FD Interview: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is returning to his signature role of Ash Williams, the shot gun wielding, chainsaw wearing, selfish blowhard anti-hero, in the new Starz original series, Ash vs Evil Dead. Mr. Campbell took some time out to talk to us about returning to the role, and about the new series.

It’s been twenty three years since we last saw Ash in Army of Darkness (the third film of the Evil Dead trilogy), but Bruce Campbell seems happy to strap the chainsaw back on again. “It’s great to get back to this character. It’s probably the most fun character there is to play. Now we can use all of our experience to flesh him out even more.” Not that returning to the career making franchise was all rosy. “It reminded me of how much I hate fake blood. That hatred it runs deep. It runs really deep. It’s one of my least favorite things is adhesive, surgical adhesive and they had to use that for appliances, make up appliances and, yes, fake blood. Because it’s chronic. It gets everywhere.”

ash-vs-the-evil-dead-tv-show-images-sldr

Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams

After years of fans asking if they would ever see another Evil Dead, Campbell, director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert decided to give them one. In 2013, a remake of Evil Dead was released. Directed by Fede Alvarez, and starring Jane Levy, the film received mostly positive reviews, but Bruce’s absence (sans a brief post credits cameo) just made the fans want Ash back even more. So Raimi announced they were planning a sequel not only to the remake, but of the original as well, likely as Army of Darkness 2, with a possible crossover film down the line. All of this was scrapped though when the series came up. But will Ash vs Evil Dead have any connection to the reboot? Not according to Campbell. “(There is) no connection whatsoever. That was a director who had a whim, who goes “I have this great idea. It has nothing to do with anything but I want to do it.” I was like, yes, whatever. So, no, no connection whatsoever.” The same can be said about the videos games, which Campbell had gone on record at one point saying were sequels. “Okay. I lied,” says Campbell. “I lied. So now we move onto the truth.”

While the fans clamored for more Evil Dead, there was one simple reason they never got the film they wanted. “The last three bombed,” says Campbell. “They were too expensive. They didn’t make any money. So people began to think we were lazy or we didn’t want to go back to it. I got news for you, pal, there’s no money in the bank for it. You’re not making anything if there’s no money. So it’s just the raw truth of it. Thankfully, the fans have stepped up through all the DVD reissues. There were 86 versions of Army of Darkness after that. It became an American movie classic, you know, on AMC. And so fans drove it. And they drove it at these personal appearances by tour since ’88. They haven’t let it go. So they finally got it. So regardless of what I said, when I said or how I said it, we’re here. And it’s a good day.”

And here is cable movie network, Starz, which also hosts original programming like Spartacus, Blunt talk, and Flesh and Bone. So what made Starz a perfect fit for Ash vs Evil Dead? “They had what we needed, explains Campbell. “They gave the budget we were looking for and they gave us the leeway we were looking for and they give us unrestricted content that those movies demand. So they were really — out of the suitors that we had — they were actually the only company that I’m aware out there that could give us that criteria and that did it. That sealed the deal right there. And, you know, look these guys are growing as a company. I like being part of companies that are growing and expanding rather than shrinking and contracting. And they’re willing to stay on the cutting edge. And they want to do shows that people not only like but they like a lot. And I think we provided something like that for them and I think we’re attracted to them because this show can actually play around the world. Not all TV shows can. We started overseas and in the UK and then spread over the world. I think we’re good partners. I think we’re good for each other.”

ash-vs-evil-dead-cast-featured-590x330

There was a time, however, when New line was  considering bringing Ash back to the big screen. “It was mostly the one was a conversation with New Line about doing Ash vs Jason vs Freddy,” says Campbell. “ And I was interested because I wanted to kill them both, but we were informed that no one is killing anybody and we would only have control over what happens to the Ash character. We couldn’t control the story. We couldn’t control what Ash does to anybody else. I’m like this sounds really not creative. So I’m so glad that we’re back to this again because we can finally do it right. Year of fans tormenting us has finally paid off. “

Campbell goes on to explain why TV was the better option, versus a feature film. “Well, because I think TV finally caught up to us. We realized economically making a $200 million feature was not the answer here. If you want to entertain people continuously with Ash, it’s got to be in a form of a TV show. TV is a very efficient medium. You get in, you get out. You do it. And I love TV. I love the pace of it because nothing gets stale. Making the other Evil Dead movies, they were great and very informative and very educational for all of us but they are tedious as hell. I think movies are tedious. So bring your big, thick book to work in a big Hollywood movie. But the TV pace will never let you get that bored. You know by lunchtime you’ve given little Billy his medicine back, kissed the girl and killed the bad guy.”

