"Hi. I'm Bruce. How are you?"
How cool would it be to be standing in a bar and have Bruce Campbell come up to you, shake your hand and introduce himself? Well, I was one of 200 people attending the celebrity cocktail party at StarFury '99 and after he bought his drink he came up and done just that to me!
Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi and Robert Trebor were mingling with the attendees of the Xena, Herc & Evil Dead convention at the Radisson Edwardian Hotel in London, chatting, joking, teasing with season 5 spoilers and hopefully enjoying the relaxed setting at the poolside bash. Only the first 200 people to book their tickets had been invited and what an incentive to book early!
There was a strange atmosphere when they first arrived. Nobody was sure whether to approach them or not, so for the first few minutes everyone was pretending they weren't there, watching them out of the corner of their eye while trying to look natural. They went to the bar, ordered their drinks and then Bruce turned, commented "I guess I better go and mingle. I think I'll start...here." Then he reached out and shook my hand. "Hi, I'm Bruce. How are you?"
And that set the tone for the evening. The three stars wandered through the crowd making introductions, asking questions, answering questions, soaking up the atmosphere and generally enjoying themselves, it appeared. Under strict instructions from the management, no pictures were taken and no autographs were requested, which made the event more personal than the onstage sessions due to take place over the rest of the weekend.
Robert fitted in immediately and it only took a simple question to start him off. Then, like his onscreen persona, he rattled on with a flurry of facial expressions that are so characteristic of the part we all know and love. All that was needed was the costume and Salmoneus would have been standing there in all his enterprising glory, plugging his new book and happily discussing his upcoming role in Tropical Storm with the few pups who made it to the convention. It's reassuring to see so much of the character within the actor. It makes the show more real, in a strange sort of way.
Bruce had a more commanding presence. Perhaps not so much with those who only know him as the quirky and witty King of Thieves but to those of us who have followed his career outside of ancient Greece he will also be the guy who cut off his own hand before making short work of hoards of undead creatures, spilling as much blood as possible. Most of the chat revolved around Xena and Herc, naturally. He mentioned that he likes to have control over the direction of his scenes and that he doesn't like directors who demand complete control over cast and crew. "There are times when I'll turn up on the set and there'll be an X on the ground where I'm supposed to stand."
Ted has an incredible likeable quality. He appears to love the attention he gets but on a level somewhere far from arrogance. His animated recounts of stories from the sets are like mini plays of their own at times. He was the only guest who ventured into season 5 spoilers (details later), appearing to revel in the hungry look on our faces when he would tease us with a season 5 snippet and refuse to elaborate any further. When asked if he prefers working on Xena or Herc he revealed that he prefers the atmosphere on the Xena set. He explained that on a TV production, the atmosphere on the set is determined by the star and the director but, since the directors change, the star has the most influence. Kevin Sorbo is a very professional actor but he's a man's man. Lucy, on the other hand, is renowned for her practical jokes and so a much more light-hearted air resides on the Xena set, which results in a friendlier working environment.
On their own, both Bruce and Ted could keep the crowd entertained for hours but on the few occasions they got together it was like watching a double act. They worked so well off each other that it sometimes appeared like the act would go on even if there were no on-lookers. The jokes ranged from pretending to slap make-up on each other, quipping about who needed the most, to the completely surreal involving sounds and movements that were obviously sampled from an in-joke that had developed over a life-long relationship. Stabbing each other with pretend swords and "leaking" blood reminded me why I love these characters so much. Bruce even admitted that they were expelled from the set of one episode by the assistant director because of the constant distraction they were causing for the rest of the cast.
Finally, the cherry on the cake for me was the way Bruce and Ted remembered me at the end of the evening. I was standing beside Bruce, Ted came over and Bruce told him "Hey, have you met this guy from Ireland." and then turned to me and said "Belfast, isn't it?" Ted shook my hand and said, "Yea, I was speaking to you before." I was the first one Bruce spoke to and now, about an hour and a half later, after everyone else he had spoken to, he remembered where I was from. He didn't have to. They didn't have to. They could walk around for the evening, listen to people tell them who they are and where they live and forget it by the time they turn to the next person...but they didn't. Ok, so they probably won't remember me this time next week but for a few hours they did!
