Ray Santiago on Ash vs. Evil Dead and Playing a Latino Sidekick

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If you’re watching Ash vs. Evil Dead, Starz’s excellent revival of Sam Raimi’s iconic Evil Dead franchise, you probably initially got into it the for love of Bruce Campbell. There’s no getting around it—Ash vs. Evil Dead draws a really specific crowd, comprised chiefly of people who spent the 90’s ranting about boomsticks and demanding sugar from their girlfriends and boyfriends. Maybe some viewers tuning in for their weekly fix of carnage every Saturday are members of the converted, curious types who decided to check the show out on a whim and are now hooked, but the audience majority is almost certainly made up of Evil Dead nuts and Bruce’s loyal personal fan following.

But Bruce isn’t the only star of the series, and Team Ash isn’t just about Ash anymore: It’s about Pablo Simon Bolivar and Kelly Maxwell, too. By now we’re more than three quarters of the way through Ash vs. Evil Dead’s premiere season, and Campbell’s co-stars, Ray Santiago (on Twitter @RealRaySantiago) and Dana Delorenzo (@ImDanaDeLorenzo), have both been put through the wringer on the boorish anti-hero Ash’s quest to rid the world of the Deadites once and for all. But where he’s accustomed to battling evil alone, he’s now conflicted at the thought of fighting evil side by side with people he cares about. When most of your friends and family have been killed by Deadites, you tend to get anxious about making new acquaintances.

Paste was recently able to pick Santiago’s brain about Pablo’s dynamic with Ash and his own dynamic with Bruce. Santiago’s role on the show is to play the Robin to Campbell’s Batman, or the Watson to his Holmes, the Sam to his Frodo, or the Gromit to his Wallace; he’s there to serve as Ash’s counsel and conscience, and spends more of his time than not trying to keep “El Jefe” from doing dumb things like summoning demons. Such is the horror-comedy nature of Ash vs. Evil Dead. But the show isn’t all outrageous gore and black humor. There’s heart here, too, found mostly in Pablo’s devotion to Ash, even if that devotion sometimes extends only to keeping the big lug from making things worse than they already are.

Surprisingly, there’s also cultural positivism. Bet you didn’t expect that from a show whose protagonist has a chainsaw for a hand, did you?

Paste Magazine: At this point in the season, how have you found the reception to the show so far? It’s been pretty exciting on my end, but how’s it been going for you?
Ray Santiago: It’s been going pretty great. I’m just so happy that the fans are pleased with what we’ve been putting out there, you know? It’s a big thing to take on, and I think horror fans are really loyal. They can slaughter you if they don’t like what they see. So, I’m happy to keep the fans happy, because that’s really why we decided to do the show—because the fans have been clamoring for 30 years for Evil Dead to be a consistent story told, and now they get to have it in their household every weekend. It’s like you’re getting to watch an Evil Dead movie every week, and we’re prepared to make as many seasons as the fans want.

?A lot of people have been receptive to Pablo, which is a great thing. I’ve had a lot of people say on social media that they really like Pablo, and that they think the trio is one of the best trios on TV right now. So it’s really comforting that they’re so welcoming.

Paste: That must have been a big concern, because I agree—horror fans are very loyal and they’re tenacious. If something doesn’t pass the smell test for them, you’re in trouble. Would you say that fan reaction was your biggest concern going into this?

Santiago: I think it was something that was put out into the universe, and I have to say, it was always in the back of my mind. But I didn’t really pay too much attention to it. I felt like if I did, then it would be just something that was hovering and taking away from my performance, or my experience. I think that Bruce [Campbell]’s Ash is really confident, and I think that these guys searched for a quality in each of us that would bring something different to the table, that would sort of keep this franchise alive in a new way. One of the things that he and I really talked about is Pablo being the heart and good conscience of the story.

?So I just tried to stay true to that, and be honest with my performance. He’s just a really good guy and he’s trying to leave his mark on the world. He’s trying to figure out who he wants to be, and through idolizing Ash, he sort of realizes the kind of man that he wants to be. You’ll notice throughout the entire series that he’s always looking for the meaning of things underneath the surface.

And Bruce is really confident, and I think we couldn’t come to the table questioning anything, so I just tried to give a real performance and not worry, and I think that that helped the situation. It’s formed a great unity and a great trio that the audience is embracing.

