[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Every now and again Hallmark throws us a curveball and Saturday night, we get two, when Bruce Campbell and Peter Gallagher co-star alongside Eloise Mumford and Brett Dalton in One December Night on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. In the film, Campbell and Gallgher play lifelong friends and musical duo Steve Bedford and Mike Sullivan, who had a decades-long run as hitmakers before calling it quits when Sullivan crashed and burned during an alcoholic bender.
Cut to ten years later, and their kids–Steve’s son, Jason and Mike’s daughter, Quinn, are music producers assigned to work a one-night-only televised–and live–reunion special that involves getting their dads back on the same page and in the same room. And that might not be the only reunion magic they make happen.
I was thrilled to jump on the phone with Campbell this week to chat about his first Hallmark–and holiday–project, his thoughts on the streaming world that now carries the deep bench of his work back to The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and Burn Notice, his upcoming feature films, and this weekend’s sold out Bruce Fest fan event.
Campbell loved getting to flex some different actor muscles by working on the movie, and was surprised to get an endorsement on the film from an unlikely source. “Well, it’s so funny. I I was talking to a jaded filmmaker buddy of mine. We go way back, and I said, ‘Hey, you’ll never guess. I’m going to do a Hallmark [movie].’ And I expected him to give me the once over [and tell me] I got soft,” he laughs.
“And he goes, ‘Let me tell you…Hallmark plays by the rules.’ And I go, ‘What does that mean?’ He goes, ‘They set up a problem. They confront the problem. They resolve the problem. Most filmmakers don’t even know how to do that. Watch a Hallmark and by the end of the movie, those people’s problems will be solved.’”
“It’s certainly a winning formula. I watched a couple of Hallmarks to see what I was in for. And you just have to make kind of what I would call the ‘Hallmark adjustment’ that when you have an argument, you have a Hallmark argument, and you get Hallmark mad. You don’t get like mad mad. And when you kiss, you Hallmark kiss.”
“I love the fact that there’s a Hallmark drinking game [like] when the curmudgeon comes around, you take a drink…and when they get the holiday spirit. It’s very fun. It was very nice to show up. I didn’t have to take my stunt pads to work. There was no blood thrown in my face at any time. No smoke at night for the spooky atmosphere. It was nice to just show up and talk.”
While Campbell and Gallagher overlapped each other in their time on USA Network’s Burn Notice and Covert Affairs and saw each other socially at network events, they hadn’t worked together, but they quickly clicked. “It all felt right. Peter Gallagher is a like-minded kind of soul. We’ve both been around for awhile and he’s done a lot more performing, so he was pretty comfortable with the music stuff. I called him ‘Broadway, Joe,’” he says. “We got along. We had never officially worked together, but we always enjoyed hanging together. And so it was easy.”
Hallmark director Clare Niederpruem directed the film written by Sib Ventress), and Campbell says he’d be happy to have their paths cross again. Since the film is on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, we know to expect a more serious story than the holiday films on sister network, Hallmark Channel, and that was part of the appeal for Campbell.
“Actors want to do every genre. They want to do everything they should be able to do. I’ve done a French film. I’ve done stuff for Disney. I think it’s important to just kind of keep a mixed bag because it challenges you in completely different ways and you can use your old bag of tricks on new material,” he explains.
“And certainly Peter Gallagher has had his dramatic chops. So it’s fun. You just push that side of your button. You up that side of your game because it’s important for actors, I feel, to match the material. It’s not about you. It’s really about the story that you’re telling. It was fun to latch onto that in our meetings we had or run through the rehearsals. It was all about how to best balance these characters.”
“And what’s the relationship and where are we in the story? Is someone a good guy, is someone a bad guy? You had to figure out a lot of stuff.” He also learned how to fake being cold under layers of winter attire in late summer in upstate New York, where the movie was filmed.”
Campbell was excited to play some of the movie’s more emotional moments, too. “We had some weepy scenes. Those are kind of fun to do because you don’t know where actors are going to go. Sometimes you actually have to dial them back or they’ll go crazy on it. It’s fun to kind of go there, to go to where it’s hard to talk because you’re sort of welling with emotion. It was nice as an older actor,” he says.
“I used to really have problems doing sort of weepy scenes. When I was younger, I used to spray the crap in my eyes like menthol crystals to get my eyes to react [and] turn red. Now I can pretty much get weepy at the drop of a hat. It may be age or whatever, but it’s fun. It’s just another trick in your bag.”
I’ve been watching Campbell since the Brisco County, Jr. days in the early 90s, and he followed that with iconic turns in Xena, Hercules, and Burn Notice, and a multi-decade, multi-platform run headlining the Evil Dead franchise, among many, many other roles, and pretty much all of them are available on the various streaming platforms, which means people discover them anew all the time. “I’ve found mostly that it takes a while for people to get some stuff. If you’re not in Marvel movies, where you can be on every Taco Bell cup to make people aware of your movie, it takes a while sometimes,” he explains.
“I’ve had people come up to me recently at conventions going, ‘Man, I can’t believe they canceled Ash vs. Evil Dead. I just finished it.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that was two years ago. You didn’t really watch when we needed you to watch.’ But it’s cool because I’m starting to realize, I think the pandemic did that. It revealed how much media we actually consume, which I would say it’s probably twice what we thought it was as far as how often that TV is on.”
