Italian horror journalist Roberto D’Onofrio catches up with Evil Dead icon Bruce Campbell
ComingSoon.net/ShockTillYouDrop.com‘s Italian correspondent Roberto D’Onofrio caught up with Evil Dead legend and cult film here Bruce Campbell recently for a career spanning interview as only Roberto can conduct. Here it is in “print’ for the first time.
Surely an actor like Bruce Campbell doesn’t need any introduction, his name will always be linked with the character of Ash Williams from the Evil Dead saga. When in 1979, with his friends Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, he raised 350.000 dollars to shoot the first chapter he couldn’t imagine it would soon become a cult hit, although at first just in England and Europe before the United States and that it would span two sequels, a remake and now a TV series.
Since then Bruce has gained respect from Hollywood, he appeared in television shows, directed seven films, written two books and voiced characters for Disney and other big Studios animated TV series. With his friends and partners even founded a production company, but he always kept his feet on the ground and stayed loyal to his fans, starring as himself in My Name Is Bruce (2007), a spoof of his B-movie career. He never loved Hollywood too much and in fact he lives in a small town just outside of Medford, Oregon: “I’m not interested in making a $60 million studio films with a bunch of twenty four year olds telling me what to do”, he often says.
ComingSoon.net: What kind of advice would you give to a young filmmaker willing to shoot a good horror movie?
Bruce Campbell: I believe you should always have a good story, don’t be a lazy writer, write good dialogs, write a great story. If you can tell a good story it doesn’t matter what the genre is, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Comedy, you still have to tell a story, so that’s the number one thing. That’s what it’s all about, we are storytellers through visual images.
CS: How “Genre Movies”, Horror particularly, have changed with the success of television since you began working in entertainment?
Campbell: Well, TV used to be terrible, while now television is the place to be and it has provided a great place for actors to be. Ten years ago there were a lot of actors that you never would have seen on television, and I say to them: Why have you waited until now? I’ve done TV for twenty five years, there’s nothing wrong with it. Everything is changed regarding Horror, it’s not “evil” anymore, it’s not something to be ashamed anymore, Horror used to be very disrespected. An actor couldn’t have a serious career in Horror, we were very marginalized and now, because of The Walking Dead and other shows, Horror is today “mainstream”. If you have forty millions people watching a show, that’s not a cold show, that’s mainstream, so I’m glad for shows like The Walking Dead, they helped, they changed people perceptions, and Horror movies, I think they got us into the same interesting territory. If you take films like Paranormal Activity, then again, they’re trying something different, it’s not all about blood, it’s creepy images that suggest you that you have heard something, you have seen something, but you are not sure. I’m glad to see movies like that come out and explore different ways of scaring people.
CS: You started your career as Ash Williams, how is it changed your relation with the character after all these years?
Campbell: Well, you become a better actor so you improve, because now you have better skills. For me, the first film was frankly about learning how to act. I can watch the first Evil Dead from about halfway on without cringing. When Army of Darkness came around, we decided to make a different type of movie altogether and made an action-adventure picture with the same imbecile. I’m very happy to come back to play Ash twenty five years after I played it, because I have twenty five years of more experience now, and I’m going to use that to make Ash a great character, that’s my goal now, let’s make him the best character I’ve ever played.
CS: You filmed “Evil Dead” with 350, 000 dollars, do you think today is still possible to raise money and make a good movie?
Campbell: Sure, why not? In 1979 when we tried to raise money to make that film the economy in United States was shit, so nobody wanted to invest. There’s not good or bad time. We had to form a company with which we could approach investors and make contracts with them, so we had to be very business like. Everyone thinks that the first Evil Dead was amateur and done in college, it’s not true, we were amateurs in experience but it was all done very professionally, with lawyers and everything, so when we had success with it there was no confusion, we knew who owned what parts of the movie and where the money had to go. Anyway, things were not easy, nobody knew Evil Dead back then, everything had to start from scratch. In the old days we had to go to a camera rental place and give them insurance, we needed to have it, and then you would rent it from them and it was very expensive and you had to get it back by a certain time otherwise they would charge you more. Same with every equipment, same with laboratory work. You had to develop your film and then you had to make it print and you had to get an editing machine and edit it, none of that was easy. In the old days it was a good way to get rid of all the lazy people, in the seventies if you were making movies and you were lazy you would never succeed. Now you can go to your local electronic store, buy an HD camera, you can use an editing software, you can use music software and FX to make all your titles and graphics for a very small amount of money. You can get yourself set for about five thousand dollars, with everything you need to make a movie. Then you go and make a movie and you put it on a pen drive and you can go to your local theatre now, because they all have digital projectors, and you give them this small thing, not that junk case of film, and they show it to the audience. So, filmmakers have no excuses now, there’s no excuses not to be able to make a low budget movie, and you can do it cheaper than 350.000 dollars. You don’t need laboratories, it’s all digital, you need a table to edit all, a tripod, you know, you don’t even need lights anymore, because cameras are so sensitive, and it’s HD, that’s a good enough quality for anything. It’s much easier to make movies now. The problem is always the same, you need an idea, if you don’t have an idea it doesn’t matter if you are Steven Spielberg.
