Bruce Campbell straddles the fine line between horror and humor like a prize-winning rodeo clown. He’s come a long way from that cryptic triptych: Evil Dead 1, 2 and 3 (aka Army of Darkness).
He’ll be signing his brand-spanking-new autobiography, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a “B” Movie Actor, this Sunday at 2 p.m. at Thomas Video in Clawson, only a few miles from William Beaumont Hospital, his birthplace. Campbell spoke by phone from his Oregon home.
Metro Times: How do you feel being in that “B-movie” actor category?
Bruce Campbell: I have no problem with that.
MT: What would you consider an “A-movie” actor?
Campbell: Bruce Willis. He does big Hollywood movies and that’s it. And so this [book] is from a different take … Good or bad, sort of looking at the industry as almost an outsider, yet while being part of it at the same time. I’m taking the perspective of someone who grew up in Michigan.
MT: What’s the story behind the title?
Campbell: I’ve always had reviews start off with, “the square-jawed, the pointy-jawed, the lantern-jawed Bruce Campbell.”
MT: It’s very superhero.
Campbell: Yeah, well, it’s referred to a lot.
MT: Maybe it’s because we’re both from Michigan, but you’re very familiar to me, because you have this style that’s tinged with sarcasm and, at the same time, self-mockery.
Campbell: Sure, ultimately sincere.
MT: I mean it tends to be over-the-top, but I love it!
(Campbell is romantic, goofy, serious and ridiculous all at once, with a striking face that Bob Kane could have rendered to save the world. He’s a Prince Charming who trips over his shoelaces; that swashbuckling pirate who whisks you away from those dirty dishes to some foreign ... well, maybe that’s just in my mind.)
MT: Were you trouble in school?
Campbell: No, no.
MT: Oh, come on!
Campbell: No, I liked to fool around, that’s about it. I didn’t even get in trouble with girls ’cause we were too busy making Super 8 movies. Sam (Raimi) and I met in high school, in Wylie E. Groves High School, right there in good ol’, I guess it would be Birmingham. We met in drama class and had a bunch of mutual interests right away. Then from there we hooked up with a bunch of other local guys who did a bunch of Super 8 movies and stuff, so that consumed us for all of our high school years.
MT: How did you go from the Evil Dead movies to television?
Campbell: Television just fell into my lap. I had done a very early thing on “Knots Landing” as an actor ... it was awful. They had to pluck my eyebrows and make me look really pretty. I didn’t do TV again until about five or six years later. Then the audition for “Brisco County Jr.” came up. Sorta came out of nowhere. Once you get into TV, a bunch of other worlds open up to you.
(Whether he’s playing that hot and hip cowboy Brisco County Jr., or the self-destructive King of Thieves in “Xena: Warrior Princess” or “Hercules,” Campbell seems to grasp melodrama as easily as a baby’s rattle. It makes you wonder if he holds that kind of strength and all-knowing authority in real life.)
MT: Have any of your acting roles ever meshed with reality?
Campbell: They all do to a certain degree. Otherwise you can’t pull off that character. Brisco was elements of me on my best day, where I’m on my best behavior and I’m thinking as quick as I can and being alert and bright and sharp ... Then the character Ash from the Evil Dead movies is basically me at my most obnoxious or idiotic or stupid. You just pull from all parts of you.
MT: Have any of the parts mirrored your life?
Campbell: Oh, yeah, but that’s too hard to explain. You might hook up to a project that has a strange parallel to what’s happening in your life. And then it’s fun to watch it play out ... which one plays out better, fantasy or reality? I have no confusion with reality. I mean, when I come back home, I just watch the news.
MT: If you were going to write a B-movie about your life, how would it go?
Campbell: Oh, it’d be Midwest Boy Makes His Garage Mechanic Friends Proud, you know what I mean? Because you get the part on some TV show that they all used to watch. Some goofy thing like that. See, this book is written for the working stiffs of the world, that’s the point. Hollywood is very snobby. You know, it’s the sort of anti-hero story ... I didn’t grow up to become Charlton Heston.
MT: So how do your parents feel about your career?
Campbell: I think they’re fine. I think they’re just glad I was able to make a living. Because acting, what is that? That’s a weird profession!
Watch for Bruce Campbell in the upcoming films Servicing Sara and Bubba Ho-Tep — with cameos in Spiderman and The Majestic.Anita Schmaltz writes about theater and performance for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected]