Bruce Campbell in a scene from ‘Burn Notice.’
USA Network Enlarge
LOS ANGELES -- You have to leave Hollywood to be discovered there. At least that's what happened to longtime actor Bruce Campbell.
Campbell already enjoyed cult status as one of the stars and creators of the Evil Dead movie trilogy. He'd made those with his high school pal, Sam Raimi, and their partner Rob Tapert.
"After the Evil Dead movies were over I had to learn how to be an actor for hire again," says Campbell, over a hearty breakfast in a corner cafe.
"I wasn't used to that. I did a Knots Landing. It was my first TV show in '87, two episodes. It was a horrifying experience. And not a good one because I was used to doing multiple takes, and you'd shoot film till you got it right. In television they'd go, 'How was the camera? Was it in focus? OK, let's go.' I thought, 'What kind of filmmaking is this?' So I didn't do TV for years after that. I hated it."
But Campbell is back in full force as the former FBI informant, Sam Axe, in USA's Burn Notice. It's a whole new ballgame for Campbell, who actually quit for a while following his divorce from his first wife.
"My kids were really young, [and I] got to see her about once a month. I had no time with the family. She wanted a divorce and I said, 'OK, if you want me to get out, I'll get out. I'll quit.' She was tired of me, though. I would've quit for the family. It was a desperate situation. I would've been a park ranger, whatever. I'm glad she said no because ultimately we weren't really right for each other, and that's what you have to learn."
He learned another lesson too.
"Because it was such a big issue in my life, I stopped worrying about the film business. And it actually helped, because nothing is as bad as divorce and not seeing your kids as much. Nothing is as bad as that. So I'm not going to worry about where my next job is coming from. I stopped worrying about everything. I was, like, 'This is fake,' " he taps the table with his right hand.
"Hollywood is a very fickle mistress. She's never happy. You can never put in enough time. You can never be pretty enough or handsome enough or strong enough or have the best body or have the best plastic surgeon. It freed me up a lot because I didn't care if I got a part after that. I just didn't care."
Campbell was flat broke then. He worked for a month as a security guard for an Anheuser-Busch brewery until Raimi and Tapert hired him to negotiate the sound for Raimi's movie Darkman.
"Rob and Sam bought me a stereo system for my new apartment because they knew I didn't have anything," he said. "It was up there on orange crates, my stereo system, which I still have from the guys."
Then Campbell, 54, landed a plum role in TV's The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. but it was canceled after a year. His syndicated show Jack of All Trades, suffered the same fate.
"So I moved to Oregon in '98, bought piece of property, made a couple movies, wrote a couple books," he said.
"I said, 'I'm going to run my own show, nobody's telling me what to do' Very defiant. You know, I never went to Hollywood parties. I couldn't tell you the names of three casting agents in this entire city. I never understood what that had to do with your actual work. It drives me insane. I watch an actor or actress get to a certain point, then they disappear because they're doing a clothing line and a fragrance. Where'd the acting go? Why aren't you acting anymore? It's like they get tired of it. They just want to make the easy money. So I moved out, spent five or six years doing my own thing."
He'd married former costume designer Ida Gearon in '91. But forsaking Hollywood wasn't easy.
"It's funny, when you leave there's always that fear: 'They're not going to remember who you are,' and things like that. But to me, it left a signal: 'I don't need this. If you need me I'll be around. Come and find me.'
"The year before I moved out I did a list of where I'd worked. Seventy percent of it was not even in L.A. so what am I doing here? Now I live in the woods. I don't have cell service where my house is."
When the script for Burn Notice came along in 2007, Campbell wasn't interested.
"The representative said, 'Just read it. We think it's different.' I read it and found it to be very fresh, an original idea and a great character for me. So I did the pilot, but I wasn't thinking of doing anything else.
"I went back, finished up working on my movie, and I get a call. They picked it up. I said, 'Picked what up? Burn Notice? Oh, crap, that show in Miami, the thing about Miami?' "
He'd been to Miami twice -- once for a book signing that failed to attract anyone and once for a movie opening, which bombed.
"I remember leaving Miami and saying, 'I'm never coming back to this city again.' And a year later I was back doing a pilot for Burn Notice. So here we are, six years into it. I think some of the best things come out of nowhere."
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