Fan favorite actor Bruce Campbell is executive producer and host of the reboot of Travel Channel’s new series Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Filmed inside Ripley’s warehouse, each segment is a thorough concise look at unique individuals who blow people’s minds with their gifts. It runs the gamut from physical exceptionalism to flat-out death-defying deeds. Steering this eye-candy-licious ship is Campbell.
Over the film and television career of actor Bruce Campbell, we have loved his take on horror roles (Ash Williams in The Evil Dead franchise), perfectly honed dramatic characters (President Ronald Reagan on Fargo), and most recently as the critically acclaimed developer Gary Green in a three-episode arc on AMC’s Lodge 49.
Of course, Burn Notice fans loved him as Sam Axe, and legions of Starz’ Ash vs. Evil Dead fans are bereft over Ash’s recent cancellation and demise there.
This latest venture for Campbell sees him entering the production side of TV as well, and his instincts are dead-on accurate for what reality TV watchers want, well crafted true stories with no wasted frames, lots of heart, and plenty of jaw-dropping reveals.
We screened the premiere episode and were completely riveted to the tales.
Ohio native Rick Smith flicks playing cards at lethal speeds while dreadlocked Dai Andrews can swallow curved swords and live to talk about it. Tyler Scheuer takes it on the chin — literally — as he balances heavy odd objects.
Toronto native “Twisty” Troy James is a handsome contortionist who has worked in many TV shows (FX The Strain, CW’s The Flash) and movie roles, with his mentor Roberto Campanella referring to him as a “natural talent” and a “walking talking natural effect.”
The 10-episode, hour-long series is inspired by Robert Ripley’s love of the extraordinary in humanity, and Campbell is a good steward of this. We spoke to Campbell by phone yesterday for a fascinating interview:
Monsters & Critics: I’m incredibly jealous of you.
Bruce Campbell: Why is that?
M&C: Well, the Ripley’s Warehouse. You got to work in it… and poke around.
Bruce Campbell: Oh yes… I’ll never tell. I’ll never tell the secrets that I saw.
M&C: But what was the standout item that was a jaw-dropper for you?
Bruce Campbell: Well they always rotate displays. They had a [President Donald] Trump in the foyer. They had a life-size Trump. So I got a thumbs-up picture with that. So I’ve had a picture taken with a president.
They also had a life-size replica of the tallest guy ever. And when they do that, that’s different than a photograph. And they have all these great craftsmen that work in the warehouse doing prosthetics and doing these life-size replicas of things. And when you see that life-size of the tallest man ever, you go, “How does anyone get that big?” It really puts it in perspective.
So stuff like that was cool. I’m a sucker for enormous, oversized objects.
M&C: I think I saw that in the background on the premiere episode…
Bruce Campbell: Oh yeah, it’s hard to hide that guy.
M&C: I love that you’re serving as host, but you’re also wearing the executive producer hat. I’m sure someone like yourself, with a bazillion fans from every level, gets pitched a million things. Who contacted you? I know that you were aware of Ripley’s and you liked it as a kid…
Bruce Campbell: Oh, of course. Things come across your desk. They tracked down my agent, and then he throws it at you and you either ignore it or say yes, or no, or maybe.
And Ripley’s, soon as they said that, I’m like, “Okay, I’ve heard of that.” And, “Who’s it for?” “Travel Channel.” “Okay, I’ve heard of that.” So they were two for two, and that’s helpful.
I knew Ripley’s and I was fascinated by a lot of that stuff anyway. I felt it’s a pretty good fit for the Evil Dead crowd because we’re basically talking about people who live on the edge … these people who push it.
So it’s pretty good. It felt right. And the Travel Channel … it’s not your father’s Travel Channel anymore. So it’s a good fit for Travel Channel because they’re doing all these crazy, creep investigations now and stuff. I think it fits it right in.
M&C: Dovetailing on what you said earlier, I think we’re all fascinated with the human body. So much good, bad and otherworldly can happen in the human form; and afflictions, to gifts, talents.
Bruce Campbell: To DNA glitches.
M&C: Yes, exactly. And I think that that’s an interesting thing that the show… we don’t have “the freak show” anymore… but Ripley’s show, you’re kind of bringing back a Victorian freak show but in a much more humane and cerebral context...
Bruce Campbell: Well we don’t use the F-word anymore. We don’t, not in our Ripley world. Because you’ve got your ordinary people, and that’s you and me and our neighbor.
These people really are the extraordinary, beyond ordinary. What we’re doing is, we’re celebrating it. And my job as a producer… My input was tone.
So that you’re celebrating people who’ve overcome challenges; they are achieving great achievements just through tenacity and practice and focus. And a lot of life lessons in here. So the takeaway is very positive.
If it’s different from any other incarnation, it would be that — that people are not on parade.
