ASH VS EVIL DEAD, now in its third season on Starz Sunday nights, represents a very particular sort of career triumph for its star Bruce Campbell. By now, the origin story has gained folklore status: in 1979, Campbell and his friends, director Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, then young men in Michigan, raised $350,000 to make a low-budget horror film, THE EVIL DEAD, which was released in 1981, starring Campbell as inadvertent demon-summoner Ash Williams. The trio went on to make EVIL DEAD II (1987) and its studio-sponsored follow-up ARMY OF DARKNESS. The friends also came together to make the TV series THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR. (1993-1994) and JACK OF ALL TRADES (2000), both starring Campbell. Additionally, Campbell played the recurring character of Autolycus on the Raimi/Tapert series HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.
Campbell has a prolific career apart from the Raimi/Tapert team in film and television, with notable credits that include THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, ESCAPE FROM L.A., BUBBA HO-TEP (as Elvis Presley), MY NAME IS BRUCE (as a monster-beset version of himself), an a series regular role in seven seasons of BURN NOTICE as Sam Axe.
Through it all, though, Campbell (and Raimi and Tapert) kept getting asked at every public appearance, “When are you doing more EVIL DEAD?”
The eventual answer was ASH VS EVIL DEAD, executive-produced by Campbell, Raimi and Tapert. Ash is now running a hardware store, but those Deadites just won’t leave him alone. On the plus side, Ash early on in the series acquired loyal allies Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) and growing-in-power warlock Pablo (Ray Santiago). This season, Ash also finds he has a teenaged daughter, Brandi Barr (Arielle Carver-O’Neill), who is at first understandably worried about her newly-found dad’s penchant for getting covered with gore. Old nemesis-turned-collaborator Ruby (Lucy Lawless) is back to raising hell (literally) this year.
When Campbell sits down in West Hollywood’s London Hotel to talk about Season 3 of ASH VS EVIL DEAD, it seems reasonable to inquire whether, now that Ash and the demons are back, if EVIL DEAD fans are finally content, or if they’ve found something new to keep asking about.
BRUCE CAMPBELL: No, we’ve shut ‘em up. But it’s still shocking how many people who are fans have not seen [ASH VS EVIL DEAD]. I learned an important lesson about platforms. I read an article about Netflix. They’re in fifty percent of American households. That’s tough to compete with. The first two seasons [of ASH] came out on Netflix. People are acting like they could not get it before, but now that it’s on Netflix, the platform that they use, now they’ll watch it. They’re not going to add Starz. People are hesitant to do that. They want one entertainment bill, and they want it all on there. If you’ve got a basic cable package, you could put it all on there. But because Starz is a premium channel, you’ve got to add them, like HBO or whatever. But what people need to realize is, you want the pure EVIL DEAD, it has to be on Starz. If it was AMC or broadcast, this thing would be butchered. This would be rated PG-13. This is an unrated TV show. You have to pay for that privilege. And it is a special privilege, because almost everything that I’ve ever worked on, there’s always some Standards and Practices that says, “You’ve got to cut this,” some ratings board, “You’ve got to cut that, you’ve got to cut that.” We’ve always bristled against that creatively. It’s like, “F*** you, don’t tell us what to cut.” So in this case, we found a suitor with Starz, which has their corporate model of how they do business and how they charge their customers, and they happened to provide us with unrestricted content. Even if this was a movie – people were like, “Let’s do another movie, do another movie,” I’d go, “You want it? It’d be R-rated, it won’t be unrated.” Studios make you write in your contract, R-rated, deliver an R-rated version. So to me, it’s worth the extra money to get the [unrated] unfiltered content. And there’s absolutely no other provider that I’m aware of – there are probably on some of the other premium channel – that will allow you to do that. That was one of our key questions when we were shopping this project – “What are your content restrictions?” And they were the only company that said, “There are none.” And we were like, “Wow.”
ASSIGNMENT X: As an executive producer and one of the major guiding forces of ASH VS EVIL DEAD, do you have input into the plot arcs and the plot details?
CAMPBELL: I do.
AX: At the outset, did you think, “Okay, having the two sidekick characters gives me something new to do with this”?
CAMPBELL: You can’t have a guy in a cabin talking to himself. You’ve got to be able to play off of other characters and use them for bigger missions, and find their skill. And thankfully, this season, Pablo’s got a little more going on, he’s become a little more brujo-like, we’re going to pay off some of his knowledge, some of his ability to interpret visions and things. Kelly is doing her own badassery, because Ruby is pretty much officially bad this season. And so she has to be dealt with once and for all. So Ruby’s trouble.
AX: Were you a guiding force behind Ash’s being a parent this season?
CAMPBELL: No, that was [executive producer/writer] Mark Verheiden, I think. It was a good idea to introduce a daughter into his mix, which makes him be concerned about different things. He has to grow and mature and become a more well-rounded person. And save the world.
AX: Fatherhood seems to have made Ash slightly more intelligent …
CAMPBELL: Ash is intelligent. Ash is just very rash and he hasn’t had to think beyond himself. So now he has to think beyond his self-centered world and open up his world and open up his bubble a little bit, and care for somebody else, which is good.
