Does a feature interview with Bruce Campbell really need an intro? By the strictest parameter of the journalist’s role, yes. By dint of his notoriety as a horror icon, most definitely not, but hell, we’ll give it a shot anyways.
Campbell, the dude you all think of as Ash, full name Ashley James “Ash” Williams, S-Mart clerk extraordinaire, the man with the chainsaw hand, is unequivocally best known for playing that character in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise, from 1981’s Evil Dead, to 1987’s Evil Dead II, to 1992’s Army of Darkness. Over decades, Evil Dead went from a backwoods, D.I.Y. video nasty, to a backwoods, D.I.Y. horror-comedy, to a less D.I.Y. medieval-era horror-slapstick. And as years went by after Army of Darkness’s premiere, the fanbase Raimi and Campbell built together (with help from their producer and college chum Robert Tapert) clamored for more: More Ash, more Deadites (for those not in the know: they’re demon-zombie-monster things), more catchphrases, more one-liners.
All they got were comics, videogames, and Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead reboot in 2013, which, while fine, is sort of like settling for a Boca Burger when all you want is Five Guys. Then 2015 came around, and Evil Dead nuts were gifted with Ash vs. Evil Dead, a TV series on Starz that tells of our hapless hero’s continued adventures, or misadventures, really: The show starts with Ash working retail and living in a trailer park, and ends with sinkholes popping up all over the world, the end result of his dunderheaded attempt to stop a Deadite invasion. Good job, Ash. Good job.
Ahead of the Season Two premiere, as we prepared to hurtle toward Ash vs. Evil Dead’s next bloody and thoroughly crazy chapter, Paste got to talk with the man himself about the new season, exploring new sides of Ash and more. (Against all odds, we managed not to spring a leak, too.)
Paste Magazine: So, Ash vs. Evil Dead’s second season’s just coming around the corner, we’re less than a year out from when the show premiered. How do you feel about how the first season went, now that you’re able to look back on it?
Bruce Fucking Campbell: Well, looking back, thankfully I only remember the good stuff, so I forgot how difficult it was. I was reminded ‘cause we recently finished Season Two, so I have that fresh reminder. It’s a tough show to do, but we were really gratified that the fans showed up. They seemed satisfied, they accepted the new characters. Starz has been really good, they let us have the content that the fans kind of demand—you know, the unrestricted stuff—and it seems like it was a good match.
We weren’t sure that the fans were ready to accept a grumpy, middle-aged Ash, but it seems like it still fits in with what Ash would be doing now. It seems like he would be kind of a loser in a trailer park, making these fun mistakes. It’s fun to revisit it, and thankfully people have accepted it.
Yeah. I feel like fans are hyper-critical of the things that they love. That must have been a major anxiety for you guys going into that season. Is that something that still weighs on you, even though the first season was so successful, as you go into the new season?
Campbell: Well, what’s hilarious now is that with the first season, there were no specific expectations for a TV show. They didn’t know what the hell they were going to get. Now you have expectations, because anyone who liked it’s gonna go, “Oh, okay. Top that!” Of course, that’s the first inclination. So, you know we had to be careful not to go too crazy. You don’t want to go crazy just for the sake of going crazy. We have to contain our own swearing! Just because we can swear doesn’t mean you have to always swear, you know what I mean?
Campbell: We’re on a free playground, so where’s the story going to go? What’s most important part about Season Two is that Ash goes back home to Elk Grove, Michigan, because things are going bad in his town and he has to confront the fact that basically, he’s a serial killer. He has to confront his past, confront his father—they have a terrible relationship—he runs into old pals, old girlfriends. So it’s very complicated. It’s great. My favorite thing about the season is that you get to see a whole new side of Ash. Meanwhile, oh yeah, he’s gotta save the world.
Paste: Or he’s gonna screw it up even further, as we saw at the end of the last season, right?
Campbell: Well, it’s a 50-50 proposition, right?
Paste: (laughs) Of course! Sounds like it’s been really rewarding for you to explore this new side of Ash, or these new components of Ash. Has it been equally rewarding for you to share that experience with your younger co-stars?
