Christa Campbell is accustomed to being hot. The Northern California native’s sexy joie de vivre got amply displayed in the ’90s when she first began appearing in direct-to-video fare like the series Erotic Confession. She continued right through the next decade with stunning appearances in 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams, Day of the Dead and other modestly budgeted horror movies she made right alongside big-screen supernatural and crime dramas including The Wicker Man with Nicolas Cage and Lonely Hearts with John Travolta. In 2007, she made her debut as a Playboy pictorial featuree.
But four years later, Campbell pumped the brakes on her acting career and made a shrewd detour into film production. With producing partner Lati Grobman, she co-founded Campbell-Grobman Films. In 2013, the duo’s debut dramatic feature, Texas Chainsaw 3D, jostled The Hobbit out of the number one box-office spot, defying industry pundits by earning $7 million over its predicted $16 million in its opening week.
With Emmy and Oscar nominations under her belt (the Campbell-Grobman documentary Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom will vie for an Academy Award this weekend) and an ambitious slate of upcoming projects, Campbell just keeps getting hotter. Here, she revisits the path that led her from slashers to politically charged documentaries and back again.
Horror fans know you thanks to stuff like Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep and Drive Angry. Does being a former scream queen mean you’ve had strange encounters with fans at celebrity conventions?
I don’t act anymore, but the first time I ever went to one of the horror conventions, I thought, “Oh, my god, these people are wearing vampire makeup and they’re scary.” I’d go right back to my hotel room and wouldn’t leave my room at night. But what I realized is they’re just fans and they’re loving it. They’re friendly and want to tell you that you’re in one of their favorite movies. They repeat lines of your dialogue where you’re like, “I don’t even remember that.”
Were you drawn to acting in horror movies, or did you see them as stepping stones?
I obviously didn’t come to Hollywood with the dream of starring in horror movies. I didn’t choose that; it chose me. Once I did one and it was a success, I pretty much got offered every horror movie in town. But doing them was so much fun—the greatest job ever. You get to pour blood all over yourself, kill people and do crazy, fun stuff. I mean, that’s much better than being on a boring soap opera.
What was the impact of your 2007 Playboy pictorial?
I came from a very small town in California, and being in Playboy was a dream of mine for a long time. I had the best time and I was given the best of everything on that shoot. The pictures were really beautiful. I was and am so proud of them. My mother ran around showing everybody, she was so proud.
What did you think when you met ‘50s pinup icon Bettie Page, whom you played as a young girl in a 1998 E! True Hollywood Story?
It was at the Playboy Mansion in 2008 and she was with Anna Nicole Smith and Hugh Hefner. She was super sweet and wore her hair exactly like she’d always done. What made it kind of sad was that for years Bettie wasn’t getting any royalties from all the photographs, calendars and merchandise that featured her image. After that, I learned that if you’re famous, you really have take care of yourself and make sure that the people around you help you get protection against people who are making money off of you.
If a guy wants to go toe-to-toe with me, I don’t have a problem with it.
Which brings us to your 2011 launch of Campbell-Grobman Films. How did you and your co-producer Lati Grobman first hook up?
Lati was a grip, an editor, who basically worked her way up from the bottom to doing every job on the set. We met when I first came to Hollywood but reconnected 13 years ago when she was producing movies and I was acting, and we became good friends. Subconsciously, I started learning from her because I was around her all the time and watched her work. Later on, she said, “Enough with the acting; be a producer,” I was like, “No, this is my passion.” But the straight-to-video market, where I was working and having a great time, crashed, and the DVD market pretty much disappeared. I did The Mechanic with Ben Foster and Drive Angry 3D with Nicolas Cage, but I found myself struggling to audition for one scene in big-budget movies like those. Anyway, I did a feature where I helped them cast the lead actor, got the product placement, got other actors in the movie, and Lati said, "Christa, are you stupid? You produced this movie. You deserve a credit on it.” When I was like, “No, it’s fine. I don’t care,” she said, “You can’t put ‘Thank you’ in your pocket.” I realized that, after I’d done all that work on the movie, no one had even thanked me. I always said I wouldn’t stop acting unless I found something that I was as passionate about. I found it.
And producing movies became your new obsession?
Completely. I became obsessed with getting our first movie made, Texas Chainsaw 3D. We formed our new company and, as it works, I’m the one who raises the money and puts the entire thing together. That’s what I get off on. On Criminal, that’s a big-budget $60 million-ish action film, and I definitely wasn’t there on the set telling anyone what to do. On the boxing movie we just finished, The Bleeder, with Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts and Ron Perlman, I worked that deal from day one and I was on set every day. We have Leatherface 3D coming and on that one, too, I was in the trenches every day. I love horror movies, emotional movies. Lati loves romantic comedies and documentaries. As long as we’re making some money, every once in a while, I let her make one like Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom. We’re quite different. We split up and work on the movies that we feel most passionate and obsessed about.
What do you and Lati deal with in Hollywood that male producers like, say, Jason Blum probably don’t?
When people meet me, it’s like, “Oh, she must not be too smart.” I don’t go to meetings dolled up. I don’t go dressed in a tight top. I don’t wear makeup. I’m smart and I know what I’m doing. But I’m not going to say that because I’m a woman, I’m being held back. If you look at my acting resume and the things I’ve done, obviously someone can judge me—and they do, quite quickly. That doesn’t bother me. It actually encourages me. Both Lati and I act more like men than women. Maybe when other people in the business first meet me, they might think, “She’s cute” or “She’s pretty” or “She was pretty.” But once they get to know me, it’s like “OK, I get it. She’s tough.” I mean, Lati was in the Israeli army. If a guy wants to go toe-to-toe with me, I don’t have a problem with it.
What drives you?
To be honest? Money. Respect. Extreme ambition. I’ve always been the underdog, and I like that. I like proving to myself and to others that I can do things.
You have big projects in the works, like a crime bio by the writer of Goodfellas but, reading fan comments about you on sites like IMDB, it doesn’t seem your public has caught on to your new career.
On the internet, I’ve seen a lot of haters, jealous people and weird people saying, “She took her clothes off” or “She’s ugly.” Jeez, so ugly that I was in Playboy, right? People used to talk shit about me, and they’re still talking shit about me. Only now, it’s “Oh, she’s producing movies. She must have done this or that to get there.” But something someone said years ago to me has stuck with me: “Don’t worry when they’re talking about you. Worry when they’re not.”
Photography by Marya Gullo
Hair by Hailey Adickes for Celestine Agency
Makeup by Tracy Rosen