AX: And Ash also seems to have another progeny that we find out about slightly later, the result of Ruby stealing his seed from a sperm bank …
CAMPBELL: Oh, like some weird son? Yeah. His doppelganger. You’ve always got to have a doppelganger.
AX: That’s true. The live-action sections with the son are played by an actual toddler. How is doing scenes with an extremely young actor?
CAMPBELL: You don’t do much with them. They’re not on set much. They can’t be. They always send them to a different crew that shoots on Saturdays, because it’s too time-consuming. You’re not legally allowed to film with [young children] more than four or five hours. So we’ll use photo doubles, stunt guys, dolls. It’s called fakery.
AX: Lee Majors is back as Ash’s dad this season, despite the fact that the character got killed off last year. Did Lee Majors say, “Gee, I’d really like to come back,” or did you and the other producers say, “Gee, we could use a little more Lee Majors”?
CAMPBELL: Well, we liked him, and it would have been nice to figure out a way to bring him back. I know we had those discussions, because people reacted very well to Lee, and they found a way to do it. Nice that we have a format that you can do that – people can come back from the dead.
AX: Since you and Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert all started out together with the first two EVIL DEAD movies, do you at all miss those productions, where it seemed like it was just everybody by the skin of their teeth?
CAMPBELL: It’s all great in a romantic remembrance of it all, and you can put a rosy glow on it. But no, they’ve all been long, hard shoots. The first EVIL DEAD, the only thing that was an advantage there was, we didn’t know it was a bad shoot. We didn’t know it was a nightmare to get it done. Until you do about three, four movies, and then you go, “God, did that suck!” Because you figure out how to do movies, you figure out how to get more efficient, your production values get better, you’re better at spending money, you know what you need to spend money on. We didn’t know anything. So it really wasn’t until we got deeper into the process, where we knew how to manage our time better and all that. EVIL DEAD 2 was a good example, though. We actually did a run at EVIL DEAD 2. Because we had found with our second movie, CRIME WAVE, and we were really nervous about, are we even going to ever make another movie? So we did a sequel to EVIL DEAD. And that one we brought in on time, on budget, we were very dutiful in that way. So that was a pretty manageable shoot.
AX: It seems like making ASH VS EVIL DEAD would be even more manageable …
CAMPBELL: If that’s possible. You still have to put your head up a cadaver’s butt. As professional as all the people are around you, you still have to execute the ideas. Sure, there are better support teams.
AX: Has there ever been anything in an ASH VS EVIL DEAD script where you’ve said, “This just sounds too physically uncomfortable and I don’t want to do it”?
CAMPBELL: No. Sometimes for me, it would be too humiliating or too stupid or too something the character wouldn’t deal with. I’ve definitely chimed in, but not that often. What I chime in on is if a fight doesn’t make sense. I tell [the writers], “Put your computer down, stand up there in the writers’ room, and act it out. And you’ll see how stupid it is, what you’re talking about.”They staged a fight this season in a coffin. Which is fine, but I kept saying, “Guys, try and tape it out on the floor, and try and do what you’re saying to do, and see how it would work. Just go ahead and do it. I know it’s not real, we can do a lot of editing, you can pop out the side of the coffin – there’s a lot of stuff you can do, but still, guys, act it out.” Because we would have to put the rubber on the road. We take their contents and make it work. And we just told them point-blank, “If you guys can’t figure it out, we will.” The same with the dialogue, the same with the writing. “If you don’t give me really good material to work with, don’t be surprised what you see in the dailies.” This is the only show I’ve ever been able to say that, and it feels good.
AX: Do you have a favorite scene or episode of ASH VS EVIL DEAD?
CAMPBELL: No, that’s for later. That’s for when we’re canceled. Then we can sift through, and the historians can pull out their ten favorite gross-out moments or whatever. I will say this is my favorite season. And Episodes 9 and 10 are my favorite.
AX: Do you have any idea of how long you’d like to see this series go?
CAMPBELL: It can only be philosophical, this question. Because OUTLANDER was their [Starz’s] show that really took off. They could clearly see that that was a popular show. With us, it’s been harder to gauge, because our fans come to the table a little late. They don’t always dive on that knob to see that weekly show. So we’re not a slam-dunk, but we’re in a hundred countries, and we’ve never had better ratings as far as the audience response. Even the critics on this one have been very kind. So it’s performing really well in some areas, and not well in others. So obviously, we’re prepared story-wise to do whatever. Ash can continue. We’re going to burn the place down, though. By the end of Season 3, nothing is the same, nothing. There’s no going back at the end of this season. So it’s good that we’ve watched it, and out of respect to the fans, we did enough of a wrap-up of some storylines that they can go, “Okay, cool.”
AX: What would you most like people to know about Season 3?
CAMPBELL: That it may be game over for Ash. He is mortal. That’s it.
Related: ASH VS EVIL DEAD: Dana DeLorenzo & Lindsay Farris give the scoop on Season 3 – exclusive interview
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Article: ASH VS EVIL DEAD: Bruce Campbell talks Season 3 – exclusive interview