Dispelling belief is part and parcel for fans of “Ash vs Evil Dead,” the small screen continuation of everyone’s favorite time traveling, Deadite killing, chainsaw wielding anti-hero, Ash Williams. An appetizing stew of genres, the main ingredients being horror and comedy, the Starz series (kicking off Season 3 this Sunday!) often requires a bib to consume because while delicious, it can and does get very messy.
In order to buy into the weird and wild plot points and chuckle along with the awkwardly-timed one-liners, there needs to be an element that grounds the show in reality and serves as a surrogate sherpa, guiding the audience inside. That’s where Ash’s endearing sidekick Pablo comes in. Played brilliantly by Ray Santiago, the Bronx native brings an irresistible naiveté to the part, winning over the fandom with a huggable humor that no one saw coming when the show first premiered three years ago.
We recently sat down with Santiago to discuss the diversification of the franchise, why having fun means you’re doing something right, and how his expressive face can work for and against him.
TrunkSpace: How are you doing?
Santiago: Oh, you know, just living the “Evil Dead” dream.
TrunkSpace: There are a lot of people who have been fantasizing about living that dream for decades. You’re in the minority of people who have actually achieved it!
Santiago: I know. I’m very honored to actually be part of that and, you know, it’s interesting that you say minority because in a lot of ways I feel like what we’re doing on “Ash vs Evil Dead” is diversifying the franchise and it’s been really awesome to be able to do that.
TrunkSpace: And to be able to do it in a way where, at least from what we can tell, there are no restrictions… that’s got to be very exciting?
Santiago: It’s funny that you noticed that. Yeah. We really get to do a lot of what we want and I think it comes from having Bruce (Campbell) on board as an executive producer. He’s an amazing leader, and he definitely works really hard to keep the franchise on the right path. Also, too, having been through the jumping through of some hoops for Sam Raimi to be initiated into this franchise… I made a promise to him that I would fight for my character… the good of the character. It’s really interesting this season, we had a meeting before the season with the showrunner and I went in there with a bunch of ideas and 90 percent of the stuff that I wanted to do… short of shaving my head on camera… I got to pretty much do everything that I wanted to do with the character.
Also, being away in New Zealand and having such a small, close group of people working on the project, who originated the project, we really trust each other and know that we’re making the right choices. As Bruce taught me, if you’re not having fun then you’re doing it wrong.
TrunkSpace: One of the things that Bruce has always done so well is having fun on-camera at his own expense, which really brings the audience in on the joke.
Santiago: Yeah, and I think it’s definitely something that we sort of do with Pablo in the sense of, he’s consistently being thrown into a blender of torturous situations. How many times can this guy actually believe in the idiot Ash to save the world? How many times can we watch this guy be tortured by these, you know, not-so-strong Deadites? That’s kind of what makes it funny.
TrunkSpace: We recently went back and watched the first two seasons start to finish. Admittedly, one of our wives offered her take on things, which was, “This show is a little much for me.” Between the gore and the… well, gore, she was having a hard time with it, BUT, and here’s the kicker, she felt that Pablo was the inroad for her that helped ground it in reality.
Santiago: We really do feel like Pablo, in a lot of ways, is the heart of the unit and Kelly’s sort of the brains and Ash is the muscle. Yeah, I’m glad that she picked up on that because that was sort of what we were going for, because we knew that Ash is sort of limiting in who he can appeal to. Maybe not every woman loves him, but we wanted to bring other things to the franchise that would support and help this guy’s story. I think that Pablo definitely does that in being the heart of the unit and sort of the eyes of the audience, and a new audience.
TrunkSpace: From what we could tell, this is the longest you’ve ever spent with one character. What has that experience been like for you as a whole… the idea of being in someone else’s skin and seeing him grow over an extended period of time?
Santiago: I’ve been in every interrogation room in Los Angeles. I’ve played a gang-banger, a drug dealer, but ultimately you just get to see them for 30 minutes or 60 minutes. With Pablo, I got to really build on a character that I didn’t actually know I was getting into. When I auditioned for the part, I felt like he was written very stereotypically. He had an accent and I was just like, “I don’t know…” But then, the way that we created it is we got rid of the accent, we made him more relatable, and to me, I think the key is that Pablo was born into a situation, born into an ethnicity, a culture… people decided before they knew him, before they look at him and know him, what he is going to be, and for me as a person, as an artist, that was the parallel between me and Pablo, it’s that we both really want to leave our marks on the world. We want to change the world and we want the world to see us as a hero. Pablo had no idea that he could be a hero. He was sort of just admiring Ash, not because he wanted to be like him, but he’s like, “Wow, if this guy could be a hero, then maybe so can I.” I think along the way he sort of steps into his own manhood and he realizes that he himself might actually have a little bit more than he thought he was supposed to have.