CS: It looks as if there aren’t a lot of good ideas today…
Campbell: There are still good ideas and there were shitty ideas in the seventies. There are a lot of bad movies also in the seventies, eighties or nineties, every decade has shitty movies and every decade has classic movies.
CS: Your name is forever closely linked with the Ash character, don’t you feel a bit stuck with it? Is it a gift or a curse?
Campbell: It doesn’t bother me either way, I know who I am and it doesn’t matter who people think I am, plus everybody only watch what they want to watch. I’ve done many other things that are not Ash, but I’ve been more stereotyped by the fans than by Hollywood, the industry would let me play all kind of roles, because they know I’m just an actor, and I am respected for that. Many fans think I’m just Ash, I’ve more trouble being seen as different from fans than my own industry, because that’s all they watch, the fantastical stuff. I’ve played Cow Boys, I was Ronald Reagan, I did a French movie, I’ve been in “Hercules” and “Xena” and in many other things, but fans like what they like, and that’s OK for me. I’m embracing Ash Vs. Evil Dead again otherwise fans will get mad at me. Sam Raimi made three “Spider Man” movies which made million of dollars, but everybody kept asking him: where is the next “Evil Dead”? I did a TV Show: Burn Notice, for seven years, but fans didn’t care, they kept asking about Evil Dead. So don’t fight City Hall, give the people what they want. I’m going to give you Ash so much that you won’t be able to breath.
CS: Actually I really loved “Burn Notice”, even if it’s not Horror, what do you remember about it?
Campbell: It was a fun show to work on because it was not a Police show, it was not a Doctor show and it was not a Lawyer show, as almost everything is about today, but it had life and death, there were things about right and wrong and justice. So, it was a very good experience because I was not the star of the show, I could add the salt and pepper, I was not the meal. It was a good position to be in, because I didn’t have to carry the show.
CS: What are the differences, for an actor like you, to be in a TV series or in a movie?
Campbell: TV Series are much quicker and faster, I like it, you do more in a day, you are more efficient. Movies can be slow and very boring, I like TV Series and I’m suited for it, I’m ready to go, when I show up on a film set I want to go.
CS: After “Bubba Ho-Tep” everybody’s been waiting for the announced sequel: “Bubba Nosferatu”, will it ever be made?
Campbell: When Joe Lansdale will come back to write the script, the chance are much better. He was the one who wrote a very original story, if you don’t get the guy who is a very good writer, there’s not much to talk about. That’s what I mind about and, do we need a sequel to anything? It’s a very precious little movie, what if we made it and no one liked it? Now all you would remember is the shitty one, not the good one. I’d rather like people just remember Bubba Ho-Tep in some special way in their mind, not some franchise with merchandising and the same crap. I think that’s what helped it to stand apart, not trying to be a franchise.
CS: What do you think of the huge use of digital special effects to create monsters in Horror movies today?
Campbell: Well, there’s a lot more digital today, but digital is not your story, digital should help you tell your story. I like the use of digital in a movie like Forest Gump, because they used digital to make you think that this actor had no legs, you don’t even see the digital and that’s the way it should be. Digital FX can follow a little feather and make it flow, and flow and land at the character feet, that’s what digital is very good for. What we do with CGI in a show like Ash vs. Evil Dead is that we want to have the blood to be “old school”, so we put some tubes and we pump it through your body, but some time you need to hide the tubes, and so you just digitally erase them. We try not to use digital blood, it’s too bad, it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t move right, it looks two dimensional, they haven’t figured it out yet. Digital is too easy to fall back on, it’s a tool, it’s a very good tool, but it’s just that, it’s not going to make a movie. In the Evil Dead remake they use it mainly to hide things and mechanisms, I think it is a clever way to use it, it’s only helping.
