Bruce Campbell – Giving His Burn Notice
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally posted on January 20, 2009.
It’s not easy to make a living in Hollywood as a cult celeb, but Bruce Campbell never believed in doing things the easy way.
Campbell has become a God for throngs of fans for B-movies and genre work. Best known for his role in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films and The Army of Darkness, Campbell has had only one requirement for his projects – that they be different and intriguing. This includes playing a still-alive Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep, the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills in Escape from Los Angeles, the title character in Maniac Cop and supporting roles in A-movies such as Fargo, Congo, The Majestic, Intolerable Cruelty and all three Spider-Man films.
His most recent film, My Name Is Bruce – which he also directed – has him playing a fictionalized version of himself as a slob B-movie hero who is forced to fight evil for real. Campbell also has a history of short-lived TV series – particularly the critical fave Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Finally he has gotten a role in a series that is exposing him to a wider television audience, the popular spy series Burn Notice with Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar and Sharon Gless. He plays Sam, an old-school former spy who is now helping a recently targeted fellow spy survive a series of attempts on his life – all while helping regular people by fighting off crime in ways that slightly skirt the law.
The series was recently picked up for a third season by the USA Network. As Burn Notice was getting ready to return for the second half of the sophomore season, Campbell was nice enough to hold a conference call with us, as well as several other websites, to discuss his experiences on the show.
How much creative input do you have with your character for the show?
Well, every situation is different and Burn Notice is very structured. Matt Nix, it’s his show. It’s his concept. It’s his idea. So when I came on board, I’m going to give smaller stuff. You know, I might ad lib some stupid joke at the end of a scene or whatever. Or I might suggest a tone or maybe treat Michael’s mother more gently at some point. It’s really for me mostly smaller stuff; the captain of the ship is Matt Nix and he’s also allowing us to think through scenes and if we want to throw in a line or so, he doesn’t have a problem with that. But I never show up on a set going, “Man, I got to ad lib today.”
We talk to a lot of people on a lot of shows, but it’s rare that you get to talk to ones who you really, really love the show.
Well you have great taste, obviously. But look, it is fun to be a part of a project that has been accepted. As an actor, we tend to work pretty hard on TV shows. They’re non-stop for a long time and you never know. You’re acting in a void; you never know what the reaction is going to be. It’s just nice to come across a show like Burn Notice that has caught on and it’s grown every year. Hopefully this new batch of episodes coming in January is going to be something they’re looking for.
Did you see the success of the show coming up? Are you at all surprised about how successful it has been?
I’m surprised by everything these days because you never know. My basis for accepting this script when it came across my desk was I loved the fact of what it wasn’t. It wasn’t a cop show. It wasn’t a doctor show. It wasn’t a lawyer show. There’s plenty of stuff that goes on, but this is basically the human side of spies and I went, right, I can get into that. I really enjoyed the fact that it’s a good blend of a show that does have strong main characters, and not a lot of them. It’s got four main characters. That’s what the emphasis is. And oh yes, stuff blows up and every week there is a caper where you defeat the jerk of the week. But I think it’s mostly you watch these characters from week to week, and that’s what I enjoy. That’s what appealed to me and what keeps me interested in the show is it’s not really about the explosions, it’s about the people who are doing the explosions.
For someone who hasn’t seen any episodes so far, what would you say to somebody coming in totally virgin to the show?
I think if you come into the show late, you’re going to be okay because they always do enough recaps to kind of fill you in. And the lead character, Michael Westen, has very heavy voiceover. He’s kind of guiding you through the show, so I think you’re going to be fine. He’s going to give you any kind of recap that you need to jump in. And those people that have followed everything, I think they’re going to be all over it because they’ve been waiting for it for, whatever, four or five months now.
What about your role continues to challenge you?
To try and figure out how to sweat less. No, I would say just to keep Sam interested in the stories and participating on stories. If the writers do most of the work, which they will then do that, that they’ll keep the character engaged. If the character’s engaged, then it’s easy for me to be engaged in the character. Hopefully whenever Sam was around in his portion that he’s involved in something [he] has an opinion about something or whatever. No actor likes to just sit around. As long as it’s the same as the first two seasons, I’m good to go.
Do you have a most memorable moment you’ve had from filming the seasons?
For me, I’m just convinced one day that some bystander’s going to shoot me with a gun. The reason why I say that is because my character Sam has a rifle with a scope and often he’s up on high rises and overpasses taking potshots at people. Sometimes you can’t see the crew connected to me, because they put me far away. Miami has a lot of guns, and so I’m just afraid some do-gooder’s going to see me up there firing away and they’re going to save Miami from that criminal. And then Burn Notice will have three main characters.