Paste: I totally agree. Pablo really is the heart of the series, and I think you fit that really well, and listening to you talk about Bruce I kind of get the sense that you, as an actor, look up to him in the same way that Pablo looks up to Ash on the show. Did you use him as your guiding beacon during production?
Santiago: He was definitely a compass for all of us. I think that’s also one of the things that the audience is picking up on. There is definitely a parallel between Bruce and I’s relationship, and Pablo and Ash’s relationship. Bruce has had longevity in his career. He’s been around for a very long time. So I just tried to absorb as much as I could from him. He’s taught me a lot. Somebody asked me, “What would you say are some of the things you learned from Bruce?” And really, to put it simply, I learned how to hit my mark and I learned what that means.

I’ve worked on a lot of different shows, and I didn’t realize that hitting your mark is crucial to everybody who’s on the team. It’s all about camera and focus, and the technical parts, you know—little simple things like that. But I also paid attention to how he conducts himself. He is a perfectionist. He wanted this show to be as great as it could possibly be. Along with the fans, I didn’t want to let down the guys who created this franchise.

Paste: And it’s really cool that you get to bring pieces of yourself into this—pieces of what you’ve done before into this, even though you’re looking to Bruce so much. It’s nice to see that relationship between you guys as actors as well as in the characters you play. But it’s also great seeing you emerge as your own person and do your own thing with this material.
Santiago: I absolutely agree. Originally, Pablo had an accent; everybody was trying to figure out the tone of the show, and he could have been a caricature of a person. Sam [Raimi] and I really talked about it, and we said that we wanted him to be real, and that we didn’t want an accent—we didn’t want to go that direction. I was told once that I have a bag of tricks that I rely on as an actor. When I don’t go into that bag of tricks and I just use myself as a conduit, it’s a lot more intriguing than using my bag of tricks, so I took that note that I hated from an acting teacher, and I really tried to apply it to the character and use as much of myself as I possibly could. I think that this season, we’re there to support Ash, but as next season unfolds, you’ll really start to see how the Evil Dead force sort of comes into these other characters’ lives. You’ll see a little more separation in how it’s affecting us in our lives, and how we are sort of becoming like Ash, because we don’t really have anywhere else to turn. We’re looking forward to doing that.

I also think that Pablo is a positive portrayal of a Latino character, and he’s somewhat of the first Latino sidekick in the horror genre. I was really happy to bring that to life, because I’ve made a living off of playing gangbangers and drug dealers on television. Those guys have to have their stories told as well, but you know, I’m really glad that Pablo is a positive portrayal. He’s a role model for kids out there as someone who’s assisting Ash in saving the world from the Evil Dead force.

Paste: Since you brought up doing accents, I have to ask if you’ve watched Aziz Ansari’s Master of None at all?
Santiago: I haven’t, but a lot of people are telling me that it’s great.

Paste: Just based on some of the things you’re talking about, I think you’d totally dig it. The accent and small details like that come up a bit in that show, too. I think people really want to see different portrayal of Latino characters, and African-American characters, and Indian characters on television—as opposed to stereotypes. Has that been a gratifying experience for you, being able to do that? It sounds like you’re already saying it has, but I’d love to hear more.
Santiago: I’m happy to elaborate on it, because I feel like, look—our show is a popcorn and bubblegum type of show. We definitely give you a lot to chew on, and I’m not trying to say that this is groundbreaking acting on this show, but I think the lens through which we tell our story is great, you know? Comedic horror at its finest, and it was created by the great Sam Raimi, but I quote Viola Davis, because she said in her acceptance speech this year that you can’t tell stories that aren’t there.

I applaud Starz for choosing to have such a diverse cast. And also, Gina Rodriguez has said that the Latino culture is a culture that wants to be remembered as heroes.

Those two things really resonate with me, so I’m happy to be part of that movement. Like I said, our show is comedic horror, and I’m glad that I get to do it under that lens.

Paste: Pablo is definitely a hero, whether he’s trying to take out Eligos or getting doused with gallons of blood from his Deadite boss. He’s definitely getting up there, which is really exciting to see. Has that transformation been a lot of fun to portray?
Santiago: Yeah. Bruce has been really honest about the fact that he really doesn’t like being covered in blood, so I said, “Look, I get it, it comes with the territory. Blood is my thing now.” I told the executive producers, like, “I will be the one covered in as much blood anytime you want. I want to be in crazy situations.” So yeah, Pablo is definitely put through some things on the show, and he will continue to be. I think it’s fun. As a kid I was really into horror, and I get to do that now for a living as an adult. I think it’s pretty cool. I’ll never say “no” to blood.

