It took 23 years, but Bruce Campbell is finally returning to his iconic role of Ash—the arrogant, loudmouthed, one-handed badass who squared off against prankish possessive spirits in three Sam Raimi films (including 1987’s cult classic Evil Dead II). Starz is resurrecting the franchise with the half-hour horror-comedy series Ash vs. Evil Dead; 10 episodes are planned for late 2015.
The set-up: Ash is living in a trailer park and working his latest thankless big-box store job when a return of the Deadites prompts him to take a road trip with two young co-workers (and, of course, his trusty boomstick). To find out what we can expect from the show, EW had an exclusive interview with the king himself.
EW: What finally made this happen?
Bruce Campbell: We realized if we made another movie, frankly, it would probably be too expensive. But in the format of a TV show, we could give people exactly what they wanted and expand the character and the story even more. Ash would probably have more dialogue in one season than in three movies. He’ll have to become a more fleshed-out character as well. And we never burned Evil Dead as a franchise out—it’s not like we did 13 of these movies. So we felt like, what the heck, let’s give it a try. Walking Dead is Walking Dead, but we were kind of first. And I would say it’s about as big of a counterpart to Walking Dead as you could program, because Walking Dead is unrelentingly grim and hugely popular. We’re going to give people a little of the old fashioned splatstick—horror and comedy. The fans have been really good to us over the years. This is an opportunity to do something with full street cred. [Fan reaction to last year’s Evil Dead remake] was all, “Yeah yeah, that was nice, fellas, but we still want the real deal.” This is it. Sam’s back. I’m back. [Executive producer Rob Tapert’s] back. Love it or hate it, this will be the real deal.
I was wondering if Walking Dead being the top-rated hit in the demo helped land the deal.
Well, The Walking Dead has been instrumental in the continual popularization of the horror genre. Horror used to be a much smaller aspect of all the different genres available. Something we’re doing is taking the horror parts very seriously. We’re not making fun of the horror aspects. And it’s going to cause Ash—this crabby middle-aged man who doesn’t want to get dragged back into this—a lot of problems. He’s not the Ash he used to be.
You once said, “In the first Evil Dead, [Ash is] just this guy. In Evil Dead II, he’s a little wiser and a little more weary and a little more willing to fight these damn things. By Army of Darkness, he’s just this bragging ugly American.” How is Ash different this time?
He continues being a trash-talking know-it-all who doesn’t really know anything. He’s the ultimate anti-hero. He’s a guy with no appreciable skills. He’s not a former Navy SEAL, he’s not a former CIA or FBI. He’s no special anything. He’s just a guy from S-Mart, you know? And think that’s part of what people relate too. All these super hero movies—I rather relate to a garage mechanic who gets into a sticky situation. That’s what I look forward to playing—a guy with horrible flaws. In Army of Darkness he can’t memorize three words and he’s responsible for the deaths of a 100 people—this is your lead character!
The description says Ash will have to face his demons, both “literal and personal.” He’s never been one for introspection. What personal demons does he have to face?
Ash has survivor’s guilt. You could have a heyday with his PTSD. He’s a war vet. He doesn’t want to talk about it, and he’ll lie about that stump on his hand to impress the ladies. This is a guy who’s got some issues. He’s emotionally stunted. But he’s the guy you want in the foxhole next to you. That’s the funny thing—he’s kind of an idiot, but man, if I had to go to battle, I’d want to be next to that guy, because he’ll bring it if he has to.
This time Ash isn’t a solo act. He’s getting some help from a couple other characters.
It’s a threesome, which is a good number. Since it’s not cast yet, it would be silly to fully describe them. But they’re supposed to be two very good counterparts. One is a male-bonding situation; the other is father-figure deal, since Ash could have a daughter the same age as this character. Hopefully we’ll pull Ash out of his loner-veteran mode and get him back into being a human being again.
It’s an intensely physical role. Is there anything you’re doing to prepare?
I’m going to try to roll back the hands of time a little bit. It’s probably about doing a lot of stretching. And my stunt man will probably be spectacular—this guy’s going to wish his mother never met his father. Over the years we’ve learned a lot of tricks about how to do fights without killing your lead actor, and I plan to use every trick in the book. But yeah, I will have to step up my game a little bit.
What’s the Ash line fans most often quote at you?
Probably “Give me some sugar, baby.” But that’s fine. Words are powerful.
In the films, the Deadites seem to be an anything-goes threat in terms of who the spirits effect and how it effects them. For the series, are there going to be any boundaries or rules established in terms of what the Evil Dead can do or cannot do?
Yes. There always were rules and always will be rules. We do work within a boundary of what causes this to happen. We’re going along the lines of every so often, the Evil rises to test the average man to see if man is ready to rule the earth, or if the living dead have to come back. Turns out Ash is our guy, so God help us all.
You mentioned taking the horror seriously. What does that mean?
