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Movies: Cult star finds success via advertising and the Web

Published May 27, 2007 12:00 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sometimes stardom doesn't happen the way you expect it.

Take, for example, the strange case of Bruce Campbell. He's a cult figure to some, but unfamiliar to many - and now, thanks to a strangely cool TV commercial, he may become more famous than ever.

Campbell, 48, made his mark as a B-movie hero, specifically as the crazily heroic Ash, battling zombies with a "boomstick" and a chainsaw in the three "Evil Dead" films. They were directed by his longtime buddy Sam Raimi, who has continued that friendship by casting Campbell in strategic cameos in many of his movies - most recently in the three "Spider-Man" movies. (In the first, Campbell was the wrestling announcer who gave the wall-crawler his name; in this summer's "Spider-Man 3," Campbell played the French maitre d' helping Peter Parker deliver an engagement ring to Mary Jane.)

But Campbell's offbeat résumé - from the Fox TV Western "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." to the indie horror film "Bubba Ho-Tep," in which he played a geriatric Elvis - has too often relegated him to cult status.

And that cult status may explain why Campbell's latest gig, as a pitchman for Old Spice, has struck a chord for complete hipness.

If you don't believe me, look for Campbell's latest ad on TV - or call it up on YouTube, where it has already scored more than 200,000 hits. (Search either for "Bruce Campbell" or "Old Spice," and you'll find it.)

The ad, the second Campbell has shot for Old Spice, shows him at a piano, his bowtie untied and tux shirt partly unbuttoned, in a room in which Hugh Hefner would feel right at home. He sings casually - "Dark in the city, night is a wire/Steam in the subway, earth is a fire" - as he plunks out the tune, Duran Duran's '80s hit "Hungry Like the Wolf."

It's hard to tell if Campbell is trying to entertain himself or the five leggy women lounging around him, lying on the white shag rug or sitting by the fireplace. As he sings, the women gather closer, sitting at his piano bench and even crawling on the piano to paw at him.

"The assignment was to use Bruce again, somehow," said Aaron Allen, art director for the Portland, Ore., ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, which produced the Old Spice spot. Eventually, Allen and writer Michael Illick thought, "Man, wouldn't it be funny if Bruce brought home a bunch of girls from a night out, and just sat down at the piano and started playing 'Hungry Like the Wolf'?"

Campbell embodies the "confidence and charisma" of an Old Spice wearer, Allen said. "You could basically eat a chili dog, and getting it all over your face, and be yourself, and women would still come to you."

Making Old Spice cool is no easy task. The brand, with its clipper-ship trademark, has been around since the 1930s. Its reputation was best expressed in a scene in Michael Mann's 1986 movie "Manhunter," and repeated in Brett Ratner's 2002 remake "Red Dragon," when the imprisoned serial killer Hannibal Lecter (played by Brian Cox or Anthony Hopkins, depending on which version is playing) insults the detective who caught him (William Petersen or Edward Norton) by commenting on his aftershave, saying that it smells like that stuff "with a ship on the bottle . . . something a child would give to a father."

Campbell recorded the Duran Duran song in studio, then lip-synched to it during the shoot, Allen said. On the set, Campbell would play it perfectly straight, and then ad-lib a bit as they went. In one of the commercial's funniest bits, Campbell lets everyone in on the joke by turning to the women and gesturing as the piano still plays.

The "Hungry Like the Wolf" ad has taken on its own life on the Internet. "You never really know, viral [marketing] is so hard to understand," Allen said, but the fact that the ad is conceptually different - with only two shots of the product - may be part of the appeal. "Probably Bruce is the biggest reason. He's just fascinating to people, and rightfully so."

Allen gushed about working with Campbell. "He's so professional, so charismatic, so funny," he said. "Every time we shoot with him, we're just like, 'How is this guy not a huge star?' "

Maybe now, he will be.


* SEAN P. MEANS writes a daily blog, "The Movie Cricket," at blogs.sltrib .com/movies. Send questions or comments to Sean P. Means, movie critic, The Salt Lake Tribune, 90 S. 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, or e-mail movies@sltrib.com.




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