Bruce Campbell didn’t just enter the room—he swaggered. As he made his way to the first roundtable interview, he nodded to the various tables and press. “I will get to you all eventually,” he said with equal parts mock-bravado and smarm. It was as if he was playing Ash for everyone.
Campbell’s one hell of a snazzy dresser. His ensemble at the New York Comic Con: shiny purple tuxedo jacket with a curlicue pattern, white tie and matching pocket square, a little skull on the lapel. He looked like a lounge singer in the afterlife.
When he finally came to our table, Ash vs Evil Dead co-stars Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo were wrapping up. These speed-date-style interviews can get a little repetitive, with the same answers given every 10 minutes. Campbell immediately gave everyone some good-hearted guff. “And the blood was sticky,” he said like reading a phonebook. “And it was cold in the studio. And I scared myself the first time I saw myself in makeup.”
Then, sitting down, Campbell exclaimed, “This is the middle table! This is where the action is!”
Bruce, could you put this in perspective for us: a couple years back there was a very pleasant surprise when we see your character at the end the Evil Dead remake. What sort of happened between that and the series? Did you already know that the show was percolating?
Bruce Campbell: No, this happened fast. This happened really fast. Shockingly fast for this industry. These things are usually developed for years. We did a remake because people would not shut up about it, and we wanted to give them something. Sam didn’t want to direct the remake himself but he thought, “Let me handpick a guy, Fede Alvarez, and let him have a shot at it.” We think he did a great job, and it made a lot of money around the world, which at least convinced us that people are out there, the fans are still out there somewhere, but they want Sam and they want Ash. So, we’re going to give it to them. We’re tired of fighting it.
But, the economics of making another movie… We could get enough money to make a remake directed by a first-time director, but we couldn’t get enough money to make another one directed by Sam Raimi. I mean, as famous a director as Sam has become, he needs money. Sam thinks big, really big.
So TV made sense. Rob Tapert had worked with Starz on Spartacus. I worked in television for years on Burn Notice. So we were TV guys. I feel like I’m a TV guy as much as a feature guy, so I couldn’t wait for this. We pitched it to Sam, we went over to try and bend his ear.
How was it working in unrestricted TV land?
Bruce Campbell: Fantastic! It’s where you need to be. You know, we don’t have to do an alternate take to say something. “Gosh! Golly! Darn it! Put that over there!” None of that bulls**t. You can just talk like an adult, Ash can talk like he needs to talk. I like it a lot. The first two Evil Dead movies were unrated; only Army of Darkness had a rating because it was made for a studio and we had to have a rating. This is how people need to see it. I can’t wait.
Has Ash changed—
Bruce Campbell: This is glorious violence, by the way. This is like, when our blood goes, it’s celebratory.
Bruce Campbell: You know what I mean? This is not going to be dreary violence. This is going to be, if it’s possible, fun violence. This is not going to warp your life. We take the horror seriously, but there’s other things to like. We want to keep Ash the trash-talking hero, so there’s going to be plenty of that.
Over the years you and Sam talked about how you enjoy the Marx Brothers, classic comedy, things like that—
Bruce Campbell: Yeah. The Stooges.
Are you more free with the show to do more of that?
Bruce Campbell: We can do whatever we want. I mean, the coolest thing ever is to be able to show up on a set and to know that you have no restrictions. You have an idea, you shoot it. If it works, you keep it, knowing that if it doesn’t work you get rid of it. You know what I mean? So it’s a great way to work as an actor or anybody in the arts. You want to function in an environment that’s creative. And you’d be surprised how many environments you get into that are not really that creative, where someone is very controlling ,or a writer doesn’t want you to change anything, or a director treats you like his little pawn and he wants to put you here and he wants to put you there, or certain DP/camera guys want to shoot things in a certain way.
I’m like, “F**k you, let’s make this show!” You know what I mean? Creatively, that’s what I’m all about. I’ll go to the ends of— I’ll go to New Zealand to do that.
Was there a lot of ad-libbing?
Bruce Campbell: Oh yeah.
Bruce Campbell: And the kids—I call them “the kids,” Ray and Dana—they’re getting on board. Not like it’s a competition, but there will be things that occur to their character to say.
A lot of times a writer won’t do what I call “a button.” You know, like button up a scene. Sometimes there are things that just make sense.
