Watching a clever clip reel of his work at a student film exhibit last week, Burn Notice co-star and horror film actor Bruce Campbell was quick to define a couple things about his early career:
1. He spent the majority of it covered in some sort of gross substance, or confronting some nefarious being covered in gross substances, or emitting gross substances. “I barfed up leeches!” he later clarifies.
2. He also screamed an awful lot. “I was watching that clip and thought, ‘Screaming. Screaming. And more screaming. I was always screaming and covered in crap.”
Of course, Campbell is more than a screaming man. He is so classically comic book hero good-looking that ‘50s era Superman would probably look at him and say “Oh, come on!”
He’s also a cult hero of director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series and Army of Darkness (he’s in a lot of Raimi movies, including the Spider-Man series and the new Oz, Great and Powerful.) He’s a fun TV action star (“ The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. Xena, Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and USA’s current Burn Notice) and a clever, self-aware author ( If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor and Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way.)
He’s also the kind of guy who drives an hour north of Miami, where he shoots Burn Notice, relatively early in the morning to walk the red carpet of the Palm Beach International Film Festival’s Student Showcase of Films at Lynn University and present awards to a bunch of kids.
Not everyone does that when they don’t have to. But Campbell does it, because a lot of people who didn’t have to help him out did that for him. And so it goes.
“I had a handful of good teachers who helped me, and after high school I got breaks along the way from people like Stephen King, who gave Evil Dead his endorsement and caused a lot of critics to give it a second look,” he explains after presenting the festival’s College Feature/Short Awards. “I had a lot of mentors along the way, and now we’re the mentors.”
Indeed, Campbell says that he and his wife “joke that I have a lot of sons, from different associations that have gone on that I keep in touch with (and check on) their well-being.”
A career like his is perhaps the best sort of encouragement for young filmmakers, because he has worked, cheerfully and consistently, for three decades, even in the less-than-big budget movies.
“I don’t go anywhere,” he says, smiling. “I just don’t leave!”
His varied choices have brought him not only a large following among cult movie fans but an appreciation for actors like Burt Reynolds, whom he walked the red carpet with and appeared onstage with at the awards, and with whom he co-starred on an episode of Burn Notice.
“I look at guys like that … I’ve been doing this since 1979, and he’s been doing this at least 20 years more than me. And I’m so impressed with guys like him. He has such a long history, but he’s still ticking,” Campbell says. “And even now, when he sees a woman that catches his eye, no matter who he’s talking to, he stops and looks.”
The film festival is part of the Palm Beach County Film and Television Commission’s drive to bring productions to the area. Campbell understands, since the city of Miami has become another character on the spy series Burn Notice.
“We make it look cool. It’s a cool, exotic place with cool, exotic people. We’ve been to some beautiful places, and since it’s a spy series, we’ve filmed in every creepy alley and abandoned building in Homestead. It’s brightly and blightly,” Campbell says. “I was dragged down here because of the show — I’m a West Coast guy. But it’s been fun being in a whole new city. I love Miami. It’s so close to the United States.”
When asked where he hopes his character Sam Axe winds up when Burn Notice wraps up, he laughs.
“Hopefully, not dead.”