Speaking to Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi is an awful lot like watching “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” Campbell, who plays the one-handed titular hero, is a burst of energy with lots to say and no filter (or a desire for one). Meanwhile, Raimi supports his lead actor with a handful of smart comments at all the right moments, establishing solid ground from which Campbell can leap.
And leap he does, both below in Indiewire’s conversation with the pair, and in the show (now airing Saturday nights on Starz). Campbell and Raimi touch on everything from the importance of Starz’s commitment to the series to what’s so important about having real heroes to watch on TV. Below is our lightly edited discussion.
It’s been 23 years since “Army of Darkness” came out, so why is now the right time for Ash to make his return?
BRUCE CAMPBELL: Because television has finally met up with us. Television is finally ready for us. It wasn’t ready before. You didn’t have Starz before. “Evil Dead” needs a very specific home. Movies are mostly unrated, but on television who the heck was doing that stuff? And now the doors opened a little bit with companies like Starz. They were the only suitor that was going to let us have content that was unrestricted.
Really? Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean by unrestricted content?
CAMPBELL: Look ’em up. The words are the words. Seriously. Meaning you don’t have boo-boo words. You can do boo-boo things. You can have sex, carnage, mayhem, whatever you’re looking for. “The Evil Dead” movies, in my opinion, function better in an unrestricted world.
So that crosses over to creative control as well? They’re not gonna push anything on you guys and you can push the story wherever–
CAMPBELL: Sam is able — in his mature years as a director, he has a lot of control over his material. And I think one of Sam’s questions was, “How much you gonna give us?”
RAIMI: Yeah, that was most important. As a director, I have final cut in the industry. And it takes many years to get that. You gotta have money makers, and I don’t know–
CAMPBELL: You have to fight for it! How many people have that, for God’s sake?
RAIMI: Not many. So, in the world of television, when we were selling our series, we were really doing it because we wanted to give the fans what they’ve been asking us for. Because every convention Bruce goes to they’re asking us, “Where’s the next ‘Evil Dead’?” They all want that. They ask me the same question. So, we finally decided to give them something. The most important thing for us is in having the ability to give the fans what we thought they wanted. It would be terrible if the things we do in “Evil Dead” [don’t live up]. We’ve got such a crazy hero. He’s kind of a coward, a blustering idiot, a blowhard. He thinks of himself as a ladies’ man. You can see how an executive would think, “We don’t think we can sell this.”
CAMPBELL: They would shave the edges off that in a second. They’d go, “That’s a bit much. I think he should have a good job. He should drive a nice car. He should comb his hair.” So many compromises. And if we’re going to make things for the fans we really need to be able to make what we think they need without compromise. We would not have accepted compromise. So, we really didn’t have any choice. So, the deal was made based on a company giving us complete artistic freedom.
Was there a moment or another show that you saw that made you think, “This is really going to work?” Or was it more about the attitude of the network and the freedom involved in television right now?
CAMPBELL: Well, I ain’t gonna lie to you. “Walking Dead” was an incentive for me, because I go to these conventions all the time and these “Walking Dead” people are Elvis Presley at the conventions. You know, women are crying and wetting themselves in front of Norman Reedus. I’m like, okay, good for these guys. Let’s give it a whirl ourselves. What do you say? We’ve been there. So, there was encouragement from others. And look, shows like “Walking Dead,” I don’t have any ill will towards them at all because they have helped make it mainstream. They made horror come in from the cold.
I’m glad you brought up “The Walking Dead” — this may just be a crazy thought in my own head, but I noticed in the premiere episode taht before new viewers find out what Deadites actually are, there’s a scene where one gets shot in the head, but — surprise — it doesn’t die. Was that kind of a conscious statement that these aren’t zombies and this isn’t “The Walking Dead”?
RAIMI: No, when we wrote and performed that piece we were really just playing an old theme of “The Evil Dead,” which is these are not zombies. These are intelligent, nasty demons that inhabit our bodies, and they manipulate those they love. It’s something that’s found in all “The Evil Dead” movies. Ash’s character finally wises up to it, but new characters have it. It’s just a demonstration of our adversary in simple dramatic terms. But it wasn’t a reference to that great show “The Walking Dead.”
