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Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies will forever stand as one of my favorite trilogies of all time. They’re endlessly re-watchable films that just have the perfect blend of horror and comedy, an amazing evolution from sequel to sequel that’s unlike any other franchise, and are, quite simply, pure entertainment. But as fun as they are to watch, apparently the opposite is true when it comes to making them.
This past Friday I had the pleasure of going to the world premiere of Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake at SXSW – an experience I loved - but the cherry on top came the next day when I had the chance to sit down with one-on-one with Ashley J. Williams himself, Bruce Campbell, to talk about the new movie, on which he served as a producer. Read on below for our full chat, in which he talks about not only the hellish experience of making Evil Dead movies, but what he saw in Jane Levy that made her right for the lead role, why he had confidence in taking part in the remake, and the future of the franchise.
I feel like I have to say it, but I’m a huge fan of yours and this franchise, and last night’s screening was a blast.
Yeah, it was fun. I think we all had a good time last night. It’s what we wanted. That was the reaction we had to have, especially here.
It was a perfect crowd also. They just got so into it.
You know, I’ve come to the Alamo Drafthouse multiple times. I know the savages that are here. And look, they’re film lovers and that’s always good, because the film makers in the audience will appreciate what Fede did as a film maker and the horror geeks will love what he did with the gore.
The gore, the merrier.
And that’s very, very true for this film. Take me back to the beginning of this project, because Evil Dead really is where it all started for you...
This was very fast. This was maybe a year and a half.
The first Evil Dead was four years.
Was there ever any hesitation on your part about taking it on, just because it was that fast to come together?
Rob and I got on board when Sam got on board, because we figured he would never do it. To remake his baby? So, we left it alone. We were never going to bring it up, because we thought he’d go, “Leave it alone. There’s only one Evil Dead and it’s mine.” But, he ran into Fede because of Fede being discovered and sort of cast his approval and we were like, Rob and I were like, “Sam’s behind it. Let’s go.”
Was that all you needed?
Yeah! Well, we’ve been partners a long time and we trust each other and three’s a good number. You can always...there’s no stalemates in voting. It’s always two against one. Some guys win, one of them is gonna lose. And we trust Sam’s instincts and if Sam relaxes about it, then half the battle is over. You don’t have to please him all the time. He picked the main guy. He hand picked him. So we can always look back to Sam and go, “Sam, what’s up with Fede?”
Did you ever have to...?
No, thankfully no, but it could have been, “Sam, who’d you bone us with? This boy genius you thought was going to bail us out? He fucked us over!” [laughs]
I watched him in the casting session, because I wanted to be involved. We were involved where we could, when we could, based on what our expertise is. Rob was there for the nuts and bolts producing, because he’s the king of New Zealand television and production, and he could put together a crew like that. Sam was watching the overall project, picking Fede. And then I wanted to be involved in casting and posts. I couldn’t be there for the shoot because of Burn Notice, my day job. So, I don’t know. It was just something we really... So, we jumped in where we could, but that’s what got me hooked on Fede was in casting sessions. An actor reads a take. Ok, so what do you do now? Did you like it? Did you like it enough? Do you want to do it again? So, it’s how he was dealing with the actors because lots of modern day filmmakers can come up with cool shots, but they don’t know what to say to an actor. They don’t know a single fucking thing to say. “Faster, louder,” and they walk away. They don’t know. They sit back by their monitor and hide. But how he’s heard a take, gave them notes, and how they would do the next take better, I’m like, “Done. I’m out of here.” I mean, I didn’t need to see any more, because I realized he would have an answer if they had a question. He had an approach and he’s trying to guide them to a specific direction in a way sophisticated way. He’s a very bright guy, very well spoken. He’s very articulate in his ideas, like he would talk Rob into stuff because Rob didn’t want to hear his long winded explanation anymore. He’s like, “Fede, ok. Ok. You got it. I’m giving in. Stop talking.”
I thought the cast in this was fantastic and I felt that they all gave great performances, but Jane Levy, I thought, was an absolute standout. I’m curious, when you first saw her in those casting sessions, what was it that let you and Fede think she was the one?
Her willingness to go there. She just seemed like she could bring it. And she came back in after the audition to apologize for how bad she sucked.
Yeah. She goes, “I just want you guys to know I thought that sucked. I’m sorry.” We’re like, “Now she’s in the movie.” I’ve got to remember that trick, to go back and go, “Jeez, you guys, I’m sorry...” And so they go back and go, “She wasn’t bad at all.”
She’s lowering the expectations for you!
And it was brilliant of her. We’re like, “No, she was actually pretty good.” And again, you never know in a room, any actor can keep their shit together for two minutes, but can they keep their cool and remain professional for weeks and months under duress. You never know that until you get there. We were very fortunate to have five very patient, professional actors. It’s great. There wasn’t a stick in the mud of any of these guys.
It wasn’t fun.
Make no mistake. Evil Dead movies are not fun at all.
Creatively they’re a blast and that allows you to survive the drudgery because working with Sam to me is like this, it can be very spiritual working with Sam. You realize this is why you became an actor...that relationship of a guy who knows what he’s doing and he’s getting shit out of you that you didn’t think you were going to have to bring that day. And you go home going, “This is why I became an actor,” even though it was a nightmare. So, this is all going to be the same.
Does that kind of add something to the casting sessions, like “These are the people who I’m going to torture for the next however many months”?
Well yeah, we see how much makeup they’ve had in the past. Can they handle it? I have a great picture of Jane. It was her first, she was going in the soup for the first time and she was getting her first mold and they sent a picture of her and she had a tube top on covering her, her shoulders were bare and a bald cap thing and they were pouring the alginate over her head for the first one and her look was this. She was going... [ squints and pulls mouth to the side] It was very dubious, so the three of us, me, Sam, and Rob [Tappert], we passed that photo around and said, “She’s in the soup. She’s in the soup. It has begun,” and so thankfully, we pushed every actor to the edge and there’s no question about it. But we warned them!
I do have to ask about the future, because Sam Raimi was quoted recently saying that there was a potential for Evil Dead 4. Fede...
[starts flapping hand like a mouth]
Where’s the script? Show me the script, Sam!
He said he’s working on it this summer!
Okay, Oz. Let’s see it, Oz the great and powerful [laughs].
If it does come together would be up for coming back as Ash?
Your question is hypothetical! I can’t answer because I don’t have the script. There’s nothing to react to.
Well, with your connection to both projects, how could both film’s co-exist?
They co-exist beautifully! Sam instructed us, “Don’t screw up my ability to make another movie with Ash.” So there’s no Ash character, there’s no Bruce, there’s no cameo.
For more of our SXSW 2013 coverage, click HERE.