The Big Picture: A Chat with Bruce Campbell

“I was trying at first to do a ‘gag’ relationship book,” says Bruce Campbell, writer and cult movie actor (perhaps the world’s favorite, definitely its coolest), “but it seemed like this ‘novel’ format would be more fun.” That fun novel would eventually emerge as Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way, Campbell’s follow-up to his 2001 bestselling memoir, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. According to the new book’s press release, Campbell “examines the career of an actor whose work he is familiar with: Bruce Campbell.” Think of it as a literary mock-umentary in which Bruce, a consummate B-movie actor, lands a key role in an A-list film starring Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger, and to be directed by Mike Nichols.

Campbell’s take on the book, though, is a little different, as he writes on his website:

…my Homeric attempt to break through the glass ceiling of B-grade genre fare is hampered by a vengeful studio executive and a production that becomes infected by something called the ‘B-movie virus,’ symptoms of which include excessive use of cheesy special effects, slapstick, and projectile vomiting. But when someone fingers me as the guy responsible for the virus, thus ruining my good standing in the entertainment industry (hey, I said it was fiction, okay?), I become a fugitive racing against the clock, an innocent patsy battling the shadowy forces of the studio system to clear my name, save my career, and destroy the Death Star.

Such self-aware tomfoolery is part of what has made Campbell something of a cinematic legend. Known to his legions of fans for his self-deprecating humor and smarmy Joe Schmo persona, Campbell burst onto the movie scene in 1982 as the lead in pal Sam Raimi’s gory ode to drive-in slasher flicks, The Evil Dead. After starring and appearing in more than 60 movies, a dozen television shows, and nearly half a dozen video games, Bruce has solidified his place in the annals of cult cinema. Everything from comic books to toys, t-shirts to key chains bear his likeness and attempt to reproduce his trademark sarcastic wit — even as narrator for the Spider-Man 2 console game, Bruce’s sarcasm and feigned excitement permeates the tutorial segments of the game.

That persona, brash and cocky, arrogant and dim-witted, laid back and sly, features on every page of Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way. Similar in tone and appearance to the memoir, Make Love is a fun, highly readable romp, complete with rants and quirky observations. And, like Chins, the text of Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way is complemented with “graphic sarcasm” — photos and other artwork scattered throughout. Acting as pictorial representations of the story, these photos include Bruce dressed as a Southern Gentlemen participating in a duel and working on set with Gere and Nichols.

Instead of merely enhancing the text, the pictures work as jokes and punchlines. “Novel or non-fiction,” Campbell recently told PopMatters, “my number one objective as an author is to entertain. Movies are a very visual medium, so I figured there should be some accompaniment, and I have a great graphics guy, Craig ‘Kiff’ Sanborn, who makes it all look easy.”

And so does Bruce. Although not literature by any stretch of the imagination, Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way, at its best, reads like a story told by an overly chummy neighbor who’s invaded your kitchen and refuses to leave until his exploits have been fully relayed. His prose is simple and breezy. In fact, reading this book is the literary equivalent to attending a Campbell appearance or listening to one of his many DVD commentary tracks. He is warm and funny, self-deprecating and humble, cocky and sincere, but never dull. He appears to write without worry, and his author voice comes so naturally, so convincingly that this writer mistook the book’s opening as fact, which purports to include real emails from his editor who, after having been pitched a travelogue by Bruce, responds that the publishing company would rather he write a relationship book.

When asked what prompted him to go ahead and forego the travelogue in lieu of writing a relationship book, Bruce knocked my ego down a few notches by stating: “I think I may have fooled you, since you’re talking about things that take place in the novel. Other than that, the book evolved over about three years.”

As a diehard Bruce Campbell fan, the last thing I wanted to do was get egg on my face by asking a stupid question. Throughout Make Love, Bruce gives several nods to fans like myself, even casting one of us, late in the book, as a horror movie hero. To his fans, the down to earth Campbell is king because he celebrates fandom as much as his fans celebrate him. It was hard not to do that again in this chat, to refrain from bringing up the Holy Trilogy — Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness — or slipping into full-blown geek mode. Bruce was gracious enough, however, to answer some of my fan boy questions:

Me: Is the sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep going to happen? If so, can you give a little hint as to what it’s going to be about?

Bruce: Can’t tell you the plot because I’d have to kill you, but there is serious interest from several parties.

Me: When the heck is Sam Raimi going to come to his senses and give you a bigger role in the Spider-Man films?

Bruce: It ain’t the role, amigo, it’s the impact. I named Spider-Man in the first film, and I defeated him in the second. Can any other characters say that, Mr. Smartypants?

After that, I did my best to keep to the topic at hand: writing.

PopMatters: In Make Love, Bruce visits the world’s largest car dealership, hits a gentleman’s club, converses with Elizabeth Taylor, works as a hotel doorman and a wedding planner — among other things. How much research went into that aspect of the novel?

Bruce Campbell: Well, you have to research enough to know what you’re talking about. I used many locations and characters that I’ve run into in the past — I just lumped them all together. Aside from that, I researched what I didn’t know.

PM: Following the success of If Chins Could Kill, did you kick yourself for not having approached the medium sooner?

BC: Not really, because I was busy doing the stuff that I subsequently wrote about later. And I never kick myself — it’s far too difficult and painful.

PM: Are there any differences between the creative process of writing and acting?

BC: Yeah, night and day. An actor interprets; they do not create the material. Pulling it all out of your head is a much taller task. A writer has the “big picture” in mind much more than a lowly actor.

PM: Who, if anyone, influences your writing? Which authors do you read?

BC: I read almost exclusively non-fiction, and mostly humor books, so I don’t have too many literary influences aside from Dayton Duncan and Bill Bryson — two jokers who ain’t half bad. I try and write material that I would want to read, I guess — what else could I do? I think a good book knows its tone, knows where it’s going, and doesn’t take a lifetime to get there.

PM: I kept thinking, while reading Make Love, that this story would make a great movie. Is there a chance for that happening?

BC: From your lips to Paramount’s ears. That stuff only happens when a book goes through the roof, so time will tell.

PM: In addition to writing novels, you’ve scripted, as well as directed, the upcoming Sci-Fi Channel movie The Man with the Screaming Brain. How did that project evolve?

BC: That one, I’m embarrassed to say, was 18 years in the making. My partner and I had the thing pseudo-financed a dozen times, but it always fell through. Finally, the Sci-Fi Channel stepped in and helped get it going. It should air late September, and it’ll be out on DVD this Halloween.

PM: What was it about this script that made you stand by it all those years?

BC: I just liked the fact that it was a sordid tale, but with a twisted, yet happy ending. I also knew that I could adapt a lead character that suited me.

PM: You’re adapting The Man with the Screaming Brain into a comic book miniseries. How does writing in that medium differ from screenplays — which, technically speaking, is closer to comics?

BC: Writing comics is very difficult, because you have to use math all the time. A comic book page only has so much room, and it becomes a challenge to tell the story in a graphically interesting way without using too many “shots.”

PM: Where does the future lay for Bruce Campbell the writer? Are you planning to write more comics, novels, or screenplays in the future?

BC: Yes, yes, and yes, but I’m not sure what order. I’m sorting through some things in my head at the moment and, as always, the next book has to make some dough first!