Bruce Campbell is dressed to kill: The actor talks Evil Dead series & his dark fanny pack past

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Mar 19, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT (Updated)

From cutting through contestants to cutting through Deadites with a chainsaw, Bruce Campbell is a man on multiple missions. Last Monday the actor launched his nerd trivia game show Last Fan Standing on the new CONtv streaming network, and now he's packing his bags for New Zealand, where he'll soon begin filming Ash vs. Evil Dead for Starz.

Set to debut late 2015, the 10-episode series gives fans what they've been clamoring for since 1992's Army of Darkness: More of Campbell as Ashley J. "Ash" Williams. Now Campbell, director Sam Raimi and executive producer Rob Tapert are re-teaming to tell the continuing misadventures of S-Mart's most famous employee.

Details about the show have been emerging since it was announced last November. We know Ash is a bit of a bum; instead of a heroic figure who defeated evil, he's been working dead-end jobs, living in a trailer park and picking up women at bars in the wee hours of the night. He has something of PTSD from his early days, but his battle against the risen dead kicks back up in a big way, and Ash is humanity's worst best hope to save us all. Along the way, he also teams up with younger recruits and runs afoul of the Michigan state troopers. And, in news we broke on, we know Lucy Lawless will be joining Bruce as the extreme character Ruby, who blames Ash for the rising evil.

Last week I discussed Last Fan Standing with Campbell -- which has another new episode up this week -- but we couldn't let Groovy Bruce go without talking about Ash. In an interview held shortly before he was to head to New Zealand to begin filming, Campbell reveals more about his famous character's return, his own sense of fashion and why the series may or may not include certain elements from the Evil Dead film franchise.

Tonally, what is the balance between the horror stuff and the comedy?

It will be more like Army of Darkness in tone, with a very irreverent character who makes horrible mistakes constantly. He disappoints humanity at every turn, but he's the guy. He's the man who has been chosen to save the entire world. Then dead have risen again. Every so often, they rise to test the mettle of the average man. The average man in this case is Ash; he is the bellwether for all of humanity. If Ash can perform and save the world, the world is safe. If he fails as a man -- which he probably will -- the world is doomed. 

He is sort of a modern version of Job or Lot from the Bible. 

He is Job! It's the story of Job. Ash is Job. Three letters.

But the worst guy to be on the job. He is a bit of a loser. I can imagine him being in the bar with a prosthetic hand saying he is an astronaut who lost it on a mission.

Oh yeah, and he's at the bar at 1:30 in the morning. He is not going during normal hours, but going when it's closing time and he can get some. He is not your standard lead character, which is awesome. That is what appeals to me about it.

He is recruiting these younger people in the fight, but it's not like Ash was all that great at the job in Army of Darkness. Is he going to be a flawed Yoda to the new recruits?

He will be a flawed everything. He's a flawed character. That's why I love him.

Fans have been asking for this for a long time. Is it dangerous to give them what they want?

No, because they've wanted it for 30 years. We're finally going to give it to them. There is no danger whatsoever other than the fact they might not like what we're putting out. But you run that risk with any show -- with not connecting with a fan base. But you know, this is sort of an easy lob over the center of the plate. Keeping with the baseball metaphor, we're throwing a big easy pitch for people to hit out of the park. It isn't a big stretch. We want to relate to these fans because they've been instrumental in driving all of these Evil Dead incarnations. 

How much do we have the success of Burn Notice to thank for an Evil Dead series?

I don't think you have it to thank at all. Burn Notice was really its own beast. I've done TV series before Burn Notice, and it appears I'll do them after. Burn Notice is great for just putting your face in people's living rooms for seven years. That never hurts. But I've had TV credits before that, so I don't think that was a deciding factor. But a hit show never hurts. 

In addition to Tapert, Raimi, Lawless, you're going back to New Zealand. This is familiar ground, so are you getting other members of the band back together?

We're going to get a lot of the Kiwi crew back together. This will be my fourth TV show down there now. I worked on Hercules, Xena and Jack of All Trades there. We got to know the crew down there pretty well, and they're good. We're bringing them back. I am getting a lot of emails from the same people I was getting them from before, as far as coordinating things and producing. Rob Tapert has assembled a very solid base with the team he's been working with for years. Tapert is the king of New Zealand now.

Would Peter Jackson slightly disagree?

Yeah, but we were there first. Quick reminder: We trained the crew they used on Lord of the Rings. The last season of Xena you didn't want to work on it because they were all bailing to go to Lord of the Rings. We were left with one-eyed, one-legged crewmembers at the end there. I have to say, we trained a lot of people with Hercules and Xena. How about we share the crown with Mr. Jackson?

You've said in the past you're not so much a zombie guy. Deadites never really were zombies, either. In a world of The Walking Dead, is there anything you want to tell people about Deadites who are approaching it for the first time? What are Deadites?

Deadites can talk, think, are very smart. They can drive cars for a period of time. They can pretend they're not possessed. They are very wily, very clever. They will trick you and play games, and they're not shufflers. They are very strong, and it's hard to kill them. You have to dismember them, basically -- or something equally horrendous. That's pretty much it. I think they are a more worthy opponent. They're rascally.

