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Hail to the chin!

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A conversation with B-movie icon Bruce Campbell

Forty years ago, Bruce Campbell found himself driving a cab after dropping out of college. At the same time, an old high school buddy from Michigan named Sam Raimi, with whom Campbell used to shoot fun Super 8 movies, was looking to make a horror film. The duo collaborated on a 32-minute low-budget short called “Within The Woods” which served as a prototype for the enormously successful “Evil Dead” franchise launched in 1981.

Campbell’s varied career includes roles in Raimi’s mega-grossing “Spider Man” movies, the indie film “Bubba Ho Tep” (Campbell portrayed Elvis Presley), “Fargo” (both the 1996 film and the 2014 TV series where he plays Ronald Reagan) and a seven-year stint on USA’s ‘Burn Notice.’

Campbell’s resume is as impressive as his chiseled chin, a tongue-in-cheek reference to which is the title of his first book in 15 years: “Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor” (Thomas Dunne Books).

For this Q&A with Campbell, I invited my friend, coworker (and huge Bruce Campbell fan), Katrina Walls (“Kat” from Mike & Kat on 97.1 The Bear) to join me.

Campbell: (adopts Ronald Reagan voice to begin the interview) Well, there you go again.

I used to imitate Reagan all through the 80’s when he was president. A buddy of mine from high school named John Cameron ended up being one of the producers of “Fargo.” When the part came up, he said “I know just the guy” (laughs). The trick was to make him a character and not like an SNL skit. 

Dow: “Hail To The Chin” is your first book in about 15 years. Has the industry changed in the time since you published your first book? If so, how?

Campbell:  We’ve gotten a lot more fantastic in our movies and the budgets have gotten bigger.

The funny thing is, all the A-movies are now B-movies. If you get bitten by a radioactive spider, I’ve got news for you. That’s a B-movie. If you dress up as a bat and ride around Gotham in a souped-up car, guess what? That is so totally a B-movie. I feel vindicated because I’ve stood up for B-movies all these years.

B-movie doesn’t mean bad. It only means you have a lower budget and lower star power. You don’t have the PR machine behind it and there’s no Taco Bell tie-in. I’m glad the studios have finally caught up. It’s OK to like weird movies or sci-fi or horror or fantasy.

Horror has gone way more mainstream with “Walking Dead” and there are a lot of women at conventions now. It’s about 50/50.  It used to be mostly pudgy, dorky guys roamin’ around.

Walls: You mentioned the cult-culture and that’s what brings a lot of people out to events like Comic-Con. What’s the strangest interaction you’ve had with a fan at one of those conventions?

Campbell: I’ve signed a lot of boobies. But I don’t consider that weird. A woman came up to the table one time and said (adopts low, creepy voice) “Here’s some poetry that you’ll really like.” Because of my association with horror movies, she assumed that I like all kinds of evil, wicked, dark, sick things. I read about two sentences of the poetry and was like “OK, call the police.”

She’s part of a very small percentage. Most fans are incredibly nice, very kind, and very quiet. They’ll wait two hours in line, come up, and then they don’t make eye contact.

Dow: Because they’re scared or nervous?

Campbell: It’s a little of everything. It’s a surreal experience seeing some guy they’ve watched in movies for 35 years.

Walls: I don’t know if you know but that chin can be intimidating.

Campbell: If you’re going to a convention to meet (William) Shatner, come up with something to say. You’re waiting in line for 17 hours, come up with something. But NOT “Star Trek.” I met him in the green room at one of these conventions. I was like “I’m going to meet Bill Shatner but I’m not going Star Trek. I’m going ‘T.J. Hooker.’” When I did, his eyes lit up because nobody talks to him about T.J. Hooker.

Walls: You’ve done so much in different areas - from the movies to TV, where you’ve been on “Burn Notice” for seven years. You’re working on the third season of “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” (a comedy series airing on Starz). Which thing do you like to do the most?

Campbell: My favorite thing is to take a hike and get lost. A lot of these rails-to-trails places, where they’ve paved these rail lines and turned them into bike paths, are really easy to ride on. They’re all over the place. I just like to hop on a bike and go. 

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