There are some people who don’t know who Bruce Campbell is, and there are others who will wait hours in line just to get next to him. The 47-year-old actor’s uproarious roles in horror films like “Bubba Ho-Tep” and the essential “Evil Dead” franchise — which he created along with his high school buddy and fellow Michigan native, director Sam Raimi — have earned him a dedicated cult following. Indeed, legions of aspiring horror-show nuts have followed Campbell and Raimi, who parleyed his own “Evil Dead” accomplishments into a career helming Hollywood blockbusters like the “Spider-Man” movies, ever since the two do-it-yourselfers first decided to produce and shoot their own films instead of waiting for a billionaire studio to discover them.
“It’s the old cliché about grabbing the bull by the horns,” Campbell says. “There is no mystery to it, just an incredible amount of elbow grease, and most people just aren’t built for that.”
To be sure, Campbell’s road, which has also included stops behind or in front of the camera at other fandom bonanzas like the “Hercules” and “Xena: Warrior Princess” television series, has not led directly to the Emerald City of the Hollywood mainstream. But that’s fine by him. In fact, his new, side-splitting exercise in hard-boiled Hollyweird, “Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way,” shows just what kind of chaos can emerge when the straight-shooting icon known mostly by his “Evil Dead” alter ego (the actor-author feels compelled to sign his book jacket “Bruce ‘Don’t Call Me Ash’ Campbell”) enters the ranks of the Hollywood elite ruled by stars like Richard Gere and Renée Zellwegger.
Unlike his previous autobiographical tour de force, “If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor” — which became a national bestseller to the surprise only of those who haven’t seen the “Evil Dead” films — Campbell’s newest book is straight-up fiction, a mash-up of noir action and gut-busting humor centered on the artist’s long-awaited jump to the Big Time. In the book, he stars with Gere and Zellwegger in a Mike Nichols update of George Cukor’s 1960 Marilyn Monroe vehicle, “Let’s Make Love,” a movie Gregory Peck abandoned because he famously felt the script was “about as funny as pushing Grandma down the stairs in a wheelchair.”
Which, come to think of it, happens to Campbell in his new book, although he’s no grandma and it’s Richard Gere who eventually does the honors by throwing him down a flight of stairs. Still, that’s just a taste of the abuse Campbell undergoes on his quixotic mission to make the A-list. For the entirety of “Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way,” its doomed protagonist spends more time getting his ass thoroughly kicked by any number of people rather than doing any actual acting. But perhaps that’s the object lesson to be learned in this metafictional exercise in mayhem, which just happens to moonlight as a relationship advice manual of sorts: If you want to make love the Hollywood way, then perhaps you’d better be ready to take a beating.
I caught up with the opinionated and refreshingly honest Campbell by phone from his Oregon home, where he was setting off to visit some local swimming holes before leaving for a four-month promotional tour. It’s strange, but besides being one of schlock cinema’s enduring supernovas, Campbell is also an environmentalist of sorts; he’s currently wrapping up a three-hour documentary called “A Community Speaks,” a nonpartisan examination of the thorny issue of land stewardship, which he produced and directed with his wife, costume designer Ida Gearon. (This is especially weird if you remember that this is a guy who starred in a horror classic where an ingénue gets raped by a tree.) But Campbell’s tongue is built for more than resting smarmily in his cheek. During our chat, he used it to lambaste Tom Cruise, to explain why yesteryear’s stars like Spencer Tracy get no respect, and to confirm for us, once and for all, that “Healthy Forests” is a opportunist’s euphemism.
I just finished the book last night and it’s hilarious. So I guess the first thing I have to ask you is…
Why did I bother writing it?
Sure, let’s go with that.
Well, it seemed like a good thing to do at the time. Honestly, it all boiled down to the fact that it didn’t make sense to write anything else that was autobiographical. Mostly because, as I joked in the book, according to my publisher I hadn’t done enough to warrant another one. So this was a way to put together material that doesn’t fall too far from my tree, so to speak. I’m still a central character in it, and it still takes place in the movie business, but the book is a pseudo-attempt to convince readers that I’m actually going through everything that’s in it. And that’s basically it. Also, the opportunity to write fiction is always more challenging and fun.
