Thirty-four years since he first wielded his chainsaw hand against manic zombies in the cult horror classic The Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell is back as an older—if not wiser—Ash Williams in a 10-episode Starz series that reunites him with director Sam Raimi and producer Rob Tapert, who made the original and its two sequels.
Premiering, appropriately, on Halloween (9/8c), Ash vs. Evil Dead finds our hero battling a new outbreak of Deadite mayhem, and a new nemesis in Ruby Cross (Lucy Lawless), out to avenge the deaths of her family members, for which she blames Ash.
Campbell, whose non-Dead film credits include the lead roles in Maniac Cop, Bubba Ho-Tep, Name is Bruce and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., plus Sam Axe in Burn Notice and Ronald Reagan in Fargo—couldn’t escape the fan-favorite franchise even if he wanted to, but fortunately he doesn’t. He told us what it’s like to resurrect his most famous character.
“Playing Ash again was hard. I had to work out and stop drinking tequila. That chainsaw is heavy!”
Why has Ash remained so popular?
He’s just like everybody watching the show. He’s not CIA, he’s not Navy SEAL. He’s not trained at all. He doesn’t know how to use guns or chainsaws. He just does what he has to do. People watching go, “I could do that.” He was never qualified back in Army of Darkness. Now he’s 25 years older and still completely unqualified. That’s the fun part about it. That guy’s gonna save the world? That’s scary! But the fans have driven all of this. The last Evil Dead movie was 24 years ago, 1991. We shot Army of Darkness. They haven’t shut up since. No matter what we say to them or what we give them, it will never be enough, and we’re very grateful for that. The Evil Dead movies got me into the film business. I’ve gone to conventions since 1988, and I’ve heard every subsequent year, “When are you making more?” I couldn’t really tell them till now.
What was it like to play him again?
It was hard. I had to work out and stop drinking tequila. That chainsaw is heavy! The best part is working with people that you like and know and push you, that are really good friends. It’s just nice to get back and work in the trenches again with the people that you started in the industry with. And Lucy’s a great addition to this too. Life’s too short. I want to work with people that make sense, that can bring it, that people enjoy watching on the screen.
Is it more challenging now that you’re older, more than the movies?
They’re all challenging. The original Evil Dead was the worst. I was 21 years old. What did I know? I didn’t know how bad the shoot was physically until I made three other movies. The second shoot was difficult too but we were more prepared. We were better filmmakers at that point so we didn’t put ourselves through as much heartache.
Is there anything different about this incarnation of Ash or the series?
He has to learn how to play with others, how to talk to others. We had this question too—what does he say, what does he sound like? Ash is a little out of it with technology so he uses anachronisms. He calls women Missy. He’s got a cassette player in his car. He’s not with the program. But the bad guys are the same. The Deadites are always going to be really nasty, really smart, really violent, tricky, subversive. We raised the bar as far as bad guys. With Starz, we can do whatever we need to do. We have no content restriction whatsoever, and that’s vitally important as filmmakers. The pressure is on us just to entertain in the best way that we can. It’s very liberating.
How was working in New Zealand?
Aside from being a beautiful country with a very high quality of life, we have crew members that are the perfect crew to do this show because they were all weaned on Hercules, Xena, Spartacus, Lord of the Rings, Avatar. You’ve got stunts, green screen, special effects, special props—stumps, chainsaws and shotguns. These are people who can do this stuff in their sleep. So it wasn’t like we’re going to the ends of the earth to save a particular amount of money or whatever. This was about who can do this show in the time that we need, so it was a great place to do the show.
Do you see the series continuing? More movies?
Both. One feeds the other. The movies allowed us to do the TV show, the TV show hopefully will allow us to do movies again. It’s all connected. We have to come up with a five-year plan. We have to be prepared to go the distance.
What else do you have coming up?
Highly Functional. I play a broken-down country western singer. It’s a really good role.
What do you look for in projects?
I’m attracted to weird material. I’m not attracted to normal, generic stuff. I find it too boring. I don’t mind being in cheeseball exploitation movies. It doesn’t bother me in the least. B movies are way more interesting sometimes than A movies, because you don’t have the restrictions. You don’t have to please 100 million people. I think you can tell more fantastic stories, like we can with this series. This is not a cop show, a doctor show, a lawyer show. As a viewer, those shows make me want to hang myself. 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.
What’s your definition of the perfect gentleman?
A gentleman is someone who doesn’t insult or hurt other people. I wish we had more gentlemen.
Photo credit: Starz