“And now with these limited series, now they drop that sucker on a Friday…that’s your entire weekend bingeing that particular TV show or whatever. So it’s, it’s a crazy mixed-up world out there that I don’t think is necessarily bad because now you sit back as a viewer and you go, ‘Well, I’ll just plug in Bruce Campbell, see what comes up.’ I’ll bet stuff will come up that they never saw before. It’s all kind of out there now and you jockey for position, but I think if people are looking for certain stuff, they’ll find it.”
With so many shows getting the reboot treatment, Campbell has a couple he’d love to revisit. “I’d love to have Burn Notice come back because there’s still plenty of bad guys to torment in the world. There’s new international crises you could take on. So that’s ripe for a story. I even have a way that you could bring back Michael Weston’s mother, who didn’t make it to the end of the seven seasons. We could have fun with that,” he says.
“Brisco would be a lot of fun because you would update it. It would be in the 1920s instead of the 2020s and you can do the new gadgets of the new era, but then you’d have the next generation of Brisco and Bowler, the potential offspring of those two who can carry on the adventures. There’s so many ways to go. I’m just glad that these shows aged pretty well over the years to make that possible.”
He’s happy to see streaming make so many of his projects available, especially when some, like Brisco, were unavailable on VHS and DVD for a while. “Streaming is really the way to go, ultimately, because you can put everything on streaming and everybody can access it. I’m glad just from a preservation point of view that you can now get stuff like Brisco then you could not get,” he explains.
“My feeling is the studios should go ahead and stream everything because that way the quality will be better. They’ll get a jump on it and can stop the piracy to some degree, if you put out better stuff. Most pirated stuff is garbage.”
The feature film Black Friday opens in theaters next Friday, the 19th, and will be available on demand on Thanksgiving night. The big box store horror comedy stars Campbell (who also produces) alongside Devon Sawa and Michael Jai White as store staffers pitted against raging shoppers gone wrong. “It’s basically The Breakfast Club with carnage and mayhem,” he laughs.
“There’s some sociological components to it that touch on consumerism, shopping, Black Friday itself. As a manager, I’ve got my own take on it. The employees complain about working conditions and overtime pay and you know, that’s the outfit that I want to attack on Black Friday. I don’t want to have aliens land next to a military installation. No one’s going to learn anything from that. But having aliens attack this motley group of idiots, that’s what I want to see…it’s the amateurs trying to survive and that’s half of the entertainment.”
“You stick around long enough and sometimes the best stuff just comes rolling along and you grab it and just go. I think people will like it because it’s not a harsh movie. You can have fun, Uncle Joe can watch it. And Sally Sue might be able to watch it. It’s R rated, but it’s not what I’d call a hard R.”
Given Campbell’s Evil Dead pedigree, he was on the ground floor of fun, schlocky, ultra-gore horror, and he’s enjoyed watching the ourve evolve. “They were fun escapism. No one really took them seriously. And now it’s just another genre and that’s okay to me because by being mainstream it’ll force filmmakers to try different forms of [horror], they’ll maybe add a little comedy, they’ll add a little weirdness or something, or a little sci-fi aspect,” he explains.
“It’s healthy for the genre to become a little more mainstream because now legitimate filmmakers will get in there, the Guillermo Del Toros and they’ll treat the genre proud. And so it’s a good day for horror.”
You can also hear Campbell in 18 ½, an independent film with a bizarre take on where the missing minutes from the Watergate tapes went, where he voices Richard Nixon. He had a ball diving into actual audio clips. “Everyone has the fake Richard Nixon impression. You know, the ‘I am not a crook’ sort of approach, but the trick was to just dial it down a little bit to try and make it seem like a normal guy,” he says.
“He was bombastic. One of my favorite clips, because I listened to a bunch of those tapes, and some of them are just fantastic. When he gave the little Checkers speech…it really helped his approval ratings. And people thought, ‘Maybe he is a human being after all.’ And [later] he’s on the phone with Henry Kissinger telling him, ‘No actor could do that.’ He just went off the rails. Oh my God. He’s so excited that he pulled it off. He’s bouncing off the walls. Like now he’s Hamlet.”
This weekend, Campbell’s diving all the way into horror with the Bruce Fest fan convention taking place at the Stanley Hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. “It’s going to be fun. It’s an enormous ancient resort. And Friday, Saturday, Sunday in this beautiful location, we’re going to have a photo lab. We’re going to have meet-and-greets. We’re going to have some autographs,” he explains.
“Then we’re going to have [a watch party]. I’ll be onstage as the movie plays and I can stop and start the move. The problem with the live commentary is the movie never stops. You’ll tell a story and you’ll look back up and you’ve missed three other stories because the movie has continued to march along. This adds about a half an hour to the length of the movies. You can tee it up and then show it to them.”
“The weekend is kind of an experiment in appearances. I’ve gone to conventions and I’ve done an evening with Bruce Campbell type stuff. And so this is a hybrid. We have the equivalent of a farmer’s market, only it’s kind of a horror-based farmer’s market. And they have those at conventions, too. They have a lot of vendors and things like that. And we’re going to do an experiential murder mystery. They’re just going to have some dinner with me and other people and then stuff starts to happen. I’m going to just be running around wearing a bunch of Lawrence Welk outfits.”
Since Campbell is working this weekend, he won’t be live Tweeting the premiere, but says he hopes to do so during another later airing, so keep an eye on his social media for that.
One December Night premieres Saturday, November 13th, at 10 pm/9c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and repeats through the end of the year, and premieres in Canada next Saturday, the 20th, at 6 pm ET on W Network. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and video courtesy of Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
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