Campbell seems eager to let fans spend a little more time with Ash than they have in the past. “Well, you know, people have only seen four and a half hours worth of Ash. In this first season alone, we’re going to do five new hours of Ash. So I’m actually looking forward to finally seeing how Ash is going to interact with other people now. He has to be a leader. So it’s a slightly different story in that the character has to evolve. The story has to get bigger. And I’m looking forward to that so that I can take enough time to finally be with Ash. The other movies, you know, I had a week that went by without any dialogue. So its Ash getting out in the wild, you know, getting into suburbia. So that’s the fun thing to do, interact with other people.”

aved

Ray Santiago as Pablo Simon Bolivar and Dana DeLorenzo as Kelly Maxwell

In a film landscape filled with the likes of the Avengers and Jason Bourne, Campbell likes the simplicity of Ash. “He has no special skill,” says the actor. “He is not trained. He was not part of any government agency. Nothing. So I think when you watch him you go that could be me. The guy that works at 7-11. I mean I could do that. Why not? I’m sick of over trained heroes. I’m really bored with that. Guys that are just ripped to shreds and, you know, full of skills. That’s boring to me. Give me the drive mechanic that picks up a weapon, you know. Now I’m interested. That’s my hero. He might be an idiot but he’s a good guy and he’s always going to try to do the right thing against ridiculous odds.”

Any fans hoping to see references to Army of Darkness, like Ash’s time traveling exploits, or S-Mart, are going to be disappointed. “The three movies were made by three different companies,” Campbell explains “So it’s very complicated to put together. And I’m just really grateful that it all worked out. Here we are. But it means there are things we can include, things we can’t. But, you know, everything that Ash needed was in the first two movies anyway. Anything he ever used so it’s all good.”

Unlike most other shows of the genre, Ash vs Evil Dead  isn’t an hour long show, but rather a half hour. As far as Campbell is concerned, it’s the best fit for the show, and for Ash. “A half hour is the only format that gives us the pace that we need and the tone that we need and I think it’s perfect for a modern audience. I don’t know if we need a pondering Ash. We need a quick witted fast moving Ash. Thank the heavens it’s a half hour show, so we’re going to get into Ash and there will be enough about Ash that will make us want him to be our hero forever and ever for all times. And in order to do that, we have to humanize him a little bit. So I think we’ll start to see more of a leader with Ash — a little more of actual hero qualities — and, you know, the jerk stuff will still be there. Pure Ash, I mean you’ll get that. But I mean this time around we’re going to hopefully see a likely improved Ash. We’ll see.”

jmj

Jill Marie Jones as Amanda Fisher

Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell both grew up in Michigan, where the show takes place, so expect to see a lot of references to their home state: “ There’s Michigan State University, Camp Chappaqua, the place where (Sam) went to camp, Faygo Red pop, Coney Island, you know, like chili dogs that everybody eats in Michigan. I want Ferndale. I want Royal Oak in there where I was born. You’re going to see a whole lot of references in the show. I hold my hand like the map where I’m trying to talk to some guy about where something is. So, yes, it’s all Michigan all the time. The ’72 Delta 88 is the same car that’s been in all the movies. It’s the exact car. It’s not a different car which is pretty incredible. We had it put on a boat and shipped to New Zealand.”

While the series takes place in Michigan, they’re not ruling out putting Ash on the road. “Well, part of that depends on how the story evolves. The first season I think is definitely putting the genie in a bottle. After that, you got to see what roots take hold. So I think there might be some information that’s gleaned that might take it in whatever direction it goes. So I don’t know that it’s necessarily going to be a road series. But it’s definitely being a slightly nomadic situation with the car, with the trailer. Yes, they are able to roll because they kind of have to roll… I don’t think it’s one of these situations where it’s like World War Z or something like that. No, I think this is something more like local regional at least for right now. But it’s definitely a threat and it’s definitely coming from one area. It’s definitely near where Ash was.”

