Bruce Campbell reprises his most famous role in Starz series “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” which begins its second season this month. He shares exec producer credit on the series with Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, who first collaborated on the 1983 film “The Evil Dead.” The trio started with a Super 8 short film, “Within the Woods,” which was designed to lure investors for a big-screen version. As Campbell recently told Variety, “We said, ‘Hey, if you like this, we can do it bigger, better, longer! And it’ll be in 16 millimeter!’ ” They made the film for $350,000, and the Feb. 9, 1983, review marked Campbell’s first mention in these pages. Though the review was mostly positive, the actor recently said, “Here is my favorite quote ever: ‘Dynamic sound is overbearing.’ We worked a lot on the sound, actually. We wanted it to be dynamic.”
What was the best part of making the film?
It was the most hand-made movie I’ll ever work on. We edited the trailer, we laid out the Variety ad for American Film Market screenings, so we had to learn typesetting and layout. It was all buddies of ours who did all this. No investors were even allowed on the set if we didn’t want them to, and it was not a college production, like some people think. It was actually a very well structured, legal document, and all these investors signed. People always ask “Is there going to be a director’s cut for ‘Evil Dead’?” I’m like, “You’re looking at it. There’s only one cut, one version, hope you like it.” That to me is how movies should be made. I don’t like movies by committee. I’ve never had previews to see if people like it where they’ll cut scenes out because some unemployed guy from Glendale, California, didn’t like it. Forget that. We had zero interference in every aspect of the movie and it never has happened again. Normally, you make your first movie and you get ripped off and it’s a horrible disaster. For us it was just the opposite. Our second movie was a disaster because the studio came in and re-edited and re-cast. It was a horrible reality check.
Was “Evil Dead” your big break?
For sure, yeah. Every actor goes through phases of “don’t call me Ash!” or “I’m not this character” but now I’m just going to choke people with Ash. You want Ash? You’re going to get five years of Ash. It’s been a great association of Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi, and Starz has been spectacular about letting us do our thing so we’re back in very good hands. I think the half-hour format works because of the old adage, always leave them wanting more. I tell people, just push Play, and watch it again.
TV has become what indie films used to be, with very little creative interference.
Someone said it’s not the golden age of television, it’s the platinum age of television. I don’t know how it happened because it used to suck. I’ve been a television actor for a long time; when I was first doing it, I was like, “Great, a job on ‘Knots Landing,’ oh, my God, this is awesome.” Years later you go, “What a shitty show,” but at the time it was great. And television moves at the pace that I like.
Were you still doing non-acting jobs after “Evil Dead”?
Oh, yeah. I did a production job. We were all production assistants, you know, gofers, runners, that sort of thing. It took four years to make the first “Evil Dead,” so we had to do other jobs.
What about acting roles after the movie?
I was just trying to be in anything at any time. If it was bad, who cared? I was in a crappy soap opera in Detroit, Michigan. I did three scenes and they paid me 35 bucks a scene, so I think it was 105 dollars. It was a massive day, massive payday.
Any regrets about those early days?
No, no regrets at all. I can’t look back and try and erase where I came from. It’s all a huge learning curve. The irony of course, is I’m currently best known as playing Ash in “Evil Dead.” I’m best known for the part I played when I was the least experienced. So there’s a part of me now that goes, “OK, 37 years later, now I know how to do Ash.” I didn’t know how to do Ash before. Now I got him.
Has he evolved?
He’s evolving now because you have to. Ash can be an idiot and fancy himself, but he’s got to come through at the end of the day, and he’s got to progress — albeit glacially — in his social experiences. In Season 2 for “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” Ash goes back to his hometown and he’s got to save the place. He’s a good “Deadite” fighter, but kind of a bad son and not necessarily the greatest guy to hang out with. But he does come through, so he will be continuing to progress and that’s important. He kind of is the father figure to these younger characters, particularly Kelly. So we will develop very strong bonds between us because the audience needs it. If you don’t care what happens to the stars of your show we’re all doomed.
What is the secret in your relationship with Sam Raimi? Why do you work together so well?
I do everything he tells me. It makes it real easy. He kind of wants it that way, just shut up and do what I tell you and everything’s going to work out fine. He’s got a plan and he knows how to get it, and so I have total respect for his ability as a filmmaker. He’s always a step ahead of everybody, and I have not worked with really any other director who is so on top of his game and yet willing to completely throw it out the window and do something different on the day. Sam is the most fearless director out there and it’s infectious. His whole crew, they’ll throw themselves off a cliff for him because he’s a mad genius, you know, he still is. It’s always great to work with a master.