Chin Up

Bruce Campbell knows why bad movies happen to great actors

"On Crimewave, everyone made a mistake," he says now. "That movie never should have been made in its present form because it was too confused. We just didn't want to do another horror movie. That's all we knew. Anything else would be perfect. The idea behind it was it was meant to be lighthearted, hardly any blood, no one dies--well, very few people die--the guy gets the girl, there was a music number, there was comedy, action, the whole bit. We were giving people everything, and it turned out to be kinda nothing." After that, Campbell, Raimi and their cinema gang rushed off to make Evil Dead 2, hoping to wash out the bad taste of Hollywood with the familiar flavor of Karo Syrup and red food coloring.

Ah, but Campbell was going to be A Star once upon a time: In the fall of 1993, Sandy Grushow, then the head of development for the Fox network, vowed to eat his desk if the wild, wild western Brisco County didn't make Campbell a household name. Grushow was convinced the show would be a hit, just as he was sure the other debuting series that followed it, The X-Files, wouldn't last a season. He treated Chris Carter's new sci-fi series as "an afterthought," wrote Brian Lowry in his book The Truth is Out There, but 26 episodes later, Brisco County wasn't thought of at all. It was axed before the start of the 1994-1995 season, and Campbell ended up taking small roles in the likes of Congo and a Twister TV rip-off titled Tornado! (Still, Brisco County lives on: TNT reruns the show every Saturday morning--"God bless 'em," the actor says--and Columbia House is releasing the entire series on home video within the next two months. Campbell is writing liner notes to accompany each episode.)

One could easily gaze at his filmography and assume his has been a career of bad breaks and missed opportunities; you could easily mistake him for the leading man who follows only the money, which lands him in small piles of cash and large piles of shit. But, he insists, you would be mistaken. He will tell you you're mistaken, simply because he would rather take small roles in big films or big roles in small films. He will tell you he has no interest in assuming the mantle of Big-Budget Leading Man, because he has little interest in making movies for Hollywood. Indeed, one of the films of which he's most proud is a barely seen 1999 French production called La Patinoire, a film about the making of a hockey movie; he likens it to a "Woody Allen-Robert Altman mix," though it was never released in the United States.

Kick Ash: Bruce Campbell's revered among the cult for his role in Sam Raimi's three Evil Dead films.
Kick Ash: Bruce Campbell's revered among the cult for his role in Sam Raimi's three Evil Dead films.

"Look, I live where I want to live. I live in Oregon, so I don't have to play the L.A. game anymore, and that's cool enough for me. The older I get, the less I want people telling me what to do. It's amazing." Campbell laughs. "Between casting people and producers and directors and studios, there's an approach of, 'We're doing you a favor in giving you this role, because you can be in a Hollywood movie.' After a while, I look back and think, 'You know what? You're not doing me any favors. I'm doing you a favor, because I'm going to be the only actor who shows up who's not gonna freak out on you or not know his lines or whatever. I'm gonna be there, so you need to pay me even more, because you're not gonna have a single hassle with me. I know what I'm doing. I'll get in, get out. This can be really painless for everybody, and we can have fun.'

"I don't mean to make this sound so clinical. It's just as the years go by I take a little more of a businesslike approach to the whole thing. I evaluate projects based really on whether I'm going to have a good time, creatively and otherwise. And then the money, you work it out. You figure out a way to make your year."

Campbell often sounds like a man with little to lose: During the course of an hour-long conversation, he damns the entirety of the industry in which he's worked for two decades--lazy actors, corrupt studios and the audiences that lap up their second-rate offerings and Taco Bell tie-ins. He's the link, perhaps, between the famous and the anonymous--a truth-teller among fictionmakers, a pesky minnow eluding the sharks. And maybe, in the end, that's what makes Bruce Campbell such a likable, watchable guy in movies even the blind and deaf can't sit through.

"What kills me is the industry's certainly changing; society certainly has a need to be entertained, and I'm not sure if that's good or bad," he says, and you can hear the shrug in his voice. "Here I am putting myself out of business, but it seems like we have to draw the line somewhere. Eventually, people have to stop seeking the highest ride and the fastest thing at the amusement park. Where does it end? Do you want your face to peel off before you feel alive? I think we get so desensitized to stuff that we need that to make us feel like we're living, like our heart is actually pumping. And I'm not sure if that's good."

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