Alright, you primitive screwheads. Listen up! You see this guy over here? He’s Mark Verheiden, the new showrunner for that Ash vs Evil Dead show you kids talk about these days. Me, I dig it too. It’s got blood, guts, more blood, maybe a boob or two, and more blood on top of that. I’ve heard there are jokes somewhere in there, too.
We got the chance to sat down with Mr. Verheiden about how he likes his new job babysitting Ash Williams on a weekly basis, and what its like executive producing the show after being a lifelong fan of Evil Dead.
Oh, just so you know, Mark has an extensive career in the film, television, and comic book industries. He’s worked on shows like Battlestar Galactica, Daredevil, Smallville, Heroes, and Constantine. No, not the one with Keanu Reeves.
As far as comics go, Mark has written stories for titles like Aliens, Predator, Batman, Superman, and The Phantom. He’s also the creator of Time Cop.
Mark is no stranger to working with Bruce Campbell or The Evil Dead franchise, either. He wrote the script for 2007’s My Name is Bruce and Dark Horse’s comic adaptation of the original Evil Dead film the following year – and it was pretty good.
Anyway, enough with the blah-blahs. Here’s your stinkin’ interview.
I just finished your adaptation of the original film for Dark Horse comics that came out ten years ago, so I just wanted to know, was that your first experience with the Evil Dead franchise?
Yes, specifically with Evil Dead. The comic was the first time I got to work in the world of Ash Williams. I worked with Bruce called My Name Is Bruce which is not Evil Dead, and we’d also worked on some stuff in the past, he’s been in some shows I’ve done in the past, Bruce. But yep that comic was the first Evil Dead on my C.V.
As someone that took that opportunity to reconcile a few inconsistencies within the Evil Dead universe, because you know it so well, are you going to try to do the same thing this year with season three?
I don’t think we spend an enormous amount of time trying to retcon things. I think in season three, we try to answer some questions that were left hanging in season two, and season one as well. In season three, we introduce this idea of the Knights of Sumeria, which is the main guy is played by Lindsay Ferris who’s Dalton, and the idea there was to sort of explore what is the history of evil. At the end of Evil Dead II, obviously, Ash went back in time. So is there some connection between his going back in time and the evil that is coming at us now. And I think we also just want to explore a little bit Ruby’s backstory so you’ll learn more about where she’s coming from, her relationship to evil, and sort of if you’re clearing anything up it’s exploring things that never really had a chance to be amplified on or explored in the show.
Oh, cool. Does that mean we’re going to explore the connection to Army of Darkness more?
Uh, not that movie. But, y’know, at the end of Evil Dead II when he went back in time… we take off from that moment. We talk a little bit about that and what possibly happened back then, but it’s really more about how it’s affecting the characters today, and the fact that there’s the Knights of Sumeria group that was put together basically in the sense of evil that existed even back then. So we talk a little bit about that through the history of evil throughout the centuries.
Are we going to have a big bad figure that’s sort of like a face of evil or is it going to be spread out as it always has been before?
There’s some surprises coming. (laughs) I think “big bad” is a good word. And obviously, if you’ve seen the first episode, this is a season where Ruby sort of steps up as a truly malevolent figure.
I got that impression, yeah. I’ve read somewhere before that Evil Dead II is your favorite installment of the franchise. Will Season 3 be taking on its flavor?
Well, Evil Dead II is my favorite of the series, and one of my favorite movies of all time, actually. But I think…look, there are humorous moments still, crazy moments, but I think we also wanted to amp up the horror this season. We really wanted to… the first Evil Dead and the second had moments of genuine horror so we were trying to do that as well. So I think in terms of emulating Evil Dead II, I’m not sure about that. But the idea of trying to incorporate a little more genuine horror into it, while not losing what makes Ash so fun as a character…we’re trying to walk that line. But add a little more character in terms of, he does have a daughter now, and that changes him. It changes how others react to him. Brandy has to interact with Pablo and Kelly as well. So how does that change their relationship with Ash?
Speaking of which: can we expect a rivalry between Kelly and Ash’s new daughter Brandy?
Um, I’m not sure how to answer that without being definitive. I don’t think we wanted to have…look, Ruby is plenty bad. I’m not sure we were working toward. I guess I wouldn’t say as much as a rivalry as the idea that Kelly is the experienced demon fighter in this bunch. Brandy is a brand new addition who doesn’t know what this freakin’ world is about. I think we wanted to play with the idea of a “seasoned” professional, in quotes, trying to get this teenager up to speed on this world she never thought she’d have to face. So we’re going for that I think maybe a little more than an actual rivalry but obviously there’s conflict because it’s not Kelly unless there’s conflict.
Of course. So will our heroes be on the move again this time, or will they stay put in Elk Grove like they did last year?
There’s a lot of Elk Grove this season, but they definitely hit the road some. Just my opinion, I didn’t think we have totally explored Elk Grove yet as a venue so there is some in Elk Grove still. We open the season by sort of saying that Ash has become almost a hero of the town, and it’s all like it’d be fun to sort of watch in that world trying to be normal for like five seconds and bad stuff starts happening. There’s Elko Grove, there’s some road trip stuff, but mostly Elk Grove.
Since Dalton is a Knight of Sumeria (and I’ve only seen the season premiere at press time), will the comic relief of his character be rooted in anachronism? For example, will he react to situations in an antiquated fashion?
I don’t know about antiquated, I do think he’s more sincere about it than Ash or Pablo or Kelly. His dynamic is interesting because while he is a Knight of Sumeria and he has some knowledge of the evil, he doesn’t have any practical knowledge when we meet him. And so, it’s a wake-up call for him as well when he finally faces evil for the first time in the context of the show and how that changes him. He goes through quite a journey in this season, as do all of our characters, but his journey is a little surprising. I think Lindsay’s really great.
