Auckland, New Zealand — Before Bruce Campbell headed to the South Pacific last month to start filming “Ash vs Evil Dead” with high school pal and Hollywood director Sam Raimi, he dropped by Canada to shoot “Fargo” — yet another gig that can be traced back to Campbell’s teenage years.
Campbell, 56, is playing pre-POTUS Ronald Reagan in season two of the FX anthology series.
“Another one of our high school buddies, John Cameron, is producing that,” Campbell said about “Fargo,” whose freshman season netted both an Emmy and Golden Globe last year for best miniseries. “All our buddies are getting highfalutin.”
Campbell talked briefly about his upcoming turn as the Gipper during a break in filming earlier this month on the New Zealand set of “Ash vs Evil Dead,” a new Starz series that will bring “The Evil Dead” franchise to the small screen.
The author of the 2001 bestseller If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor got his start playing the dim-but-dashing lead in the early ’80s horror film written and directed by Raimi. Both of them graduated from suburban Detroit’s Groves High School. So did Cameron. The “Fargo” producer was a so-called “fake Shemp” stand-in for one of the actors in the low-budget flick whose credits include Joel Coen as assistant editor. Joel and brother Ethan would go on to make the “Fargo” film that inspired the FX series by the same name.
The Coen brothers and Campbell share a long history, too. Campbell even made an unbilled cameo in their 1996 Oscar-winning film. But Campbell said it wasn’t their idea to cast him as Reagan in the TV series. The call came from his high school pal, Cameron.
“It was easy to pick up the phone and say, ‘You’re going to Canada,'” Cameron said in a separate interview in California. “We’re close friends. He’s the godfather of my son.”
“When the Reagan character became central to one of the episodes it seemed obvious that Bruce had to play Reagan,” added Cameron, noting that “Fargo” creator Noah Hawley first suggested it. “He’s a fan of Bruce’s work.”
Campbell fastidiously researches his roles, Cameron said, and the Reagan part was no exception.
“On his own dime and on his own time, he went to a studio and filmed himself doing Ron Reagan speeches and sent them to us for comment,” Cameron said. “He wanted to know what we thought of his expression and how he’d wink.”
Campbell said he and Cameron used to imitate Reagan back in the day. The actor then he launched into a quick (and convincing) impersonation of the 40th U.S. president. “Everyone I knew imitated him,” Campbell said.
The Reagan character will appear in the fifth episode of “Fargo,” whose 10-episode sophomore season starts this fall on the basic cable network FX.
READ MORE: Season two of ‘Fargo’ debuts Oct. 12
Season two takes place many years before the first installment and unfolds partly in Luverne, Minnesota and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the site of “the massacre” alluded to last season by ex-cop Lou Solverson (Keith Carradine).
“It’s set in the late ’70s against the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s first campaign for president of the United States,” FX chief John Landgraf told reporters at the TV critics’ press tour in January, shortly before filming began or Campbell was cast. “[Reagan] comes through on a campaign swing and interacts with Lou Solverson.”
Patrick Wilson (“Girls,” “A Gifted Man”) plays the younger version of Solverson, a veteran recently returned from Vietnam.
“A lot of what it’s about is the cultural transformation that was going on in America at that time,” Landgraf added. “So it’s about the sense that the war has come home.”
Other previously announced cast members include Campbell’s former “Burn Notice” co-star Jeffrey Donovan as well as Adam Arkin, Kieran Culkin, Ted Danson, Kirsten Dunst, Brad Garrett, Jesse Plemons, Nick Offerman, Angus Sampson and Jean Smart. Hawley (“Bones”) is back as showrunner.
“It’s a big, sprawling, in some ways more comedic, although at times very serious, show,” Landgraf said about the second season.
It’s shaping up to be a busy year on TV for Campbell, who said he much prefers the faster pace of television compared to making feature films.
“I filmed [‘Fargo’] just before coming here to do [‘Ash vs Evil Dead’],” he said. “I had to grow my sideburns back after getting all trimmed up to play Reagan.”