SFX Issue 123

November 2004

Interview:

BRUCE CAMPBELL

Elvis Aaron Presley, Bubba Ho-Tep

Well, we know he can kill the Evil Dead ... but can he play an elderly Elvis in an old folks’ home?

“Here’s my overall picture,” says Bruce Campbell cheerfully, when SFX asks him how he thinks Elvis fans will respond to his new film, Bubba Ho-Tep . “Do you wanna remember Elvis dying as he did – ‘straining at stool’, as heinous as that sounds? This film was a chance to go, ‘No! This is how Elvis went out! He went out a hero! He went out BIG!’ It’s kind of like Elvis’s last dance.”

In case you don’t believe it, yes, Campbell does indeed don the chunky sunglasses, shiny jumpsuit and gratuitous sideburns of the King in this award-winning film, which sees Elvis facing off with an ancient mummy in an old people’s home. It’s a monster movie-cum-tribute to Presley – although, admittedly, the story doesn’t treat him with much dignity at first, giving him a horrible medical affliction (“Oh yeah, the pus-filled, cancerous dick!” cackles Campbell) and a rather crabby demeanour.

“This guy’s a miserable bastard when you see him,” explains the actor, “but that’s just so the character has somewhere to go. In your mind you think, ‘That’s not Elvis! Where’s Elvis?’, but during the course of the movie he becomes more like him. He goes from being a grumpy old man to almost a superhero.” Considering the cult that’s grown around the singer since his death, to many people Elvis is a superhero. “Is that why he wore those dumbass capes?” muses Campbell, wryly. “I didn’t know too much about him at first. When I graduated from high school, which was in ’76, he was just kind of a slob; he was, like, dead the next year! So, it wasn’t until working on this movie that I did a little more figuring out of who he was. I have a great renewed respect for him. But the guy had this weirdo, tragic life. He’s a good, conflicted character, and as an actor you wanna play those weirdo, conflicting characters.”

Despite not receiving a proper cinema release in the States, Bubba Ho-Tep was still a critical success. Hopefully, the movie will reach giddier heights on big screens over here. “The UK is the first true theatrical distribution,” says Campbell. He’s happy about it, too, because he likes us! “I have to say Mother England is the country that discovered The Evil Dead – it was not discovered in the States. England is the one that set that aside, so we’ll always forever be in debt to Mother England.” Aw. Glad to have been of service, mate.

If there’s one thing that does strike you upon watching Bubba Ho-Tep , it’s how odd it must have been to film. We can’t help but wonder: after spending six weeks wearing uncomfortable prosthetics to play a modern-day Elvis being terrorised by a mummy, does Campbell ever feel that his life is rather surreal? “I don’t know,” he ponders. “Your life might be surreal compared to mine! My life is normal. Normal is your current normal. Your normal is never normal to somebody else’s normal. It makes sense in an abnormal kind of way.”

Ever wish you hadn’t asked?

“Umm, it’s weird,” he continues. “I have two older brothers, and neither of them is in the film business. One is currently serving in the army; he’s always being sent off to strange lands. He’s at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba right now. You talk about surreal; that’s surreal. He’ll run into people in the military who are fans! They’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re Bruce Campbell’s brother!’ The Evil Dead movies are very popular in the military. There was a group in Afghanistan who would watch a sequence from Army Of Darkness and then go out on their mission. That’s a little scary!”

Woah. Could it be that those l’il Evil Dead flicks really are promoting violence, years after the “video nasty” controversy? “I would like to think not,” Campbell shrugs. “I would like to think that it just jazzes these guys up. But honestly I don’t know; I have no idea. I’ll get a letter from someone who says, ‘I was gonna kill myself, but I watched an episode of your show.’ And that’s just as horrifying! ‘You mean to tell me that if you’d watched a different channel, you’d be dead now?’ When life hangs in the balance, there’s not much you can do; that person’s pretty much on the edge anyway. But I’m glad to help! You know, I also don’t wanna get that letter that says, ‘Little Johnny carved his mother up with a chainsaw because of the Evil Dead movies.’”

Campbell’s penchant for off-the-wall movies continues. He’s recently returned from Bulgaria (“Eastern Europe, where there are a thousand unfinished buildings everywhere you look!”), where he was filming two typically idiosyncratic films for SCI FI. The Man With The Screaming Brain sees him play a businessman who gets half the brain of a former Communist KGB member, whereas Alien Apocalypse teams him with Xena ’s Renée O’Connor as astronauts who return to Earth to find aliens have invaded. The next thing on his agenda, however, is a book.

“It’s called How To Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way ,” he announces, sounding proud. “Fortunately for everybody, the book is fiction. It takes me – the real person – and puts me in a fictitious situation. It’s a fictitious story, with me.”

Does this mean that he’s an expert on dating? Is it based on anything in real life?

“No, I don’t think so,” he declares, gleefully. “It’s total bullshit.”

Bubba Ho-Tep is released on 8 October.