By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Bruce Campbell began making backyard horror movies on Super 8 film as a kid with his pals Sam and Ted Raimi, and in the three decades since, he has racked up a long list of credits. Some are cult classics, some are beloved TV shows, and others are mere examples of cheesy "B" movies that you might watch late at night after a few drinks. He has flirted with mainstream movie-star success, but never quite made the leap, with movies like Congo (1995) and McHale's Navy (1997). He has published books and recently moved into directing, first honing his skills on television and then his first feature film, Man with the Screaming Brain (2005).
His newest film, My Name Is Bruce, is a mini-masterpiece that fans will no doubt rank near his Evil Dead trilogy and up with Bubba Ho-Tep (2003). It's a kind of post-modern, meta-film, in which Bruce plays "Bruce Campbell," a B-movie star who is called upon to help battle a real-life monster, though he believes he's just putting on a show. As with his best work, it's a combination of sheer enthusiasm for the horror genre, some clever jokes, and some sidesplitting, infectiously stupid jokes. It comes out on DVD this week, complete with the requisite Bruce Campbell commentary track. I had the chance to sit down with Bruce when he was in San Francisco last December, to talk about the film.
This movie was a great antidote to most of the awards-season movies I've had to sit through.
Bruce Campbell: We beat Changeling. On Halloween weekend, we were number #1 in per-screen average. We've been slammed by the critics, and it was fun to beat a critical darling, the one with the Oscar buzz. On top of all that, a movie with ass-grabbing jokes can beat Changeling. That gives me my own sense of satisfaction.
What was the decision behind you wearing all the Hawaiian shirts in the movie?
BC: It's perpetuating my own cliché. I wear them at conventions and on Burn Notice. Tommy Bahama shirts. And they're sponsoring it next year, so I don't have to pay for the damn shirts anymore. It's just blurring the lines, intentionally. We could have called him "Dash Riprock, B-Movie Hunter," but we thought we could take it to another strange level if we just called him Bruce Campbell. This is not the Bruce Campbell story, by the way. There's always the one person who thinks I drink cheap whisky out of dog bowls, so I have to clarify that.
But [with] low-budget movies, we don't have to play the test-marketing game to see who's going to like what particular aspects to a script or a scene. I've seen some really good scenes cut out of movies because of test marketing. This movie can stink all on its own. I don't need help from some unemployed guy at a mall, telling me that a certain scene made him feel uncomfortable, even though maybe the filmmaker wanted you to feel uncomfortable. The reason why they're doing it, is because they're spending so much money on movies. If every movie were under 5 million dollars, you'd see some really interesting movies out there -- 'cause they wouldn't care.
How did the movie's monster come about?
BC: I don't think anyone's done Guan-di yet. We liked it because it's a weird character. He really is the Chinese God of War, and in Chinese lore, the God of War is the protector of the dead, and bean curd. We didn't even make up the bean curd thing. He was a bean curd seller before he became a deity. So he's got a soft spot for bean curd. It gave us a monster and a way to defeat the monster, or at least distract him.
I loved his glowing eyes.
BC: They were originally rheostat eyes, like doll's eyes that you lit from behind. Then we rotoscoped them to make 'em "glowy." We added a second layer. It was definitely old-fashioned, cheesy effects on top of a guy in a suit.
You're not credited as a writer on this. How did the script come about? Was it always intended as Bruce Campbell?
BC: It was written by Mark Verheiden, but we developed it together. He pitched the original concept. He did the heavy lifting and then I did my version of it. I had to make it my own; as a director, I made changes I needed to make, like something's not a tavern anymore, and now it's outside. And then as an actor I want to get my hands in there sometimes. I don't mess with every script, and not every situation will let you. But this is my little world, and if I couldn't have that kind of involvement, I wouldn't want to do it. The lower the budget, the more I want to do, and the less I want to be told what to do.
That's the tradeoff for me. Leave me alone and I'll do it for cheap. That's my motto. If you want to pay me a lot of money and give me a bigger budget, then maybe I'll listen to your opinion. If you have a $200 million movie, you're going to get a lot of strong opinions. Some directors are very good at handling it. Sam Raimi's very good at handling that. He's a very good politician. He can dodge around that. I'm lousy, 'cause I would eventually say, “Why don't you go fuck yourself.” Because I didn't get into the creative arts to have a businessman tell me what to do.
I have to ask about Ted Raimi, who plays three parts in this and gets decapitated twice. Do you like to beat him up like Sam does to you?
BC: I'm much nicer on Ted than his brother is on me. I should be more of a dick. But Ted is great, because we can speak in shorthand and I've known him since he was nine, and I have to have him in everything I'm in to make me look more subtle. It's performance protection. 'Cause they go, 'Wow, Ted, what a ham!' And they look at me and they go, 'Hey! That guy's smooth!' Ted is just horribly underused in the film industry, because I can use him for anything! I can have Ted play a psycho killer or a clown! He can do it all! And people just consider him Sam's younger brother, but Ted made it on his own.
This movie has so many great, stupid jokes, like the angel/devil consciences sitting on your shoulder...
BC: It thought it would be amusing to have the angel and the devil trash-talking each other a little bit. The angel flips the devil off. The devil grabs his crotch, 'I got something for ya right here, angel!' It's everything I've always wanted a devil and an angel to say to each other! I mean, if you're going to have those stupid scenes...
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