Yeah, I had a hard time separating what I thought was fiction from fact, which made it a blast to read.
Well, I will say this: Of all the characters in the book, probably 90 percent of them could be attributed to someone who’s alive. Honestly, the book has many real characters, as well as a whole series of knuckleheads who don’t exist. But basically everyone was patterned on someone I had met or come across, whether he or she was in the film business or just some general idiot. And as an actor who gets to travel all over the place to different locations, I can always go, “Yeah, there was this weird place in Dallas that I remember.” Which is great, because the problem with writers is that some of them never leave the house. I would encourage any writer to do this thing called traveling.
The book seems to indirectly put across the idea that a guy like you, who’s beloved by tons of fans, doesn’t deserve to hobnob with the A-listers on a Mike Nichols movie.
I know, but it’s also a way to say, “You wanna put me in the A league? Here’s what would really happen!” But overall it’s a way of saying, “Don’t worry about me.”
You feel comfortable where you are.
Oh yeah, what the hell: You wind up where you wind up, and as an actor, you have no idea where you’re going to wind up. You really don’t. And there are a lot of A-list actors today who never gave a shit about acting, so it’s funny how the cookie crumbles. But I defend my position by stating that I have the best of both worlds: I can make a living and make movies that aren’t going to be picked apart by a thousand chefs. When you make a movie for a couple million bucks, there are only going to be so many people involved. And usually there are much fewer than there are on the blockbusters, which makes things much simpler. You don’t have the pressure to have that $20 million opening weekend. So it allows me to just be an actor, which is what I always wanted in the first place. I don’t have to spend 50 percent of my time figuring out how to stay famous. I don’t want to devote that much time to that. Although I do have to tour like a mutherscratcher.
The one thing I took away from your early days is that you and Sam did what many artists consumed by their craft do, which is to just go out and make whatever it is that you want to make, rather than take a class or…
Or wait for someone to discover you! That’s just not the way it works. It’s the old cliché of grabbing the bull by the horns, and the cool thing is that the United States is one of those few places that’s conducive to such a process. You can literally go knock on someone’s door, get him to invest in a movie, go make it, and then sell it around the world. It’s crazy. What kills me is that there is no mystery to it, just an incredible amount of elbow grease, and most people just aren’t built for that. They think it works in a different way. They think that you’re just supposed to get famous, or fall into it.
Is that how you conceived of your arch-nemesis in the book, Rob Stern, a studio exec with no discernible talent or skill other than middle-management manipulation? Is that character based on someone you know?
He’s based on the asshole idiot executives all actors have had to deal with at one time or another. Hollywood has this habit best demonstrated by Tom Cruise on “Oprah.” He goes, “You know, Oprah, I help people. I just have a reputation for that.” Reputation for that! This is what’s killing me. Then I heard a comic say to me once, “Sometimes, I just take off and bust through town! I got a reputation for that!” Everyone wants a reputation for something, and again, to me, that takes away from the craft. It’s like, “What are you, an editor, writer, director, actor? Then go do your fucking job!”
Seriously. There was a hilarious interview with Cruise and Spielberg in Der Spiegel recently, reporting that there was a Scientology tent on the set of “War of the Worlds,” because in between shots Tom wanted to help people kick drugs and alcohol.
I can believe that. That’s fine; it’s sort of a way of life for Tom. It’s not really a charity. It’s more like his religion.
He’s got a reputation for it!
Yeah, he’s got a reputation for helping people. But my feeling is, “Shut up and act.”
So are you worried that you’re going to get any concerned calls from Gere, Nichols or Zellwegger about the book?
Nah, I haven’t gotten any calls yet, although the book pretty much just hit the stands. I really hope I don’t get in trouble with anyone, because I’m the dumbest guy in the book. By a country mile. Richard Gere is very calm and professional, Renée Zellwegger is really sweet, and Mike Nichols is completely reasonable. There just isn’t a section that goes, “And then Renée’s coke habit got totally out of control!” It’s fiction. It’s make-believe. They’re public figures, so as long as I’m not telling things out of school, we’re going to be fine. Lawyers crawl all over these kind of books, and no one’s mentioned it at all.