Arriving early and speaking with a swagger worthy of his iconic antihero, Bruce Campbell met with journalists at New York Comic Con to talk "Ash vs. Evil Dead," a continuation of the horror franchise he began with friends Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert more than thirty years ago. Campbell, wearing a purple jacket with a skull pin -- co-star Lucy Lawless shouted that he was "dressed like a vampire" -- spoke candidly about his return to the "Evil Dead" franchise, its transition from film to television, and what makes a good neighbor.
Campbell expressed some surprise at the "Evil Dead" series' continuing appeal, especially given the span of time that's passed since Ash's last appearance. "We haven't done an 'Evil Dead' thing in 24 years; 1991 was the last time we shot 'Army of Darkness.' But the folks had never really let it go, the fans had kept clamoring for it. I go to conventions a lot and I hear it a lot. And we never had a definitive answer," he said. "'Army of Darkness' bombed when it came out. It wasn't a huge demand, but then it caught on in the DVD world, the re-issues; Anchor Bay doing all that stuff in the '90s really helped. That helped keep it alive, the fans never let it go. We did a ['Evil Dead'] remake a couple years ago thinking that would satiate people but it only whet their appetite. They wanted more, they wanted Sam [Raimi], they wanted Ash. So rather than making a $200 million movie, because Sam Raimi is making big movies now -- you know what I mean? -- we're not going to say to Sam, 'let's make a million dollar event movie.' It's not going to happen. But [executive producer] Rob Tapert has worked continuously in television since then and so have I, so it's a world we understand.
"TV made more sense economically," Campbell continued. "And I've got to say, story-wise, if people really want to get their 'Evil Dead' on, the only way to get it is television. It's the only way you can get the page count. It's the only way you can get the body count. If you really want to dig something for years and years, it's got to be TV. Features were very intermittent. We did one movie in the '70s, one movie in the '80s, one movie in the '90s. It's not like we were cranking them out. So this is the way to get it."
Campbell noted that, depending on the network, bringing "Evil Dead" to television could have required retailoring some of its more extreme content, but he and Raimi searched for a partner that would make the best fit. "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 thing we asked each one of them was, 'what are your restrictions in terms of content, graphicness, violence, carnage, mayhem?' -- what is it? What are your restrictions? And Starz was the only one that had no restrictions," he said. "Creatively, they were going to let us do our thing, and they have. So they're the perfect company at the right time."
Asked about Raimi's comments that the director was considering an "Evil Dead 4" that would pit Ash against a future version of himself, Campbell refused to take the bait. "Well, see, this is like a political campaign where last night Sam said this, now what do I comment on it? It's all a bunch of baloney until we're gonna make it, you know what I mean? It doesn't matter what I think, because now we're back to, 'Will there be an "Evil Dead 4?"'
"Ash vs. Evil Dead" is not only a return to a popular franchise for Campbell, but the show also represents a reunion with frequent collaborators Raimi and Lucy Lawless. "The dynamic is, on the film set, we can do whatever we want. That's how it was in the first 'Evil Dead' movie, in the second, and pretty much in 'Army of Darkness' before the studio intervention. But Sam and I have always had that relationship on set where he makes up stuff, we make up stuff, and we find the most entertaining way to do a scene," he said. "Fortunately, that hasn't changed. Sam directed the pilot, it was just like we used to do it. To be able to do that, years and years and years later, is great.
"Creatively, we've all worked on projects that are stiffs -- where the writer's an idiot, or the director's terrified or the producer's a jerk, where they're not really trying to do something that's really good," he added. "But when you get something that is about having fun, about entertaining the audience, you'll always go back to it."
The actor joked about a less fond reunion, but one he knew to expect: seeing the car that has been in all of Raimi's films, which was shipped to New Zealand for the show. "I've known the car since high school. I know all the quirks about that car. Sam's very touchy about me in the car because he knows that I don't like that car. I don't share his obsession," Campbell said. "It's been in every one of Sam's movies, including 'The Quick and the Dead.' That's a Western. How did he do that? He had his car stripped down to a chassis and put a wagon on top of it. So he could say that his car's been in every one of his movies. And it has! It's in 'Darkman.' [It was] Uncle Ben's car in 'Spider-Man.' It's that car. Stupid car's been in more movies than I have."
