Ray Santiago talks ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’

by W. Andrew Powell
Ash vs Evil Dead

Ash vs Evil Dead is almost exactly what fans might expect from an Evil Dead TV show. The Necronomicon Ex Mortis is causing trouble again, and it’s up to Ash to save the day 30 years after he last took on the Deadites and those Kandarian Demons with his boomstick and chainsaw. Of course, this time it’s Ash who actually started the whole problem, but once the demon is out of the netherworld, what are you going to do?

Luckily for Ash, who is played once again by fan favorite Bruce Campbell, he has some friends who are going to help him out.

Our hero is still working as a stock boy in a dead-end job, which is where he meets his would-be side-kicks; Pablo Simon Bolivar, played by Ray Santiago, and Kelly Maxwell, played by Dana DeLorenzo.

This week I chatted with Santiago ahead of the show’s premiere, and found out what it was like working with Campbell, director and creator Sam Raimi, and the whole world of the Evil Dead. Plus, we talk about the series’ incredible premiere, and what fans can expect from the horror-action-comedy hybrid on television.

Ash vs Evil Dead premieres tonight on Super Channel in Canada and Starz in the U.S., starting at 10:00 PM (ET).

Andrew Powell: You know, I have to say right off, and I don’t say this very often, but wow. I’ve only seen the first episode. I haven’t seen the second one yet, but wow. I really am impressed.

Ray Santiago: “Oh, dude. That makes me so happy. Everyone seems to be really happy with the first episode and I think that they will all sort of follow along and we will exceed people’s expectations.”

“I am a little nervous. It’s a difficult thing to step into, and everybody’s talking about Sam [Raimi] not directing the other [episodes] and how that’s going to play out. He did a really good job at grooming us and sort of building a basis for all of us to sort of stand strong. We were sort of led by Bruce who is a great leader throughout the entire series. We had Rob Tapert, as well, with us the entire time executive producing. We’ve got the hand of the Evil Dead gods helping us out, so to speak.”

Andrew: I’ll start there. What’s it like working with Sam Raimi to set all this up? What was that experience like?

Ray Santiago: “I mean, it was kind of an actor’s dream come true. He is the nicest man. He is super humble and open to what your ideas are and what your thoughts are. I think he’s really sweet, so he makes you feel like you’re a part of everything, but somehow he kind of gets what he wants, but in a way where you feel like you’re participating as well. You just trust him and you surrender to that, and you feel like you’re in good hands and when you feel like you’re in good hands and you feel like someone’s allowing you to speak and listening to you, you can really sort of flow and vibe and really be creative.”

“He created a safe environment for us. If something didn’t work we would talk about it. I remember sort of rewriting a scene by hand in his office with Dana DeLorenzo, one of the other actresses on the show.”

“Being sort of isolated, working in New Zealand and having a sort of similar relationship with the cast members on the show, it’s really just sort of road show where the characters come together and they go on this journey. We kind of did that going to New Zealand. It was really quite nice getting out of Los Angeles and being able to go and work in a different country.”

Andrew: That’s cool. There are so many questions I have and each leads into the other, but I guess the first big one otherwise is just tell me a little bit about Pablo because I think to introduce him obviously there’s no one better to do that than you.

Ray Santiago: “Pablo is an idealistic guy who ended up working at the Value Stop with Ash. He’s from Honduras and ended up working there. He is Ash’s sort of main homey. Ash never really judges him and he doesn’t really judge Ash. Through sort of idolizing Ash, Pablo learns what kind of man he wants to be. He’s been trying to escape his cultural background. As a kid he was told that there was evil lurking in the world, as most Latino families tell little kids to kind of freak them out into doing the right thing. He didn’t really buy it. He thought it was a joke, but it turns out his relatives were telling him the truth and that there is evil in the world. He comes into contact with it, and once he does he turns to Ash to save him and the rest of the world. He really believes that Ash is the man to save the world from the evil force.”

