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Ash Vs. Evil Dead: Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert on giving sugar to fans

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Apr 24, 2015, 4:04 AM EDT (Updated)

The Deadites are rising, but you knew that already. News has been swirling about the Ash vs. Evil Dead show on Starz for months now, and we've contributed to the ongoing coverage through our interviews with Bruce Campbell

But what do we really know about the show? An aging Ash (Campbell) is slumming it with a dead-end life when a new threat of Deadites -- think intelligent reanimated corpses/demons, but not zombies -- emerge. He's humanity's worst best hope, and enlists two younger characters to aid in the fight. Meanwhile, he's contending with other mysterious figures (such as one played by Lucy Lawless, whose casting news we broke) with their own agendas.

We also know that the show is filming in New Zealand, and will premiere this fall –- and our sources put the premiere at or around Halloween. Also, in addition to Campbell returning to his most iconic character, and serving as executive producer, AvED reunites EPs Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. Raimi will also be directing the pilot.

Yet all this information barely scrapes the surface of this 10-episode season with a chainsaw. So, to fill us in on the details, we joined Campbell, Raimi and Tapert, along with a small group of journalists, for a conversation on day five of production talk about Ash vs. Evil DeadIn the interview that follows, they talk about the growing Evil Dead universe (and its place in continuity, and time travel), new characters and whether the show can continue for multiple seasons should any of them step down from their duties. 

Also, we're unveiling this first photo from production, showing the trio posing with "The Classic," the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 which is a character all its own in Raimi's films.

What can we expect from this series tonally? Would it be more in line with sort of the comedic elements of Army of Darkness, or is it sort of more hard-line horror?

Sam Raimi: We have elements of the Evil dead films, which have always -- like you say -- had very hard-edged, intense horror designed to really frighten the audience. And no holds barred there. Starz has really taken the reins off of us and allowed us to go to town and thrill the audience, chill them, and scare the heck out of them. But also, as you mentioned, there is a comedic element that is alive in this, and it's the thing we found the audience has always liked the most about the Evil Dead movies. More and more, we seem to realize the thing that made them different was Bruce Campbell. And, more and more, we brought him to the forefront of the pictures.

First, he was just the guy that happened to star in the movie because he was the last survivor -- and our best friend and the only actor I ever worked with. But then, we started to realize, gee, the audience really likes this guy, and he's the thing that actually makes it special.

Will this series live in the same universe as Army of Darkness and Evil Dead?

It doesn't really exist in the exact same universe [as Army of Darkness].

Rob Tapert: The answer to that question is it doesn't really exist in the exact same universe. It's a slightly altered universe. It takes place somewhere in an alternate universe after Evil Dead 2. That might seem like a confusing answer, but that's the -- I don't want to spoil too much for the audience, but that's the truest answer I can give you ... We would be seeing similar locations, meaning it lives in a modern-day world with Ash battling evil in this era, the modern day. Ash went through that experience [of Army of Darkness], but we're not really referencing it in terms of we're not referencing specifics from that but he certainly has that in his memory.

Sam Raimi: We kind of want to take a politician's stance on that. We neither want to deny nor confirm that. We want the audience to be open with no previous expectations coming into the show. We want them to have seen one or all of the Evil Deads and be completely up to date on everything they need to know. So we really kind of designed it to live outside to having to have seen any of the movies.

Are we going to see updated designs of Deadites?

Rob Tapert: We certainly will play to what we once did with Deadites, even through the remake, but we're trying to expand the universe so the storytelling over the first 10 episodes ... we will encounter Deadites which are very different than other forces of evil out there. And then we will take the audience -- we'll expose the audience to new entities that were not yet presented in the Evil Dead universe, so that the audience is surprised.

Bruce Campbell: I would add that, because you're doing a TV show now, and not a feature film, you actually have to structure everything differently. You have to structure the storytelling differently, and you have to create a much larger world, because the demands of the audience are much -- it's every week you're now entertaining them. So you have to have a multiplicity of stories and angles and tangents. So it's going to be  a much bigger story.

We will encounter Deadites [but] expose the audience to new entities that were not yet presented in the Evil Dead universe.

How is Ash still sane? Why is he not just a total basket case at this point in his life?

Bruce Campbell: What makes you think he's not? He is a basket case. We're going to find, you know, Ash is potentially damaged goods, and God forbid, this is our hero -- which is what really appeals to me, personally, as an actor. You know, you have a lead guy who in Army of Darkness was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people because he couldn't remember three words.

