If you’ve ever watched a cop show, seen someone fight a Deadite, or stayed up late enough to watch offbeat flicks on basic cable, you’ve probably seen Bruce Campbell. Campbell has a long history on screen, starting with his breakout performance in The Evil Dead, a small film he made with his buddy, Sam Raimi, that went on to spawn sequels, spin-offs, comics, games, and a series. Though horror fans most recognize him as Ashley “Ash” Williams from that franchise, Bruce has had a robust career. With the “face of a soap opera star”, he went on to star in shows like Ellen, Xena, and Burn Notice. Now an actor and an author, he’s added “host,” to his hyphens, having hosted the touring live show Last Fan Standing and now, Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
The first season of this new show hit the Travel Channel this year, and so Bruce sat down with some of us at FanExpo Canada to discuss the show and his illustrious career. The show is different from the Ripley’s of the past, focusing on the strength and perseverance of different people, what they’re able to overcome in the face of adversity. The warmer side of the horror icon was fully on display as we pulled up some chairs to chat.
You’ve shot a few episodes now. Will you be back for any more?
Bruce Campbell: You need to call the Travel Channel and work that out. We don’t know yet. I think they haven’t decided because it hasn’t even opened in Canada yet. So, I don’t think you make those decisions until you figure out how it’s going to play everywhere.
And how did you get these hosting gigs? There’s obviously not something that you’d usually do.
Bruce Campbell: No, but other people get ideas and they pitch them out. And this one I thought was pretty good to do because it was a very reputable company that’s been around for 100 years now, which is rare, especially in America. Companies don’t last that long. They last 20 years. They think, “Wow, Amazon, 20 years.”
This is FanExpo’s 25th year.
Bruce Campbell: That is impressive though. That’s a quarter-century but you know Ripley’s is kicking your ass too. So that’s why I thought it was worth exploring. I followed Ripley’s. I read the books and watch the TV shows and I knew exactly what was going on.
[The Ripley’s exhibit], obviously, they have this section, which is the props and movies and the film. Is there something for one of your movies that you would love to see in the Ripley’s exhibit one day?
Bruce Campbell: Yes. Yeah, they should have some stuff in Ripley’s, but Ripley’s is kind of, unless it’s amazing, they won’t have it. That’s the thing. They don’t just play it [as this] history game. It’s got to be amazing. It has to be a strange animal, a strange device, something unique that’s never been done before. So yeah, that’s what makes their collection cool.
Will you be revisiting any of the [Ripley’s stories] that were previously covered? Or like kind of a look back?
Bruce Campbell: I think over time, they’ll have to do everything to choke the airwaves of material. You know, if you get three, four seasons into something, you have to get clever. But the thing that this first season showed me is how many stories there actually are. We did sixty stories. This for the first season alone. So, can you imagine over three, four years? That’s a lot of stories. Which shows you it’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on. I feel like we’re playing catch up.
Any examples you can give us from those sixty?
Bruce Campbell: No, no, because it’s…I can’t. It’s silly to single anything out. But they are amazing. The show is higher quality than I had hoped for. You never know when you get involved in something, is it going to be something they slapped together? Or do they care about it? So, as an executive producer, it was important to, I thought on my part, to work on the tone so we treat these people with respect. Because not one of them are normal. Normal as in our traditional normal. But that’s what’s cool about the show.
And do we get to see you kind of going out and about on location?
Bruce Campbell: No, I’m a studio guy. I tied all together. The crew goes out in films, the folks. They filmed themselves a lot. We’re using their footage at the time. Everyone has a camera like you, we’re all running around filming their exploits. We found some of these people on YouTube. You know, they have their own channel. It’s easier nowadays to find them than it was 10 years ago. Type in “weird shit,” and stuff comes up.
Would you ever like to travel in the future with the show?
Bruce Campbell: I travel enough. I, you know, last three years, I think it was thirty-five cities or forty cities. I’m only twenty-five cities this year. I’ve got off easy this year.
This is Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Is there anything that you’ve come across that you just do not believe?
Bruce Campbell: I believe it. But it is amazing. Still, it’s believable. But you go “I don’t know how but it’s believable. Unbelievable.”
And I was wondering just one of the exhibits that Ripley’s is famous for is the hairball. Have you contributed to the hairball? Have you contributed a lock of hair?
Bruce Campbell: Screw that. I’ll bring my cat by and give it a furball. Where is it? Where is the big ball?
Bruce Campbell: In Toronto?
No, it’s downstairs. It’s there now people are contributing their hair to the hairball.
[PR chimed in to let us know it got stuck for a while at Canadian customs]
You mentioned the longevity of Ripley’s. What do you think it is about the exhibit that in this day and age where there’s so much in terms of entertainment, this kind of old school form of entertaining is still popular?
