The unedited transcript, presented in Q&A form, of an interview for Inpress Magazine with Bruce Campbell conducted for the release of Bubba Ho-Tep from 2002:
A Chat with Bruce Campbell
2002, on the blower
It’s really sad you’re releasing this film at the time of Ossie Davis’ death…
“I have to say, he lived a hell of a long life and I’m guessing no regrets from his point of view. Just look at his credits – you get tired looking at them. The guy worked all the time and, what was great was, when I worked with him, the guy had no airs about him. He has probably the most calm, inner sense about him than any actor I’ve ever worked with. He’s just unflappable.”
Do you think Ossie is believable as JFK in Bubba Ho-Tep?
“If you have a character that’s crazy, you really need a guy like Ossie Davis because, when Ossie talks, you really believe what he says. He’s such an earnest man. I start to believe, he just might be President Kennedy! You see, Ossie actually met President Kennedy. He used to have cultural references with a guy who’s influenced culture.”
It’s never really explained if your character and Ossie Davis are the real Elvis and JFK – are they?
“Elvis is Elvis. There’s no question about it. And I think it’s hard to quite buy the JFK thing. We’ll just have to go with his good intentions. I wouldn’t be holding your breath about JFK.”
So how did Ossie get involved with the project?
“It was just very difficult to get to Ossie. His agents didn’t want to give it to him. Don [Coscarelli, the film’s director] submitted it to his agents and said ‘I want to make an offer to Ossie Davis’ and his agents said ‘Nah, we don’t want to show it to him.’ Don said, ‘But this is a really good part for him’ and they said ‘No, we’re not gonna show it to him.’ Don said ‘Why?’ and they said ‘It’s just too weird, too low budget and all that’ – so Don had to go to a director friend of his who had actually worked with Ossie Davis before and get his phone number and get in the back door that way.The moment he [Ossie] read it, he said ‘Sure, let’s do it.’”
“Sometimes, Hollywood tries not to make any movies at all. It’s amazing what they try NOT to do. The same happened with me. The time Don wanted to make the movie was the time when all the casting happens for the pilot seasons for all the TV shows. And they [agents] were like ‘Oh my god, you can’t work at during time. What if you miss a TV show?’ and I’m like ‘So? I don’t wanna do a TV show.’ I sort of had to struggle with them about when we had to make a movie. I make it pretty clear to my representatives not to hide anything from me. Give me the lowdown. I’m a big boy. I can make my own decisions. If it sucks, trust me. If it doesn’t – if I like it – what do you care? People have a lot of opinions in Hollywood.”
Have you worked with Don Coscarelli before?
“I’d never worked with Don. We knew of each other and we had similar backgrounds – and we’re similar in age and everything like that. Basically, the first movie that we did is probably our best known for the both of us [Bruce’s The Evil Dead, Don’s Phantasm aka. The Never Dead]. So we had a lot in common and we got along really well. The Evil Dead and Phantasm were both drive-in movies here in the States. In the early ‘80s, The Evil Dead was usually playing on double bills with one of the Phantasms.”
What did you think of the script of Bubba Ho-Tep? Was it a bizarre read?
“The most bizarre. The most bizarre script I’ve ever read. But I was intrigued because I went ‘Wow, this writer is fearless – he’s utterly fearless.’ Because I mean, there’s a lot of political correctness nowadays and what you’re losing through political correctness is sense of humour – sometimes – and an edge and the ability to poke fun at everybody.”
“I think Joe Lansdale is just a great writer. He’s a cult writer. He’s got a very strong following and he’s written – good god, I’m going to be wrong but – somewhere between 20 and 40 novels. And this [Bubba Ho-Tep] was a novella, which Don Coscarelli got his hands on. What I liked about it, though, aside from the weirdness – because I’m always drawn to stuff that’s not sort of not straight down the line – was that it’s a story about two old guys. It could be called Grumpy Old Ghostbusters.”
Were you ready to play an old guy?
“Don had to figure that out. He was in a quandary earlier on. He thought, what, am I going to get a guy like Robert Vaughn who’s actually older or am I going to get a younger guy and make him up? So he happened to be talking to Sam Raimi [director, The Evil Dead] about something else and he mentioned he was trying to look for an old Elvis and Sam said ‘Get Bruce, he’ll do it’.”
Are you an Elvis fan?
“I am now more than I was before. By the time I graduated high school, he was dead a year later. He was dead in ’77. So for me, he was beyond a Wayne Newton-type of character – one of these lounge guys who kinda got out of control. Who was this guy with this boot black hair who is 250 and he’s got these dumb suits on – he’s wearing capes, what’s his deal? Then when I went to look at his earlier stuff, that’s when you go ‘wow’.”