As to what it's like to play Ash again, Campbell said, "It hurts. It hurts more now than it did. I was 21 in the first 'Evil Dead'; I'm not 21 anymore. It's fine, you know. I stretch more. It's a fun character to play, it's the most fun character I've ever played."
But fans shouldn't expect the character to have evolved much since last we saw him. "Nothing has changed about Ash. He's still an idiot. He's still sociologically challenged, he's a bit of a sociopath. He doesn't play well with others, but he's our leader," Campbell said. "And he brought this upon himself, so he's an idiot. That's our hero. I think it's hilarious that we're doing a show with that guy as the hero.
"He hasn't done shit for 25 years," he continued. "He's been wasting his life for 25 years -- going to bars and lying about how he lost his hand. That's what he's been doing.
"Isn't it great that a guy who's over the hill has to save the world? A guy who's not qualified for the job? I think it's awesome. All these dumb action stars, everybody's ripped, they've got their 8-pack, they've got their 12-pack -- I don't give a fuck about that. To me that's not entertaining. We're here to entertain the audience. A guy that's over the hill is trying to save the world from the evil that he caused, that works for me. That's my kind of entertainment."
As to who he'd like to guest star on "Ash vs. Evil Dead," Campbell said, "I want all the horror people. Because other shows have consciously not used horror actors in their horror show. I'm like, screw that. I want a bartender to be Robert Englund. I want Kane Hodder to play a bouncer at a nightclub. Know what I mean? I want to use them all. I know half these people, we have a lot of fun together. I'd love to bring them in. Jamie Lee Curtis as a waitress or whatever. She gets so scared she can't even scream..."
For all his talk about "Ash vs. Evil Dead" arising as a direct result of Ash's passionate fanbase, Campbell said he doesn't often feel his status as a cult icon. "I only feel it when I come to conventions. Because I've done a lot of television, I get recognized more for being Sam Axe on 'Burn Notice' than just about anything else. Only because we did 111 episodes, we're flooding people's living rooms for years. That will always make you more recognizable. Making cheeseball movies every ten years, that's not the way to get discovered," he said. "But that was never my intent anyway. I want to be an actor. I don't care about anything else that comes with it. And I'm actually glad that nobody's going through my garbage. I'm not in the tabloids, nobody follows me around. I haven't created a sensational life for myself, which is just the way I like it. No drama. I've been married for 24 years. I just do what I do.
"My neighbors don't give a shit who I am, either. I live in Oregon. Guy across the street goes, 'Hey, I hear you played a cowboy in a TV show!' I said yeah. He said, 'Why don't ya, this Saturday, help me run a hundred head of cattle up the road?' I went ok, let's do it. That Saturday, I met all my neighbors, because they were helping. It was right after I moved in. It's nice to have neighbors who don't give a shit, either."
Campbell is also not especially concerned with "Evil Dead's" influence on the current crop of horror films and television shows. "You're always going to see a taste of this, a taste of that in any show. We all have homages, we all have things that influence us," he said. "But nobody's doing horror comedy. We're it. Solo field. We don't need to warp anybody's brain, it's a different form of entertainment. We call it splatstick. It's crazy, over the top, but no one's putting anybody's penis in a vice for half an hour. It's not torture porn. It's not going to disturb you to your core. It will jolt you, we're all for creepiness and atmosphere, but leave it at home."
The "Ash vs. Evil Dead" panel at New York Comic Con debuted the first episode ahead of its October 31 premiere date on Starz, but Campbell is already looking ahead to season two. "There's no official announcement, but we've had to do things to get ready for a second season that they have allowed us to do -- like keeping warehouses and extending leases, so all the indications are there," Campbell said.
"Look, we got a second season the minute there were 15 million views on Facebook for the trailer. That was our second season right there, I can tell you right now. They were like, 'Got it! We know this show now!' They were finally convinced of its following."
"Ash vs. Evil Dead" rises October 31 on Starz.