Bruce Campbell: Well, you get to know the people. Anyone can find weird footage on the interwebs, but get to know the people that’s what’s different from us on a security camera. Showing weird things happen. We get to know these people and then we see it act out. We see what they’re trying to accomplish, overcome. They’re always trying to meet some new challenge mostly. We’re documenting that we’re taking their footage, we’re stealing their footage.
It’s about a good story.
Bruce Campbell: Yeah, it is because most of it, it’s come from behind because people are born, you know, kid’s born blind, just wants to ride his bike. So how do you learn? How do you ride a bike if you’re blind? You just want to be a normal kid. So, he learned that bats can echolocate, and make little clicking noises and they can see and can tell things from the sound bounced back. Is it a hard surface, a porous surface? Is it closer or further away? Is that an alley? Is it open space? Is it dirt? He learned it all and he started riding his bike by making little clicking echolocating noises just like a bat. And he got so good. You can teach other blind kids. It’s amazing.
Could you do it? Maybe? Could I do it? I don’t know. But you know, it’s how we think someone is born with a negative what you see if you make it into such a positive, the kids like abnormally gifted, in my opinion, to overcome what most of us would go “well, I’m blind. Guess I’m not riding that bike.” It’s great to see someone go, “no, I think I want to try that.” It’s great. We all get very convinced of our own limitations, and I think we could fool ourselves sometimes.
Do you think then in that vein, the show is quite inspirational?
Bruce Campbell: It’s 100% inspirational. Most of these people have lives that kind of blew before good things started to happen. Or they had physical challenges or were hurt, injured.
You mentioned tone there. Had they ever run segments past you that you turned down?
Bruce Campbell: No, because as long as it’s real, and that is the most amazing thing about Ripley’s it’s not faked. So we move kind of beyond the reality show aspect. Reality shows are manipulated, every single aspect of The Bachelor, every aspect is manipulated no matter what you think, it’s producers behind the scenes, pulling the strings, figuring out who would be the most entertaining to put together. We don’t do that. Everything you see is completely real. The guy says he can cut an Oreo cookie and half in the middle of the air through the cream sideways, he can do it, you know, verified. We have a bunch of the Guinness World Records folks doing stuff to sell. So, there’s a lot to look at.
You came a couple of years ago doing Last Fan Standing. What have you brought over or learned from Last Fan Standing that helped you host or what did you really have to change?
Bruce Campbell: I learned that people don’t need that show. Otherwise, we would get the show on the air by now. Sometimes it just takes a while to learn things. It was fine. We had fun. But we tried to pitch it as a TV show and nobody wanted it. I think they don’t want to white middle-aged guys running around acting like your crazy uncle. It’s when we realized we’re a little past our demographic.
It was good in the ’90s.
Bruce Campbell: Yeah, would have been great in the ’90s probably.
Was there anything in the Ripley’s warehouse that you were excited to see or are most looking forward to seeing?
Bruce Campbell: No, because I don’t know what they have. I’d love to see the inventory. I’m sure there’s stuff in there that’s more amazing than you would think. It’d be fun to do some shows where you just get the crates, get the crowbar. Get the curator, you know, come on, let’s show some stuff and tell the stories behind it. Because they wouldn’t have it in the museum if it wasn’t amazing. They’ll have a two-headed goat. They won’t have a one headed goat they’ll have a two-headed or a four-eyed something. Smithsonian doesn’t have that.
What do you want audiences to take from the show?
Bruce Campbell: Just a positive experience. Because you can sometimes see the normal side of people through extreme activity in a weird sort of way. Doesn’t really make sense. But yeah, mostly a positive experience. The “it factor” is not that hot. We don’t want to turn people off, that’s not the idea. But there are people who are doing stuff that’s both amazing and repulsive, at the same time. So you’re gonna have to deal with that to.
Granny’s not gonna want to watch everything and little Billy’s not gonna want to watch everything but, tough, that’s half the fun. There’s no reason for us to flinch away from it because it is real. A guy wanted to become a parrot, so he did everything he possibly physically could to become a parrot. So what would that entail? Surgery tattoo on his eyes, removing your ears, tattooing your face, like the patterns of a feather. He wanted to fly, so he rigged up some crazy fly rig. Amazing? Yes. Horrifying? Potentially. So, some stories have a two-edged sword. Yet at the same time, you celebrate that person’s independence. “I want to be a parrot. Here I go. Fly a little bird.”
Bruce Campbell: Let’s go with that.
Well, you can be whatever you want when you grow up.
Bruce Campbell: You can do whatever you want. I want to be a parrot. Some guys want to be a fireman.
You mentioned that you have been a fan of Ripley’s for some time. So, what was your first experience?
Bruce Campbell: Their book, they had a leather, clothbound red book. It was a good-sized book. And then they have their very unique illustrations that they always had. That was just a permanent fixture on our bookshelf in the living room. Most people had a Ripley’s book of some kind. That’s what you get with an institution
What do you think Ash Williams would make of the Ripley’s exhibit?
Bruce Campbell: He’d be like it’s cool. We did a story about a woman with a bionic arm. She has parts that she can put on, clip-on and clip off. Yeah.