Kind of speaking more towards the state of horror on television, is there anything in particular that maybe you haven’t seen, or maybe you don’t like–
RAIMI: You’re gonna have to clarify that for me a bit. You lost me there. Bruce was talking. Would you repeat it?
Sorry, guys. I guess, is there anything that you’ve noticed in horror TV shows or in the horror genre that you don’t like–
CAMPBELL: Yeah, torture porn. Torture porn has always sucked because it’s bad filmmaking. It’s lazy filmmaking. It’s hard to get suspense. It’s hard to get an audience to jump. It’s not hard to put a guy’s wiener in a vice and poke it with a stick for a half hour. Anyone can do that.
CAMPBELL: Hey, you got your opening quote now for your article.
I’m glad you said it because I couldn’t say it any better. “Evil Dead” came out in 1981 when audiences expected a real, true hero on screen. And over the last 10 to 15 years — the golden age of TV — we’ve gotten used to seeing more antiheroes on our television shows. Ash is a reluctant hero, but he’s definitely a real hero. Do you think that we’re ready for that right now? That this is a good time to have real heroes back on TV?
CAMPBELL: Ash wears man girdle and dentures. You think that makes him a good hero?
I think it makes him a perfect hero.
CAMPBELL: I’m 57 years old. That’s an antihero if I’ve ever seen one.
Oh, no way. Why wouldn’t you want to root for that guy?
CAMPBELL: That’s my point. The world is doomed. I’m really scared now. That’s a great premise for a horror series. Put a guy in charge who doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s responsible for everything, and he’s not really physically capable anymore. That is truly a horror scenario. […] If I was Rambo this would be a bore. “Go get ’em Rambo.” “Okay. Suck on this.” Then he’d fire his arrow and shoot him and everything would blow up in slow motion. That’s not how Ash works.
Rambo always wins. And Ash wins in this pilot, but there’s no reason to think it doesn’t keep going. Mr. Raimi, do you have any thoughts on where we stand — on what we’re looking for in heroes these days?
RAIMI: Let me think about that. What are we looking for in a hero? Probably the same thing we’ve always looked for. Someone who’s a leader, Someone who faces adversity. Someone who can exhibit a sense of humor in the darkest of times, but [provide] inspiration. Someone you’d want to follow. Someone who can save the day. And I don’t think that times have changed that much. I think we’re still looking for the same thing. I don’t think audiences want to see what they’ve seen before. They want a new twist on things always. And they want it with an original touch. And with an original performance. I think the basics of what we’re looking for are still necessary.
It was nice after dealing with a lot of antiheroes on TV, It was nice to see somebody like Ash come around.
CAMPBELL: They’re not antiheroes. They’re jaded heroes.
Oh, I like that.
CAMPBELL: That’s my feeling. They’re just jaded. Guys who drink too much beer.
This next question may be the wrong one for you too, but I have to ask: With Ash’s neighbor and his boss — the actors you selected for them — I just couldn’t wait to see the Deadite version of those people from the moment they came on screen. How do you cast such great actors to play Deadites?
CAMPBELL: Well, the cool thing is this is the only show on television where you can get an actor to play one role, get killed, come back as a monster, and get killed again. They get to play two roles and die twice. What the hell man? Talk about bang for your buck. And we only have to pay them one salary.
RAIMI: We’re very lucky in that Jill [Marie Jones] is a great actress, and the young man playing across from her was also great.
CAMPBELL: Jill could carry a show one day.
You guys really do have great people in every part, which my dad always says is essential to good TV shows and movies. But there’s also a nice diversity to the cast. How important was that in the casting process?
CAMPBELL: Diversity is important now, no matter what we do. We want anyone watching the show to feel comfortable. We don’t want to alienate anybody. We have three ass-kicking women in our cast. There’s only two guys.
RAIMI: I think he means ethnic diversity.
CAMPBELL: That too. But between women and minorities and all that, I think there’s only one pasty white guy.
RAIMI: The best part is we really — finally, although that was our wish — we were able to cast the best actors for the roles.
I’ve just gotta ask you two about the climax to that pilot. How long did that take to shoot? How long did that take to choreograph? It’s just so much fun.
CAMPBELL: The fight took about a week. It was long for a pilot, but short for a movie. I think Sam, you probably would’ve shot for a month in that trailer if this was a movie.
RAIMI: That’s true.
