Bruce Campbell is a man’s man. He plays characters tough, funny, self-effacing. Peers say he’s nothing but a true professional on the set. He’s a film and TV cult star many times over, from the Evil Dead movies to his self-parody, My Name is Bruce, to the still loved steam-punkish western show Brisco County, Jr. and a recurring role on the Hercules and Xena programs in the ’90s.
In this decade, Campbell has become an essential part of USA Network’s Burn Notice as Sam Axe, ex-Navy Seal and best pal to burned spy Michael Westin (Jeffrey Donovan) with almost a big brother relationship with weapons and demolition crazy Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), and also the new guy on the block Jesse, burned by Michael, only he doesn’t know it.
At the recent Burn Notice panel during Comic-Con in San Diego, the crowd chanted “Broooce” before he made his entrance. He was ever the beloved showman throughout, and the roars were loudest when an announcement was made about a USA prequel TV movie about his Sam Axe character.
Campbell was straight-shooting yet quip-loaded talking to the press afterward, sitting down at a table dotted with all manner of microphones and digital cameras and phones on mini-tripods.
Bruce Campbell: I like everybody’s tiny gizmos that they have now. It changes every year. Awesome.
Darryl Morden: What can you tell us about this Sam Axe movie?
BC: Not much. We just got the go-head today, like ten minutes before we went on stage. Matt Nix (Burn Notice creator) is going to write it. We’re going to shoot it before the end of the year, hopefully. We don’t know where yet. Probably not Miami because it takes place in Columbia. We may actually go to Columbia because Fox has a stage facility there and they might be into it.
DM: What will the story be?
BC: Kind of how Sam Axe wound up in Miami.
DM: Will we see any of the show’s cast?
BC: I don’t think so. Not much, but there might be some little gag at the end. It’s the Sam show; it’s the Sam-tastic. You can pretty much guarantee that Sam will be helping some people that are in a great need of help and don’t have any money. We usually help poor, desperate people. That’s our M.O.
DM: And will he be drinking beer?
BC: He’s in South America. He’ll find a beer. Cerveza. Yeah, no problem.
DM: Is there going to be a poor, desperate female?
BC: I hope so. I’d be happy to help.
DM: What have been some of your favorite improvised gadgets and such on the show?
BC: The weirder the better. I just like how they take apart appliances and things.
DM: Like taking a cell phone and pretty much blowing up everything?
BC: Yeah, it’s really hard to pin down any one thing because you take any of this equipment apart and…as Matt Nix was saying on the panel, you go into a store and look at the warning label, and for some people that could be instructions for things that blow up under pressure — things like that. What I like is the household aspects of it — taking stuff you can find in the kitchen. You can make methamphetamines in your kitchen, if you have Sudafed and bunch of other heinous chemicals. You can do it. So we try and skirt that edge of letting people know the crazy stuff you can do with that…or a bendable camera stand.
DM: Who is the creative genius behind all these McGuyver-like things?
BC: I don’t get to sit in the writer’s room — they won’t let us go in there. It’s pretty secret. But I would say most likely Matt Nix. It would start with Matt, but he’s got a pretty good team of decent writers. They’ll pitch him ideas, and if somebody else has a good idea, I’m sure he’ll happily use it.
DM: What about now that Jesse is on board? What is Sam feeling about it?
BC: Oh, he’s fine because Jesse is ultimately after the same thing — finding out who’s burning people. There’s a group of nasty people out there burning people, or forcing people to burn people, so he is just going to be another big help. And because he looks different than all of us, he can go into places that we couldn’t go in. He can go into places that have more of Latin American flair and get noticed because he has an interesting mixed look to him. He’s not a generic tanned white guy like me. There are places I can’t go, otherwise everyone would notice. I think he’d be a very handy character, and Coby Bell is just a terrific guy and we’re happy to have him.
DM: This season has seen the characters pairing up in different ways — Sam interacting with Fi, with Jesse, and of course Michael. It seems like there’s more of that.
BC: There’s a lot of it. Because Jesse has been staying a Madeline’s house, Michael’s mother’s house…he’s all over the map, and that’s what you want to do — you want to throw the characters in the mix with all the other characters and see what sticks, see whether they are good with arguing with each other or if it’s funny, or if they’re good at dramatic scenes. You have to figure out how the actors are going to blend too.
DM: Your character has been a mentor, in a way, to Jesse to far.
BC: Yeah, but he’s been around as an operative in his own right. Sam is just older so he knows more. Sam is more old-school.
DM: What about Sam’s con-artist persona Chuck Finley? Will we see more of him on the show or in the prequel movie?
BC: Oh yeah, Chuck is all over the place. Chuck Finley is forever. [And was also on giveaway Burn Notice t-shirts handed out to fans attending the panel.]
DM: How was it working with Burt Reynolds on the show’s recent episode?
BC: Great. He was an idol of mine when I was a kid. He was the number-one box office star from like ’78 to ’83, so we were lucky to get him. He came by to visit the set and we tormented him. Believe me, when we got Burt Reynolds, I went, “All right, now we’re getting somewhere. Now we’re on the map.”
DM: In every single episode, you’ve got a buddy of some kind…
BC: That’s right. Some guys have buddies. I’ve got a buddy who knows a guy who knows a guy.
DM: Any aspirations to direct Burn Notice?
BC: I like my status on the show. I like my situation with Jeffrey Donovan. I really don’t want to be bossing him around. We have a very good personal relationship, a very good working relationship, and I’m better just being the guy who’s the little parrot on his shoulder. We like spending time on the set and solving problems, so I wouldn’t want to mess with that dynamic. I’m a very bossy director, and that doesn’t always go over well. I don’t want to rock the boat.
DM: Do you have a title for the Sam Axe movie yet?
BC: You got me. Mr. Matt Nix is going to have to think about that one. “Sam Axe…” I’m sure the name will be somewhere in the title. I can’t wait to do it. It’ll be fun.