Ash vs Evil Dead is back, baby – and according to the people who made it, we’re in for a party. First, you find out Ash has a surprise teenage daughter. What’s up with that? Then there’s that new biker guy who says he’s a knight of Sumeria. Oh yeah? Where’s your chain mail, Sir Loin of Pork?
Anyway, you still got the old regulars like Pablo and Kelly and Ruby, who looks smoking hot as a blonde. And there’s Ash too, of course. Can’t forget him. It’s still his show…and he’s still the king.
We sat down with Bruce Campbell, the legend behind Ashy Slashy, to find what else we can expect from Ash vs Evil Dead‘s twisted third year on television and how he keeps the role fresh after all these years.
Evil Dead is a couple years shy of its 40th anniversary mark. How do you think it’s transformed since then, and did you and Sam ever dream that the franchise would ever have the media presence that it has now?
Well you can’t really ever imagine it. We had so many problems with the first movie, we weren’t even sure we would even finish that. And then there was a great deal of time between each movie, so there wasn’t what you would call a lot of momentum exactly. The momentum kind of happened after Army of Darkness, the third Evil Dead, played.
Honestly, what people forget is the movie bombed and almost killed the franchise. So it took a lot of DVD reissues through the ‘90s, all the “Making Ofs”, the behind the scenes stuff that really brought the DVDs back which created a lot more fervor at conventions, y’know, and people never stopped bugging us about it. So it really has been very organic and slow growing. It’s a slow-growing cancer.
It’s kind of a nice, profitable cancer though. So why is it that each installment of the Evil Dead franchise has its own tone and flavor? It’s like each one is from its own separate universe that has a different spin on what was already established.
I would say probably because of the distance between them. The first Evil Dead was 1979, so we did one in the ‘70s. The second one was in 1986, so we did one in the ‘80s. Army of Darkness was ‘91 when we shot it, so that was the ‘90s and then really it was not for 25 more years that we started the TV series so you can see how your sensibilities would change based on experience and just life and preferences. So I would attribute it mostly to that.
Will Ash vs. Evil Dead still be on the air when the 40th anniversary happens?
You tell me, seer of the future.
Eh…my crystal ball is out of juice right now.
There ya go.
How do you think season three stands in comparison to the first two seasons?
It’s better by a mile. We’re up to speed, we’re sort of getting our sea legs, our story is coming together. We’re gonna pay off a bunch of stuff this year with new characters, new stuff for Ash to do, new dynamics…he’s got a daughter…his father comes back to haunt him as a ghost. A lot of cool stuff. Some of the cast winds up in limbo at a certain point. There’s time travel…it’s bitchin’ season. Ash has a family so I think it’s really cool. It was exciting.
What do you contribute to any of the trademark gore gags or action sequences in the show? Do you hang out in the writers’ room and toss around ideas? How does that work?
I don’t hang out. I’m too busy. So…basically I’m in on the jokes. They pitch me the ideas and stuff. I’ll let them know if it’s something I am not interested in doing or don’t want to do. Or, if it doesn’t make sense for how I actually do something, I encourage the writers to act it out in their crappy little writer’s room so that the fight makes sense. Fight scenes need to have a story. When you fight a monster, you’re not the only smart one. Ash would be just as tricky as them, and being inventive in how they defend themselves or attack.
The Deadites are very tricky but so is Ash. Never forget that Ash is just as tricky as the Deadites. I always try to keep the writers smart. Write smart; don’t write stupid, or easy, or repetitive.
What’s the secret to writing a good one-liner?
Don’t make it too many syllables.
Technically, that in itself is a one-liner.
There’s something about Ash Vs. Evil Dead that captures a certain atmosphere in the United States in this day and age so well. Is this intentional satire or does it just come with the territory of the character of Ash Williams in general?
Well, you can interpret what it means in modern sociology, but to us, we’re just telling Ash’s story which is mostly universal.
It is, I think that’s why it’s so successful as a TV series. I also think Ash vs. Evil Dead is successful because of Pablo and Kelly (and now Brandy), who have helped the franchise develop an emotional center that the feature films didn’t have.
I agree. There’s way more character resonance. There’s much more for people to get behind and involved. They can worry about Ash’s daughter, you see different side of Ash, you see a caring and protective side, you see Ash step up from his selfish nature and be more selfless. He’s a shitty father, no question about it. But what’s fun is to show him try to grapple with it. Try and know that he’s doing some bad shit as a father but he’s doing the best that he can under the circumstances.
That seems to be the big theme of season three, is it not?
More like “family is everything.” Family is all you really got.
Does this mean we can expect more Brock Williams this season?
Yep. Brock is back, played by the great Lee Majors, and I think he has more screen time this season because he comes back to give me advice.
Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) too, maybe?
No, I think she’s going to stay dead.
How do you continue to play Ash and not get annoyed with people who only want to see his character when they look at you?
I realize that people only like what they like, and they will only know you based on what they like. If you only like horror movies, then I’m your horror guy. You like westerns, people know me from something else. If you like spy shows, then people might know me from those. I’ve had to learn to not be offended by that because I’m actually more pigeonholed by fans than by my own industry. I’ve done a bunch of different stuff but fans like what they like and they only watch what they want to watch. They won’t follow an actor and I’ve found that my fans won’t follow me to everything that I do, they’ll do about two-thirds of it.
And there’s some people that like Burn Notice but can’t stand Evil Dead movies. It’s not their bag. So, for me, I just do my business.
Right. Jumping back to Evil Dead…just kidding. How do you play Ash after all these decades and still make it fun and interesting for yourself as an actor?
I can finally have the freedom to be the final arbiter of what comes out of Ash’s mouth. I’ve rewritten a lot of my own material, I hand my material over to the script supervisor. Normally there’s a big process you have to go through if you want to change your lines. Sometimes I’ll just hand out an Ash draft. I won’t change anything but my own dialogue.
So, I wanted to experience on time where I had that kind of freedom and that kind of creative say – and we have that now, and it’s gonna be really hard to give up.
Do you think that new showrunner Mark Verheiden captures the Ash voice better, since he wrote My Name is Bruce in 2007 and the comic adaptation of the first Evil Dead film in for Dark Horse in 2007?
Well, it certainly puts him more in the ballpark, but I warned all the writers that if you guys don’t step up, don’t be surprised by what you see in the dailies.
That’s important, and almost a Tom Baker kind of thing, whereas an actor you have to be trusted to contribute your talents and your contributions based on your instincts…especially if you’ve been playing a character for so long.
I’m the only guy who only knows how Ash would react in a certain situation. A new director who didn’t have any experience with it, they wouldn’t really know. It’s been fun. It’s been really good to delve back in and flesh this guy out.
Are you going to have more screen time with Lucy Lawless this year? Is there going to be more action between you two? Er, well, not that kind of action, but…
Interaction, I think is what you’re getting at. Yes, there will be a little bit more play with Ash and Ruby because she’s a little more officially “bad” this season, and I think from Ash’s perspective she needs to be dealt with once and for all.
If you could describe this season in one word, what would it be?