Campbell: Oh yeah! I sat back and I watched their faces at the New York Comic-Con, when we announced to the crowd, like, “We’re not gonna show you just a clip, we’re gonna show you the whole first episode!” And they had the foam chainsaw fan fingers on that they were waving in the air (laughs). Ray [Santiago] and Dana [Delorenzo], they looked at me and their eyes were sort of bugging out of their heads. They were like, “What the hell is going on here?” Like, “Yeah, welcome to Evil Dead.” It’s not quite Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s not quite that—but we have very great, vocal, uninhibited fans.
And now they can get their fan back on! They’ve had to sort of live with watching the three movies over and over again, and I actually feel good for ‘em now. Now they can go, “Alright! Round up the gang! It’s on again! We get to watch it again!” I just feel happy for them. They can have a fresh drink of water. It might taste a little different, but, you know, it’s still the same stuff. Rob Tapert and Sam [Raimi], we’ve been trying to make sure that we give ‘em the goods, and I have to say that Season Two is ridiculously off the hook. My word is “audacious.” It’s audacious, season two.
Paste: I’m looking forward to seeing how you guys turn the volume up on that, so to speak.
Campbell: (cackles) Yeah! I think we’ve done it.
Paste: I really can’t wait. It’s funny, because I’m one of those people who’ll fire up the three movies on a regular basis, ever since I was in high school. I’ve always wondered why Ash in particular, why Evil Dead in particular, endures. Why do you think we come back to those three movies over and over again? Why do we come to the series, too?
Campbell: Ash is a good guy. There aren’t many good guys in the horror world. Good guys are in all the action movies, not in horror. It’s mostly bad guys. It’s Freddy, it’s Michael Myers, it’s the escaped convict, it’s the guy with the hockey mask, you know? Those are the guys who star in all those series. I think also Ash does not pretend to have any karate skills, no martial art skills. He just has chutzpah. He’s got audacity, he’s got a mouth. He’s making it up as fast as he can. And he’s just like you! He’s just like me! So, I think when people watch him they go, “Oh my god, that’s like if they threw me into that situation!” And you get nervous for the guy, because you go, “That guy could get killed at any second, because he has no idea what he’s doing! Holy shit, those people are dying around him! What kind of a decision was that?!”
I think you judge him just like if you took the local garage mechanic and went, “Okay man, go save the world!” He’d be like, “What the hell? I just want to drink and hang out with my friends!” “Nope, nope. Gotta go save the world.” I think that’s the best way I can explain it. I love the fact that even though it’s kind of exhausting as a show to do, now, with a TV series, we can now see all sides of Ash. How big of a coward is he? How big of a hero is he? Is he a Lothario, can he still get the ladies, you know? Does he mature? Does he adopt the Kelly character as a daughter figure? Do they represent the family that he never had? Is he a father figure now? And the answer kind of has to be “Yes” to all of that, because as a TV show, you have to develop it, and I can’t wait.
Season Two, I think folks’ll dig it, not just for the crazy stuff. They’ll like the fact that we are trying to tell a story, an ongoing, evolving, expanding story, and following it on the back of our reluctant hero.
Paste: I spoke with Ray [Santiago] last December, and we agreed that the show has a lot of heart, and that’s one of the big draws—not just the fact that we’re getting all this great, bloody Deadite action, but we’re still getting that. Is that a major challenge, to balance the human component, the figurative heart with the literal heart, the arterial spray, the constant blood and guts?
Campbell: Yep! No question at all, that it’s a factor. My feeling is, if you don’t care about those characters, then you don’t care whether you live or die, and every episode is about them living or dying. So you have to do what you can, whether they’re just endearing because they’re flawed, or they’re endearing because they care. We’re expanding a lot of that in Season Two. You have to have it. I’ve always felt that as an actor, you have to allow audiences to get in. You have to allow them into your world. There are some actors who are very standoffish, and they won’t let you in—that’s a term that I have, they won’t let you in. They sort of keep you out and away. You sort of look at them. You’re not in it with them.
So I feel that we’re all trying to bring the audience in with us through this crazy journey. And it’s been fun. It’s been fun to work with these new actors, and shepherd them through this world.
Ash Vs. Evil Dead airs Sundays at 8pm on Starz.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He writes additional words for Movie Mezzanine, The Playlist, and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.