Paste: And on a show with Sam Raimi, why would you? That’s half the fun, the spook-a-blast gore of the Sam Raimi aesthetic. What’s your absolute favorite moment to date that you’ve gotten to shoot on this show?
Santiago: I will say that in the first episode, there’s a moment at the very end where the three of them are standing there, and I say to [Bruce], “How does it feel to be back?” And he says, “Groovy.” And there was a crane shot where we were shooting with Sam, and I looked at Dana [Delorenzo], and I said, “This is crazy.” I think really the first time that I realized what we were doing, was when the three of us were there in that last shot of the pilot. I realized that I was cemented into the future of Evil Dead, and I was really happy because I’d worked hard to get to something like this. It was a really great moment.

?And I’ll say that I have sort of an I Love Lucy moment on the show around episode six, where, you know, there’s that scene on I Love Lucy with the chocolates and the conveyor belt. Pablo has something similar, but maybe it’s just not with chocolate candy. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. Then I have to say that the finale of the show is really intense. It’s one of my favorite things. Make sure you do not miss the finale! It’s great. Pablo definitely goes through some shit.

Paste: I can’t wait. Every week I’m looking forward to this show, so you’d better believe I’m excited to see where you guys end up.
Santiago: I’m so glad to hear that you’re pleased, and that you’re loving the show. We’ll continue to put as many seasons as the fans want out there. The first season is pretty tight, but I think the second season is going to be really dope. We’ll have a sense of what people liked and didn’t like, and the characters will already be set up, and we’ll get to explore how the Evil Dead affects not just Ash, but the way it’s traumatizing his team.

Paste: That sounds a lot more serious. You’d mentioned “popcorn bubblegum” before, and I feel like that is definitely in the spirit of Evil Dead. But what you’re describing now sounds a good bit more serious. How do you feel like that’s going to play to those horror audiences we were talking about, compared to what we’re getting now, which is a lot more “haunted house,” fun kind of stuff?
Santiago: I don’t think we’ll ever lose that. If you look at my face, I kind of have three mustaches on my face, so in almost any scene, you’ll be able to laugh at me because of my reactions. But aside from that, our show is different from any horror show. It’s a half hour, it’s comedic horror, and it’s a throwback, and we’ll never lose that sense of nostalgia for the genre that Sam created.

But we’re definitely going to bring something new to the table that today’s generation can enjoy. We’ll jump with tone and I don’t think we’ll ever be that serious, because we don’t have the time. But what I’m saying is, Ash has been the person who has been scarred thus far, but you’ll get to see how the evil leaves its imprint on all of us. We will travel together as the family that we’ve become, because we don’t really have anybody else.

Paste: On the subject of horror television, I feel like we’re in a real boom for horror on TV, and it feels like that’s come up all at once. What’s your take on that? What do you think is driving this demand for televised horror?
Santiago: Well, I think there was a point in time when if you did a horror movie, you were considered a bad actor, or it was a bad move career-wise, and it’s shifted. There’s a demand for horror because people like to be scared. I’m a true horror fan. I love things like Tales From the Crypt, I love things like A Nightmare on Elm Street. I don’t know why, and I don’t think people like to admit it, but they like to be scared. And they like to laugh. Sometimes horror makes you laugh because things are sort of outrageous, but sometimes it really scares you.

?So I don’t know exactly where the demand came from. I just think that instead of putting out movies that cost a lot of money and maybe don’t generate the money they need at the box office, you can now bring it into people’s homes. And I think that that has a little bit more of a range of audiences—you can pick and choose when you want to see it. People also like to be hooked in. When you watch a movie and it ends, you have to wait for another sequel. With television, you can see it every week. So instead of making one Evil Dead movie—which, you know, most people out there, they think that it’s a movie, they don’t know that it’s a series—instead of having a two-hour movie, you get a five-hour movie in half-hour increments. So accessibility is part of why there’s such a huge demand for it.

Paste: You’re speaking to my soul, man. I grew up on Tales From the Crypt and Evil Dead—not just those two things, and I’m remarkably well-adjusted considering that those were two big influences when I was a kid. But yeah, I’m there with you.
Santiago: And to come back to your point about being afraid of coming into this franchise and navigating all of that, I didn’t think that I would end up on a horror show in my journey as an actor. But somehow, with the references that I’ve made, I guess they changed me and guided me through this journey. I do like to think of our show as Tales From the Crypt on one end, and Buffy in the middle, and then the other end is, like, Planet Terror and Robert Rodriguez. Somewhere, our show sort of falls in there. I just try to pay homage to all of these different things we’ve been talking about, because all these shows were hits and people loved them. Hopefully, Pablo will be a staple and become one of those characters that people remember in the future.

Ash vs. Evil Dead airs Saturday night on Starz at 10 PM EST.

Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.

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