Ever since the debut of his legendary character Ash Williams in the Sam Raimi camp-horror classic, “The Evil Dead,” actor Bruce Campbell has been an icon for all things considered “slightly off” in popular culture. Campbell will be lending his chiseled chin and infectious charisma as the new host of Travel Channel’s reboot of the classic franchise “Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” premiering Sunday, June 9 at 9 p.m. We caught up with Campbell to talk about the show’s strange yet uplifting stories and, of course, all things Ash.
"I think, with Ripley’s you’re gonna see that people will be more encouraged and hopefully uplifted by the show, more than grossed out," - Bruce Campbell
Bruce Campbell. Photo: HGTV
Throughout your career, you’ve become this icon of all things that are slightly off center, in some ways. And for fans of yours, putting you as the new host of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” is kind of like a no brainer.
Bruce Campbell: I think it’s a good fit because these are people that we’re profiling... they’re not your normal next door neighbor. Each one of them has a crazy story to tell and for us, we’re trying to just celebrate it, not pointing our finger at it and go “Ew,” you know? There’s a lot of people overcoming really crazy obstacles. Just like the character Ash [from “Evil Dead”]. I guess they have that in common.
What initially drew you to the project? Have you always been a fan of “Ripley’s”?
Bruce Campbell: Of course, I knew “Ripley’s”! Everybody knew “Ripley’s,” you know. As an actor, if you are gonna host something you might as well host something that people have heard of, which is “Ripley’s”. And I just thought it was cool. I had some old “Ripley’s” books at my house and I read a lot of books with all of these really cool, weird illustrations. And now they have a guy who does the same kind of illustrations and is still working at “Ripley’s”. So it is kind of cool to see it. Right?
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Have you always been drawn to these strange stories?
Bruce Campbell: I like human stories. I like humans overcoming tragedy. A lot of the people who we’re featuring are people who have had either horrible accidents, or they were born with something that went wrong, and then it’s how they deal with it. So I’m interested in that, not so much oddity for the sake of oddity. But show me someone who will overcome something, yeah, I’m for that. Just like I like my superheroes to be normal people who overcome. That’s why I like Peter Parker. He was just a normal guy in Queens who got bit by a radioactive spider.
It’s been over thirty years since Ash and the Evil Dead were first on screen, and while a lot of the people have probably visioned you as eventually playing a superhero, it’s funny to see how Ash has kind of transcended that, in some ways, and has become a new kind of superhero. In some ways, he is just like Peter Parker where he is just a normal guy overcoming incredible odds. Does that legacy still amaze you?
Bruce Campbell: Yeah, very much so, and I’m hoping that people can relate to in the same fashion with the show. They can look at that and go, “Man, I’ve got some difficulties, maybe I’ll give this another shot.” It is very inspiring, more than anything.
One thing about your career that makes you so prevalent is that your characters, like Ash, have built up a huge cult following. I feel like every five years or so “camp” becomes revitalized in pop culture. We just saw that at the Met Gala, as it being the main theme, and where I think people get so overloaded with how serious things are in Hollywood and on TV, and just in life in general, and it seems like you have always approached your role with a wink to the audience and a little grain of salt. Do you still find that quality to be important in approaching roles?
Bruce Campbell: Of course. You want to be able to have people relate to you, and as a viewer, I like actors who will, my term is, “letting you in” they let you in. Some actors don’t, they put up a façade and that’s all you’re gonna see is the façade. There’s more to it, you can bring much more humanity... you know I got a high school capsule in the mail from a kid who was gonna kill himself, but then he saw a show that I did and it was life-affirming enough that he decided not to kill himself, so it’s like we do have impact. You can positively impact people, not like that’s my goal every morning when I wake up, but that’s what [can happen]. They can actually help people rise up from a life that is undesirable...
The question now, I think, is why the fantasy movies and all these adventures and heroic movies are doing so well, because we are kind of looking for a hero right now. We need a hero. Marvel, they’re turning the file cabinet upside down and looking for old Marvel stories... Trying to find any more superhero stories. It’s amazing the proliferation.
People are looking for a story that is so far removed from actual life.
Bruce Campbell: Completely removed, and then when it’s over you go, “Oh where is my Toyota Corolla parked?” In the fifth level of the parking structure, you get back to your normal life, after that. It’s true, that’s one purpose, I think, with Ripley’s you’re gonna see that people will be more encouraged and hopefully uplifted by the show, more than grossed out.