Despite being longtime friends, all of Raimi and Campbell’s interest aren’t’ necessarily shared. Take, for instance, Raimi’s interest in H.P. Lovecraft. “I didn’t give a rat’s ass about Lovecraft,” says the actor. ”(Growing up) I read lots of Spider-man comics. I read a comic called Sad Sack. It was a silly, army comedy comic. So that was me. I didn’t really get into that. You know we didn’t get into horror until we decided to make our first feature film because horror was the only type of genre that you could make cheap movies and no one cared. Like you couldn’t make a cheap drama. That would be too low budget. No one would – drama’s had to have good photography and well-known actors and stuff. And horror films, you could still make drive in movies back in those days. So that’s what we did. And horror, I appreciate now, is one of the few genres that can wound the audience up and make them pay attention. I kind of like that. It’s one of the few genres that can be very manipulative there.”

The Evil Dead films got progressively more comedic in tone as they went on. While the original film was a straight up horror film, with a few laughs peppered in, Evil Dead 2 definitely skewed more horror/comedy, with Army of Darkness throwing in time travel/adventure into the comedy/horror mix. So where does Ash vs Evil Dead stand in terms of tone? “I think we’re going to keep a pretty good balance,” says Campbell. “It’s a horror show where we do take the horror seriously. So a fan of only horror I don’t think will be insulted by our approach of horror. We take it very seriously and hopefully we’ll give them some good stuff to freak out about. The comedy for me let’s everybody know that wink this is ultimately entertainment. For me, it takes the creepiness out a little bit because it’s still over the top. But it becomes nothing that you can see on the six o’clock news. That’s what has always appealed to me about this approach. The tone meetings I think come after (Sam) leaves the directors and talks about it. But (Sam) and I never talk about films. He’s the one that’s like, you know, if you put the star of your show in a man girdle while playing sequence of the show. That takes balls for a director — a writer or director — to create that or do that with his character so, I challenge other directors. I’m like, I bet you can’t be as daring as (Sam) as far as messing with the character and really showing their flaws — their naked flaws.” Campbell adds “It’s like baking a cake. You know if you use baking powder instead of baking soda, it’s a disaster. So in our case if our floor gets a little dark, we can lighten with a little humor. And if we get a little loopy, we can hit it with some horror, you know? But pace and a sense of fun is also very important too.”

Ash vs Evil Dead

Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell, and Sam Raimi

The original Evil Dead is known not only for its over the top gore, but also its practical special effects. However, with a bigger budget and access to more advanced technology, one could assume Raimi and crew would lean heavily on digital. Campbell says that’s not the case. “Well, we tried to keep the blood real. Digital blood is not effective. We had that in a couple of cases in this pilot. You know, we’re not a big proponent of digitals. So the funny thing is we have better ways of delivering the blood but it doesn’t make any of it easier or better. It just makes them better at hitting me. Their aim is better now. The chance of getting it right on the first take is better now. We do a lot more testing. We’ve used anything from a seed spreader to a paint brush dipped in blood, you know, splattered it on us that way to a Hudson sprayer to a beer keg that converted to a pressurized basically a blood sprayer and then we had a cannon. So the good news the systems are all better but it doesn’t make my life any easier. It makes it worse.”

Rather than facing the Deadites by himself, this time around Ash is joined by Kelly (Dana DeLoenzo) and Pablo (Ray Santiago). “As executive producer, I pick my battles in what I get involved in,” says Campbell. “And one of them is casting, because I know I’m going to be stuck on a set with those people. So we went through a lot of rigorous stuff. We had to make sure these people were healthy and rigorous and had a lot of patience and could deal with a lot of special effects — a lot of just difficult, uncomfortable film making. So (Ray) I thought we got fortunate with. He’s got a spectacular way about him. He’s got a great mug and sweet guy. And so I think I hope my hope is to go to conventions and with those guys and watch them get swamped. That would be the greatest joy of mine is to watch (Dana) and (Ray) and (Jill Marie Jones) go to these conventions and be tormented. It would make me very happy.”

Splitting screen time with the actors also meant splitting blood time. “I like it because now I only get a third of it, Campbell says of the blood distribution.  “Now, they get part of it. Spread the love, man. Spread the blood around. And it was great to see them all being initiated. That was a wonderful experience to see the true horror and shock on their faces when they see that stuff. They just nail them. Right in your face. The reactions on each face. You could tell his expression was totally pissed. And it’s great because it works perfectly for the scene. Because when they first get hit with the blood, none of us have to act because we’re all like, oh my God, because you act just like you would.”

evil-dead-lawless

Lucy Lawless as Ruby

Bruce is also joined by his former Xena cohort, Lucy lawless. “She’s a badass,” says Campbell. “ She’s a great addition to the show. She can step in and do anything we need her to do which is spectacular. She’s a great actress with an incredible amount of versatility. She can do comedy which is great and she can kick ass. So we’re lucky, lucky, lucky. So I think you can look forward to her having an increasingly expanding role in this show and that’s critical to me because I’ve always loved (Lucy). She was great when I worked with her on Xena, but she wasn’t available right away during this first season. So when she was, her husband’s (Rob Tapert) my partner. I said (Rob) you better sit down with your wife at dinner and you better lock this in. So, yes, it’s important to get her back. We’re really happy. Lucky.”