Now granted, [there’s] no shortage of eye candy. There’s going to be a lot that’s going to make your eyes pop out. But in context, we want you to get to know these people, to understand, and in some cases respect their decisions.
M&C: Right. Each segment was really well-rounded for the time beat that it was, and you gave really good backstory. And it showed how people were prospering and making great livings, and absolutely celebrating their uniqueness. I like that you do that.
Bruce Campbell: It’s an incredibly dense hour. It’s a small hour. It’s like six or seven stories per hour. It’s crazy.
M&C: Yes. The first episode, Rick Smith with the flying lethal playing cards…The fact that he could lethally dismember someone’s finger…
Bruce Campbell: Yeah. He’ll kill you! At a press conference, he could kill you. He could kill you at a press conference. By the way, we’re going to try to drag some of these folks to conventions.
Because I told them, I said, “Look, this is what I do. You’ve got to…” How many boring movie panels have you witnessed, you know? Oh, it was very hot that day. Yes, my suit didn’t fit right. And we thought that was funny. “No, let’s get a panel of Ripley’s participants. I’ll give you a panel.” So we’re going to San Diego Comic-Con. We have a panel coming on, that Saturday.
M&C: You know it’s going to be standing-room-only. People are going to be hanging from the rafters…
Bruce Campbell: Well, it’s the right fit for that crowd too. And look, this is not Marvel. This is real, folks. These are real superheroes, for the most part.
M&C: When you look at your career, characters like Ash Williams, and Sam Axe… and then you’ve done very serious stuff in Fargo, and you had a great part in Lodge 49, which is a fun series. What kind of roles do you enjoy the most?
Bruce Campbell: Just mix it up. I think the fun is mixing it up. Because from Detroit, my hometown, as a factory worker you would hope that they had a thing called “job rotation.”
You’re putting tires on one week; next week, they move you to fenders; next week, you’re putting windows in. So you don’t go crazy. Because there’s a lot of rinse-repeat, in what we do. Television is done in a formulaic style, for the most part, at a certain speed, certain pace. And you have to kind of fold in, and get used to that.
But over the years, it’s been fun to also to exploit opportunities when they come up. Take something that is a little more out of the box. I’m doing Peter and the Wolf in front of my local orchestra, at the Britt Festival, here in Jacksonville, Oregon, this summer. And I’m all giddy about it.
I’m like, “Okay, yeah. Let’s do something with an orchestra.” So I’m going to narrate Peter and the Wolf. It is fun to actually live where you live. To participate. Because you can go hide, that’s pretty easy. But nice thing is, where I live, my neighbors… they could so give a crap about who I am or what I’ve done.
A neighbor… the week I moved in, he was a rancher across the street… he comes up the driveway. He goes, “I understand you’re a cowboy in a TV show.” I said, “Yes sir, I was.” He goes, “You know how to ride?” I said, “I think so.” He goes, “You want to help me run a hundred head of cattle up the road on Saturday?” I’m like, “Yeah, if you’ve got a horse.” “Yeah, I’ve got a horse.” I’m like, “Okay.”
So I met him on a Saturday. Met all the neighbors. We helped him run a hundred head of cattle up the road. And, there you go. I was a member of the neighborhood.
What’s nice is, you can actually just get out. As an actor, you actually don’t have to hide. Some actors spend way too much time hiding. I hide in plain sight. I’m behind you at the post office. I’m the guy with the cat hair all over his jacket.
M&C: Switching gears. So obviously I’ve trolled your Twitter feed. I’m looking for MK11 clues like everyone else…
Bruce Campbell: Oh, it’s gotten out of hand. It’s gotten completely out of hand. Here’s the absolute truth of it all: I’m a bad liar. So, here’s the truth of it.
There is an Evil Dead game that’s coming out. And it’s a fully immersive game. It’s going to be very intense. And we hope to be absolutely mind-blowing, like some new game.
But in the meantime what happens is, Evil Dead’s been reintroduced. Ash vs Evil Dead sort of made it relevant again. And there’s a lot of requests just to have Ash pop up, like a guest star, in a movie, or on a TV show. Have him pop up and do some crap.
So Dead by Daylight was pretty much that. Pop up, do a thing. But people thought that (a) I was a liar that, “Oh, I thought you were retiring Ash.” And then (b) that, “Oh, I guess Ash is now in this game,” like he was a fully immersed player.
And we started to see the ads for it like that. We were like, “Ahh, don’t misconstrue this.” I’m just popping in literally, saying like a dozen lines. Like, “Hey, come on baby,” or whatever. And he may pop up in other games.
M&C: Yes. Well, Mortal Kombat 11 (MK11). That’s where all the chatter is landing.
Bruce Campbell: It is.
Bruce Campbell: Sure. Well, I would have to say that I can’t say anything officially. They have alluded to it because there’s a little chainsaw revving at the end when they allude to new characters. So there’s nothing I can say, but I can say that Ash has popped up in other games. And if he does pop up in this one, it’ll be in the same fashion.
