Already a handful of episodes into the filming of Season 2, Ash vs. Evil Dead executive producer Craig DiGregorio made an appearance at WonderCon as part of a showrunner panel, but then sat down with Collider to chat about where things are going next on the Starz horror-comedy series. After riding off to Jacksonville with Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), Ash (Bruce Campbell) is enjoying retirement from killing Deadites while Ruby (Lucy Lawless) has to contend with her plan not quite going according to her expectations.
During the exclusive interview, Craig DiGregorio talked about how Season 1 has affected their approach to Season 2, wanting 2% character growth for Ash, the plan for the new season, the addition of new characters, getting into Ash’s past before he read the book, using even more blood this season, Pablo and Kelly’s journey, Ruby’s motivations, what it’s like to be a showrunner, and Sam Raimi’s continued influence on the story. Be aware that there are spoilers.
Collider: What did you learn with Season 1 that are affecting how you approach Season 2?
CRAIG DiGREGORIO: We started in mid-February of last year, and we were wrapped and edited by July. It was fast. I think we learned that we could earn a little extra time, which would be great. So, we got a little bit extra time with pre-production, which is very helpful, especially with a show that is so intensive with practical effects. It gives you that lead time. They need to know what they’re building and they need to know what stunts we’re doing. That was one of the things we learned. As you go through the first season of a show, you learn the actor’s strengths. You start the process writing how you think people will talk, and you end the process with their mannerisms and their voice influencing how you write for them. That’s true for all of the characters. It’s also a lot easier because people now know the tone of the show.
One of the unique challenges, because it wasn’t a show that had an actual filmed pilot before we got picked up to series, was explaining and trying to show everyone what the exact tone of this show would be without them being able to see it yet. It is a very strange tone for a show. It’s not a straight horror show, at all. It’s not a straight comedy, at all. It’s no one of those things. So for us, more than a lot of shows, seeing the show really helped us produce more of that type of show. Because the movies are so wildly different, people have certain bits that they think the show should be, and we just tried to pick the best parts of what everyone love about all these movies and put them into a show.
You left things in a very interesting place, with Ash, Pablo and Kelly driving off to Jacksonville. Did it feel like Season 2 was wide open, as far as where you could go next, or did you already have a structure in place?
DiGREGORIO: We did have a structure that we wanted for Season 2. I guess the most interesting thing about the Jacksonville deal, to me, was that it showed how far this guy would go, not just for himself, but for other people. That was the 2% character growth that I wanted for him, in the season. We definitely had a thing we wanted to do, with regard to Ruby, where Ash taking that deal needed to happen, so that we could manipulate the story in such a way that we could further the storyline we wanted to do.
What can you say about the plan for Season 2?
DiGREGORIO: To me, Season 1 was two things – learning what had happened with this character that you hadn’t seen for 30 years, from the time between the cabin and the present day, and also realizing that he is not too isolated to make a relationship with Pablo and Kelly. So, Season 1 was about learning about him in the interim 30 years. Season 2 focuses on Ash going home and going back to his hometown. In that respect, you’re learning about another side, which you haven’t seen. In this season, I think you’re going to learn more about what his life was like before he went to the cabin. What was his life like? Who were the people that he hung out with in high school? Maybe we’ll see members of his family. Lee Majors is playing his dad on the show. I’ve seen dailies of Lee, and he’s so good. He’s the type of person where we wrote the part with a specific voice in mind, and he came in and just nailed it and did better. So, our plan for Season 2 is finding out more about Ash and his distinct past, before he read the book. Who was he and what was he really running away from? The Delta will also be a big character, this season.
There are certain big fan questions that I get asked, that I think we will have at least looked into doing. I won’t say that we are or aren’t doing something, but there are a lot of questions I get, and if you were to list out the five biggest questions, there are a couple that we definitely have looked into a lot. It feels like, for the first season, although we definitely imprinted a lot on what those 30 years were, when you picked Ash up at the beginning of the pilot, you could see what he was. There was only so much we could do to expand out who he was. But for this season, in particular, we’re really defining what this guy was. Sam [Raimi] and I and Bruce [Campbell] are really defining who this guy was and we’re building out the mythology of his life. To take one of your favorite childhood heroes, in quotes and with a question mark, and really flesh him out a bunch and see who he was is really cool.
How much further have you thought beyond Season 2?
DiGREGORIO: You always have to think ahead. I don’t ever think, how many seasons could this go? But I definitely think of what we’re doing now and how that manipulates what we would do, in the future.
When you use so much blood in your first season, how do you top that in your second season?
DiGREGORIO: You just use more. That’s the only way you can top it. It’s crazy, and the gore is way over the top. To me, it’s fun. Whenever we do the over the top gore, my intent is not to be gruesome. I don’t want this to be torture porny type stuff. That just isn’t that interesting to me. It’s always about finding the scary thing, and then turn it on its head a little bit.
