Boom, baby, boom! Nearly 30 years after we last saw Ash Williams in action, Bruce Campbell is back battling Deadites, only this time on the small screen.
Campbell’s return to the chainsaw-wielding, boomstick-firing character he originated in 1981 finally happens next month in “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” the Starz sequel series to Sam Raimi’s cult-favorite film trilogy. The debut season consists of 10 half-hour episodes – the pilot is helmed by Raimi, who’s producing alongside longtime partner Rob Tapert – with the stock boy and aging lothario forced to face his demons when a Deadite plague threatens to destroy humanity.
“This is better than a fourth movie,” promised the 57-year-old Campbell, who’s heard calls from the franchise faithful for decades to revisit the world of “Evil Dead.” “The fans have driven all this. The fans are responsible for every single bit of this. They’ve been relentless for years. The last ‘Evil Dead’ movie was 24 years ago — 1991, when we shot ‘Army of Darkness.’ They haven’t shut up since! So no matter what we say to them or what we give them, it will never be enough – and we’re very grateful for that.”
“Even if I was over it, the fans would not allow me to be over it,” the actor chuckled during the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. “I’ve gone to conventions since 1988, and I’ve heard ever every subsequent year, ‘When are you making more of this?’ … I don’t think I was ever really over it. You get a little tired of not being able to answer them, because they go, ‘When is another movie coming?’ I couldn’t really tell them, so I was more frustrated, like them, than being over it. I can’t be over the ‘Evil Dead’ movies. They got me into the film business.”
Raimi said he believes what’s most kept the franchise close to the hearts of generations of fans — even amid the undead renaissance on film and television — is Campbell’s amusingly brash, endearingly lowbrow performance as Ash. “This guy is the main difference,” the filmmaker explained. “We have a series that really has a hero at its center fighting the monsters. Most of these shows, most movies, most zombie films or TV shows have to do with the monsters being the stars, whether it’s ‘Frankenstein’ or ‘Dracula’ or ‘Night of Living Dead’ or Freddie or Jason. They’re all great, but we have a show that stars a monster fighter, a hero, one of us, and we can identify with him, I think. … It’s Bruce Campbell, his character, which has kept it unique and keep people now coming back to see these movies again and again.”
“I’m attracted to weird material,” admitted Campbell, whose eclectic career highlights include the short-lived but well-loved TV Western “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.,” stints as the amoral thief Autolycus on Raimi and Tapert’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess,” an aged, mummy-battling Elvis in “Bubba Ho-Tep,” the skilled and sage Sam Axe on “Burn Notice,” and the central figure of “My Names Is Bruce,” the documentary chronicling his B-movie career.
“I’m not attracted to normal, generic stuff – I find it too boring,” he said. “And I don’t mind being in cheese ball, exploitation movies, I really don’t. It doesn’t bother me in the least, because B-movies can do things that are way more interesting sometimes than A-movies, because you don’t have the restrictions. You don’t have to please 100 million people. If your movie only costs half a million dollars, you only have to please, like, eight people. I mean, it’s a lot easier that way, and I think you can tell more fantastic stories.”
“I’m very glad we can bring this series to people, because, good or bad, you’re not going to see anything like this ” Campbell added. “This is not a cop show, a doctor show, a lawyer show. Those shows make me want to hang myself as the viewer.I want to see something that’s crazy, that’s ridiculous, that’s outrageous.”
“I’ll go to the ends of the Earth to work on material that is interesting and different. And thank God for Starz, because they don’t have that clamp. We’re not imploding because we can’t do stuff: We can do whatever we need to do. The pressure is on us just to entertain in the best way that we can. It’s very liberating.”
Campbell continued to entertain a select group of press with more details from the upcoming series:
In the long run, would you rather see Ash continue on TV or go back to film?
Bruce Campbell: Both. One feeds the other. They do. The movies allowed us to do the TV. The TV will allow us to go back and do movies again. It’s all connected.
With this much content to fill, what are the new sides of Ash that you haven’t gotten to play before that you get to explore?
He has to learn how to play with others. He has to learn how to talk to others. And what’s he like? We had those questions too. What does this guy say? What does he sound like? So we’ve come up with some parameters. Ash is a little out of it, so he uses anachronisms that are a little older. His technology is a little out of it. I’ve got a cassette player in my car. So this guy, he’s not with the program. He calls women “missy,” and things like that.
Will there be any change-up in the depiction of the Deadites in the series?
There’s aspects to the Deadites that are always going to be the same. They’re always going to be really nasty. They’re going to be really smart, really violent, tricky, subversive. We have clever Deadites. We raised the bar, as far as bad guys.
Was there talk of having Ash meet Jane Levy’s character Mia from the 2013 film in some future incarnation?
There was, but it hasn’t solidified yet. But never say never. The two universes could easily come together, and if the fans want it, they’ll get it. It’s up to them. They just tell us what they want.
Which was the most challenging film to make?
They’re all challenging. The original “Evil Dead” was the worst. But I was 21 years old, what do I know? I didn’t know how bad the shoot was until I made three other movies. And then I’m like, “Wow! That was a bad shoot, physically.”
How did the second shoot compare?
Difficult too, but we were more prepared. We were better filmmakers at that point, so we didn’t put ourselves through as much heartache.
Through your career in Hollywood, what’s been great about keeping that connection to “Evil Dead,” reuniting time after time to play in this toybox again?
Working with people that you like, working with people that you know, working with people that are challenging and working with people that push you. And it’s usually people that are really good friends.
“Ash vs. Evil Dead” premieres Oct. 31 on Starz.
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