“I think our show in general is really about a group of people who are trying to escape who they are meant to be. They are running from themselves and they are running from their inner demons and the demons that they come into contact with along the way. Once they confront both of these demons they kind of become this ultimate monster fighting squad that has a better chance at saving the world than just being random dysfunctional people. They sort of come together and form this amazing unit.”

Andrew: I love the fact that Pablo is capable. So often with shows like this they come together and they bumble their way through things, but before you even know where they’re headed, you can tell they’re all capable.

Ray Santiago: “I think one of the things that was important for us was, a lot of people have asked, ‘How was it stepping in, the franchise being as legendary as it is? Are you scared that people aren’t going to…’ I honestly am not scared, because I think what they did–Sam and the rest of the team–chose people like Jill Marie Jones and Dana Delorenzo who sort of had specific qualities that they innately exuded that would contribute to the team that would be the future of Evil Dead.”

“I think Pablo is the heart of the team, Kelly is the brains, and Ash is the muscle. And you’ve got the other two characters chasing after us trying to figure out what’s going on. [Pablo] is the heart and the eyes of the audience, so you really feel for him because you’re seeing a lot of things through his eyes and he’s Ash’s biggest cheerleader. He really thinks that Ash is meant to be this hero, and I think what’s great is that we’ve made Pablo a smart guy who doesn’t have an accent even though he’s not from this country, and he is really smart and he can bring this idealistic mentality to the table. He wants to live the American dream and wear varsity jackets and have a girlfriend and do the whole thing, but he’s got to get out of that and realize that it’s not as easy as it seems.”

“Somehow when the three of them come together things just sort of unfold. We really dive into everyone’s past on the show. You’ll see throughout the season. I think it’s going to be great. I told Sam Raimi in my last audition that I wanted to be covered in blood, running through the wilderness of New Zealand, and completely naked. I would say that we definitely come very close to checking all the boxes that I would do, if not more. I’ve got a hashtag which is #pablohasseensomeshit, and basically I’m going to put up all the photos of the things that he has seen throughout this season because the guy has been through a lot.”

“There’s a scene coming up maybe towards the end of the season that is very reminiscent of the I Love Lucy chocolate candy conveyor belt scene, but it’s not with chocolate candy.”

Andrew: Deadites, I’m guessing?

Ray Santiago: “They just sort of kept writing things where it was like pushing that element. As a kid I wanted to be the person running from the monster. I was a huge horror fan. I wanted to be the person running from the monster and I wanted to be the person saving people from the monster. I get to do that now as an adult. I get to go to work and do that. I also feel like it’s the first Latino sidekick that we have on television to somewhat be a superhero if you want to call Ash a superhero or sort of just a regular guy who’s trying to save the world.”

“We haven’t really seen a Latino sidekick on TV. After more than a decade of playing gangbangers and drug dealers on television, it’s really nice to have something that’s light and funny and that the character is smart and we can build off of there and you get to see a character be a hero instead of the other ways that we’ve seen Latinos portrayed on television.”

“I think our show is great because it’s not really trying to compete with anything else because it’s different. It’s a throwback to old-school comedic horror, cult classic style. Sam sort of originated the genre, and we’re taking that and we’re bringing it to television in a half-hour, single-camera sitcom format. Instead of going to see Evil Dead 4 or 5 or whatever you want to call it, in the movie theater, you get to see ten half-hour versions of that. You get to see ten half-hour movies. They pack it in. They definitely pack in the punches. There will be blood and heads will roll.”

Andrew: Going back to your earlier point, something that I really love too, that I agree with is that all the stereotypes that we’re used to are thrown out the door and I even like the idea–I don’t even know that I’d call Pablo a sidekick because it feels a lot more like you guys are a team. It’s like seeing things through new eyes almost, especially for horror. How did that feel when you were actually doing it? Did you know what you were doing there early on?

Ray Santiago: “Did we know that we were…”

Andrew: Like, thumbing your nose at traditional horror stereotypes.

