As the competition for viewers’ eyeballs becomes more and more intense, networks, cable channels, and premium services alike have to pick their airdate strategies with considerable care. When it comes to premium channel upstart Starz, its original programming generally airs on Saturday nights, or what is conventionally thought of as the television equivalent of a desolate wasteland – both in terms of what is available to viewers and what viewers are available to watch most networks’ meager offerings. And yet, for the Starz’ newest series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, a Saturday-night premiere is a rather serendipitous event, as it happens to fall on the most glorious of holidays: Halloween.
Appropriateness of premiere dates notwithstanding, the return of Bruce Campbell to what is arguably his most famous role is likely the bigger draw for fans of the darkly funny, splatter-loving gore-fest that is Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series. After a 23-year gap, Campbell is back as the Deadite-slicing Ash, complete with his trusty boomstick, chainsaw hand, and irrepressibly charming obliviousness. And the actor was ready to talk the challenges and joys of returning to the role after so long, his intense hatred of fake blood, and what he hopes the television series will be able to offer the character that the films never could.
For Campbell, returning to the role of Ash was a pleasure, but it’s also an opportunity for the actor, the creators, and the fans to get to know the character a little better. As he points out:
“[It’s] great to get back to this character. It’s probably the most fun character there is to play. Now we can bring all of our experience to bear again and flesh him out even more… people have only seen four and a half hours worth of Ash… In this first season alone, we’re going to do five new hours of Ash. [It’s] a slightly different story in that the character has to evolve. The story has to get bigger. And I’m looking forward to that so that I can take enough time to finally be with Ash.”
There were drawbacks to returning to the world of Evil Dead, of course, which Campbell was quick to point out were mostly due to the show’s use of adhesives for special effects makeup and the ubiquity of fake blood.
“[Returning to the character] reminded me of how much I hate fake blood. That hatred, it runs deep. It runs really deep. It’s one of my least favorite things [next to the] surgical adhesive they had to use for makeup applications and, yes, fake blood – because it’s chronic. It gets everywhere.”
Speaking of things that are seemingly ubiquitous, but people seem to have an unending thirst for, Campbell credits fans’ love of the series and the countless versions of DVDs and Blu-rays for everything from The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, and even Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead remake, for keeping the franchise in the public eye long enough that this series could fall into place.
“Thankfully, the fans have stepped up through all the DVD reissues. There were 86 versions of Army of Darkness... It became an American movie classic, you know, on AMC. And so fans drove it.”
And yet, ironically, Ash vs. Evil Dead will not have any connection with Army of Darkness at all. Due to the legality of who owns what, it will be as though those events of the 1992 cult film never happened. This is similar to Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal not being able to use Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill, due to a different studio owning the rights to the characters. Still, Campbell doesn’t seem too worried that fans will be missing anything. As he says, Ash as a character was firmly established within the first two films, which is where the series picks up from nearly 30 years later.
“[That’s] not material that we can do legally, so we’re not going to do it. It’s a whole complicated bunch of legal mumbo jumbo that’s not even worth going into. Three different companies made the three movies. So that should tell you something. Call your uncle the lawyer and talk to him about it. He’ll laugh. He’ll go, “Really, three movies? Three companies and you want to make a TV show? This should be fun.” So it’s very complicated to put together. And I’m just really grateful that it all worked out. Here we are. But it means there are things we can include, things we can’t. But, you know, everything that Ash needed was in the first two movies anyway. Anything he ever used, so it’s all good.”
So, what is it about Ash that Campbell likes enough to continue returning to the character, especially after such a lengthy break? Well, to Campbell, it’s Ash’s everyman status, or “the fact that he has no special skills.” The actor says there’s something appealing about being able to see a little of oneself in the hero on screen.
“He is not trained. He was not part of any government agency. Nothing. So I think when you watch him you go, “That could be me, the guy that works at 7-11. I mean I could do that, why not?” I’m sick of over-trained heroes. I’m really bored with that. Guys that are just ripped to shreds and, you know, full of skills. That’s boring to me. Give me the mechanic that picks up a weapon, you know? Now I’m interested. That’s my hero.”
Obviously, with the series affording both actor and audience a chance to spend more time with the character than ever before, there will be an opportunity to peek under the proverbial hood of Ashley J. Williams, to see what drives him. But don’t expect lengthy flashbacks to his childhood or a deep dive into his psyche. That’s not where the series necessarily wants to go – “Because then it would be boring. And not what we wanted and not a comedy,” Campbell says.
“[If] it were an hour show, we’d go into his past. Thank the heavens it’s a half-hour show, so we’re going to get into Ash and there will be enough about Ash that will make us want him to be our hero forever and ever for all times… I think we’ll start see more of a leader with Ash — a little more of actual hero qualities — and, you know, the jerk stuff will still be there. Pure Ash. I mean you’ll get that. But I mean, this time around, we’re going to hopefully see a likely improved Ash. We’ll see.
A half hour is the only format that gives us the pace that we need and the tone that we need and I think it’s perfect for a modern audience. I don’t know if we need a pondering Ash. We need a quick-witted, fast-moving Ash.”
That quick-witted, fast-moving Ash can be seen (technically) on Halloween, as the Ash vs. Evil Dead series premiere ‘El Jefe’ will air at 12:17am, following Starz’ Evil Dead marathon. It can also be seen at its regular time @9pm on Saturday nights.