Over the course of his storied career, actor Bruce Campbell has brought to life many memorable, colorful characters. As the definitive character-actor-trapped-in-a-leading-man’s-body, he’s portrayed Elvis in the campy Bubba Ho-Tep, Ronald Reagan in Fargo, Sam Axe in Burn Notice, and is, perhaps, best known as the Deadite-killing Ash Williams in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise.
As the Travel Channel prepares to relaunch Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, Campbell finds himself in the role of host, introducing us to a fresh round of the spectacular and amazing. Over the course of 10 episodes, he’ll invite viewers on a journey to explore the lives of people capable of incredible things.
“Shooting this iconic series in the Ripley’s warehouse was actually unbelievable,” said Campbell. “I was blown away by the treasures that unveil a fascinating time capsule into the past and present. Fans are not going to be disappointed when they see the scope of wonderful and weird stories we reveal every week.”
Bruce Campbell was groovy enough to get on the phone with me and talk about his new gig with the Ripley’s relaunch, the fates of some of his iconic characters, and the lack of originality in Hollywood — all with the grace to forgive my fanboying.
Funny, the RELEASE keeps me buoyant! https://t.co/DX2XNL7YsH
— Bruce Campbell (@GroovyBruce) April 3, 2019
Kevin Tall: Hey Bruce! I appreciate you taking some time to talk to me.
Bruce Campbell: I happened to be in the neighborhood so I thought I’d step in.
KT: I usually make an effort to at least pretend to be professional but I’m not sure I’m going to pull it off today.
BC: That’s exactly right.
KT: I do want to say it’s an honor to talk to you and I promise I’ll do my best to keep my inner fanboy in check.
BC: Very good.
KT: Can I call you ‘El Jefe’?
BC: Whatever you’d like, sir.
KT: Groovy. Alright. So, coming soon to a cable network near you, you’re hosting the newest incarnation of ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!’ on the Travel Channel. How did you come to be attached to the project?
BC: Things come across the old desk, you know, and you evaluate them. And this was a no-brainer. I still have the Ripley’s book, the red cloth-covered book with those strange illustrations of people doing crazy stuff inside. As a kid, I had it on a shelf so I’m like, ‘Yeah I know Ripley’s.’
It was their hundred-year anniversary and Travel Channel, Ripley’s, it was a pretty good combination, you know? Basic cable, no one has to go out of their way to find it, it’s not impossible to find.
And I haven’t done a show like this in a while; I’ve hosted stuff. Back in Detroit, I got my Screen Actor’s Guild card doing training films for industrials, for Chrysler, and some of the other companies. Now I’m back doing it again, so here I am… I guess, showing people, in this case, it’s not about the cross-section of a Chrysler car seat but people doing extraordinary things.
KT: Ah, cool. Part of me thought this revival of Ripley’s could have just been a thinly-veiled attempt at revenge on Dean Cain for stealing the television role of Superman out from under your chin in the 90s.
BC: No, no revenge necessary on Mr. Cain. I see him at conventions all the time.
KT: While I do feel you have the superior jawline, I was a huge fan of ‘The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.’ There have been several Supermen but there was only one Brisco County. Er, two, if you count his dad.
BC: Anyone can play Superman.
KT: Would you ever consider reprising the role of Brisco?
BC: Brisco would be fine. You could do Brisco Rides Again. He started as a lawyer and then someone has to get killed. I’ll put the spurs back on, sure.
KT: So I got to see a screener of the first episode of Ripley’s. I have an idea if you’re open to suggestion.
KT: Do a follow up in which you balance on a slack line while swallowing a sword and someone throws playing cards at you from a ladder balanced on someone else’s chin.
BC: [Laughs] I think you’ve got it. I think you should work for the Travel Channel.
KT: So your parts were shot on location at the Ripley’s warehouse in Orlando.
BC: Yes, yes, we shot at THE warehouse.
KT: Did you get to see anything amazing or… unbelievable?
BC: You know, the warehouse, where would you start? It is the closest we have to one of those Indiana Jones-type warehouses. It’s probably the most richly appointed warehouses in the world, I would say. They’ve collected for a hundred years. I can’t think of anyone else, maybe the Smithsonian, but Ripley’s is probably a close second. Ripley’s might have more stuff than the Smithsonian, that would be a fun one to test.
KT: Which do you think would have more body parts?
BC: Well, Ripley’s would have more body parts.
KT: OK, but the Smithsonian does have John Dillinger’s, well, you know.
BC: So the rumor goes.
Consider this my finishing move against a certain internet rumor. pic.twitter.com/6vKPZvTfQu
— Bruce Campbell (@GroovyBruce) May 6, 2019
KT: As they say. So, speaking of ‘Believe It or Not!,’ I still can’t believe you retired iconic character, Ash Williams. Are you sticking to that? No way I can talk you into reconsidering?
BC: Yeah, I’m sticking to that; it gets easier every year.
KT: [Laughs] Fair enough.
BC: I’m still doing video games, I’m doing voices for Ash. I’m just not going to grovel in the blood anymore.
KT: I think that’s fair. It’s not retiring the character, just a retirement plan.
BC: I’m retiring from certain types of roles, ones that require looking at tennis balls on sticks.