Do you have any favorite ad libs you remember but didn’t necessarily make it?
Bruce Campbell: Umm, no, they just keep coming. So that’s the beauty of TV—there’s plenty of it.
One of the great things about Ash in this is that he’s sort of acknowledging that he’s a little bit longer in the tooth.
Bruce Campbell: Yeah, he’s over the hill. Yeah, I love it! Got to put on a man-girdle and pop his dentures in. I mean, that’s hilarious. Sam was talking about putting a box of Depends in the trunk.
Bruce Campbell: And you just see the box. You don’t really talk about it. Or Ash says, “Pull over.” “Why?” “I gotta get something.” “What?” “Don’t worry about it, just pull over.” You know, and he throws the Depends in the back, and he doesn’t have to say anything. I think that’s awesome! Why not?
Why do our heroes have to be so perfect? What a bore. Jesus Christ!
What was it like getting back into this demanding of a role again.
Bruce Campbell: Hard. Hard and painful. I usually have a good time on film sets, and the Evil Dead movies never are really a good time. That’s okay, because I find the, very creatively satisfying, but none of them are comfortable or fun. You’ve covered with blood and s**t 12 hours a day. It gets old fast. Wearing stunt rigs, and you can’t breathe, and every time you scratch your head you pull the hair out of you arms because of the dried blood. And you get ants all over you because you’re wet and sticky and sweet with the fake blood. You attract rodents, that type of thing.
[laughs] You’ve worked with Lucy Lawless in the past.
Bruce Campbell: 20 years ago
Were you guys searching for a project together?
Bruce Campbell: Well, the second we knew we were going to shoot in New Zealand, I’m like, “We’ve got to get Lucy as part of this deal. ASAP.” And so we’re trying to make the show worth her time now. So upcoming season, she’s going to get busy, and we like that, because she’s such an ass kicker. Ash needs some more ass-kicking help, and why not get f**king Lucy Lawless? [editor’s note: In retrospect, I wonder if this was some early indication that Ash vs Evil Dead was going to be renewed for a second season.]
[laughs] We asked Sam before if he’d taken it a little bit easier on you now than he has in the past. And when I asked him, there was a slightly sadistic glow to his eyes.
Bruce Campbell: Oh sure!
It would suggest probably not.
Bruce Campbell: But thank goodness he’s getting older so he doesn’t have as much punch anymore. He doesn’t have the right hook that he used to have. Now he has people do it for him. No, Sam’s always the blood deliverer. If someone’s getting the blood in the face, he’s the one doing it.
Of the Three Stooges, Moe was always the guy who threw the pies. He just had the touch. He was like, “Get out of the way,” to the prop guys and he would take the pie. BAM! He would hit it dead on every time. Sam’s got that touch. [turns to me and gestures as if repeatedly throwing a cup of fake blood in my face] Because you can’t get into the frame. It’s a very delicate line, literally. So he knows where the edge of that frame is, and his cup is right there. He never goes in, it’s perfect—he hits you every time. Because you don’t want to redo that. You got to practice it to get it once.
So is Ash your favorite character that you’ve played?
Bruce Campbell: I’d say so. Especially now. I’d say it’s been cemented now, because he’s much more of a full-blown character. And if we can do this for a couple of years, then we can really kick some Ash, and really bring that character full throttle. And I can’t wait.
You do a TV show and you’re going to have to throw that son of a bitch into all kinds of scenarios that you never had to before. You have to tell a lot of story for the show, so we’ll see what happens to our hero. I’m looking forward to it. I hope ridiculous things happen.
This is going to sound like a really goofy question, for which I apologize profusely, but do you reconcile the Ash we see at the end of the Evil Dead films with the one we see in the TV series, or is it a clean break between film and television?
Bruce Campbell: Same guy, he just didn’t do s**t for 25 years.
Bruce Campbell: Same guy!
What has Ash been up to?
Bruce Campbell: Nothing!
Bruce Campbell: Drinking at bowling alleys at closing time, lying to women about how he lost his right hand. [laughs] That’s what he’s doing—he’s doing nothing.
People love to ask, “Oh, what kind of character development?”
We don’t have any!
Bruce Campbell: He’s the same guy. Now, you’ll see him develop over the course of the show. He has to become a hero. When we find him, he is not a hero. He thinks he’s a hero, but he is so lost. He’s lost his edge, he’s lost everything.