There’s jokey horror and horror-horror. When there’s a presence in the room, it has to be dealt with because it’s an extremely dangerous and volatile situation. Humor may come out of it, but there’s nothing funny about a demon ripping somebody’s head off. And the beauty of Starz is there’s no content issues. Let’s face it: Fans want the carnage and the mayhem. So we intend to give them quite the explosion of viscera. Most of it directed at me, unfortunately.
Was there anything particularly important to you the series had to do, or had to not do?
Mostly we had to get Sam. That was the bottom line. I wouldn’t take it seriously if they didn’t get Sam, and neither would the fans. So we’re on the right road. And any other incoming directors would be apprenticing under his style and method. Like Fargo the TV show—there are rules about how you shoot that show, about how it’s supposed to look. So in our case, once they learn the system, the Evil Dead way, we can really have a blast with it.
How involved will he be beyond the pilot?
We’re going to get him as much as we possibly can. He’s a director of gigantic Hollywood movies, so we’re pretty fortunate for him to bless this project, and get it started, and do the pilot, and let people know we’re back and up and running. And Sam really shines in post-production. He loves the editing room. So he’ll have his hands on this whether he’s physically there or not, and he will certainly get us going. We’re just as concerned as the fans [about making it right], it’s not like we don’t care. We’ll be all over this thing like a cheap suit.
The films largely used very practical effects. I’m assuming you’ll be using CGI now?
[CGI] still ain’t cheap, and it takes a long time to do. I have a hunch we’ll do what we’ve always done—a kind of combo platter, which is better for the audience anyway. Army had everything from front-screen projection to miniatures to stop-motion to guys in rubber suits. We mixed it all up so people won’t know what’s coming at them.
Will time travel be involved, like in Army of Darkness, or will Ash remain in modern times?
I have no idea. It’s early yet, we’ll see where the journey takes us. I think people are going to have a lot of fun. We’re going to keep this show constantly evolving and hopefully surprising.
There are actors who are chameleons, and there are actors who have a certain larger-than-life personality that is their brand—and Ash seems like yours. How much of this character is you?
Ash is me on a bad day. Ash is me on a good day. Ash is me at my smartest and at my dumbest. You can’t just be one thing. You have to make horrible mistakes and sometimes learn from them. No actor can get completely away from themselves. You can hide behind wigs and silly voices and fake teeth, and there are actors who love to do movie after movie like that, but you can only escape so much. I’ve always been attracted to certain types of material. I always like material that’s a little snarky and has more of an edge to it. I like comedy; it’s good for the soul. I like horror because it makes you go through a cathartic experience. I like things that just aren’t boring. I’d rather play Bubba Ho-Tep—a 68-year-old Elvis with cancer on his penis in an East Texas nursing home. As an actor, you look at that part and go, “Nobody has ever played that before.” So you can stake out your own territory. If you’re doing the same action shit over and over, then it’s ho-hum, baby. People are like, “Why don’t you want to be in The Expendables? I’m like, “So I can have one line of dialogue every 10 minutes?” “Duck! Get down! Now!” That’s not my idea of a good time.
Wait, were you offered The Expendables?
No. No one has asked. But fans are like, “You should be in The Expendables!” I’m like, “Maybe I shouldn’t.”
Anything else I didn’t ask about that you fans would want to know?
Starz was the ultimate fit for us. Because Rob has experience on Spartacus with them. And it’s a show they were very eager to get. And sometimes on projects, you’re eager to be with people who are eager. They were willing to meet some parameters creatively that we thought were incredibly important.
What were your creative parameters?
I’m not going to tell you! But I’ll say this: 35 years later, we don’t want a lot of people bugging us about stuff. We know this series. We know the character. We’re experienced producers, Sam is an experienced director, I’m an experienced actor. Let us do our thing. And Starz has been really supportive in that respect and as a result we’re very happy.
The first Evil Dead, there was no director’s cut—there was only the director’s cut. Army of the Darkness was the only movie the got re-edited because it was a classic studio scenario. So we were very determined, if we’re going to go down this road again, that we’re going to be in the driver’s seat so we can give fans exactly what they want. Once you get too many chefs, it starts to taste different. We want it to taste exactly like the Evil Dead movies, and I think with the setup with Starz we can do exactly that. We also don’t have to cut to a stupid Dodge commercial. The writers don’t have to create a false cliffhangers [after every act break] because we’re not going to a commercial.
We get to be as creative as we want on the page as well. I was really was not sure this was ever going to happen. When Starz pulled the trigger I was like, “Hot damn! It actually happened!” After all these years of all the baloney, of sequel/remake/re-imagining…it’s finally back. It’s not going to be the same Ash, but it will be the same Ash. That’s the bottom line. I don’t know what possessed us to ultimately do it other than we think we can bring something to the table. Because the last Army of Darkness—I’ve been married as long as it’s been since we did the last movie. We feel we now have 23 more years of experience to hopefully provide an entertaining half hour of outrageousness.
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