No one can criticize Bruce Campbell for taking himself too seriously -- at least not after seeing his latest film. In the independently financed horror-comedy spoof "My Name Is Bruce," the actor is recruited to save a small Oregon town from an angry Chinese god (who happens to be the patron saint of bean curd), but unlike the heroic roles he's played in countless B-movies, this Bruce Campbell turns out to be a washed-up loudmouth who can barely pay the rent, let alone battle otherworldly forces.
"I was accused of this being an ode to myself and I was like, man, what kind of self-esteem would I have?" Campbell, 50, said with a chuckle, calling from his rural Oregon home.
Egoist he is not. If anything, Campbell repeatedly has proved that he enjoys nothing more than sending up one particular facet of his own public persona: the suave, sarcastic leading man, a little John Wayne, a little Elvis Presley, that emerged during the course of shooting numerous low-budget movies, Sam Raimi's cult classic "Evil Dead" films among them.
He wrote about his experiences working on those projects in his first book, "If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor," then ventured into parody with a follow-up, "Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way," on the cover of which he was photographed wearing an ascot and a smoking jacket.
He kept that swinging lounge vibe for an Old Spice commercial campaign, with one spot featuring Campbell seated at a piano belting out a rendition of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" surrounded by a group of oblivious models.
Most recently, Campbell's been spending his time on more mainstream fare, starring with Jeffrey Donovan in USA's Miami-set spy adventure series "Burn Notice" and doing voice-over work for animated films, including Sony's upcoming "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."
But it was the cult movie star identity that provided the perfect hook for the new film, which he also directed and will unveil for Los Angeles audiences this weekend at the Nuart Theatre. (The L.A. dates mark the end of a 22-city tour that has seen Campbell travel across the country to screen the movie and conduct Q&A sessions with audiences.)
Inspired by a 1940s comic book in which a group of people plagued by pirates kidnap swashbuckling actor Alan Ladd to help them, Oregon-based screenwriter Mark Verheiden pitched the idea for the film to Campbell, who made his own tweaks once he had a completed draft of the screenplay. Part of the appeal, Campbell said, was to make a movie in his home state over which he would have complete creative control.
"Once I finally got the script, I had to eventually put it into the world of reality, of what we could actually shoot," he said. "Because I was actor boy too, I would just change whatever I felt I needed to change. I had a pretty free hand. My whole theory is, it ain't about the budget, it's about what creative control do you have. For me, that's everything. There would be a lot of chefs in a $200-million movie. There would be some severe opinions, and I'm not sure I'm really interested in that these days."
Campbell and his crew wound up sticking, quite literally, close to home. The fictional town of Gold Lick, where much of the action takes place, was constructed on Campbell's own property.
"The gas station covered up my office," he said. "I thought, 'Let's just go the crazy back-lot 1942 route where everything is fake.' It was blissful. I live out in the woods and there's no cell service, so there were no interruptions or airplanes. It was really easy to shoot -- once we went through the whole hassle of building an entire town."
The set is still standing, which might again prove convenient if Campbell's fan base decides it wants to see more of its fallible hero. He's skeptical about sequel prospects but said he hasn't ruled out the notion of revisiting his over-the-top alter ego.
"I have no intention of playing myself for the rest of my life," Campbell said. "I think I'm kind of done. I did a book where I played myself, now I've got a movie. I think we can hang that hat up for a little bit -- unless there is just overwhelming demand for 'My Name Is Still Bruce.' "