Detroit-manufactured Bruce Campbell is a cult legend who sawed his way into every genre. Evil Dead Rise, the fifth installment of the franchise most associated with the actor, opens a new book on April 21, and it will be the first not to lead with his chin. He isn’t taunting the sacred geometry of the “Necronomicon Ex-Mortis,” Campbell was busy. He is always busy. He has authored novels, comic books, and screenplays, and has directed productions on big screens and small. Campbell is the star attraction of several franchise fandoms (including Evil Dead, Xena, Hercules, and Burn Notice), beloved at the Comic-Con circuit and, believe it or else, crooned Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” for an Old Spice commercial, besides hosting the short-lived Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
“This guy never stops working,” his Ash vs. Evil Dead co-star, Dana DeLorenzo, marveled at January’s SF Sketchfest’s Roast of Bruce Campbell, before adding “On inventing new ways to get the same fans to give him more money.” This time he’s giving it all back. If you think the guy who played Ash Williams would rather give up an arm than part with dead presidents, fans will walk away with random cash giveaways, autographed posters, portrait-grade photos with Campbell, and, quite possibly, signed chainsaws.
The theater-trained actor is taking it on the road with BRUCE-O-RAMA, a 22-city tour featuring the fast-paced interactive trivia game show “Last Fan Standing.” Everyone in the audience will get the chance to test their knowledge “about the things that really matter: fantasy, horror, sci-fi, superheroes and gaming,” according to the advance press. Fans who get the most questions correct the fastest come up on stage with Bruce for the Final Face-Off. At the end, one player is crowned Last Fan Standing.
After a short intermission, Campbell will hit the stage for questions, and introduce the evening’s “groovy Bruce movie.” At least one stop on the tour will feature Evil Dead 2, but the arsenal of roles in his catalog could regiment an entire Army of Darkness. Campbell played Elvis Presley to Ossie Davis’s JFK in Don Coscarelli-directed Bubba Ho-Tep, brought manic menace to Maniac Cop, and cheese to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.
The usher who kept Peter Parker standing in Spider-Man sat with Den of Geek prior to embarking on the BRUCE-O-RAMA tour. In keeping with the “Last Fan Standing” game show centerpiece, Campbell happily trivialized the lasting impression he’s made on art, fantasy, and culture.
Den of Geek: I love the idea of a traveling game show, so my first question is a freebie. What one actor played Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Elvis Presley, and how does he maintain such versatility?
Bruce Campbell: Well, I don’t know, I don’t think any actor is that versatile. That’s just too versatile. Hey, look, you throw a lot of shit up on the wall and see what sticks, right? But it’s fun, playing the president. The funny thing about Reagan was: the guy who produced Fargo, my buddy John Cameron, he and I went to high school together. This was the Reagan era, it was the 80s. I was a young father and we would imitate him constantly, because Reagan was always on TV.
So, he actually knew I can imitate Reagan. When he did Fargo, he goes, “Oh, I know who can play Reagan, we can get Campbell.” But the trick was, of course, to play the not-spoof version of that guy. Nixon [in director Dan Mirvish’s 2021 political satire 18½] was kind of goofy, because I was supposed to be a character in the movie. For a lot of reasons, I couldn’t do that particular character. Then later on, I said, “but if you want me for any of these recording things,” because there’s a whole sequence at the end while the Nixon tapes play, and he goes, “Why don’t you play Nixon?” I went, “Oh, yeah, sure. Let’s do that. I’ll play Nixon.” So that was great fun. That was a COVID movie. We did that all over via Zoom.
My second question is a two-parter, the first comes from George Carlin: Can God make a rock so big He himself can’t lift it, and are there any “Last Fan Standing” questions you yourself can’t answer?
Oh, I don’t know any of the trivia. It doesn’t matter, I don’t have to. But I can enjoy it with someone who tears it up. I’ve toured with the military with this game too. We did a base in Guam, and the commander of the base was one of the last two guys, and his subordinate was the guy he was trying to defeat. His men were going crazy, cheering for different guys. He finally won because his kids always watch SpongeBob SquarePants, and that was the category, and he killed it. The commander won everything.
It’s a fun environment to play because someone can come from behind, someone can come out of nowhere, someone meek and shy can take it all, the big braggadocio folds at the end. We’ve had a lot of good conclusions.
We may actually get some swag from a certain movie, Evil Dead Rise, for the winner. Just saying it is all.