And last, but not least, the season 5 spoilers...
Ted revealed that Joxer is the first person to find the ill-fated Xena and Gabrielle as they were left at the end of season 4 and he ain't too pleased about it. He also revealed that in the fifth episode of the season, Joxer openly declares his love for Gabrielle but wouldn't give any indication of how she reacts to the news. On the musical episode, he told us that it won't have the dark tone of The Bitter Suite. Instead, it will be a comedy episode starring Jase, the flamboyantly gay brother of Joxer and Jet and his cabaret style outfits have to be seen to be believed. On a final note he told us that the season's episodes swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. The comedy ones are completely off the wall while the serious ones are very dark.
That's it for now. Tomorrow starts with a 9am video screening of the Herc episode Men In Pink. Do we really want to see those shaved legs at that time in the morning?
Saturday, the first big day of the event, brought the rest of the fans who didn't make it to the celebrity cocktail party the previous evening. It kicked off with a screening of the Herc episode 'Men in Pink', Xena's 'The King Of Assassins' and Young Herc: The Movie. However, I had to forsake all but 'Men in Pink' to queue for the poolside photos with the guests.
For half an hour each, they posed for fans to get photos taken professionally and, with the promise that they would be developed in time, get them signed at the autograph session later in the day. The queuing can be as much fun as the goal where you can meet the most interesting people - a guy who claims to have seen the Evil Dead films over a hundred times and owns them on a multitude of formats ranging from laser disks to DVDs to 10s of different video editions. "So, you're a Bruce Campbell fan then, are you?"
Young Herc was wrapping up by the time I took my seat in the auditorium for the first guest talk. The line-up was Robert, followed by Ted and finishing with Bruce, with a half-hour interval between each. After a short video tribute to the three guests, a modern day Salmoneus made his way on stage to rapturous applause.
He began his hour by relating a few funny stories from previous film work and then turned the onus on the audience to keep the ball rolling, which they did with ease. Questions ranged from his favourite of the multicoloured costumes to his singing abilities as displayed in 'Miss Amphipolis', his relationship with other cast members and various past projects.
He revealed his dream project to be a remake of 'Fiddler on the Roof', a show he has seen many times and all too often in a poor production. It didn't take much convincing for him to show his true vocal talents with a verse of 'If I Were A Rich Man'. Then, queued by a question on his book, the 'Salmoneus' in him had the opportunity to remind us all that his first published work would be released later in the year. A few examples from the 'Questions of the Heart' section where Aphrodite seeks his help in the Love Department gave us a clear view of the humorous tone of the book and I'm sure I won't be the only one pre-ordering from amazon.com.
Before his hour was up, a familiar voice came over the speakers. It was his own, but not his own! "I'm Robert Trebor and I've got a book to promote". Then, running up the aisle with a radio mic, Ted Raimi jumped on stage with his Robert Trebor impressions cracking up the crowd. For about 5 minutes he teased his showbiz partner and then exited to the threat of comic violence for being upstaged by Joxer! Robert's hour ended and the seconds ticked away until the next guest talk.
Ted's entrance couldn't have been performed better by Buster Keaton. Missing the chair and falling to the floor started a routine that ended up with his legs knotted up in the chair's arms and classic Joxer expressions added volumes to the comic display. A brief pause, a deep breath and a round of applause brought Ted back from his brief recession into Joxerdome and he immediately started to pick questions from the sea of waving hands.
He indicated that he has no interest in directing at this time. When it rains, he explained, an actor goes back to his caravan. A director pulls his hair out because he can't get his shot. Writing and acting are his only passions in the film world with music, languages and creating board games taking up the rest of his free time. Eager fans questioned him about his love for Gabby and how he explains his brief stints with Meg. He described Joxer like any other man who wants the unattainable and will take what he can get in the meantime. Gabrielle, he confirmed, is Joxers true love.
