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Bruce Campbell on hating his old 'Evil Dead' performances

As the new "Ash vs. Evil Dead" sets to make its premiere on Starz, star Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi talk about why it had to be a show on premium cable and all the voicework Campbell did on "Darkman."

For years, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi shot down the idea of a fourth “Evil Dead.” The low budget, super gory and increasingly silly horror series was how they made their name; 1981’s “The Evil Dead” was made on the fly as a guerilla no-budget affair. They’ve both moved on to bigger and sometimes even better: Campbell to shows like “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” and “Burn Notice”; Raimi to the “Spider-Man” films and dramas like “A Simple Plan.” But they eventually changed their minds. “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” which catches back up with Campbell’s one-handed demon-killer Ash, bows Halloween night at 9 p.m. on Starz, telling another tale of undead-fighting over 10 episodes. Raimi, who directed the first episode, and Campbell sat down with Metro.

Admittedly, I didn’t see the original two “Evil Dead” films when I was two and seven, but I did watch “Darkman” a lot when I was 11.

Bruce Campbell: “Darkman” was probably good for an 11 year old.

Sam Raimi: Bruce is in that one too. He’s in all of them.

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Campbell: Well, we can hear me in that one.

Raimi: You’re at the end!

Campbell: I mostly screamed a lot. I was every criminal who fell to his death. That was my scream. [Loudly does the scream he would do] Guy out of a helicopter, guy out of a building — that was a tough one because that was a long fall. I even got a line of Liam Neeson’s in there: “Julie!!!” We used to imitate him all the time. I did Liam’s looping for foreign television, because we had to remove him saying “god.” “Oh my god” became “Oh please no.”

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You spent a long time shooting down the idea of returning to “Evil Dead,” then recanted. What convinced you two to return?

Campbell: It was the idea of doing the character after you’ve had 25 years of experience. That’s a lot for me. I can fix Ash now. I can make him act better. Ash is a much better actor now.

You don’t look back on your early “Evil Dead” performances fondly?

Campbell: I can watch about half of “The Evil Dead” and then on. I can’t really watch the first half of “The Evil Dead.” It’s only after the misery’s really set in that you can really see on my face that I wasn’t acting anymore. Then it’s fine. Then it worked. Whenever I had to pretend, it wasn’t working.

So you can basically watch your acting evolution over the course of the movies you were in.

Campbell: No question about it. Part of doing this is I wanted to erase everyrone’s image of me. [Does a whiny voice] “Oh, you’re so well known as Ash, that’s what you’re known for.” Right — I’m 21, I don’t know how to act, that’s what I’m known for. Great. Now it’s like flooding the Internet with better images of yourself. That’s what I do — I try to get rid of the old images that people have of you at early book signings when you never dressed up, you look like a shlub, your hair’s standing straight up. I pass out really pretty images now. So I will flood the Internet with better performances of Ash and they’ll forget about the early stuff.

Raimi: Delusion.

Campbell: I gotta tell myself something. George Lucas can do it as a filmmaker, I can do it as an actor.

At one point there was talk of making the fourth “Evil Dead” installment as a movie, but it’s interesting that it wound up as a show on a premium cable channel like Starz.

Campbell: We have a good partner in Starz, because could you imagine this on cable? It would suck. The chainsaw would start to go into the demon’s neck, then you’d cut to a commercial. And you’d have to cut away for commercials, which messes with your dramatic structure. Nobody realizes why there are cliffhangers on a TV show. You have to have these cutaways for commercials, and you have to do it four times, otherwise the ad guys get pissed off. You have to write these bogus structural things because of ads. Now these guys are writing a 30-page piece. It’s not 22 pages to allow for commercials. It’s a solid 30 minutes with none of that bulls— for commercials. You can tell a straight narrative now.

Raimi: That’s why we’ve had this good response from audiences, because it’s just built as a piece of drama for them to watch. We didn’t have to make those fake builds, fake comebacks.

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Along similar lines, it’s hard to imagine this as a movie that plays in theater. You’d have to make all these concessions to get an R.

Campbell: It’s true. The weird thing is that only scenario that we could do this is with Starz. If we were making a movie we would probably have to get an R. If we decided to say “screw the R, let’s go unrated,” then you lose advertisers.

Raimi: In fact that’s where we were. My brother and I had written two half screenplays, basically. And it would have to be unrated. We never budgeted it, but we probably needed $28 million, or more. We thought, well, the movies have never been that successful when they opened, as far as box office. They’ve never been warmly received by critics. I wasn’t sure we could get this money for an unrated movie.

Campbell: R-rated is bad enough, but making an expensive R, like “Tropic Thunder,” that’s ballsy. That thing could have tanked. They were lucky they made as much money as they did, because it was expensive.

Speaking of the way the films have been received, it seems the tide has completely turned. When you read old reviews of people citing the “Evil Dead” films as sickening trash, it just seems odd. They’re critical darlings now, if anything.

Campbell: “Army of Darkness” is on American Movie Classics now. It bombed.

Raimi: And Universal wouldn’t release it for six months, then they recut it against my will. No one really liked it when it came out. So they really did age well. Plus, it works!

Campbell: I think we may get a little help from nostalgia. They may be seeing it through rose-colored glasses when they watch it. [Does a whiny voice] “This makes me feel like I’m in high school again!”

Raimi: That’s him imitating you guys.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
 
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