Bruce Campbell is one of those actors who has been doing comic cons since before they were cool. It’s been 35 years since the bearer of geekdom’s most famous chin first slashed his way to prominence as Ash Williams, the hero of The Evil Dead. By the end of that decade, he’d become a staple at nerd gatherings across the country — and at age 58, he’s still hustling. Last year, he donned Ash’s chainsaw hand once again for the Starz series Ash vs Evil Dead, the second season of which just kicked off.
We sat down with Campbell in a skybox at New York Comic Con where, as usual, he was impeccably dressed in a pinstripe suit, a bow tie, and an array of chunky finger rings. In his resonant bass, he talked about the frustrations of modern self-promotion, making his peace with the fact that he’ll always be known as Ash, and what the character means in the age of Donald Trump.
That’s a very nice bow tie you have on. Any particular reason for wearing it today?
Life is not a rehearsal, my friend. Plus, it's Comic Con. It's New York. New York, you've got to step it up a little bit.
How many comic conventions do you think you've gone to over the decades?
I don't know, but I started this in about '88. I've been to a bunch of them, but it's been fun to watch it grow exponentially and to see what actors show up now. You couldn't get Charlize Theron within a hundred miles of a comic con ten years ago. Now, I'm laughing my ass seeing [stars like] Adrian Brody. Hollywood has finally gotten with the program.
Do you miss those old days, before conventions like this blew up?
To a degree. The business is bigger and better, so if you're in it for the cash, it's a good time to be in it, but it loses a little bit of the personal touch. I'll only meet 50 fans today, and that's at a signing. It's completely insulated and planned, and when the stack of posters are out, see ya. You know what I mean? You go here because of the press. You don't come here to press the flesh; you’re not kissing hands and shaking babies. You're here because you can do a round table with ten tables full of ten media outlets at each table. By the time you walk out of that room, you've done 100 interviews. That's the whole point of it. As far as fan interaction, there's other conventions that are way better. You got your own table, you kibitz with them, you ask them where they're from. You get to know them a little better. These are just so commercial. You go on the floor and it's elbow to elbow.
Oh God, the convention floor is terrible here. It takes you an hour to move 20 feet.
It's not what I call the most fun to have fans going, "Hey, dude, can I look at your cool rings?” I pity the small vendor, but maybe people do well on volume.
I was talking to your publicist and —
I have a publicist?
Well, the show’s publicist. I proposed doing a walk-and-talk on the convention floor and she said it would be a safety hazard because too many people would flock around you.
Well, it's not like it would be dangerous. It would just get awkward, because then everyone wants a selfie and says, “Say hi to my mom!”
Do you ever walk the floor?
I can't do New York, I can't do Philly, and I can’t do San Diego. But any other con, if something gets slow, I'll take a stroll around and shake some hands and see what the vendors got. See what dumb stuff they got. I got a Spider-Man ring the other day. It's pretty cool.
What's different about Ash in this season of Ash vs Evil Dead, if anything? Has he grown as a person?
He'll grow. He always grows incrementally. He's sort of got his own glacial pace of progress. You do have to address that, and you can't always just be the one-liner guy. You have to lead your team, you have to solve problems, you have to overcome great odds, so he has to build a little character. And what people forget is, there's an image of Ash in an ancient book. He's not just a guy in a trailer park, smoking angel dust and releasing long-dormant demons. He is foretold. That's what we get into now, what has been foretold, and what is his place within that history. We can get a little Joseph Campbell now.
Yeah, let’s do it.
Well, you get a journey, it's the hero's journey. We can work a little Star Wars myth in there.
Ain't going to hurt nobody.
What’s your friendship like with Lucy Lawless? What do you talk about when the cameras stop rolling?
She's a very classy woman, and she's sort of the queen of New Zealand. She will never do anything to piss anyone off, ever. She's too diplomatic. I'm that guy. You know, [Xena: Warrior Princess creator] Rob Tapert gave me an assignment when he was casting her for Xena: [He told her], "I want you to talk to my buddy, Bruce Campbell; he just starred in a show. He's going to teach you how to be a good TV actor.” We had a very funny afternoon that we spent teaching her how to do this, how to pace herself. I was just full of all kinds of information. Now she's the one who keeps me calm. She settles me down, she makes me laugh, and reminds me that this is all voluntary — we want to be doing this. She's great at that. She has never had a bad day, and if she did, you'd never know it.
And how about your relationships with the younger leads on the show, Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo? Are you a mentor figure for them?