You’ve done some pretty cool mutilation and gory scenes like being thrown through a glass window in Lodge 49 and cutting off your own hand in The Evil Dead 2. What’s been your most favorite gory scene to shoot?
Bruce Campbell: I’m not a gore guy, so I don’t have a favorite gore. Gore is a drag to me. Yeah. Blood is sticky. Blood is cold. Not fun, sticks on all your clothes. Yeah, I’m so over it.
You’re past it. You’re in your host life now.
Bruce Campbell: You know, once you realize you’re in your late fifties, should I really still be lying on dirt floors covered in blood? Is that really what’s on the agenda still, like still? It’s having it off the floor.
Personally, I would love to see you return to Sam Axe.
Bruce Campbell: It’s about time. People are starting to get nostalgic. All you gotta do is wait the right amount of time, which could be right about it now.
Quick letter-writing campaign.
Bruce Campbell: Especially when the world’s going to shit, everyone wants to find the shows that make them feel comfortable. They want that meatloaf sandwich that made them feel good. Like everything was safe.
Do you have any characters that you’d love to do one last hurrah with?
Bruce Campbell: I never sort of play that game. But you know, I could do this Western again. The Adventures of Brisco Country, Jr., Brisco Rides Again. Could do that. Sam Axe, Burn Notice could be good. There are still d-bags in the world that need to be taken down. You know, come out of retirement. Yeah, there’s stories in there. You know, these days with the structure of television. Everything’s going that way, anyway. Everything’s always a limited series, eight episodes or ten episodes. But that’s how you get Kirsten Dunst for Fargo. One year obligation, it’s not a seven-year contract. All TV contracts were always seven years and actors, they really start to bristle at that. Why you can’t get bigshot actors because they’re like “seven years. You kidding me? No chance, Lance.”
So, it’s kind of interesting how the format of TV shows works professionally because now you can get someone like Kirsten Dunst because she’ll go, “Great. I can do a whole season of a character study.” For an actor, it’s awesome. That’s the best part of Ash vs. Evil Dead, going back with experience now as an actor to that guy. To bring the character forward now and try and mess with it. It’s a very appealing aspect of it. So, I don’t know. Never say never about any remake. Everyone’s got remake fever. But they always have. The first movie ever made in Hollywood is The Great Train Robbery. You see cowboy pointing a pistol at the camera. And what’s the second movie? It’s the sequel, The Great Train Robbery 2. That didn’t take long. That’s how Hollywood works. I don’t know Marvel themselves into the ground.
Are you hoping to get a call to appear in Spider-man to prove to Tobey Maguire that you did outlast him?
Bruce Campbell: No. I don’t need that to prove my ability to outlast Tobey Maguire.
What is next for you then in terms of directing or acting?
Bruce Campbell: I have stuff coming up that’s not official so I can’t really talk about it. But I’ve written some of my own stuff that I’ve just finished up. Because I realized that you can’t… I want to get back into the movie game. Sort of where I started. I got diverted into TV for years, so it’s time to go back. But you need material. So I’ve just been writing more books, stuff like that.
Will you be working with the Raimi Brothers?
Bruce Campbell: If it falls off the truck that way. If that’s how it works, yeah.
Is it harder to get projects greenlit these days?
Bruce Campbell: I’m going to find out. All the executives are twenty-five. So it could be easier, it could be impossible. They might go, “Thanks, gramps. Nice meetin’ with you.” I mean, it’s time to find out.
On Ripley’s, will we be seeing a Ripley-esque ability from yourself?
Bruce Campbell: I don’t have those skills. Look, I got stunt guys for that. They’re there to make me look good. It’s all smoke and mirrors, you know. But Ripley’s is not fake. I’d have to have a skill it was real. I don’t have any skills that are real, other than riding electric bikes really well.
Was there any particular character you’ve ever played that you really identify with and miss playing?
Bruce Campbell: Most of ‘em. But Evil Dead, Ash, I’m done with. I’ve done that. Got that box checked. Because I think I played with enough to get my, you know, I left everything on the table. I don’t know, usually, when I’m done with the character, I’m happy to walk away from it. Burn Notice, same thing. Seven years, it’s a long run. Hundred and eleven episodes. That’s enough. Yeah, so we’ll see. Could be here next year. touting the Burn Notice movie.
What’s your favorite scary movie?
Bruce Campbell: Well, it’s the guy who sort of, persona non grata, Mr. Roman Polanski, The Tenant. A movie that haunted me for weeks after I saw it because it messes with your head. It’s trying to make you think you’re going crazy and by the end of the movie you actually really wonder if you’re going fucking crazy and it really disturbed me. I found it completely disturbing and not a drop of blood in the whole movie. No gore, no monsters, no nothing. I mean, it’s creepy as shit because that’s what Polanski’s really good at. And he’s in it and so it’s really weird. Yeah, he’s a weird actor. Yeah.