“There’s no one in the early ‘70s who could do an act like Elvis. People make fun of him all the time but there’s absolutely a huge charisma coming from that guy. It’s undeniable. So I have more respect for him now and I tried to treat him sympathetically as a character.”
Was it difficult creating a believable Elvis?
“Every American man has sung Love Me Tender in the shower – you know, walked around saying ‘Thank you, thank you very much’ [Bruce adopts an Elvis voice]. Everyone does that. The trick was working out what he’s like as an old guy. No one else has played him as an old guy so that was my easy out.”
How did you prepare for the role?
“The most important thing is not the mannerisms because those are just caricatures. You’ve got to embody some of those so there’s some familiar aspect – and make sure the makeup gives you a semblance of it. We were mostly concerned with the guy’s psyche now. He doesn’t have the Memphis mafia, he doesn’t have anybody – he doesn’t have the chicks, he doesn’t have his money. He’s got nothing. So it’s kinda a good place to start a character. And you end up sort of redeeming yourself throughout the course of the film so that’s mainly what we concerned ourselves on and tried to avoid a lot of the cliché Elvis stuff.”
“You’ve gotta say ‘thank you very much’ at some point. [In Elvis voice]: ‘It was the size of a peanut butter banana sandwich’. You’re gonna use certain descriptions. You have to have that. Mainly it’s what the old geezer was like.”
Have you received any feedback from Elvis fans?
“Surprisingly silent, in regard to email and things like that. Because they were too busy crying! Poor Elvis! If you’re an Elvis fan, you don’t want to think of him dying the way he did – ‘straining at stool’ I believe was the medical phrase. He was on a commode. He’d done so many prescription drugs he was really backed-up. That’s how he went. You don’t want to remember that. So in the movie, we try to make it that, if you’re a real Elvis fan, this is the way he should’ve gone. Not how he did go. Suspend your disbelief and you can see Elvis go off to a better place.”
What have the critics been saying about Bubba Ho-Tep?
“For a low ass budget movie, it’s been well-reviewed. In arthouses, you’ve got, like, a Merchant Ivory movie and then Bubba Ho-Tep. I love the fact that kinda a Roger Corman concept could play in arthouses. That’s the victory there. A B-movie is considered art.”
Have you been surprised by the reaction to the film?
“I always try to hedge my bets, lower my expectations. There are so many ups and downs with each movie. But this one, we had hopes for it. We got tipped off with some early screenings. We went to a film festival in Las Vegas, which was one of the first places it screened with an audience. And I went ‘oh good’. I was really relieved because you never really know… I mean, I saw versions of it at my house on video – but what does that mean?”
“Basically, after about four showings, I could look at my watch or look at the movie at certain points and point and they’d be a reaction. It started to play consistently, which was good. It wasn’t just my friends and family at the first screening. It played enough to get a broader spectrum of older people, younger people, later at night, early in the evening, and they still basically all reacted the same.”
Bruce Campbell fans are pretty hardcore… How do you interact with them these days?
“I just live in the Ethernet now, which is nice. There’s no PO box, there’s no way to get hold of me. I don’t have a fan club… I just have a website [www.bruce-campbell.com]. I float around… and people can send me emails… I think it’s a much more convenient way to go anyway.”
Do you read those emails?
“Oh yeah. Not all of them. But if someone has a catchy subject line, I will read it. That’s the only way people know how to get a hold of me. So I run across old mates that way. I’ve actually got lots of work through email because people don’t know how to find me. Yeah, like a gaming company… they don’t know about the screen actors’ guild. So they look around the Internet, they Google you and they go ‘Oh, Bruce Campbell’s website…’ It’s modern day commerce… It’s like your website is your calling card. I go there now and I’m going to be posting shit for everything that’s coming up in the next year.”
“I’m ten times more approachable than the average actor, like, this year, I’m going to be going to 30 different cities. No one has to root through my garbage because they can see me in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I’m not a mystery. I don’t have to worry about that 1000 millimetre lens trained on my door while I’m suntanning, you know. With movie stars, be careful what you wish for. I’m an actor – that’s why things have worked out differently for me. My day job is an actor. In Oregon [where Bruce lives], nobody gives a crap. I can go and buy groceries, things like that, and no one really cares that much.”
You’ve got a new book called Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way, which leads me to ask: how do you make love the ‘Bruce Campbell way’?
“Very carefully. No, you do it fictitiously. You do it as a novel. It’s a fictitious piece where I play me in a fictitious story. The scenario is, basically, I’ve been in a lot of B movies and I finally audition and get a part in a Mike Nichols movie opposite Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere. I’m this wisecracking doorman. And I decide because this movie is all about advice and relationships and all that, and because the doorman is giving advice to Richard Gere who’s starting a relationship with Renee Zellweger, I decide to go ‘method’ to really research my role just like a real actor would do. Go full bore. But my B movie sensibilities can’t help themselves and I wind up kind of infecting the movie with a B movie Ebola virus, kind of. And it all goes to hell in a handcart. The movie ends up getting cancelled mid-shoot and I get blamed for it. So I have to clear my name in Hollywood. It’s an adventure-horror-drama-comedy.”
