about that scene? 

I like that we have these Q-and-A’s that can be snarky and fun back and forth. It’s live, it’s real, and it’s not zoom. You’re shaking people’s hands, and you’re there in real time. I’m delighted that the cons are back again. You see the faces of some of these people; they light up. It’s what they love doing. 

When I was a kid, I couldn’t see Shatner. They didn’t have these. Every weekend, I could go to a con in some crazy city. I’m just delighted we can tour because for two years there, it was dodgy, and we didn’t know if some of these venues were gonna come back. I’m glad we got out the other side to get out there and have some fun. 

Categories: Movies