Ash Wednesday: Bruce Campbell and the roles that got away


Bruce Campbell is a character actor in a leading man’s body. Although he is extremely versatile sometimes a part is just not the right fit.

Bruce Campbell has been around the block a time or two. With a career spanning four decades, he has seen many parts come and go. That is the nature of the business when you are an actor.

Sometimes you audition for a role that you think you are tailor-made for and you lose it to someone that the casting department thinks fits the part better than you. In my last article dealing with this subject, we looked at Pet Sematary, Drag Me to Hell, Men in Black, Happy Gilmore and other characters that Bruce was up for and didn’t get.

Here are some other ones that may come as a surprise and some that may not.

The Roles That Got Away

Barton Fink

Bruce Campbell -Barton Fink – Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

This highly amusing film from the Coen Brothers tells the trials and tribulations of Barton Fink, a playwright (loosely based on Clifford Odets’ ordeal) who leaves New York behind and his successful career to pen screenplays.

Barton has severe writers block and can’t seem to shake it despite efforts from his pal, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) to assist. Fink has a problem of becoming easily distracted which may prove to be his Achilles heel.

According to Bruce in his autobiography, If Chins Could Kill, “I auditioned for a bit part in Barton Fink but didn’t get the role.” This is unfortunate because he was terrific as Smitty in Hudsucker Proxy. With his tendency to fall into the Coen Brothers snappy, 1940’s dialogue naturally, he would have made a wonderful addition to this film but alas it wasn’t meant to be.


Bruce Campbell – Speed – Courtesy of Mark Gordon Productions

Okay, I don’t know if this is Campbell pulling our leg on this one or not but apparently, he was considered for the Keanu Reeves part of Jack Traven. This is listed on his IMDb trivia page so lets go with the assumption that it is based in truth.

Granted this flick was shot in 1994, so he would have been 36 years old at the time. Keanu was 30 so it wasn’t much of an age difference but there was quite a bit of rigorous stunt work involved with that part.

Reeves worked out quite extensively to get buff for the role. Now, I am by no means suggesting that Bruce couldn’t have portrayed this character. He has the personality and the swagger that you could believe he was a fearless SWAT officer.

However, he isn’t an “action” star. Yes, he did stunts as Brisco County, Jr. and he did the crazy back flips in Evil Dead 2 but honestly, he is better as a sidekick to the hero. He would have been perfect for the Jeff Daniels role.

They Live

Bruce Campbell – They Live – Courtesy of Alive Films,Larry Franco Productions

Roddy Piper as John Nada in John Carpenter’s classic alien invasion film, They Live was perfect casting. He had the bluster and the wise ass delivery to make the character relatable. You believe that he could single handedly decimate an alien race hellbent on subjugating humans.

Maybe it was his cache as a professional wrestler but he had charisma. That is a large part of what made him very successful in Vince McMahon’s world. While I couldn’t imagine anyone else in this role, Bruce Campbell would have actually been another inspired choice.

It wouldn’t be a stretch that Campbell would have been considered for Nada. Fresh off his performance in Evil Dead 2 which was straight up one-liners and a Herculean effort to eradicate Deadites, he could have added that brazen bravado that was necessary for this particular part.

However, there is a reason that the stars don’t always align. Nada became Piper’s signature role and perhaps if Campbell would have been John Nada, then maybe Ash Williams wouldn’t have become his iconic role.

Pretty Woman

Bruce Campbell – Pretty Woman – Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures,Silver Screen Partners IV

So, the legend has it that Bruce was considered for Richard Gere’s part as Edward Lewis in Gary Marshall’s Pretty Woman. This film at the time was the modern-day Cinderella story. The ultimate rom-com and what every woman wanted- a Prince Charming who comes out of nowhere to sweep them off their feet.

While we haven’t really seen Bruce as a romantic lead, this could have been an interesting choice for Marshall to make. While granted, the story is pretty sappy, when Campbell isn’t being over the top he can be quite sincere.

It would have been fun to see him tackle a role like this because this film was very high profile and launched Julia Roberts’ career into the stratosphere. The movie worked so well because of the chemistry she had with Gere. Could she have approximated that with Bruce?

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Unfortunately, we may never know but it is fun to imagine. But like I stated before everything happens for a reason and if he would have made Pretty Woman, maybe Army of Darkness wouldn’t have come to fruition.

Which role do you think Bruce could have played and why? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.