You’re also in the next feature film from Lucky McKee [director of May] called The Woods…
“He (Lucky McKee) is very cool. [The Woods is] gonna be like a movie from the ‘60s. It could also be called ‘The Creepy Evil Women’. I play a husband, and my wife and I drop our troubled teenager off at a girls’ school in the middle of the woods. And her 17 year-old worst nightmares basically come true. It’s very Polanski paranoia-ish. It gets a little psychedelic. Lucky would say something like ‘You know that take was very good but I need some more awkward pauses’. And so the actors all look at each other and go ‘Well, that will be easy’.”
So what was it like working with Lucky?
“Lucky has a strange sensibility in the way he shoots it. He doesn’t like anything normal. I’ll give you an example: Recently, I went in to replace some lines of dialogue, like you always do – you add screams or grunts and groans or you add lines to the movie. And so, we had a cue – it was a simple line. So for the first take, Lucky’s there. First take goes by, you hear the beeps and you say the line of dialogue. And I think I matched the tone of it and I got the synchronisation pretty good and Lucky was shaking his head and I go ‘What’s the matter?’ and he goes ‘I don’t know, you should do it like you’re nauseous when you do it the next time.’ We go again and it goes ‘beep, beep, beep’ and my synchronisation is way off and it sounds pretty strange and Lucky is like ‘perfect… Perfect!!!.’ So that’s Lucky McKee in a nutshell.”
“I’m usually very wary of young directors because, as hot shit as they think they are, they don’t really know how a set works… a lot of them. And the loss of order is disturbing sometimes, whereas you can get a man or woman who’s been around the block once or twice and they get to know how a set works. They know how to make their day and they know how to keep pace. But I thought it [The Woods] was a good experience.”
“Lucky is good, he’s very intense, he knows what he wants and he’ll give you shit, you know. It’s fine. It’s his first big studio movie and so they’re just tinkering with it and they’ll put it out this year.”
And you’ve also just done a Disney movie, Sky High?
“Yeah, it’s kinda a teen movie, only the teens are superheroes with crazy Disney hi-jinks. It’s a lot like Flubber – an updated version with the same light tone. Trucks full of digital effects. Total fluff.”
And Alien Apocalypse…
“A tender love story, as you can tell from the title… Basically, it’s Spartacus with aliens.”
What about Man With The Screaming Brain?
“I’ve been trying to make it for, embarrassingly, 16 or 18 years… I rewrote it for Bulgaria because that’s where we shot. Wound up being a very strange little movie for a sci-fi movie. It’s more of a social allegory than a horror film.”
Wow… What is Bulgaria like?
“Pascinating. Pokey ass place, so I tried to capitalise on it.”
You’ve also done a lot of work Down Under with the Hercules and Xena television series…
“I loved the dynamics between Australia and New Zealand… The love/hate. They all think Australians are hicks. Almost everyone on the Hercules and Xena crew bailed to work on Lord Of The Rings. Australians are much more gregarious than Kiwis. They’re just like Americans who talk different.”
What about Don Coscarelli… Will you be working with him again?
“We’re doing Bubba 2. We have a prequel and a sequel at the same time – one film as the prequel AND the sequel. Elvis was very much into the black arts and we’re kind of concocting a story that’s… this is very theoretically right now… that there was a lost movie of Elvis’ that was stopped being made under very strange circumstances in the early ‘70s. He was making a horror movie because Colonel Parker thought he should make a ‘terror picture’. Then he got in some trouble in New Orleans and people started dying for real during the making of this movie. So now, Elvis is probably better suited to deal with what that was way-back-when, so a series of events take place where Elvis is actually able to travel back to New Orleans and take care of some old business. That’s in the very early writing stage.
Note: As far as this author is aware, Bubba Ho-Tep 2 has never made it beyond the conceptual stage, although here is some more recent scuttlebutt found on the net.
I’ve always wanted to write a script where Bruce and Henry Rollins play brothers who are ex-CIA turned mercenary killers for hire, scouring the earth righting wrongs etc. Bruce the brains, Henry the brawn. Due to my lack of motivation and inaction, neither would be able to pull off the roles due to age making them now look nothing alike. Drat!
I really like what Bruce does with his characters. there’s a certain sort of niche that he captures. An ease, light portrail that he brings into a characters persona, making his characters really believable.
I know it’s only TV, but I do like the way he saunters through with his character in Burn Notice.