I think this season we really dive into that and the evolution of Pablo goes full-throttle in getting to see him embrace the lineage of Brujos that he comes from and how this power that he has within himself could be used for the good or the bad of the team.
There, right there, everything that I just said, was just like, “Wow, sweet.” I get to do so many things on this show that I’ve never done. I get to have prosthetics, I get to do stunts, I get to do horror, I get to do comedy. For me, this was an amazing field day of an opportunity because it was like going to camp for every possible genre and television show that you could possibly ever be thrown into. So, now I feel ready to go in any direction. I feel like I’m pretty efficient with stunts and improvising. It’s been an amazing experience.
TrunkSpace: Again, going back and watching the two previous seasons in a single session binge, you can really see Pablo’s growth, but at the same time, he doesn’t lose that innocence that makes him so relatable. There was this great line from Season 2 in the episode where Ash is trying to eliminate the Necronomicon (you!) and you say something along the lines of, “We used to watch ‘Monday Night RAW’ together.” It’s stuff like that, lines that retain his innocence, that makes Pablo a character that the audience roots for.
Santiago: Yeah, yeah, he’s always going to have that softer, naïve side – always going to be the guy who looks past people’s flaws and believes in the hero that they have within themselves. That’s just who he is. I remember who was up against me for the role and who they had talked about for the role, it was definitely a different direction. There was definitely a harder edge to the other people that they had considered. I think that going with my… what people have called cow eyes… it makes you sort of feel like there’s a vulnerability to Pablo that will never go away, purely based off the way that I look, and also just the way that he operates on the show. I think it’s a really nice layer to have when you have Ash and then you have Kelly, who both are ready to go – they’re such bad asses – so it balances it all out.
TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, one of the things that we love so much about what you bring to Pablo is his expressiveness. Is that something you brought specifically to the role, or do you feel that it is part of who you are as an actor?
Santiago: Well, it’s funny that you bring that up because that can be something that works for me or works against me. You know, the cartoonish vibe of the show sort of allows for that. I started to realize how far I could take it when they were like, “Yeah, you can have your hair be taller.” I was like, “Okay, cool. We’re going full cartoon mode here.” Just in the looks and the aesthetics and… I probably have more lines in Sumerian than I actually have in English. For me, what I decided to play with was like, “Oh, I’m going to make my facial expressions my one-liners,” because so often, it’s like we’re putting him in this situation and Ash is going to have the one-liner and then they’re going to cut to me for the reaction.
I do have a lot of influence from Sam Raimi loving “The Three Stooges.” On this show, I can get away with that. But, it’s really interesting because when I audition for other stuff or when I work on other material, people are like, “What are you doing over there? Why are your eyes over there? Why do your eyes look like you’re just like a bobblehead?” I’m like, “Fuck!”
Pablo, feeling like he’s in this crazy scenario that he needs to react to… yeah, it’s one of those things that it became a Pablo-ism that is kind of me. I mean, I have three mustaches, basically, on my face, and a really big hairdo, so it’s kind of hard not to look crazy or cartoonish.
TrunkSpace: You’ve been working since the early 2000s in film and television, but when “Ash vs Evil Dead” hit, did it feel a bit like people were labeling you as a newbie or an overnight success?
Santiago: Actually, I’ve been lucky enough to work on jobs throughout my career that really can be sort of like game changers. What was interesting was that people always remember “Meet the Fockers” and they’re always like, “Jorge, Jorge, Jorge!” But, with Ash, once the show hit, when I started walking down the street, people actually started to call me by my name. They were like, “Oh, hey. Are you Ray Santiago?” And I was like, “Oh, shit! This is awesome. They really like knowing who I am as an actor.”
There’s people who have never seen “Meet the Fockers” or “Girlfight” and then they got to know me on this show. For me, it’s always just been this upward climb and this upward journey and I’ve liked the pace of it because if you hit big too quick, where do you have to go? I think having spent like a decade in Los Angeles, working and going into rooms trying to prove myself, I’ve grown up a lot and I’ve become a better actor. It’s really allowed me the confidence that I needed to have going into this franchise, moving so quickly, in a different country, and just being sort of trusted with things.
All of the things that I’ve done that have led me here have led me to do this with the utmost confidence and that was something that I felt like I really needed to have coming into the franchise. People ask me, “Were you nervous? Were you scared?” And I don’t want to sound too pompous or arrogant, but I was like, “No, I was actually very confident and ready to go because I had been prepping for something like this my entire life.”
Season 3 of “Ash vs Evil Dead” kicks off Sunday on Starz. Groovy!