KT: I’m excited to see you’ve got the paperback for ‘Hail to the Chin’ coming out; I was a big fan of ‘If Chins Could Kill.’ Although when you were teasing that on social media, I think a couple of fans interpreted that as a little bit of foreshadowing of a new gig for Ash.
BC: That’s fine. Fans are always going to do that. Everyone’s a genius, everyone’s got opinions and the internet fans the flames. No, it’s all good. They’re going to see different versions, they’re going to be seeing more ‘Evil Dead,’ too. We’re not done with the ‘Evil Dead’ saga, more stories to tell.
You’ve seen the movies – now hear the stories. 9/17https://t.co/LwVadFOCHT
— Bruce Campbell (@GroovyBruce) May 8, 2019
KT: Do you think Fede Alvarez might return?
BC: I don’t know, Fede’s a big Hollywood director now. I don’t know if Fede needs this. We’ll have to see.
KT: Everyone needs a passion project.
BC: Fede had it. Fede came and pitched his version of ‘Evil Dead.’
KT: Any juicy tidbits you want to tease from the ‘Requiem For Ash’ Edition?
BC: It’s a fuller explanation of the birth, life, and death of ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ and then the ultimate retirement of that character. It’s a little more of an essay approach, it’s a little more esoteric.
KT: Psychologically, what is it about Ash Williams that inspires such devotion from fans?
BC: Because he is the fans, the fans are him. Ash has no skills, Ash doesn’t come from another planet, he comes from Michigan. He’s the guy you want in the foxhole, but he probably got low SAT scores. So people watching him, I think they root for him because they’re like, ‘Damn, that’s like my neighbor. That’s like if my neighbor decided to save the world from evil.’ Kind of like that. That’s how I look at it and that’s how we played it. That’s why it was worth bringing the guy back 48 years later to try it again… He’s the ultimate anti-hero, anti in that he can’t even get out of bed, you know?
KT: He comes across as an oafish, ill-mannered lout as well.
BC: Of course, but you know what? He was written in an ancient book, so there’s more to him than just the trailer park guy. That’s what was fun exploring.
KT: The prophecy of the ultimate average guy.
— Bruce Campbell (@GroovyBruce) May 3, 2019
KT: Got it. You’ve had a number of memorable, colorful roles over the years, from Ash to Brisco, Autolycus to Sam Axe, even a fictionalized version of yourself in ‘My Name Is Bruce’ (shout out to Guan Di, the patron saint of bean curd). Is there one, in particular, you’ve enjoyed playing the most, above all others?
BC: Elvis was pretty fun. I think most American males would have enjoyed playing that part. Playing President Reagan on ‘Fargo’ was fun, I used to imitate him with my buddy, John Cameron, who produced that show. In the ’80s we were both subjected to endless Reagan on television. That was fun.
The idea is to not choose roles that are not fun, you know what I mean? The idea is to only choose roles that are fun. If it doesn’t sound fun you go, ‘That doesn’t sound fun, I should say no.’ Either the scenario or the role. The sad part is when you get a good scenario and a lousy role, like a good show, good pedigree, but lousy role.
KT: Have you been in that situation professionally, where you’ve gotten kind of a lousy role on a great show?
BC: Well, I’m better at saying no to stuff now, so hopefully I won’t find myself in that situation nearly as much.
KT: Circling back to Elvis, there was talk of a ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ follow-up years ago. What are the chances of that coming together?
BC: Zero. I’ve retired that character as well. I’ve notified Don Coscarelli and Joe Lansdale. You know, it’s Don Coscarelli’s project, he’s more than welcome to forge ahead. We couldn’t crack the script the way I saw it and we were going to come to loggerheads. I didn’t want to do that, so I backed out because I know now if the script isn’t where it needs to be, the movie will not get there either.
The script is your blueprint. You could bring in the best builder in the world, but he’s going to build your sideways building, just like the blueprint says. You can’t build the building, it’s not worth breaking ground.
KT: Marlon Brando advised a young(er) Johnny Depp to play Hamlet before he got too old for the role. Are there any of those iconic types of roles you’d like to tackle?
BC: Of iconic people?
KT: Yeah. Just those classic roles from that sort of timeless production, like ‘Hamlet.’
BC: No. No, I don’t, because I like original stuff. I mean, if we’re going to remake something, let’s remake our own stuff.
Hollywood is a big file drawer that is only 30 years deep and they just keep pulling it out and pulling sh*t out. So I always favor original stuff if I can.
That’s the case with ‘Bubba Ho-Tep.’ It won’t be as good and people will only remember that you blew it on the second try.
KT: So the legacy of the project would be one of failure.
BC: You have to have original stuff out there to make up for the movies that have a seven, eight, and nine after them.
KT: The old maxim is that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
BC: Yes, except ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’ There’s never too much of that.
KT: [Laughs] Well played, fair enough. Fan question: Who would win in a left-handed arm wrestling match, Ash Williams or Sam Axe?
BC: I don’t do those questions, because they’re hypothetical and impossible to answer.
KT: Can you hook me up with a six-pack of Ash’s favorite beer, Shemp’s?
BC: No, because it’s fake.
KT: Well, Bruce, I came here to ask questions and kick ass, and I’m all out of questions.
BC: Let’s go kick ass!
KT: Again, thanks so much for taking some time to talk with me and putting up with my silliness and unending admiration.
BC: Yeah, my friend. All good. Thank you, sir. Have a good day.
KT: Thanks, Bruce!