What can we expect from Evil Dead Rise? And where will you be on April 21?
I’ll be on the road. I’m gonna see it in one of these cities. I want to sit in the back, pull my hat down, get some buttered popcorn, and laugh my ass off. I can’t wait.
What can you expect? You can expect to be very troubled. I think [writer/director] Lee Cronin did an absolute bang-up job. He’s a really good filmmaker, and we supported him like crazy. We’re good little producers, I feel, because we don’t really say no that much to these directors. We support the shit out of these guys. That’s what we do. You want that, as a young filmmaker. It’s not Lee’s first rodeo, but he’s not a seasoned vet. We also have to make sure he stays in the Evil Dead sandbox.
And how are you going to be staying in the Evil Dead sandbox? I know they’ll be doing animation in the future.
We’re hoping to. We’re developing the animated show right now.
Now that Esquire called you “America’s newest favorite game show host,” do you know the secret handshakes and things? Was Chuck Barris really a hitman for the CIA, and is that a prerequisite?
You’ll have to ask Wink Martindale. He has all the answers.
What song is playing when Agent Mulder challenges your character Wayne Weinsider to a drag race on The X-Files?
“Get Off My Cloud” by the Stones.
It’s actually “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage.
Okay, sounds good. When we do the scene. There’s no music. I don’t hear the music till I watch it.
How did you first get recruited for the Armed Forces Trivia Question in 2014?
I went to see the troops in Iraq in 2009, with my buddy Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice. And this guy, Steve Sellery, saw that, he saw the pictures and stuff. He tracked me down and said, “I have a game, do you want to host?” He said he knew I did some troop stuff. I said yeah. We did the first game at the Sam Houston base in San Antonio. The enormous ancient base has a beautiful 600-seat theater that was Art Deco that they completely revamped.
It was the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen: 600 soldiers in uniform, forced attendance. They were shouting and going crazy. And I said to my buddy, Steve, “this would work in my world, you just gotta change the questions. That’s all you got to do.” We’ve had a lot of fun with it. The people who come into the theater, nobody knows who’s going to compete. You got to qualify. Everyone votes, everyone plays by themselves. It’s funny who gets up there. It’s always entertaining to me to see someone who you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be, like a sci-fi geek or something like that.
Are you more of a You Bet Your Life Groucho kind of host, or a you-bet-your-ass Richard Dawson?
Well, I don’t kiss all the girls on the lips, they can’t really do that anymore, or have a glass of wine in your hand the whole time, no. I’m definitely snarky, because you interview each contestant so the audience can get to know them. They’re in and of itself ripe for commentary and insults.
Like on Jeopardy!, are there celebrity matches planned, and what charity would Ash ask them to donate to?
Ash would definitely go for something orthopedic, give kids their arms back and hands back and stuff like that. He would be big on artificial limbs, a big pioneer of research into artificial limbs.
We have [no celebrity matches] planned, but the trick is, in the future, you can easily intersect this game with conventions. Even if I couldn’t be there, there are people at conventions that would be good hosts, affable Dean Cain-type guys. He can play the game at any convention. So no, we don’t have any celebrity plugins at this point. We’re just blasting through 20 cities.
In all game shows, the host gives away stuff and nobody ever comes out with less than they go in. If someone misses a question, can you take anything away from them besides their dignity?
Their dignity is all they have, so that’s a lot.
Will anyone else in the Marvel Universe besides Doctor Strange try to stiff Pizza Poppa for a delivery?
Well, the one thing you have to understand: if you think he’s just the pizza guy, you’re very, very confused. He’s in the multiverse now. Let’s say that this is not the end. This is really just the beginning. And I can’t say any more beyond that.
Are there any updates on Bruce vs. Frankenstein?
Well, that’s a project that may either die on the vine or get done eventually. It’s hard to prioritize stuff these days. That’s the key: prioritizing stuff. Right now, I got touring to deal with, so that can gets kicked down the road a lot when other obligations come up. Because finishing that up doesn’t pay you squat.
Is there any update on you appearing in Mall Rats II?
Now that was some weird bullshit random interwebs thing.
Do you have any plans to follow up “Sgt. Rock vs. The Army of the Dead”?
Yes, we’re coming out now. No. 6 is about to drop.
Are there other characters you’d like to delve into with comic writing?