CAMPBELL: It would’ve been from every conceivable angle. As it was, the trailer had to be custom designed. We had to pull the sides, the corner, the top to get the camera in every conceivable way. I think we knew since it was the climax scene, we had to spend time on it.
RAIMI: Yeah, and also that set was always designed to be Bruce’s clubhouse — like, his master battle station where him and the gang could always come back to in the series. But most of that planning started with my brother and I writing the script. Picking out each moment, every shot. It continued as we went down to New Zealand with the stunts people and the effects people, and I called the shots with extras and production assistants for the still camera. And then when I came back to LA I edited a piece of it. And what was a tool was being back in New Zealand for the rest of pre-production, to explain to different departments what we were going for on a shot-by-shot basis, from visual effects to make-up effects. And then all the department heads chipped in and brought the illusions to life.
You know, it’s funny. Stunt guys all have these cameras now. So, what the stunt guys started doing later in the season, they’d make a little movie out of the scene using their stunt guy and their stunt chick and they would shoot it and I was like, they made a really crappy, low budget movie to put up on YouTube. They would do it just to show the actors what’s gonna happen in the scene. And it was really helpful, these crappy little movies. I’d always tell the stunt guy, “Where’s my movie?” And the stunt guys all had these really hokey reactions. They were hilarious. Completely over the top, but it’s a great tool. So, technology can be a fun little tool for communication.
I wanted to ask about Ash’s voice, in particular. He’s got such a unique way of speaking and carrying himself that feels incredibly fresh after all this time. Where does it come from originally, and how do you keep it going?
CAMPBELL: Writers. The script is everything. An actor is only is good as his words. If you have crappy words you can be a Shakespearean actor and you’ll just be okay. Whereas a mediocre actor with great words can actually be really good. So, I think if the script is there- we’ve got a good set of writers. We’re pretty confident. And again. We try stuff on set. If something comes up we’ll throw a little zinger in there and see what happens. But acting is confidence. And if you’re comfortable with a character you can be confident with it. Even if you fail. You’re an actor. You’re a salesman. You’re selling somebody’s words. You’re trying to convince the audience that whatever you’re saying is real. That’s all you have to do. Even though Ash is lying sometimes.
CAMPBELL: Little white lies. He’s not a big liar. He’s a little liar.
Sometimes he has to. Mr. Raimi, speaking to the writing technique of keeping Ash alive after all these years, is there somebody or something you tap into when you’re coming up with his dialogue and crafting his arcs?
CAMPBELL: Well after three movies with Bruce, watching Bruce perform this character and writing him for the second movie with another writer, Scott Spiegel, and watching Bruce perform and then writing him with my brother for “Army of Darkness” and watching Bruce perform and directing Bruce and coming up with stuff together on set — I feel very strongly that Bruce knows the character and lives the character. It’s half Bruce now. And I have a very good sense of him too. And so it’s kind of the easiest thing now, after having those experiences over decades to write and direct that character. I assume Bruce knows him pretty well, too, and even though the character will learn new things and come up with unexpected things, and we don’t always know how he’s going to react, I feel like Bruce and I– This is probably the easiest job we can have, writing and directing and playing this particular character.
Was there anything about the medium of television that provided you as an actor, Mr. Campbell, or you as a director, Mr. Raimi, that provided you–
CAMPBELL: Just call us Sam and Bruce. Just call Sam and Bruce.
I don’t know if my Midwestern ethics will allow that. But was there anything about moving over to TV that gave you an opportunity that maybe you didn’t have in film? Or certain areas you wanted to explore that you couldn’t in a film?
CAMPBELL: Sam’s world is film. I think you can explore a lot more on film. We had to haul ass on television. The only thing I like about television is it’s just less boring of a day. By noon you’ve killed the bad guys, paid your sweetheart’s taxes and fought the evil off in the cabin. And then you’re like, “What’s for lunch?” And then after lunch there’s three other ridiculous things you’re going to do. It’s not great for directors. I will say that. This is a big task for Sam. But I just like the pace of it. The technical process in movies is very slow and painful. And television just won’t allow you to do that. It’s rolling. Show up on set. Okay, “Wooo wooo!” I mean they want that first shot in by about 45 minutes after everybody shows up.
“Ash vs. Evil Dead” airs Saturdays at 9pm on Starz.