Bruce Campbell has played a lifetime’s worth of sleazebags — miserable, self-serving lowlifes who drag everyone else down with them. His latest is Gary, an alcoholic contractor who also goes by “Captain” on Lodge 49. He was introduced on the show last week, chugging spirits from a paper bag and waking up in his own vomit as he reels from his divorce. The show’s protagonists – Wyatt Russell’s Dud and Brent Jennings’ Ernie, members of a local fraternal lodge — searched for the mystery man far and wide, seeking his sage-like wisdom. They eventually found him drunk in a kiddie pool, before the conniving gent welcomed them into his wife’s home … where he was unlawfully squatting. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“Gary had a great duplicity in his life, and those are the best characters to play,” Campbell says. “The trick is to not make ’em one-dimensional assholes. I have standard good looks, so I could have done soap operas. But to me that was not appealing because there’s just not enough going on. I like flawed characters. Perfect characters? That’s for superheroes. Gimme a dyslexic plumber any day.”
Campbell, 60, got his big break in 1981, playing the zombie-inundated Ash Williams in the cult hit horror flick, The Evil Dead, and he cemented his legacy as a self-described “B movie actor” with a sleazier version of the same role in the movie’s 1987 sequel, Evil Dead II. Since then, he’s had bit parts in major movies like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man flicks and bigger roles in smaller movies and TV shows, including The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Xena: Warrior Princes, Hercules and Burn Notice. When he speaks, there’s an excitement in his voice that shows just how much he likes playing the right damaged man. (There’s also enthusiasm to be speaking with Rolling Stone: “I don’t think I’ve ever been interviewed for Rolling Stone,” he beams, even though yes, he has. “I figured it was just for people like John Wayne or Sean Penn.”)
The way he tells it, his role on Lodge 49 is “Paul Giamatti’s fault.” Giamatti, who is an executive producer on the show, phoned him up at the end of his book tour for last year’s Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor. “He gave me the spiel of, ‘We’re not talking to anybody else, you have to do it, just basically shut up and do it,'” Campbell says. “I was like, ‘OK, this is an actor suggesting a good part,’ so of course I read it and I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, he’s right.’ Actors will work for free for good words. So I turned the car around and drove back to Atlanta, where they were shooting, and we did it.”
Even though the part was relatively small in the context of the show, Campbell said he decided to let the character in “all the way” as part of his process. Some actors, he says, simply present facades of a character. Then there are those like, Jennifer Lawrence, whom he says seems to become a role. For the part of Captain, he was playing a character who believed his own bullshit, so he found that inner bullshit-believer place.
“Everybody is 100 shades of white, black and gray,” Campbell says. “The fact our country’s run by two parties is ridiculous, ’cause I think that people are way more checker-boarded than that. Gary’s a great character — very successful, completely losing in his private life and he’s not really that honest. In his mind, it’s completely justified. I grew up in the Midwest and I had a lot of friends whose fathers were well-to-do developers and they’re not real happy guys – but incredibly successful. So this was a strange combo platter of a modern-day, successful man.”
“Perfect characters? That’s for superheroes. Gimme a dyslexic plumber any day.”
On Lodge 49, though, Campbell’s successful scumbag met his comeuppance for all his sins. On last night’s episode (spoiler alert), Captain fired a harpoon at a home invader and it was so powerful it pushed him back into a stuffed narwhal that belonged to his soon-to-be ex, piercing his eye. For Campbell, the actor, it was just deserts for the character. Moreover, he’s happy with the way they handled it on the show.
“I come from the world of exploitation cinema,” he says. “If you shot that in an action movie or horror movie, you’d have handhelds whipping back, the harpoon would go off. Aaahh. You’d see it go through the eye, he’d stumble back, and he’d crash through a plate-glass window, flip over the railing. You’d see all of it. But he way they do it in this show is so you have to imagine a lot of it. You see the end results and put it together.”
It’s a far cry from the sorts of scenes Campbell has shot throughout his career. Once, for an episode of Brisco County, he remembers he was hanging from a window ledge, holding onto the actor playing his character’s friend. The camera was supposed to go through the window and show that they were dangling over a wagon full of pitchforks and axes – “dangerous stuff you wouldn’t want to fall into,” he says. He remembers feeling nervous when one of the PAs asked if he felt comfortable with it all. “It’s just faith, ’cause if we’d landed, it’s not like we’d have been killed … but we certainly would have been injured as hell,” he says. Another time on that same show, he remembers he was in “a stampede that went a little wrong.” He laughs at the thought that those examples came from a show filmed for Fox TV and not an indie production.
Mostly, though, he’s happy with where his career has led him. Lodge 49 comes off a bloody, three-season run for Ash Vs. Evil Dead, a small-screen continuation of the movies he’d made with Raimi. Though that show was recently canceled, he says he’s satisfied with the way it went out. “God bless Starz, because they let us mostly do what we wanted to do,” he says. “That’s unrated TV with zero censorship, and that’s what fans needed. We had a little bit of suspicion that our third season might be our last, so we wanted to make sure we gave it a good, snap-bang ending. All these Evil Dead movies are really difficult. I’m 60, and I think I should be doing, like, Shakespeare in the Park, drawing-room comedies and dinner theater now. It’s just not practical anymore.”
And if these opportunities come from TV, that’s all the better. “Television is finally not the bastard stepchild anymore,” he muses enthusiastically. “My first TV gig was Knots Landing and actors would put a coat over their head and hide when they went to work, ’cause, ‘Oh, my God, I’m doing TV.'”