No, they asked me which characters I wanted to do. I went through all of them, and Sgt. Rock was the dude. I want to do more Sgt. Rock. I want to bring him back as a full-fledged character that you can rely on to give you cool-ass bitchin’ stories. But in this case, in a horror context. That’s why they came to me. I’m not known as a comic book guy, but I have a horror background. They wanted me to have a stab at this.
I read Sgt Rock. I mean, I know Sgt Rock. And it’s funny. Katie Kubert, who’s my boss over there – I didn’t know this until we picked the character – asked me which character do you want to try. I went through all of them, and I said Sgt. Rock, and she got kind of quiet. I went, “that’s okay, right.” And she goes, “Well, my grandfather drew Sgt. Rock.” I was like: Are you fucking kidding me? Then we have to do this. This is Kismet. This is meant to be, you know?
I said we’re gonna take good care of your grandpa. We’re gonna honor that guy. We’re gonna do Sgt. Rock right. And I think that we have. Good or bad, I think we took good care of him. I’ve been in so many of these. The movie plots of the hero. I understand the Joseph Campbell journey. I understand the hero’s journey, understand what they have to go through, even if I wouldn’t want to do any of that shit anymore.
But, you know? It’s a good part for one of the Hemsworth boys. Directed by maybe a certain director who just did a horrific version of a superhero movie. Maybe Sam [Raimi] might want to roll the sleeves up. Get back into the horror game.
I started following you after the King of Thieves.
Good. Yeah. You know what I just watched recently? I showed an old buddy of mine an episode called “Men in Pink.” It was a Hercules episode. Autolycus and Salmoneus [Robert Trebor], Sanctimonious I call him. We’re going on one of the dumb adventures. Because, what happened was, Kevin Sorbo got an aneurysm and almost died. And Lucy Lawless, had a horse roll over her, and crushed her pelvis. There was a period in the ‘90s I got really busy. Rob Tapert calls up and says “I hope you’re not busy for the next couple of weeks because I have no stars on two different shows.”
So, when you see those episodes, you go “where the hell’s Kevin Sorbo?” Or you watch Xena during a certain time period, and you go: “Where’s Lucy [Lawless]?” She’s sitting on a rock, sharpening her sword because she can’t even stand up. They would just put her in these places or lie in a coffin. Those were busy times. Autolycus, that would be a top five, for me, character. Playing that guy. It was a blast.
You also got to play Xena and Rob Tapert. Those were some of my favorite episodes. What were they like to develop?
Well, we got away with frickin’ murder. Because it was syndicated, there wasn’t really all of that network-note thing. If you do a network show now, holy shit, you’re gonna be drowned in notes, from the script to performance. Sometimes they have a live feed, these executives, on your set, making sure it’s going according to plan.
We were always a day ahead. We still had to get the stuff processed back in Los Angeles, edited together. By the time they would give us any notes, which weren’t many, we were on the next episode already. We had entire days on those shows where we didn’t say a single word of the original script because you get to put something on its feet. The beauty of it was: if it doesn’t work, you make it work.
My manager at that time was just apoplectic. “Why do you go there? No one even sees the shows.” Even though it was the number one syndicated show, Hercules, and then Xena overtook it. He goes “why do you do this?” I’m like, “Dude, you don’t get it. You’re not an actor and you don’t understand having fun. This is the most fun you’ll ever have doing professional work, is down on these dumb shows.”
Because we get to really get involved and find the fun. Over the years, you get to know these directors, and these writers and fellow actors. I felt like I was part of the old studio days. I would do a Xena in the morning, and after lunch, I’m over on Hercules.
I loved Jack of All Trades. There was a time that I felt you were going to have the whole network to yourself.
Yes, that’s right. Well, Jack of All Trades, the funny thing about that: it stunned the New Zealand crews when they canceled it after one season, because they had just finished Hercules for six seasons. They go to work on Xena for six seasons, then they buy a house. They all bought houses. They thought “My God, these American shows, they run forever.” Jack of All Trades, one season. They’re like, what the fuck? They were very disturbed by that. I’ve been canceled before. So it wasn’t that strange to me.
Do you do your own yard work, and do you actually use a chainsaw around the property?
No, it was a hedge trimmer, and I have trained people for that, much more qualified, I might add.
The BRUCE-O-RAMA tour kicks off on April 5 at the Gunter Theatre @ The Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina. Evil Dead Rise hits theaters on April 21.