CS: You have made seven movies as a director, will you be back any sooner behind the camera?
Campbell: When things come about, they come about, they just happen. Projects are just happening, some take a long time to get the money while other are very quick and if you are working on television you disappear from other things. When I was doing Burn Notice in Florida, I disappeared for seven years, and that restricts you from doing other things, so I never know when I’ll be able to get to other projects, who knows? I’m prepping a lot of things, some as actor, some as a director. I have writers writing many things, I have ten scripts that are ready to go, when I have time, but I’m not going to have time until Ash Vs. Evil Dead is done.
CS: You were one of the first actor, besides Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, to mix Horror and Comedy, what do you like so much of that?
Campbell: I don’t like Horror that’s grim, the world is grim, we don’t need a show to tell that to the world, it already knows it. Entertainment it’s supposed to elevate the world, a lot of humor is needed along the way, because some people don’t like Horror, they stay for the humor or, if you like Horror, maybe you will enjoy a little comedy as well. It’s just a little more of a wink of the eye at it, like everything is OK, we are just pretending that this is real.
CS: What are your thoughts about the “Evil Dead” recent remake?
Campbell: Well, I produced it, so I thought it was good. That film made ninety four million dollars, so I don’t care what anybody says! Some people were disappointed because it was so serious, but there are people who never saw Evil Dead before, and they’ve seen that movie and they were terrified. It’s a scary, creepy, dark film, and that was what the director wanted, Fede Alvarez, we wanted to support him. Even the first Evil Dead was not meant to be funny, it just was because it was cheesy, a low budget production.
CS: Sam Raimi often says that his mission in life is to torture Bruce Campbell, why?
Campbell: When we were younger men Sam and I were performing at “Bar mitzvah”, he was the magician and I was his assistant. Sam was hitting me with a stake when we were performing and the kids thought that it was funny, so Sam was convinced that he needed to hurt me in order to entertain the audience. That was thirty seven years ago and he’s still doing it.
CS: The old Oldsmobile from the first “Evil Dead” movie has appeared in all Sam Raimi films, is it the same car? And how he keeps it in such a good condition?
Campbell: Yes, it’s the same car that has been used in every Sam movie he has ever made, included The quick and the dead, which is a western. They disassembled the top of it and made it look like a wagon, while they took parts of it and put it up on a wall. I guess something wonderful happened on the back seats of that car. They even put it on a boat and shipped it to New Zealand, where we’re filming Ash Vs. Evil Dead. I will one day kill that car with my bare hands, because I don’t like the way in which he is obsessed with that car, it’s not natural.
CS: How did censorship changed since you first did a movie like “Evil Dead”? Today also television is more permissive in showing violence and blood…
Campbell: To give you a bit of history, the original Evil Dead was banned in six countries, only one month ago Germany removed the ban. For thirty seven years they had a ban against that movie. Now Horror has come out of the shadows, but it used to be pornography, we were very close to that in people perceptions. Today because of The Walking Dead and shows like that, Horror is just another genre now and it’s a very popular form of entertainment. We found a partner, “Starz”, that it will let us do what we need to do, but back then, with the first two “Evil Dead” films we had trouble with censorship, although we didn’t put any restrictions in what we wanted to show, and the fans loved that. This is the reason because we have been looking for a partner with which we could do that again, so essentially Ash Vs. Evil Dead has no censorship, it is an unrated television show, and we are very happy to present it that way, not because we feel we have to always be excessive, but it allows us to do it if we would like to, and sometimes we like to.
CS:There was a moment in which you decided you wanted to be an actor? And what advice would you give to a young actor?
Campbell: Yes, there was a moment, I was eight years old and my father was in a play, a local play, it was called “Brigadoon” and he was singing and dancing with women that were not my mother, which was strange to me but interesting, and I remember thinking that it was a different part of my father that I never saw. So that seemed very appalling, and when I got older I joined that theater crew and did plays, and I was eventually directed by my father. If I have to give an advice to young actors, that would be: don’t listen to anyone about anything, if you want to be an actor, be an actor, but you cannot be lazy. If you are lazy you will be an unemployed actor, there are many opportunities out there now, there are thousands of channels now, when I grew up there were only three channels, therefore get up your lazy ass!
Roberto E. D’Onofrio – Sitges Film Festival October 2016.