He gave the account of his encounter with Rob Tapert in the halls of Universal Studios, which resulted in his part as Joxer, just after the cancellation of SeaQuest. It was a lifesaver, he explained, because the mortgage still had to be paid. His Rob Tapert impression, which he assured us is accurate, got a laugh from the crowd every time it was employed to recount the producers dialog. Any sentence commencing with the laid back and drawn out "Neaaah..." of Bugs Bunny would immediately identify the executive who brought him on board.
Not to be outdone by Robert Trebor, Ted agreed to sing 'Joxer the Mighty' for the first time at a convention in over a year. He insisted in getting a chorus of fans to help and, with the line-up in position, two verses were bellowed out, Ted's voice almost being drowned out by the enthusiastic Joxer lovers. His hour finished all too quickly and after saying his goodbyes, he squeezed one more joke in by hitting his nose off the door in true Joxer fashion as he left the stage.
Bruce didn't sing, he didn't dance but he certainly entertained. He immediately dove into the questions and before long he was lying on his back with a chair turned on its side, demonstrating how the Evil Dead II scene with the torrent of blood gushing from the wall was filmed. Like Ted's Rob Tapert impression, Bruce had an equally distinctive cut on Sam Raimi's voice when he told him to wave his arms if he was drowning.
Questions crossed the spectrum of his career from his first experiences in film with school friend Sam, right through to his latest roll as Autolycus on Xena & Herc. For the eternal question 'Will there be an Evil Dead 4?' he joked "Wow, now there's a question I've never heard before!" He followed with the positive answer that all fans wanted to hear and then ended with a resounding "NOT!"
He briefly mentioned his book, 'Confessions of a B Movie Actor' and then told us about his upcoming documentary 'Fanalysis' which was in the process of being edited. This lead him into a few pages of emails which he had received from fans. Each one was met with a roar of laughter and, running out of time, he insisted on squeezing in one last message. Each line he read had the audience in stitches and he promised to read the rest at his session the next day. With that, he took a bow and left the stage.
Four hours after the first talk began, fans were leaving the auditorium shaking their watches. Surely it wasn't over already. But time flew, fun was had and it was on to the next event, the autograph session. A well organised ticketing system kept waiting time to a minimum and queues small. However, this was one time I wish the queue had been longer.
Robert would shout across the room and heckle the other two about holding up the queue because they couldn't write their names fast enough. They'd respond with Robert Trebor impressions and Bruce justified his speed because he had the longest name. From time to time, Bruce and Ted would lapse into posh English accents and compliment the quality of the tea while holding up their teacups, pinkies raised. At other times they'd harass each other about not leaving enough space for any other autographs on the photos. That was definitely one queue I'll remember not wanting to leave.
The evening's events kicked off with a Cult TV Music Quiz and a Xena & Herc Picture Quiz. It was evident that prizes weren't high on the priority list of the organisers when they handed out Buffy magazines to the winners of the music quiz and our team, the Merpups, got nothing but 5 seconds of recognition when we won the Xena & Herc quiz. However, the guests antics made the evening worthwhile when they interviewed the participants in the fancy dress competition.
With Autolycus, Ephiny, Iolaus, Gabrielle, Joxer, Salmoneus a couple of Caesars, more Xenas than you could shake two fighting sticks at and a Lara Croft thrown in for good measure, they had their work cut out for them. Ted interviewed them WWF style while Bruce tested their ability to emulate the character's style. Autolycus's moustache twist and Joxer's stumble were among the most convincing while Gabrielle performed a short staff form she picked up from one of the episodes and Iolaus was by far the closest look-a-like I have ever seen. Robert quizzed an Amazon on just how much she wanted to be an Amazon and Bruce learned that part of another Amazon's head dress was purchased in a Garden Centre. "Hey, that's part of your lawn, isn't it?" Ted quipped.
After some deliberation behind a screen, they emerged with the results. Creating enough categories for everyone to win a prize in they began to hand them out, but again the prizes were lacking. With an embarrassingly small number available they had to improvise by presenting hotel tea cups and little pots of jam. Lara can now enjoy here toast with strawberry preserve!
With the presentations over they made their exits and left us to the disco, which ran on into the night. The third and final day of the convention was approaching and the animated movie was scheduled to greet the heavy eyes of a weary crowd the next morning. Not the most riveting of screenings but I wouldn't miss Lucy's singing for the world.
