For more than two decades, fans of the Evil Dead film franchise held out hope that actor Bruce Campbell’s reluctant demon-fighter Ashley J. Williams would return to the screen for more hilarious – and wildly gory – monster-fighting adventures to follow up 1992’s Army of Darkness.
Last year, the dreams of those fans came true with the premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead, a new TV series that picks up 30 years after the events of the 1992 film. The horror/comedy series features Campbell reprising his role as the chainsaw-wielding, shotgun-toting hero known as Ash. The first season of the series received high praise from longtime fans and newcomers alike, and was rewarded with a second season of ten 30-minute episodes premiering in October.
The second season finds Ash dealing with the consequences of the less-than-heroic decision he made at the end season 1, and returning to his hometown for an encounter with his father – played by The Six Million Dollar Man himself, Lee Majors. Like the first season, you can be sure season 2 will also feature an endless army of blood-spewing, soul-swallowing Deadites.
Digital Trends spoke to Campbell about returning to the role of Ash, sharing the screen with the Bionic Man himself, and the decision to bring the Evil Dead franchise to TV.
Digital Trends: You’ve spent more than two decades fielding questions about the future of the Evil Dead franchise and keeping fans’ hopes alive. When it finally happened, it was a huge success. That has to be a huge weight off your shoulders…
Bruce Campbell: Yeah, because I’ve been lying for years! Lying, deflecting, inflating, and so on … Because we didn’t really know what was going to happen. Army of Darkness died. That’s what people forget: Army of Darkness bombed. That franchise was dead as a doornail. God bless DVDs and “Making Of” featurettes, though, because all that stuff renewed interest in the Evil Dead movies. I’ve been touring and doing conventions for 400 years and fans would never let it go. They stayed pretty fervent. It was weird.
So Sam [Raimi] and his brother Ivan were thinking of doing [Evil Dead 4] and they had some ideas, but Rob Tapert and myself sat down with Sam and were like, “Hey, look at the world of television. Starz is making stuff like Spartacus with Rob [and it’s] very unrestricted material. It seems to be a great showcase these days.” So Sam got on board, and we pitched it to some companies.
Fans should be thankful that Starz is the one to do this, because they’re the ones giving fans unrestricted content. If this was on cable, they’d butcher it. Butcher it. So we’re pretty happy with how it all went down.
Some of the promotional images we’ve seen for the second season suggest that we’re going to get a look at Ash’s childhood – or at least, his life before he encountered the Necronomicon. What can you tell us about the young Ashley J. Williams?
You’ll see how that plays out. Ash goes back to his hometown, so it’s more about that than going back in time – but don’t count that out, either. You never know.
Lee Majors is playing Ash’s father in the second season. That feels like the perfect casting. Have you finished filming with him yet?
Yeah, we finished all of season 2. Lee is awesome. He’s a hero, an iconic television figure. When we knew Ash’s dad was going to come in, I was like, “We have to get Lee Majors in. If Ash is going to have a father, it’s got to be the Bionic Man.”
The characters you’re both best known for are such classic, macho sort of tough guys. What’s that like on the set? That has to be a fun dynamic…
I know! Lee had man cleavage in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s why you want Lee. The guy was a tabloid guy. They took pictures of him all the time and he was styling and he had all the ladies. He was a player. He’s still a studly guy, and that’s what you want.
Army of Darkness bombed. That franchise was dead as a doornail.
When you cast someone, sometimes there’s certain baggage that you don’t want. It’s why some actors won’t get certain roles – because of the baggage that comes with them. But with Lee, we wanted all of that. We wanted Lee, the TV stud. The ladies’ man. The man’s man. It’s perfect.
Was Lee an easy sell for the part? Did he take some convincing?
[At first] he wasn’t sure. We approached him, and he said, “I have to watch the show.” So he watched all ten episodes. He said he binged them [and] he laughed his ass off, and then said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” That’s the key. Lee has a sense of humor. This show isn’t his taste – he’s not going to sit down and watch the Evil Dead movies – but I think, once he saw that the humor was almost as over-the-top as the gore, he was like, “Okay, I’m on board.” Lee is actually a pretty funny guy, and I think we hit that nerve. So we’re so happy to have him. So excited.
When it was first announced that Evil Dead was headed to TV, there was a lot of concern that the franchise would get watered down, but after seeing the first season, that clearly wasn’t the case. Did you have to make any adjustments behind the camera in bringing the franchise to TV – simply based on it being a different format?
Well, the format is more pure now. You have 30 pure minutes. That’s almost the same as watching a 45-minute television program. There are no commercial interruptions. What a lot of viewers don’t understand is that the structure of television is designed by car commercials, essentially. During an hour of television, you have to have four breaks for commercials. So what do the writers have to do? They have to design an ending for every act that gets you to come back [after the commercials].
With the Hercules and Xena episodes that I directed, it was always the case: Push in to Hercules; “Oh no, the girl is gone!” Dun-dun-dunnnn … Fade out. Cut to commercial. Now you’re going, “Wow, I guess I better tune in because the girl’s gone!” Fade in. You continue with the story, and at the end of act two, there’s the same sort of cliffhanger.
That creates an artificial structure that writers have been living under for decades. Audiences think it’s normal, but it’s not normal … So in this case [with Ash vs. Evil Dead], we can tell 30 pure minutes of story without stopping, so writers get to just write. They get to write a beginning, middle, and end to a 30-minute structure instead of a four- or two-act structure. They can write it like a normal story would play out. I think the writers are digging it.
A lot happens in those 30 minutes of each episode. Have you ever considered expanding it to one-hour episodes? Was that ever an option?
Well, I’m digging it because the number-one adage of entertainment is you have to leave ‘em wanting more. It would not be the same show at an hour. It would be much more ponderous. You’d have to get into way more backstory. We can do that, but that’s never been the flavor of Evil Dead. The half-hour format – which was prompted by our buddy Rob Tapert – we thought it was kind of crazy at first, but then we realized that it actually makes sense, because it gives you that taste that you wouldn’t have in an hour. It would be so hard to sustain that humor and taste for an hour.
Beyond all of the on-screen work you’ve done over the years, you’re also a New York Times bestselling author. Are you planning to write any more books in the future? It feels like you’re in a very different place right now than you were when If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor was published back in 2002.
Funny you should ask, because in 2017 I’m doing a 35-city tour for the sequel. It’s been 15 years since the first book, so there have been a lot of ridiculous adventures, like going to see the troops in Iraq, shooting in Bulgaria and Columbia, and all the cockamamie stuff that wasn’t in the first book. So there’s a lot more ridiculous tales.
Ash vs. Evil Dead: Season 1 is available now digitally and on DVD and Blu-ray. The second season of Ash vs. Evil Dead premieres October 2, 2016, on Starz.