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Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice)

Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice)

Bruce Campbell has seen his share of hits (Army of Darkness, Spider-Man) and his share of misses (Time Quest, McHale's Navy) but for the past 3 years has had the steady job of playing Sam Axe on Burn Notice, wing-man to Jeffrey Donovan's Michael Westen.  We sat down with the cult hero to talk about the show, why he stopped drinking beer and a slew of other nonesense.

SHAKEFIRE.COM: A lot of your work has been in the, sort of what we call genre shows; science fiction, fantasy, horror, comic book and I was wondering if this was a planned effort on your part, or just sort of happened?
BRUCE CAMPBELL: It's a little of both.  You are guilt by association, so when my first movie was Evil Dead, which is now 30 years ago when we made the movie – so yes, you are all very old, all of you who are listening – that film was pretty successful and allowed a couple of others to be made and what it did is, it just sort of put me in the genre world, right from the go-get.  I suppose if I had made a romantic comedy when I was 21 and that did crazy, then I'd be the romantic comedy guy.  It's kind of how Hollywood works.  So, it's material that I'm sort of interested in, though, too, at the same time, so part of me perpetuates it in that I gravitate toward oddball stories, some genre stuff, not all horror.  I like fantasy and sci-fi and that sort of stuff, too, but for me, I guess it's the combination of starting out in the genre and then being attracted to certain material that could also be considered genre.

SF: Can you tell us a bit about what direction we can see Sam going in this third season?
BC: Well, Sam by now is, we're now past the point where we don’t trust him.  He's a hopefully valuable member of the team now, and so, like Michael Westen, Sam is taking the twists and turns as they come now.  I don’t know that Sam is going to get married or any personal revelation.  Sam is pretty much living in Michael’s mother’s house, a room in her house, so he's just kind of a permanent loser, at least in this season.  And he's always there to help.

SF: How is Burn Notice different from past TV shows you’ve done?
BC: Well, the making of television is the same, it's very fast.  You're doing between 6 and 11 pages per day, which is a lot.  Features probably do three pages.  Big features do one page a day.  So that's not different.  What's different, of course, is we're in Miami, which is a completely out of the box thing for me because I live in Oregon, at the complete opposite end of the country.  So it's different in every way physically, and the dynamics are different.  I’ve never really done a spy show before, so this is a first for me.  I did a western show, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and I did a – well actually, no, I did a spy show, Jack of All Trades, where I played the very first spy, but this is, I guess, you'd say sort of modern day, realistic approach where it's not Hercules or Xena or something fantastic going on.  What's different is also the subject matter.  It's a fairly mature, adult sort of comedy/drama, with no fantastic special effects.

SF: The Expo Center, where you shoot, was almost demolished but you got a one year reprieve.  I was wondering A) how do you feel about that; and B) if the show had actually got up and moved, where would you have liked to have seen it gone?
BC: Hypotheticals are tough and I don’t ever want to give any impressions that I don’t like shooting in Miami.  It's good for the show.  Miami is a character in this show, and if we moved it would probably be to California because it makes casting easier, all the writers live there, the actors, half of them live there.  I live in Oregon, but it would be closer to my West Coast.  I have kids there, too, so a lot of personal reasons. 

But for the sake of the show Miami is a good spot.  It’s an unexploited city.  Even CSI:  Miami doesn’t even shoot in Miami, they shoot in California, so we're it.  We're the only show that is currently shooting in Miami, and the governor even came, Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida.  It was great palling around with the governor for a day, trying to bend his arm a little bit, saying, “Hey, Gov, why don’t you help us out here?”  Because producers tend to go where it's the least expensive, and that's nothing against producers, every producer does that.  So we have to see, as long as we can get incentives to stay in Florida, we’ll stay.  But there's also the reality of, if we don’t then we’ll leave and fake it.  Television is fake, so if we had to fake Florida we could.

SF: I notice on the show you drink beer, and I'm a huge beer fan; I write about beer for the site.  My question is just simple, what is your favorite beer in every day life?
BC: I gave up beer last March.

SF: Really?
BC: Yes.

SF: Well, I guess I'm proud of you for that.
BC: Well, I was only using it to wash my tequila down.

SF: Oh, well, see, now I wish …
BC: I'm just a tequila guy now.  But on the show, obviously, it's a fake brand, but we were actually introducing Miller Genuine Draft 64.

SF: Oh, yes.
BC: And there, I think they're doing a product tie-in, so Sam’s generic labels in some cases will now go to MGD.