With the dawning of Sunday, the final day of the event, the magic was gone. A sour taste was on the tongue and boredom clouded everyone's mind. Life just didn't seem...wait a minute, we're watching the animated movie. There's the problem!
By the time Lucy had finished her singing, the dealers room had opened and with heavy eyes (and not so heavy pockets) I decided I needed to stock up on T-shirts. Financially lighter, I returned to the packed auditorium, catching the end of 'For Those Of You Just Joining Us' and in time for the unedited version of 'The Way'. This was the first opportunity many UK Xenites had to see any copy of the episode.
The video screening was immediately followed by the guest talks and Ted was up first. He began by apologising for his hoarse voice and promised to sign anything we wanted for the rest of the hour should his voice completely disappear. Thankfully, the pen's services weren't called for and he made it to the end by getting a few members of the audience to keep us entertained.
He asked for 10 aspiring actors and gave them a script he had evidently put a lot of work into - about 2 minutes! Sending the five couples out of the auditorium he gave them 10 minutes to prepare the scene while he answered a few questions. Calling back one team at a time, he took the position of producer and put them through a gruelling audition. "So, what did you think of my script?" he'd ask and give an approving nod to the groups who lied about his writing talents. Then he took enormous pleasure in watching them act out the ridiculous scene, possibly remembering when he was on the other side of those script pages.
With the casting session over he returned to the Q & A again. He confirmed that he does all his own singing in the season 5 musical episode and found it strange lip synching to his own voice that was blaring over loud speakers while crew members looked on. When asked if he browses the Internet, he told us that he used to when he first joined the show. However, he decided to stop because of all the anit-Joxer messages he was getting. At one point he even sat down with Rob Tappert, told him about the on-line fans reaction to his character and said that he'd understand if Rob wanted to drop him from the show. He was enjoying working with Lucy and Renee but he didn't want to be the cause of a ratings slump. Then, to give Rob's reaction he changed to the voice we all knew. "Neaaah, screw 'em"
Among the few accents he imitated was that of an incomprehensible English man trying to ask him if he was "the bloke on Xena". Another one that he seemed to have a firm grasp of was the Kiwi accent he had picked up while filming with local cast and crew. Some of the many localisms he had to get used to were words like "Cossie", meaning costume, "Mossie", meaning mosquito, and "Possie", meaning position. "So, I'm standing on my possie in my cossie being bitten by mossies."
With a final farewell he left the stage. Over the weekend, Ted proved to be a very kind person who went out of his way to accommodate and entertain his fans. Seemingly enjoying the experience himself, I only hope he knows how much we enjoyed it with him. Many people will see him in a new light and anyone who just liked Joxer before could only love him now.
Bruce was next to take the stage after half an hour and he returned with the same unspoken authority he had gained the previous day. He went straight into Q & A, demanding good questions this time, and moving from the fans on one side of the room to the other when he got bored with their silly questions. He employed his usual tactic of turning the questions back on the fans so that after a while only the fearless were raising their hands.
When asked about his opinions on 'Escape from LA' he retorted with "Well, what do you think? You're the one who paid to see it. Was it worth your money?" Holding his position until he got an answer and manipulating the response until he got the fan to criticise something (the special effects as it turned out) he told him "John Carpenter is a good friend of mine. I'm going to tell him what you said about his film!"
After some more teasing of fans he returned to the emails he had promised to read. They got the same reaction as the previous day with roars of laughter meeting the sheer absurdity of some and the downright insults in others. One email related the woes of a girl whose boyfriend would quote Bruce's characters during intimate moments. His recommendation was for her to dump him, despite his good taste in quotable characters. However, even Bruce Campbell wasn't prepared to come face to face with the boyfriend who was sitting in the audience and was able to confirm his identity by telling him exactly what his response was. A slightly embarrassed Bruce was a rare sight that many in the audience will feel privileged to see but it didn't take long for him to make a comeback and advise the guy to sleep with one eye open.