Ray Santiago: “Yeah. Absolutely we definitely felt like we wanted to make sure we had sort of an homage to the Evil Dead franchise, so I think it has a sense of nostalgia in it’s practical stunts and the way that we shot it and stuff like that. You definitely feel like you’re watching one of the original movies, but we did sort of bring a modern edge with the New Kids on the Block and we wanted to make sure that we’re going to get the fans for Ash.”

“We know that we have to keep them happy, so we wanted to have strong characters. We wanted to have strong characters that sort of defy the formula and I think what will be interesting moving forward is you’ll start to see the Evil Dead not just affecting Ash and not just through his eyes, so we built a platform for you to see it through this bad ass young hot girl who’s just angry at what’s happened to her and through this young, naïve, idealistic easy-going, always sort of looking for the deeper meaning under the surface guy who sees beyond people’s faults and sees the inner hero in everybody, and sort of how the Evil Dead will shape who they become and ruin them or make them step up to the plate and become better people.”

Andrew: So, really, what’s it like working with Bruce Campbell? I was lucky enough to spend half an hour interviewing him years ago and that is still one of my favorite interviews pretty much ever, but what’s it like actually working with him?

Ray Santiago: “He’s great. He is very specific, and he likes to run things a specific way. It explains why he’s had such longevity in his career and he’s been able to jump from show to show and do what he does. It’s because he knows what he’s doing and he’s really good at it, and he’s precise. I’ve learned a lot from him, and I think our relationship parallels on and off camera as Ash and Pablo and as Bruce and Ray. Pablo brings somewhat of a sense of humility to Ash that he sort of lacks and Ash gives Pablo a little bit of a lesson in self value and self worth and how he is sort of worth something.”

“For me and Bruce, I just felt like it was a similar relationship where I was learning from a pro. I’ve been doing this for a very long time, but from being in that delta for many hours and hearing all of his stories and from him coming up to me and saying, ‘You might just want to do these short alternate. It will be easier for you.’ Simple as that. Don’t complicate your lines. Don’t make it difficult. If you’re feeling it, do it, but if it’s too complicated just take the shorter line. Do that. I was like, ‘Great. Thanks.'”

“You just learn to listen. I think it’s important on this kind of show because you have Bruce and his amazing one-liners, and a lot of people were like, ‘How did you know when to deal with that? Did you have one-liners?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. I’ve got one-liners,’ but I think if you’ve seen the show, I’ve got three mustaches on my face, big eyebrows and a mustache. I just sort of listened and my face was my one-liners. The thing throughout the show, that’s what I bring to the table.”

“I think everybody knew what they were bringing to the table before they got there. They just had to believe in it and trust it. I think that is also what the show is and what we needed to see Ash do, and I think he sort of does that on the show. He is very resistant for sure. You will definitely see that. That aside, I feel like Bruce is kind of like my uncle who took us under his chainsaw wing and just taught us how to do it. He’s mentored many people before. He mentored Lucy Lawless before she was on Xena. They’ve had a very extensive history working together. She talks about how he did the same thing with her.”

Andrew: I can’t wait to see more of Lucy Lawless, I’ve got to tell you.

Ray Santiago: “Oh yes. She and I have some stuff that’s going to freak you out.”

Andrew: Amazing.

Ray Santiago: “Towards the end of the season Pablo definitely goes through something that no man should have to go through. It’s really disgusting. Lucy is definitely a bad ass on the show as well. I’m happy to have such another pro to look after us and mentor us in a way.”

“I’m really looking forward to the future of the show and where we go from there, because it seems like, as Bruce said at Comic-Con, ‘We’re prepared to make as many seasons of Ash vs Evil Dead as the fans want.'”

Andrew: I cannot wait. Based on the first episode alone I can’t wait for season 2. Thank you very much and I hope to talk to you again for season 2.

Ray Santiago: “Any time, man. Thank you for taking time out of your day to chat with me.”

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