Rob Tapert: Yes, he's no finer or nobler or saner of a character than when we last saw him. In fact, if anything, I think he's digressed. He's certainly aged quite a bit. And his courage hasn't been whipped up to a frenzy, let's put it that way. He's kind of sunk into some of his lowest -- all of our lowest instincts, and that's where we find him. And it's from that low point that I think our hero will have to be born. That's the start of our show.

I'm curious about sort of the writers' room and the scripts as they come together, how involved are each of you in breaking the stories and writing? And how many scripts have you actually gotten through so far?

Rob Tapert: I'm going to speak on everyone's behalf. So, Sam and his brother, Ivan, have been involved of the room every spare second until Sam got down here to start prepping. And the head writer has been down here the past couple of weeks, Craig DiGregorio, and we continue to talk through each of the episodes. We're exactly where we should be with the start of shooting. We've got, like, six scripts and some outlines in hand, so we're all very much involved in the creative process.

The world that we're in, has it been continually beset by the Deadites between the '80s and now? Or has Ash just been licking his wounds the whole time and this is like an unpleasant blast from the past from him?

The Deadites have been fairly dormant over the last 20 to 30 years. And Ash has been kind of living a low life hiding out. 

Sam Raimi: That's it. The Deadites have been fairly dormant over the last 20 to 30 years. And Ash has been kind of living a low life hiding out. And our story really begins when they come back and someone is needed to stand up against them.

Is it his fault they come back?

Sam Raimi: Of course.

[To Bruce] I wonder would you have even entertained the idea of being involved with the series if neither [Raimi nor Tapert] were on board.

Bruce Campbell: No I would not, not in any way. I wouldn't have touched it with a 10-foot pole. Sam is our leader. He's our fearless leader. All these movies have sprouted from his very ripe brain. And it just -- and Sam's the best director I've ever worked with. I'm just going to say that.

And I know that him being involved, it was mandatory that he is involved in this thing and we're going to get him as long as we can get him. We'll get him as often as we can get him. And the other directors are just going to have to suck it up and try and chase after what he's going to deliver in this pilot, which we've been shooting. So no, this is mandatory. And, you know, I'm going to be in touch with Sam even on the episodes that he's not directing, because I've never been directed by anyone else as this character. 

Sam Raimi: Bruce is being very kind, but the truth is in directing Bruce as Ash, my only job is in recognizing growing up with Bruce throughout all these 40-some years, all his lowest, weakest, most cowardly, brashest, loudmouth moments, and reminding him who he really is.

Ash has been notoriously unlucky in love. Will the series find him meeting the special someone? Is that something might be coming our way?

Sam Raimi: I think you're right, but I think those girls that he's been in love with have been slightly more unlucky than him.

Bruce Campbell: Well, Ash is, you know, there is a bit of arrested development there, so he's going to have some struggles. Because there are bigger issues. We're talking life and death. So, if there's some romantic aspects, I would be very careful going out on a date with Ash, personally, because people who get close to him usually wind up dead ... we want to make sure it's part of the inherent story. But, because it's a TV concept, now, and a much bigger world, then you bet he's going to run into a number of characters over the multiple seasons that this will play out. I think that's an aspect that we're going to look into and also have fun with.

Sam Raimi: Bruce, give him some sugar, baby.

Bruce Campbell: I will give some sugar. There's going to be some sugar to give.

I will give some sugar. There's going to be some sugar to give. 

In earlier interviews, it kind of hinted that there may or may not be time travel, and it wasn't really answered. So I was wondering if that's still the case, if you know any more about that.

Sam Raimi: Well, right now, the first season, it seems like it takes place in the here and now. And with Ash 30 years later -- what he's become and what he again has to face. But it's certainly an element of the Necronomicon that some of the passages not only call forth demons, but portals in time and space. Perhaps, by the end of this season -- because we haven't really discussed episodes nine and 10 too much -- or the second season, if the story took us there, we know it's part of the Evil Dead universe and always a possibility.

We've gotten some hints about what the story's about, but I'm wondering if it's going to be one big story?

Rob Tapert: You know, it is a serialized storytelling, since it's on premium cable, so there's an overarching plot. But each episode is still a self-contained story. The characters, themselves, are on a bigger journey, and therefore those who turn in every week will be rewarded, but the casual viewer can come in and out and kind of get what's going on. It's not as dense as other storytellings.

