Ash vs Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell

Hail to the King, Baby

Oct 30, 2015 Web Exclusive
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As Bruce Campbell will tell you, fans have been begging for a continuation to Ash Williams’ story since the Evil Dead series’ most recent installment, Army of Darkness, was released in 1993. After almost a quarter century, he and director Sam Raimi are answering their call with Ash vs Evil Dead, a new series debuting on Starz this weekend.

Groovy.

Thirty years after he last tangled with the Deadites, Ash is still working in retail by day—he’s moved on from S-Mart to Value Shop—and spending his nights trying to forget all of the horrors he’s experienced. When the body-stealing Deadites return—we won’t spoil why or how, but of course it’s Ash’s fault—he teams up with two of his co-workers to try and stop the evil spirits once and for all. It’s a show that should satisfy fans’ longtime demands with the way that it taps into the movie trilogy’s twisting tones—it’s hilarious, action-packed, and finds room for a few legit scares over the course of a single episode.

The first season of Ash vs Evil Dead airs this fall as ten half-hour episodes, starting October 31st. We chatted with the man himself about the new series, and what records we might find in Ash Williams’ private collection.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: Obviously, you and Sam Raimi have had great careers doing all sorts of movies and TV shows since making the first Evil Dead more than three decades ago. Way back then, though, did you ever imagine that this character, Ash, would be something you’d be returning to multiple times across your career?

Bruce Campbell: No! We didn’t even think we’d finish the first movie. I mean, that one took us nearly three years to make it. There was a period where we thought, “If this thing doesn’t get finished, then it’s not going to make its money back, and the investors won’t get their money back, and we’ll never make another movie.” So, yeah, it wasn’t always the glory days, you know? There was a lot of doubt early on.

It’s the same group—you, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert—producing this series that produced that original movie. Have the ways you work together changed, now that you’re all Hollywood bigshots?

No, no. [Laughs] It’s the same dysfunction that’s still there. It’s just the same. We still love each other, and we still hate each other. It’s the same everything. Sam I’ve known now… we met in 1975, so it’s been 40 years now. And then Rob Tapert in 1978, so I’ve only known Rob for 37 years. We all have our foibles, and there are things the three of us are good at and bad at, and who pays attention to what. Rob’s our money guy. Sam’s the creative guy. I’m a little more the face of things; I actually go out to the conventions and things like that. We all have our little contribution. But it’s mostly fun!

Each time you return to this character, are there any rituals or things you have to do to get into character and become Ash? 

No, I used to do this thing when I signed out on the Screen Actors Guild time sheet—because it’s all union stuff, where you have to sign in and sign out—I used to put a little smear of blood on the sheet. Like, whatever was on my hands at the time, I’d sign the sheet and then smear it. That was on Army of Darkness. It’s weird: all the blood is more antiseptic now. It’s cleaner and there’s not as much of it on my outfits and hands. I’d like to get back to that, actually. It’s like a timestamp for what I was working on that day.

There are parts of the show that are more slapstick, like Dead By Dawn or Army of Darkness, but there were also a few genuinely unnerving scenes that reminded me of the first movie. How delicate is it to find that right balance between humor and horror? Does it take a lot of work to keep it from tipping too far in one direction or the other?

Of course. It’s always a struggle. But, then: life is a struggle. Everyone has to get over it. We told Starz right from the beginning they couldn’t advertise the show as just horror, because the audience would be disappointed. And, yet, we would tell our directors to please take the horror seriously.

So, there aren’t too many rules, and I think the trick is to not overthink it. It should just be entertaining. My goal as an actor is to entertain. When Sam is behind the monitor, he is my only audience. I don’t care about any other audience member, or studio executive, or writer, except for him. My job is to just entertain Sam, and even if we’re doing horror, if he can laugh after a take—even after the most horrifying things you’ve ever seen—you know you’ve done it, because Sam is chuckling.

I assume that technology changes and budget matters have made making this TV series a pretty different experience than you had making those first two films back in the 80s. Have there been any moments where you thought, “Oh, man, I wish we’d had this back then”…?

Oh, sure. There are better blood delivery systems now. Pumping has gotten better, and the pressure. Being able to spit blood across the room, you know? We go high, medium, and low tech on this show—we do it all. In the old days, you’d fill a tube full of blood and a guy would have his mouth on one end, and he’d blow it out the tube and onto the actor’s face. That’s sort of how you did it. You’d have to try to hide that tube. Nowadays, we have this kind of pressurized beer keg and it’s filled with blood. That’s for big jobs. And then we have everything from Hudson Sprayers—you know, those things they use for pesticides—which give you a nice, fine spray. And then, you can also dip a six-inch-wide paint brush—just a good, old-fashioned paint brush—into a bucket of fake blood, and just flick it. That’ll give you a blood spray onto an actor’s face that’s really fine and even. And once we used a seed spreader—it was a paddle thing on a little plastic jug—which did the nicest job of spitting the blood out on the other end. So we’ve done it all, but not too much digital, because digital blood looks bad.

Obviously, you’re starring, and the Raimis are heavily involved throughout the series, but there’s still a lot of new blood involved on all levels of production. Are there any baseline tips the veterans gave the Evil Dead rookies, to make sure they did the series right?

Well, as an actor, you have to be patient, because you’re going to be put through hell. That’s the biggest thing they’ve had to learn: being physically uncomfortable comes with the job. As long as you’re used to that, you’ll be fine. You’re going to uncomfortable a lot of the time. Ray Santiago was covered with blood, and he said it felt like a thousand tiny animals licking him at the same time. It gave him a queasy feeling. So, it’s mostly just that: the actors have to learn durability.

And then on top of that, there are legal issues we have to abide by as far as what we can use and what we can’t use, because the three movies were made by three different companies. That always makes things complicated. A lot of times when people see a sequel or a remake and things are missing, usually there’s a reason.

From what I’ve seen, the show seems to spin most closely out of Evil Dead 2. Is that the one newcomers should watch to prep themselves for the series?

The show is going to have aspects of all of them. Army of Darkness as far as tone and adventure, and aspects of Evil Dead 2 with evil inanimate objects, and the original Evil Dead as far as creepy monsters, monsters lying and pretending to be real people. You’re going to get it all. Whenever people ask “Which movie is it going to be like?” I say, “All of them.” And then it will be its own beast, too. Over time we become interested in different things and telling different stories, and take different approaches.

The character is well-known for his one-liners. What’s your rehearsal process like when prepping the perfect delivery of one of Ash’s famous quips?

It’s no different than any other line. You have to nail every line! A tagline isn’t any more important than a setup line, or some romantic line. They all have the same importance. By not giving it extra importance is probably how you do it. It’s just a little quippier. It’s fun. People have been wondering if Ash is still going to be a sassy-mouth, and oh yes, he’s a sassy potty mouth.

Looking around the trailer home Ash now lives in, you get a sense that he lives a bit in the past. We can see he has a stack of vinyl albums—can you give me an idea of what records we might expect to find in Ash’s collection?

One is called “I Dig Chicks,” and it shows a steam shovel filled with girls in bikinis. I have that album framed in my house! And the lyrics are just ridiculous. “I dig chicks because man, they are the most, I dig chicks because they’re man’s best friend,” or something like that. It’s a ridiculous “man album.” Ash would have some ridiculous man albums. Hugh Hefner put out some albums back in the ‘60s and ’70s of cocktail music. I think Ash would have albums from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and they wouldn’t be very well taken care-of.

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For more info on Ash vs Evil Dead, head over to the show's website, and look for our exclusive feature on the series (with more exclusive dirt from Bruce) in Under the Radar #55, on stands this fall.



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