Let’s talk about the casting of Dalton and Brandy. Were you closely involved with that process?
Oh sure. We talked about it a lot. Brandy, Arielle, just seemed to capture that…she could do both sides. She could do this sort of, I don’t want to say innocent because I think she actually plays a more normal teenager when we first meet her, someone who can get in trouble, who just wants to get the hell out of Elk Grove. Certainly the last thing on her mind was that her father could possibly be Ash Williams who she only knows as the chainsaw geek. She can play sort of the normal teenager, but she could also play the blood-in-your-face, going after evil person as well. We really liked that in her and she did a great job on this show, she’s really great.
For Dalton, we were looking for that kind of stalwart, handsome dedicated to his cause guy, but there’s a sly sense of humor to what Lindsay does with that character too, so I thought turned out great as well. That’s kind of what we were looking for with both those characters.
Is there more of a chance for romance this year among the supporting cast?
Eh, you never know on Evil Dead. Keep your eyes open.
How do you come up with the gore gags in Evil Dead? Do you spend a lot of hours dreaming up sequences like that?
That’s a really good question. It’s funny where they come from. Sometimes they evolve, and it’ll start with an idea and then the idea is thoroughly in discussion with production which means talking with the other executive producer Rob Tapert down in New Zealand. Sort of adjusting to what makes the most sense visually, what they think they can do… I can give you just a very specific example. In the first episode there’s a sequence with a harp. The original inspiration for that was a piano. Same basic gag, and it was pointed out that the harp would be more visual and it sort of evolved from there. But it started with an idea in the writer’s room of some sort of string instrument being used as an instrument of doom for a character.
For other ones…I would say almost all of them start that way with a kernel of inspiration, then how far can we take it? There’s a sequence in episode five which I won’t get into except it started one way and we kept going further and further and further and you’ll see… I don’t think we’ve seen that on screen before. Again, it’s the fun of: how do we top even ourselves in the writer’s room? How do we take it to that next step to really do something inventive and crazy and scary, if we can get there…and bloody and all those great Evil Dead things.
How is working on an Evil Dead show different from working on My Name is Bruce or other TV projects you’ve worked on that have involved Bruce Campbell?
I’d say that the Evil Dead has more comedy than stuff of the work I’ve done. I did, many years ago, write The Mask with Jim Carrey, so I like to think that I can occasionally do something funny. But my career’s really lead towards science fiction and shows like Smallville and Heroes, so I think for Evil Dead I got to flex my comedic side. It’s also a half hour too, which is something I’ve never done before, and it was interesting to sort of get used to the pace of a half hour when you’re used to doing hours, there’s a certain pace to that and a certain rhythm to how you write them and there’s a different rhythm to the half hour.
Overall, it’s the same process. I think one difference for me working on Evil Dead is just that the Evil Dead canon is so well established already, specifically Ash’s character, and on the show, Kelly and Pablo, and the Brujo to some extent, these other side characters that you have a pretty strong base you’re working from, so really we’re augmenting what already exists as opposed to creating from scratch. In my opinion, Ash Williams is one of the great horror characters ever, right up there with Freddy and Jason and Leatherface and Michael Myers and the whole crew so the fact that I was able to finally work on with that character was very exciting to me.
It’s interesting because the characters that you mentioned are villains and Ash approaches the horror genre from a different angle, the hero’s side, but he’s still capable of doing some pretty messed up stuff on screen.
That’s a big difference, actually. He’s not a murderer. He’s not the Leatherface. He is trying to do the right thing in his own stumbly not-too-bright sort of way. But he’s also just a unique character in the world of horror, or frankly any world, but in the world of horror he’s such a unique, fun character and Bruce obviously brings it to the show. It’s always amazing to see what he brings to the scene and see him covered in blood head to toe…it’s something.
What is the secret to writing Ash, because I think you grasp his character very well?
I’ll leave to others if I cracked or we cracked it. (laughs) I think that the secret is deep down he does sort of care. That a lot of his, “leave me alone, get out of here kids”, “get outta my face” attitude he has is just a cover. I think in some respects he’s a guy who literally is not that bright, which is fine, who found himself having to confront extraordinary circumstances and resents that in a lot of ways. And yet I also think, after 30 years of this, he derives quite a bit of his self-worth from it. The fact that he’s the one fighting evil.
So while he bitches and moans and complains and seems like he’s going to turn tail, even comes off as cowardly sometimes, he’s really not any of those things. He’s actually sort of a warrior thrust into a battle he never wanted. So you don’t want to forget that this is a war he can fight. He’ll have times when he’ll decide, “I don’t want to do that! Stay away from me. Leave me alone.” But he steps up. That’s what makes him so cool. He never gives up.
Is there anything you want fans that have stuck to this franchise for almost forty years to know about season three?
It’s sort of a slightly different feel. The season introduces his daughter. It doesn’t change everything in terms of relationships, but it definitely changes up how the show feels. I think the addition of the daughter to the show a little more of an emotional resonance to Ash and to his relationship both to her and the other characters.
With that said, we, of course, tried to outdo the other seasons in terms of spectacle, and there is quite a bit of spectacle as we get further on in this season – and all through it – and in terms of the set pieces that everybody loves. Those are there, but I think there’s also more, for lack of a better word, heart this season as Ash and Brandy try to forge a relationship in the midst of this insane battle with evil. So I think that’s what we tried to do to move things forward a little bit.
Okay. One last question: can we look forward an Evil Dead/Timecop crossover this year?
(Laughs) Oh man. If Van Damme is up for it. Is Bruce Campbell is up for it. If Starz is up for it. Uh, no.