What’s it like to bring Ted Raimi on this season, too?
DiGREGORIO: It just felt like doing something natural. He’s always been in the universe, and we had a great part for him. He and Bruce are very good friends in real life, and they’re also great on screen together, so to bring him in for the part we had for him just felt natural.
Where are Pablo and Kelly going in Season 2? Now that they’re more aware of what’s happening, will that change the dynamic between them and Ash?
DiGREGORIO: The problem with any horror show or horror movie is that once your leads know what’s going on, you’re never going to get that genuine scared reaction anymore because they’ve been there and done that, and whatever the monster is, they can kill it. I’m speaking in general terms. So, that’s why you need to keep bringing in fresh people that can see it for the first time, to keep that general scariness going. As far as for where Kelly and Pablo go, they both have an interesting season. Kelly is learning, more and more, just how dumb Ash’s ideas are and wonders, is following this guy what she really should be doing? And Pablo has got a real rough season ahead of him. He’s going to go through some more things. It’s always fun to have a character who plays that so well, and he’s always so game for it, too. He’s so kind-hearted that you almost have to keep piling it on because it’s so much better and scarier and funnier when you do it to the character that just should not have it happen to them and doesn’t deserve it, but just keeps on getting it.
We spent a whole season not knowing much about Ruby, and then we learned that she’s The Dark One. Now that we know what her deal is, does that change what you can do with the character?
DiGREGORIO: It opens it up a bunch more. What she’s trying to do, even though she’s been trying to do it for a very long time, is a bit naive, which is interesting for a character that seems to have her shit together. And what she’s trying to do could very easily backfire on her. Evil doesn’t seem like something you should control, but she was being genuine about it. She wasn’t just saying that, so that she could let it run willy-nilly. She actually was trying to be like The Godfather in what she did. That was the interesting part to me. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but usually you get the bad guy that wants to create hell on earth, especially if it’s a demon. That’s a very easy way to go with things and I think that’s a very handy tool to have, when you want a shorthand to who a bad guy is. It’s a testament to how much we care about that character that we wanted her motivations to be a bit different. And it also allows us to take our story in the direction that we wanted to take it for Season 2.
As the showrunner of a TV series, you’re responsible for everyone and everything, and you’re ultimately the one who gets the credit or the blame for the finished product. What do you most enjoy about having that much responsibility, and what do you most dread about having that much responsibility?
DiGREGORIO: I guess I let it fall off me, either way. I’m probably more easygoing than I should be about either side of it, but at a certain point, it’s out of your hands. Yes, I have a lot to do with how this show turns out, but once it’s out there, I just can’t worry. I hope that my barometer for what people want to see, how I want to tell these stories, and how I want it to be funny and scary meshes well with what people really want to see, and it seemed to in the first season. At a certain point, if you worry about that after you let the product go, it just will be all-consuming. I don’t go online and see if people like or hate. I don’t read a lot of comments about it. I want to know that people like it or dislike it, and for what reasons. Sometimes criticism is very valid. When there are just so many voices, I think you need to take a step back and see how it plays for you. Certainly, I always have the fans in mind when making the show, and I think that’s important. Even if I don’t succeed in making the show that they love, at least I did it for the right reasons. I went in knowing that I was going to try to make the fans the best possible show I could, but at the end of the day, whether or not they love it or they love the tone that we’ve done, I can’t control that, so I don’t go insane trying to make people love it. They’re going to love it, if they love it, and they won’t, if they don’t.
What do you remember about your first day on set, as a showrunner?
DiGREGORIO: I’ve been around a lot of shows and have a lot of time to spend on sets, in rooms at table reads, and editing, but to speak to the first time on set, on this show, it was interesting because my first visit to the set was on my first day of shooting, and Sam was directing the episode. It felt like getting dropped into an old friendship, which was great. It felt really nice, in that respect. And Sam has been nothing but helpful and supportive with the ideas that we want to do. He’s been wonderful, from that first day on. He will definitely voice his opinion, if he thinks things are going in a different direction, but he also really trusts us. Because we did the first season with him around, he understands that I definitely have a voice that can tell this story in such a way that he seems to like. I’m not going to say I have the voice of the show, but I definitely have some type of voice that can further these stories along and write for these characters.
Did he voice his opinion much?
DiGREGORIO: He definitely voiced his opinion. If he thought there was something steering off, I don’t think I’d be here right now. Not that I would have been fired, but I would have had a lot more work to do, at this very minute, if that was happening. He’s been great, from pitching him the bigger idea of the season, and he’s always around and will surprise you with something he says. He’s been very helpful, and he’s just a wonderful guy to be around.
Ash vs. Evil Dead will return to Starz for Season 2 in September.