Do they age? Is Evil Ash kicking around on this mortal plane, and aging? 

We haven't come to that bridge yet. It isn't in the cards yet as of this conversation, but a lot can happen in five years. 

Are you using the Necronomicon, and did you have an old prop to bust out?

We're still kind of going through that. When you make a show that goes back with different companies over different years, you have to deal with various partners for legal reasons. Or not deal with other things for legal reasons. We actually have to go through the whole series and figure out what we can and can't use, just based on stupid old contracts from 30 years ago. It will be a little convoluted, but we will work around it the best we can. So some elements will not be included because, contractually, it was a little too tricky. Or other elements will be included because it wasn't too tricky. We own the elements from the very first movie, so we can always have a character Ash. Once you get into the other movies, financed by other companies, you have to be careful about what you include. 

Can I assume we'll see you at San Diego Comic Con doing a big rollout for this show? 

I think we'll be all over that like a cheap suit. 

You're also re-releasing your books, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor and How To Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way. Are you adding additional content to those?

Well the Chins book is going to get a full-on sequel within a year. I've got the material, and I just need to put it together. It has been 15 years since the first, so I have a few more cheesy stories to tell. And we will put out an updated version of the first Chins book with slightly updated information, then the sequel will follow. The Make Love book is fiction, so there's really no updating to be done. We're just making it all wonderful and digital with new color photos. The pisser about those books is they came out and all my shots had to be in black and white to get published. No one was going to incur the cost of publishing color photos. Now, thankfully, we can digitally give them all-new stuff. It will a nice shiny version of the books. 

Are there other books you're looking to do, like a guide to fashion? 

I may do a style piece, a style rant, for Esquire magazine. It won't come in book form, but I will be voicing my strident opinion on occasion. But there's always room for more books.

You're a snappy dresser, so what's the key to a good game show host wardrobe?

Flashy colors, man. The more the merrier. Video doesn't usually like what I put on because it creates busy images and confounds technicians. That's the way I like it. It's all part of the show. I shop at places where very specific clientele goes. Not everyone can go to JC Penney's and get the stuff I wear. You have to work for really obscure, hole-in-the-wall places. It is not easy.

This isn't a new thing for you. You've been dressing well for a while.

I've been trying to get everyone at these conventions to step up their game a bit. Put the basketball shorts away, hide the camouflage hat and let's take a nice picture. It wouldn't kill you to wear a nice suit. I wear these outfits because you get so many crappy pictures taken of you, you might as well be wearing a tux. That's my theory. 

I've noticed both Ted and Sam Raimi are suit-and-tie guys. Is that your influence?

We were style masters way back in the day, then we lost it and now we're getting it back. Raising money for the first Evil Dead, we realized Detroit businessmen needed to see you in a suit. We went to Montgomery Wards, bought briefcases and buy these old suits. There was a church in a very rich suburb that had a rummage sale once a year; it was where all the rich people would dump all their great stuff. They felt guilty and gave it to this church, so we'd buy great suits –- silk-lined, wool suits -– for like 20 bucks, and get it tailored for another 20. For $40, you were styling. Then I had kids, and it all went out the window. It went to fanny packs, socks and sandals. It was bad. Now that my kids are out of my face and living their own lives, I can get back to where I needed to be -– as a stylin' fool!

I really hope you did not just confess to wearing a fanny pack.

Oh, I did. I had glasses with the little granny protector on them, so you could take them off and they'd be floating on your shirt. I'm not ashamed to say, it was a phase in my life. We all have phases, and that one is gone.

It gives hope for us all. We can return from the brink.

Anyone can move beyond the fanny pack, and get back. Style in America has got to come back, particularly for men. Men are really slacking out there. They expect ladies to look nice, all dressed up, and all fit, with makeup, but men look like schlubs. It's an abomination!

There have been times lately where I've shown up at an airport wearing a blazer and tie, and you do get treated a little better.

There is no question about it. If you show up in a suit and tie, they'll look at you weird because only tired businessmen will have a suit and tie on the plane. If you show up like that, they will treat you differently. I am not a big fan of smoke and mirrors; I like being who I am. But there is something about perception being nine-tenths of the law. How are you perceived? This way I can be a jerk, but I'm wearing a suit, so it works great.

Would you like to impart any Bruce Campbell tips on not being a bad fan? How can they make the approach, come off as cool, and get a little nice fan-celeb interaction without incurring a restraining order?

I would simply come up to the table and have something to say, for starters. These poor people wait in line for two hours, come up to the table. I'm like, "How you doing?" and they go [mumbles incoherently]. "Where you from?" [more mumbles]. They're very shy people. So it is sometimes a struggle to strike up a conversation. Come up and be ready. When I met William Shatner the first time, I had a story I was going to tell. I had a little way into his world I thought would be inoffensive, something I thought he'd enjoy. Put a little thought into it before you meet Lou Ferrigno. Ask him something maybe other than the Hulk, like bodybuilding.

Don't open with "We wouldn't like you when you're angry."

Exactly! Sorry, Lou, don't want to piss you off. Ha-ha. Yeah, I wouldn't start with that.