‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ Stars, Creator Discuss Challenges of Bringing Iconic Franchise to TV
Ash vs. Evil Dead is perhaps the most anticipated series in the history of Starz. The show is a continuation of Sam Raimi’s iconic Evil Dead franchise, which has carried through four films, The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, and 2013’s Evil Dead (directed by Fede Alvarez). Bruce Campbell will reprise his role as Ash Williams, in a story that sees the loner dealing with a considerable amount of survivor’s guilt following the Deadite plague that manifested thirty years ago. However, it turns out the Deadites aren’t quite through with Ash yet, as the hero must now wield his chainsaw once again to set right the wrongs of his past.
I had the pleasure of speaking with executive producer/pilot director Sam Raimi, showrunner Craig DiGregorio, prosthetics designer/props supervisor Roger Murray, and series stars Bruce Campbell, Lucy Lawless, Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago and Jill Marie Jones at New York Comic Con 2015, and there were more than a few eye-opening tidbits, from character motivations to creature creations and more.
“Nothing has changed about Ash,” Bruce Campbell noted, in addressing how much (or how little) Ash Williams has actually changed in the past three decades. “He’s still an idiot, he’s still sociologically challenged. He’s a little bit of a sociopath. He doesn’t play well with others, but he’s our leader. And he brought this upon himself. So he’s an idiot. That’s our hero. Welcome to him! And I think it’s hilarious we’re doing a show with that guy as our hero.”
“Isn’t it great that a guy who’s over the hill has to save the world?” Campbell continued. “That’s what I love about it. The guy who’s not really as qualified for the job. I think it’s awesome!”
The lead star would also go on to sing the praises of the network itself, noting that it was the only outlet to give Raimi the greenlight to do the show in the way they wished to do it.
“Starz is the only one — we shopped this around Hollywood when we were going to do it — we had three companies that were interested in funding the show. And the key aspect we asked each of them was ‘What are your restrictions on content, graphicness, violence, carnage, mayhem. What is it? What are the restrictions?’ And Starz was the only one that had no restrictions. And, creatively, they were also going to let us do our thing. And they have. They’re the perfect company at the right time.”
In praising the network, he also praised the content of the show, explaining that this is a unique television event, even considering how the TV landscape has changed among horror shows and other series that owe their lineage to movies.
“We all have homages. We all have things that influence us, so you’re going to see that,” Campbell said. “But there ain’t nobody doing horror comedy. We’re it. Because we don’t need to warp anybody’s brains. We call it ‘splatstick’. It’s crazy, and it’s over the top, but nobody’s putting someone’s penis in a vice for half an hour, you know what I mean? It’s not torture porn. It’s nothing that’s going to disturb you to your core. It’ll jolt you. We’re all for scares and creepiness and atmosphere.”
On the subject of the show’s lineage to the films, two more stars were able to speak to how the series builds upon what came before, as Lucy Lawless and Jill Marie Jones went into detail about their characters.
“Ruby’s dad was Professor Knowby, the original holder of the necronomicon in the movies. So her family was destroyed,” Lawless explained. “Her father, her mother and big sister were destroyed. She was orphaned, and blamed [Ash] and the deadite plague. Now he’s released it again, and she’s going to put him in the ground. So she teams up with Amanda Fisher, this cool cop, and they go on a road trip to hunt him and his shambling trailer, moving across America.”
Jones expressed the difficult training involved in preparing for the role, although she does have a personal connection to the origins of her character.
“I did train. I’m from Texas, and you’d think I’d have guns right here all the time. I’d never held a real gun, I never shot a real gun until this film, thank you Sam Raimi. So I went through training,” said Jones, who plays badass law enforcement agent Amanda Fisher. “My mom was a federal investigator for 40 years. So Amanda Fisher reminds me so much of her. I think, in a lot of ways, I was trying to bring that forward. She’s a badass, but she’s one of the good guys. She fights for good.”
For Jones, this show is part of a changing TV landscape of which she’s quite proud.
“All the females on this show can do it for themselves. No waiting for a man to come and save them. And I love that, and I love seeing more and more of that on television.”
Of course, while Lawless supports the increased prominence of strong female roles, she had a bit of a different view.
“I would love to play the vulnerable, needy, pathetic woman,” Lawless countered. “I’ve done it a couple of times, and I’m actually quite good at it, There’s another sides to me, you guys! Because, for the most part, I only play women who can take care of themselves. But I’m glad. I’m glad it’s catching on!”
As for the impetus behind the series, Sam Raimi explained that, ultimately, there was a straightforward motivation.
“The fans kept asking for it. I made Spider-Man movies, they didn’t care. I made Dark Man, or Simple Plan movies, they didn’t care. But for some reason, they always wanted another one of these, and they wouldn’t stop,” Raimi said. “So let’s make a movie one time about listening to their fans and what they want, and see how that works out! Because usually it’s a very different process, it’s finding a story, becoming interested in a concept you want to write about. So this was manufactured in a different way.”
“When we decided to make it into a TV show, we knew we couldn’t afford the spectacle that we had started to write into the movie script,” Raimi added. “So we got rid of a lot of those bigger ideas and big visuals and went to a very simple version that really centered on Ash. Not in a world that we’d have to construct from week to week, but in our world, here and now. So that would really allow us to concentrate our resources on the visual effects to create the world of the supernatural, and on our strongest element, Bruce Campbell’s face, telling the story of Ash.”
Showrunner DiGregorio agreed, although he recalled the massive pressure involved in embarking on this journey.
“Before it started, it seemed pretty daunting, just entering a group of old friends who have shorthand with each other. But they were just so welcoming, and so open to new ideas and input and things like that. Sometimes, you don’t get that with collaborators, people just want their own thing. It really was welcoming.”
“The movies, for me, are all about this amazing, crazy fun, weird tone that isn’t on anything else on television,” DiGregorio continued. “So it was just staying true to that, and true to the characters. We stayed pretty true to the movies, but there was no one story point we really needed to hit. It was mostly about staying true to the tone of the movies.”
By the same account, the actors are aware of the massive responsibility of living up to the movies.
“Starting out, when I first got the role, I was so intimidated and crippled with fear, like, ‘How am I going to be a part of something so well-loved? These are such big shoes to fill,'” said Dana DeLorenzo, who plays Kelly Maxwell, one of Ash’s new sidekicks. “But it was really wonderful, because Sam and Bruce were really so gracious and wonderful about welcoming us into this world.”
Her costar, Ray Santiago, who plays Kelly’s best friend, Pablo Simon Bolivar, spoke to the challenges of providing a performance that avoids falling into cliche territory.
“I’ve made a living off of playing gangbangers and drug dealers, but they have stories that need to be told as well, and I’m happy this opportunity has come,” Santiago stated. “Pablo, we made sure he doesn’t have an accent. We just wanted to make sure that that’s not what this is about. We didn’t want to have any bag of tricks, we wanted him to be as human as possible. I feel like Viola Davis’s speech at the Emmys was great. If there aren’t these characters written then how can you tell their stories? And then Gina Rodriguez said that the Latino culture is a culture that wants to be remembered as heroes, and that’s why I’m so happy I get to be a part of this superhero clay.”
Ultimately, all hands are on deck for the upcoming premiere for this hotly-anticipated series. I know I can’t wait to finally see it!
Ash vs. Evil Dead premieres October 31 on Starz!
For more on the awesome series, watch the full premiere trailer here!