Sam Raimi: I really appreciate that Starz let us keep this half-hour idea. That's what makes it really cool to me is that we can really fire on all cylinders and really be outrageous and fast-paced and non-stop without a lot of secondary character exposition that sometimes you find in these hour shows. They have to pad them out. But Starz took this unusual approach of ours, embraced it, and they've been nothing but supportive.

Does this show kind of cancel out any hope for the fans of the Evil Dead remake that there might be a sequel to that?

I love the Evil Dead remake...and I hope there will be a sequel. We just chose to make Bruce's story right now.

Sam Raimi: I love the Evil Dead remake. I think [Fede Alvarez] did a brilliant job with Rob producing and, I mean, Bruce also helping. But I love that movie and I hope there will be a sequel. But we wanted to make -- after we had made his movie, as much as the fans loved it, they also seemed to want to see Bruce again in this series. So, we thought, this is our time. If we're ever going to do it, we have to satisfy that crowd. Now is a good time. And television seems like an interesting format to take it forward in. So we just chose to make Bruce's story right now. I hope we can get [Fede] back to continue the new Evil Dead series once we've re-established Bruce's story.

Can you talk about the new characters that are going to be populating in this world with Ash?

Rob Tapert: Ash, in this incarnation, has a team that forms around him. Pablo Simon Bolivar (Ray Santiago), is a young immigrant who wants to be part of the American fabric and forget his roots, and through his encounters with Ash and the Evil Dead, rediscovers what really is important to him. Another character in this is Dana DeLorenzo, who plays the character of Kelly. She is, I'm going to say, Pablo's love interest. She, at first, doesn't believe in Ash and wants nothing to do with him, but eventually becomes part of the team as they go about realizing that there is something greater at play in a series of Evil Dead-like attacks.

They are joined by Jill Marie Jones, who plays the part of Amanda Fisher, a Michigan State Police detective who sees something that she doesn't believe, and it causes her great problems in her profession. And she is on the trail to hunt down Ash because she believes that he is responsible for this series of bodies. Eventually, she teams up with Ruby, played by Lucy Lawless, who is -- she knows something about the Evil Dead and she also is on the hunt for Ash. And so kind of that is the core team over the first season. And there's many other side characters who come and go, but that's the core team for the first season.

[Chainsaw technology] has probably come a long way since you originally strapped on the chainsaw. Is there any new prop that you're working with?

Sam Raimi: Bruce has stored his rig these last 30 years just in case -- in case this TV show ever came up. And, you know, he's been living in fear of a resurgence of the Evil Dead, of the Deadites, and so that old, rusted hulk of his, that's the one thing he's kept oiled up and in tip-top shape just in case. So, I think we will see that sweet baby come back -- come roaring to life and slicing and dicing on the Deadites.

Bruce Campbell: And I think as far as the sound of the chainsaw goes, it's important that we don't use a digital sound, that we use an analog -- something that was recorded on reel-to-reel tape for that chainsaw, because it has to have a bite and an edge, and only analog can give you that. Digital's very clean and wonderful, but it doesn't have the gnarly sound. 

You're all busy with so many different projects, so is this the kind of show that if Bruce left the show, and if each of you kind of decided to step back a little bit in your duties, could you see this show continuing on and perhaps the torch being passed to someone else creatively and on camera?

I'm not going anywhere. This is a show I'm going to devote basically every ounce of my aging energy into. 

Bruce Campbell: I'm not going anywhere. This is a show I'm going to devote basically every ounce of my aging energy into. And you know, this is something that you don't take lightly. This was a long road to get here, starting back in 1979. So this isn't something that -- now creatively, if they decide that Ash is no longer needed, then I'll happily step aside. But this isn't a hobby for me.

Rob Tapert: And I'll second that. Bruce has made some -- without giving any spoilers -- supreme sacrifices in order to bring back the character of Ash, and we are very appreciative of those sacrifices that he's made. It would be a joyless process that the mantle would be passed to anybody else. And I just don't see that as a possible outcome in this.

Sam Raimi: I feel the same way. I think we're really doing this to work together again as a team. I mean, it's hard to say if one of us dropped out what would happen, but it's not what we're into it for. We really love the project and working together and watching Bruce on screen bring his magic to the screen, and we really like the Evil Dead stories and that's why we're here -- to stick with it and try and entertain the audience.

What else do you want to know about Ash Vs. Evil Dead on Starz? Let us know, and keep a watch for more coverage!