SF: In playing the character of Sam, you would know him better than anyone else, so what is your favorite and least favorite aspect of Sam’s personality?
BC: He's very loyal.  He's not going to rat on anybody, even in the first season where you didn’t know if he was ratting on Michael, he never really did.  He always just stalled the cops, so very loyal.  And he is trustworthy, even though he drinks a lot of beer.  His other traits are, I wish he could get a job and an apartment, and a car that he can hang onto.  We're going through, like about every fourth episode, Sam gets another one of his cars wrecked.  So he doesn’t even have a car, and he doesn’t even have an address, so I'd like to see, I wouldn’t mind some of that happening.  But, whatever, I'm not telling the writers what to do.  They're doing a fine job.

SF: Obviously Burn Notice has a lot of action sequences, do you find the action sequences to be the hardest part of each episode to film, or are they one of the things that are the most fun during production?
BC: It all depends on what you're doing.  Fight scenes can be fun, but they can be very tedious and sweat-inducing, so those take a little more effort.  I blew my hamstring last year during a fight scene, so they don’t have me fight as much these days, but action sequences are very broken up when we film them.  They're little tiny pieces that get all put together.  So with an action sequence, you just have to hope that what you're doing is fitting in, because you're only getting a tiny sequence of view, like looking through a scope ready to fire, or something like that.  So when it's all put together is when it becomes an action sequence, but actually shooting an action sequence, unless you're chasing somebody, they're actually the least exciting to film.

SF: What is it like playing the comical one to Michael’s kind of straight man?  It's kind of a pattern here, you’ve got Jack Stiles in Brisco, you didn’t really have anyone to play off there, you were the main character, the main guy.  What is it like playing off of him?
BC: It's great, because he carries the show.  I'm just hiding behind him, cracking jokes and getting out of there.  So it's fine to actually be the guy who doesn’t, you know, Sam can be a little snotty, he can be a little snide, he's sort of a naysayer, and he always second guesses things that these guys do to make sure it's safe or tactical, whereas Michael gets involved from a passionate level.  He's got to help these people, whereas Sam’s like, no, you don’t, no you don’t.  So sometimes he's the voice of reason.  But it's nice to have that difference between the characters, and Michael does have kind of his funny wit, a lot of it comes out in the voiceover that he does, but someone’s got to be the straight guy, and fortunately, it's Michael Westin.

SF: I read somewhere that season three will be dealing a lot with Michael, Fiona, and Sam’s past.  Is everything from Sam’s past going to be connected to Michael, or will it be unrelated events?
BC: Oh, no, Sam’s got his own past, but I'm sure if they bring up any of our pasts, it will relate to the future; like we're shooting an episode right now that is very Fiona-oriented.  Her past is coming back to haunt us now, in a very, very bad way.  So I think what they’ll do in that case is that they allude to someone’s past, it’ll be because somebody, you know, Sam’s done something in the past.  We even had an episode with this character Virgil who is dating Michael’s mother.  The first episode that he was in was he was an old pal of mine who got into some trouble, and that happens a lot.  Sam has things from his past that come up to haunt us currently, so I think you’ll see more of that.

SF: Who do you think makes a better enemy, zombies from the Necronomicon, or the spies of Burn Notice?
BC: Apples and oranges, my friend.  I would say zombies in general, I don’t think are that good of bad guys because you can’t understand them, like the true zombie, the shuffling zombie.  You can’t communicate with them and they're too slow.  Evil Dead, they're possessed people, not technically zombies, I guess.  They're okay.  I think spies are a better bad guy, meaning they're more challenging.  You don’t always have to cut a bad guy up with a chain saw, you can just shoot him.  So it might be harder to kill a zombie, but it's easier to get away from a zombie, and it might be easier to kill a bad guy like a spy, but it's harder to hide from a spy, because they have the tricks that you have.  That's my theory.

SF: Do you plan on directing again soon, and would you possibly want to direct Burn Notice?
BC: Yes, I'd like to direct another movie one day.  Movies are more my bag.  I’ve directed television in the past.  I’ve done Hercules and Xena episodes, and even a couple of VIPs with Pamela Anderson, but I don’t think directing Burn Notice is in the cards for me because it changes the dynamics of all the actors.  Directors and actors have much different, I guess, motives and goals, and I don’t want any of my directing skills to impact my relationship with the actors, which is currently very good.  So I don’t really want to boss anybody around, because I think it’ll change something, so I don’t think I'm going to go there.

Peter Oberth
Interview by Peter Oberth
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