We are. Me and Lucy. We've been around, we've each done multiple shows, had successes and failures, and we do set something of an example. I'm trying to get them to follow the PR example.
What does that mean?
Well, promote the shit out of your show! How are you going to keep it on the air otherwise? Some actors, ignorantly, refuse to do PR. I'm like, “So it's supposed to be successful through osmosis? Is that what's happening here?” Some of them are uncomfortable. They don't like the press. They don't like the pushing and the shoving, they don't like to be on camera all day long. You know, it can get old.
How have you seen self-promotion change since you got into the business?
Well, Twitter. Twitter, Facebook, where do you stop? Instagram.
Do you find that kind of thing irritating?
It's partially irritating, but I look at it as, It's my network. You have X amount of subscribers to your network. You control the tone and the pace. If you're promoting something, that's fine. I use it mostly just to promote. I don't do a lot of personal stuff. I don't do politics, I don't do religion. I'll do when I'm going for a hike or lollygagging photographs of people shooting their photograph in front of a beautiful vista or whatever. That and Evil Dead. It's a strange dichotomy. I should probably have a business Twitter and a personal Twitter.
I guess you could, but in the social-promotion era, personal stuff is business.
I know, I know. It gets a little weird. It's mostly good. It can get bad. If you get some assholes out there, it's a format for them to have a voice as well. Thank God for muting. You just mute them. They don't even know that they've been muted. If I see some nasty shit, it's gone.
Ash is brash, sexually aggressive, and a little ignorant, which aren’t traits we look for in men, these days.
Ash is this real paragon of a certain kind of masculinity, and in 2016, masculinity is something that is kind of in flux, and people might feel weird about a guy like Ash talking the way he does.
But how do you think he fits into the Zeitgeist of 2016?
I think it's spectacular.
Well, look, he's not politically correct at all, and I think that's very refreshing. I think people find him refreshing. How do you think Trump got so far?
If that’s the case, then how is Ash different from Trump?
Ash has a conscience. Ash has a greater sense of purpose. I'm not sure what Trump’s greater sense of purpose is.
And Ash can be convinced to do things differently, even though he’s a little obstinate.
He can be talked into stuff. Now we're just starting to dance near politics, and we shouldn't even do that.
You brought it up!
I know. Politics is the only thing that is more horrifying than a horror movie. It should be unrated.
Did you have a period when you were sick of Ash and wanted to stop being associated with him?
Who doesn't? Didn't [Leonard] Nimoy put out a book, I Am Not Spock? Then later, he put out another one, I Am Spock. You gotta go there. What I learned is, don't fight City Hall. Give people what they want. You want it? Great. You got it.
You definitely embrace it now.
Yeah, I'm fine with it. People like it so much. Why wouldn't I want to do something they seem to dig?
What else do you have in the hopper right now?
Jack shit. This is it. This is all. I can't take on any more. I've turned shit down. There's a bunch of stuff happening, but there's nothing worth talking about. This is my number-one thing, and this will be until it's off the air. I have no other priority.
There was a Hollywood Reporter story the other week about how performers from geek-oriented TV and movies make a lot of money doing fan conventions. Is that true for you?
Not that much. I'll do six events a year. That, to me, seems like a lot. [William] Shatner does ... how many days are in a year?
Have you interacted much with Shatner?
Oh, yeah. I see him in the green room all the time. I know his standard procedure: Kiss his ring, talk to him, and then leave him alone.
Ash vs Evil Dead started 34 years after the original Evil Dead. Do you see a younger generation of fans for whom this was their entryway to Ash and the franchise?
Yeah, they're starting, and we're thankful for that. We've given Starz some of a younger audience than they've had before. I thank the fathers and mothers who go, "Come on, I watched this when I was a kid." It's good. That's what we have to do. The original fans are off our demographic now. They're old.
Do you see young kids coming to signings and think, “Uhhh, you’re too young to be watching this”?
All the time. One kid came up, I was at a book signing, he threw my book down, he goes [gruff voice], "Sign my book." I go, "All right, all right. How you doing pal?" "I'm all right." I go, "What's your name?" He goes, "Ash." [Grimaces.] I said, "You're name isn't Ash." He goes, "Yeah it is, my parents named me after your stupid movie." He was having a cathartic experience. He had to meet the guy that he was named after and he wasn't really happy about it. I'm like, "You have a good one, [makes air quotes] ‘Ash.’"