Another hour was up and a hearty round of applause was the last chance many had to say goodbye to Bruce. His Q & A sessions were more than just entertainment, they were an experience. A real life character, somewhere between Auto and Ash, was a joy to behold and I'll be pulling out my Evil Dead II copy to count the seconds it took for the tank of fake blood to nearly drown a living legend.
Robert took up the rear of the Reign of Comedy and took the stage with the same enthusiasm he had displayed the day before. He began his hour by outdoing Ted's 'Joxer the Mighty', and even his own 'If I Were A Rich Man' by singing a piece from Mozart's 'Don Giovanni', proving beyond a doubt that the Xena producers only scratched the surface of his vocal talents in 'Miss Amphipolis'.
After rapturous applause, he turned to answering the fan's questions again. He noted that he hasn't been in any Season 5 episodes yet and so far he hasn't been asked to do any. He then pointed out that we could always write to the producers to let them know that we want to see more Salmoneus. "Do you want more Salmoneus?" he asked. "YES!" came the honest response. He also related a story about the filming of Mummy Dearest when he had to have a Rat dropped on his head and then stumble back, knocking Kevin into a hole. The first couple of times the rat just slid off his head. Then he backed up so fast that he fell into the hole on top of Kevin. After finally getting it to print he was told by one of the makeup girls that the top of his head was covered in scratches, despite the assurances that the rat had been partially de-clawed. Still, he was glad the scene was nothing like Lucy's encounter with a rat or two...or three...or a few hundred!
About half way through his Q & A session he began to get heckled by a man dressed in black from the rear of the auditorium. With a strong Scottish accent, he protested his right to ask a question and then accused Robert of being a "loud American, coming over to this country with your fancy clothes and ...." He was soon joined by another strong spoken Scot, dressed in a similar fashion and hidden from view in the shadows of a black cloak. With a lot of effort, they eventually got their question out. "I've been told by a reliable source that you've got a pimply arse and I was just wondering if it was true." By now the crowd was in stitches and Ted and Bruce decided to make their escape before a mic wielding Robert leapt of the stage and attempt to bludgeon them with it.
Getting the crowd's attention back again, he answered more questions and before his time was up he told the audience about the web site www.hsx.com where people could invest imaginary money in virtual movie and actor shares. Out of all the actors on Xena and Herc, Bruce Campbell is the only one who made it on the Hollywood Stock Exchange. Robert has invested a lot of his virtual money in Bruce and encouraged us all to do the same.
Before parting company he had one more task - to raise money for the charity he is involved with. He auctioned off his hotel bathrobe but not before stripping to a bare chest to model the bathroom-ware, showing us just how much trouble he put the makeup department to during the filming of 'Men In Pink'. Bidding started at £20 and rose to £50 before it was sold. Next came the tablecloth that was on Ted's table while he was signing autographs. It turned out that he had doodled a stick man on it, signed his name and it raised £60 for Robert's charity. If I hadn't spent all my money on T-shirts I can assure you they would have went for a lot more!
The last of the comedy troupe then left the stage. Putting up with Ted and Bruce's relentless taunting, Robert proved to be as likeable as his infamous character and the clichéd "bubbly personality" that he is so often attributed with is certainly not undeserved. I hope the fans do put pen to paper to let the producers know what they think of the one and only Salmoneus so that we can see more of Robert before we hear him say the words "Now, that's how I like to start *my* morning. Dar Roberts in her underwear."
To pass the time before the closing ceremony, the Herc. episode 'Beanstalks and Bad Eggs', Xena's 'Key to the Kingdom' and SeaQuest DSV's 'The Lost Land' (written by Ted) were screened. The closing ceremony, which was billed as The Atlantis Party, was all too short. The management thanked each other while we craned our necks trying to see the guests in the other room. They eventually emerged, thanked us all for a great weekend and then left. That signalled the end of the party for most people so they all left too. The bemused bar staff stood around while the few who remained chatted among themselves, ate the free peanuts and then had a light sabre fight. It was over.
How can you summarise a weekend like it? Well, you can take loads of photos that don't come out. You can write a long report that only touches on everything that happened. You can look at all the T-shirts you bought and wonder where your bus fare home is going to come from.
All I can say is you had to have been there........