When Bruce Campbell was cast as Ronald Reagan on FX’s Fargo, he was nervous. “I don’t usually spend a lot of time on Emmy-winning shows,” deadpans the jut-jawed cult hero best known for the Evil Dead franchise (including its currently airing Starz spinoff, Ash vs. Evil Dead). Then again, he did appear as a soap star in the Coen Bros.’ original Oscar-winning Fargo film. “I’m the only actor who’s been in both the movie and the TV show,” he adds, “so I think I’m qualified.”
Still, Campbell had the jitters about playing the Gipper. “I knew I had to treat him with a great deal of respect because there are a lot of people who would get really angry if I made him look like a jackass or a buffoon or an asshole,” he says. To remain fair and balanced, however, he assures that, “You do see a hint of the fact that he’s not 100 percent clued in -- and that's a true portrayal of Ronald Reagan.” Campbell confesses he doesn’t necessarily share the late Commander-in-Chief's militaristic right-wing philosophy, but as tribute to the actor-turned-politician's yen for looking on the bright side, he offered his list of five things he admires about our 40th President, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
He had great hair
“He had a sharp haircut," says Campbell. "He got his hair cut every two weeks. I also have a theory that no president with [bad] hair could ever get elected. It’s just not gonna happen. Show me a bald President. OK, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Guess what? He was the guy behind D-Day. I have enough of my own hair left, thankfully, but they used a lot of smoke and mirrors to make my hair look like his. They poofed it up, parted it right, dyed it jet black. It took a while.”
He was a great salesman
“In 1979, I was in suburban Detroit trying to raise money to make the original Evil Dead," Campbell recalls. "It was not easy because the economy was in the shitter. I specifically remember the gas lines. It was a weird time. It was not what we were used to in America. It took a good salesman to get people out of their doldrums. But Americans are like that. Presidents don’t get elected by being sourpusses. Presidents get elected by being very pro-America, whether they’re liberal or conservative. If they say, 'This country’s got so many problems,' people go, 'Man, this guy’s a downer.' You’ve got to say, 'I know what greatness is. We’ve been there, and we can do it again.'”
He was great at playing the President
“Look, it makes a hell of a lot of sense for an actor to be President," Campbell argues. "You’ve been in front of flashing light bulbs your whole career. You’ve had questions shouted at you. Granted, as an actor, you’re not really doing anything. You’re not really running the show. You’re not really a World War II hero. But you can certainly sell it that you are. I can play the President now. Could I actually be a President? No. But sure, I can stand up straight, have a little warm water. Reagan always had a little sip of warm water before he made a speech to clear the pipes. He had extensive experience on the radio and speaking to crowds. He knew how to play to the camera. He knew what eyeballing that one-eyed monster meant. If he wanted to convince people to do something, he’d stare right down that lens and say it, and people would believe it. And it worked for eight years, man.”
He surrounded himself with experienced people
“His cabinet would add up to about 7,000 years old all together," jokes Campbell. "These guys were old from the start. He wanted it like it was. He wanted guys who had been CEOs in the '50s and were now big politicians in the ‘80s. He wanted the country to be run by those guys, and that’s what he got."
He was not Donald Trump
“Reagan was more Old Hollywood," says Campbell. "Trump is just way more brash and unrefined. You could see Reagan meeting with dignitaries around the world. As an actor, he’d probably met the Queen and people like that. He was used to that. You could see Reagan being a head of state. Now nobody’s going to ruffle Trump’s feathers. He’s like, 'Shut up, I’m rich! I don’t care!' He’s used to confrontation. But Trump’s problem is going to be moderation. I don’t think he’s going to be building a wall across Mexico. But the guy’s a developer, so you never know.”
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Currently Senior Articles Editor for Closer Weekly, Bruce Fretts has written for the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, Fast Company, and Vulture. He enjoys interviewing other people named Bruce, unless it's Bruce Willis. You can follow him on Twitter @brucefretts.