It would be like a blink-don’t-miss it or load him for a quick little run at this, you know?
We’re saving full Ash. Full Ash is coming. We hope that this is just a warm-up, honestly. We’re actually doing it because… We’re saying it’s okay to do because it’s just sort of whetting people’s appetite for playing a game as Ash, which can be fun.
He’s a big trash talker. And he’s one of the few flawed heroes. He’s like you. He’s like your neighbor being a hero. It’s like you being a hero, just you putting a chainsaw on your arm. That’s what I think is cool.
M&C: It’s like giving a monkey a razor blade. Not a good idea.
Bruce Campbell: (laughs) Totally! Exactly. That’s dangerous. Give him a switchblade. That’s a better image. Like he pops it out, “Let’s go. Let’s rumble.”
M&C: Right. Your fans are something. Do the men meltdown easier than the women when they meet you in person? When I read interviews by fanboys who can’t hide it, it’s kind of cringey.
Bruce Campbell: It was mostly fanboys. My wife was always, “You have fun on your tours, with your fanboys.” Because she knew there was going to be no hotel-room keys being thrown my way because the demographics were like 90% guys.
And I’ve watched it go to 75-25. And now it’s basically 50-50, as far as fandom. And I’m saying that across the board, not just for me per se. Fandom is out of the closet. Geeks are out of the closest. The industry is currently run by geeks. It’s all good. It’s just, everything’s out of the closet now.
Our proof of our love of entertainment is out of the closet now. There’s more conventions than there ever have been, by 10 times. And the amount of TV that we actually binge is 10 times than we thought we were binging. It’s amazing.
So I’m actually glad I’m in the industry that I’m in because people cannot seem to get enough of escapism… whether it’s drama, sports; whatever’s your “Calgon, take me away [moment].”
M&C: To me, Ripley’s is almost like a history lesson, but time-traveling into the modern day…new stories…
Bruce Campbell: Well it’s seeing humans… What can the human body do? Question mark. What can it do? And this show answers some of those questions, in an amazing way. Blind kid just wants to ride his bicycle, just like another kid. Right?
He learns to echo-locate like a bat. Because bats fly around and go “click click,” little clicks, and it bounces off of the objects that they’re flying around. They can know how far away it is. Kid saw a bat do that. He was like, “Wait a second. I’m going to do that.”
So he starts clicking and bouncing sound off of buildings, and even trees. He knows how close they are, alleyways. And dog on it if he doesn’t learn how to ride a bike. And he gets so good at it, he’s teaching other blind kids how to do it so they can just ride a frickin’ bike. What a great story, what a great story.
Everything has to be a car accident, you know? These are really… I’d say 92% of our stories are uplifting.
M&C: Well I like you’re producing ethos. I hope you produce more interesting television, because boy, we sure could use it.
Bruce Campbell: Well I think you can have interesting and entertaining, and uplifting, at the same time, without even trying to be uplifting. If you pick the right subject matter, it is its own story. So these people are amazing. I hope the world can meet a lot of these people. I can’t wait to meet them. I haven’t met them.
M&C: Wow. Comic-Con. That’s going to be amazing. You’re going to be on a panel with them.
Bruce Campbell: Oh, yeah. It’ll be the first time for a lot of these people.
M&C: You’re known as a character actor, with these leading-man good looks, and you’ve aged really well. By the way, you look amazing. Whoever’s styling you and doing your hair, and suiting you up for the show gets an A. You look terrific.
Bruce Campbell: I’ll pass the word along.
M&C: No, you really do. You’re like the opposite of [Burn Notice] Sam Axe. You’re a sharp-dressed man as ZZ Top says. But who’s your favorite character actor?
Bruce Campbell: Jack Carson.
M&C: Who? Jack Carson?
Bruce Campbell: Yep, and that’s exactly… The response that you had is the one that I always get. “Who?”
But Jack Carson is your neighbor, he’s a cab driver, he’s the bartender. He plays a lot of the same characters, but he’s sort of the everyman. And he’s a guy that, you see him in a movie and you go, “Oh, that guy. I like that guy.” He’s not the steak. He’s the sizzle.
So that’s fun. There’s definitely guys that I look up to and go, “Who is that guy?” Because the guy had a great… worked forever.
The bigwigs for Ripley’s on Travel Channel:
The show is produced by Texas Crew Productions for Travel Channel, and include Brad Bernstein, David Karabinas, Ron Bowman and Bruce Campbell.
For Travel Channel, the executive producer is Daniel A. Schwartz and Henry Schleiff (group president of Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, American Heroes Channel, and Destination America).
For the brand Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, the EP’s are Jim Pattison Jr. and Norm Deska.
Check out “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” on TravelChannel.com for more, including special show extras, behind-the-scenes photos, and exclusive videos.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! airs on Sunday, June 9, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Travel Channel.