While Sam Raimi directed the pilot, his role for the rest of the series is just as producer, leaving different directors to helm the other episodes. As it turns out, that wasn’t all that easy for Campbell. “It’s heartbreaking. Because, you know, you’re used to the old man yelling at you. If somebody starts yelling at me, “I’m like I’ll punch you in the face, man.” So there’s definitely an adjustment. The guys were really happy with the directors that we had. I have no complaints. It was me missing the old man and probably directors going, you know, “what’s with this guy?” Because we had to figure everything out. But, you know, I feel I’m the voice of Ash so I can be at least a constant influence on the character.”

Campbell directed a number of episodes of  Xena: Warrior Princess, on which he worked with Raimi, Tapert, and Lawless. But he’s happy to forgo directing duties on Ash vs Evil Dead. “No, this is really (Sam’s) baby and I’m sort of in the Burn Notice territory as far as a director is concerned, which gave me a great position with the star because I didn’t get in any kind of authoritative figure with them. I kind of want what I want as a director. No, this works great. I have so much to do with Ash, I don’t really have any desire for that.” Campbell does pull double duty as producer on the show, which has its challenges. “Well, it just takes up more of your life,” says Campbell. “But the benefits are you can control more of what your output is and try to make it something you’re happy about. And sometimes it’s just you don’t really have an input. I was in this position on Burn Notice and I knew they never really had to listen to me. So when I made suggestions they were always happy, they were very friendly. And I would send them to the executive producer knowing that I didn’t expect anything. In this case, it’s a little more, it goes beyond suggestion. You know it’s more like, “let’s do this and do that.” But I have two great partners (Rob Tapert) and (Sam Raimi) and we never really hit an impasse because we have three people. If anyone ever wants a partnership, go in with three people. You’ll never hit an impasse.”

Ash-vs-Evil-Dead-Deadite

Deadite

Ash may be a self-serving, superficial blowhard, but as Campbell explains it, at the end of the day, others have to trust in him. “Ash is always sort of a pronounced character and he’s always going to have his quirks. But he has to be a leader. The other people in this show around him have to see something in him to make them to follow him on this quest. They obviously because of what’s going to happen to them, they will have a personal stake in this well. So but, yes, Ash has to be a guy who you can actually sit down and reason with from time to time and try to convince him of something. Yes, there’s a lot of decision making to be done, and he will have to involve other people against his will.”

Like the previous shows the team has worked on, Ash vs Evil Dead is filmed in New Zealand, which could not please Campbell more.  “I had some people who represented me years ago who could not understand why I would go to Auckland, New Zealand into the southern hemisphere to work on the show Hercules and then on Xena and Jack of All Trades. They just couldn’t understand it. It was a syndicated show. There’s no network. They got no respect at all. No Emmys. No nothing. And I’m like you don’t get it. You’re not down there on the set with us. We can get away with murder. Murder. And we do. We take the script and we look at it and we see what we can do. We can work with the director, work with the other actors. If somebody has an idea, they do it. It’s the most creative set I’ve ever been on. And the last time I checked as actors, that’s what you’re looking for is creativity. You’re not looking for the Rolls Royce and, you know, the big fancy trailer. Those are supposed to be the byproducts of having fun and then getting good at what you do.”

“So, I’ll chase that to the end of the Earth which is one of the main reasons when I was going to be Auckland, New Zealand for this show – I mean I have crew members that I know down there that I’ve known for 20 years. These people are extremely gifted at what they do and it makes our job easy because they make it look good and we make it look easy. And it’s only because now that I work with people that I know that make it so much better. You see them come out of their trailer, you’re cracking jokes, you punch them in the arm, you know, you’re messing with them when they’re on camera trying to get them to break up. You know there’ s a lot of work play involved. And that’s a big appeal to it too. But other than that, the comedy. The comedy can lift your spirits.”

Big thanks to Bruce Campbell for taking the time to speak with us. Ash vs Evil Dead will premiere on Starz on Saturday, October 31st at 9PM, EST.

 

 

Share this post

No comments

Add yours