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Evil Dead

Wingman Wednesday

Arielle Carver-O’Neill

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In a series filled with demons, murderous trees, and a hell-raising grimoire called the Necronomicon, it says something that the scariest storyline to come out of “Ash vs Evil Dead” may be that the man tasked with stopping all of the evil is actually a… gulp… father.

No one ever said that making the undead dead again would be easy, but for Ash Williams, chainsaw-wielding, boomstick-blasting anti-hero of “The Evil Dead” franchise, the most difficult thing he may have to face in Season 3 of the Starz gorefest is his own teenage daughter, played by the Australian-born Arielle Carver-O’Neill. Responsibility isn’t exactly Ash’s thing, unless there is a taproom called Responsibility in Jacksonville.

We recently sat down with Carver-O’Neill to discuss raising the bar higher than possessed cadaver colons, sprinkling “Ashisms” into her performance, and staring down the nozzles of eight blood canons.

TrunkSpace: You’re joining one of the wildest, no-holds-barred shows on television. How long did it take for you to say to yourself, “How the hell did I get here?” while on set? Were you thrust right into some crazy, Deadite-filled scene that felt just left of reality?
Carver-O’Neill: The first week of filming felt like shooting a drama. I was crying almost every day as Brandy loses her mother and her best friend all in one horrific and bloody evening so there were a lot of tears. When I finally saw the first episode I was surprised at how funny it was, I kind of forgot that it was a comedy.

But that really is what’s so special and unique about “Ash vs Evil Dead.” As Bruce put it to me one day on set, “It’s the place to come if you want to learn.” As an actor it’s so exciting and it keeps you on your toes. One day you’re shooting fight scenes and action sequences with stunt performers, the next you’re in a drama grieving the loss of the life you knew, another you’re in a comedy and witnessing Bruce Campbell deliver epic one-liners and trying really hard not to laugh.

TrunkSpace: Was the idea of working on a series with no storytelling filters an exciting one when you first signed on to inhabit Brandy? As you just mentioned, you’re getting to play with so many genres in a single show, which even in today’s vast television landscape seems like a rarity.
Carver-O’Neill: Definitely! It was fun to watch just how far they take things this season. I mean, last season Bruce was attacked by a cadaver’s possessed colon so of course you think, “Where on earth can they go from there!?” But they did, and they do! Our incredible team find such creative ways to up the stakes and the gross factor. Kelly has something on her leg for a little while and the prosthetics department did such an incredible job that looking at it made me feel nauseous. I can’t wait for people to see it. Poor Dana (DeLorenzo) had to walk around with that thing on though – she deserves an award. I couldn’t sit with her at lunch unless she covered it up.

TrunkSpace: The core evil-fighting trio of Bruce, Dana and Ray Santiago have built up an amazing on-screen chemistry. Were you fighting any butterflies coming into the cast and feeling a bit like the new kid in class? How long did it take for you to feel a part of the “Ash vs Evil Dead” family?
Carver-O’Neill: I was definitely nervous going in, but I was also so excited to have a job and be working with such icons like Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless and learn as much as I could. The first piece of advice Bruce gave me when I met him was, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong,” so I did my best to keep reminding myself of that. That being said, everyone was so welcoming, supportive and nice that I felt part of the family very quickly. They’re all such good people and great actors, I learnt so much from working with them… and we also had the world’s greatest crew.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what was it about Brandy that you were most excited to dive into? As more of the season came into focus for you, did new aspects of her personality reveal themselves?
Carver-O’Neill: They did – we only get the scripts as we’re filming so her arc kind of revealed itself to me. It made the journey a little more real. She didn’t know where she’d end up and neither did I! Brandy goes on this incredible journey. Her entire reality is shattered and those closest to her are taken violently and traumatically and she’s left feeling very alone, confused and grieving. Not only for her mother and best friend but for the world she had created around her. She’s also the kind of person who needs to figure things out for herself, she doesn’t trust easily and so she doesn’t just believe what anyone says. She needs to find answers for herself. Through that she not only grows physically stronger throughout the season but she also gets mentally and emotionally stronger as well.

TrunkSpace: Brandy is Ash’s long-lost daughter. Those are some big genes to fill. Are there any aspects of how Bruce presents Ash that you get to mirror given the fact that you’re his onscreen offspring?
Carver-O’Neill: Bruce and I talked about putting in mannerisms (we called them Ashisms) and some moments where you see Brandy do something that Ash would do. We don’t know if they’ll make the cut, but we had a lot of fun finding them to show just how alike they are.

And even though Brandy didn’t grow up with Ash, they do have a lot in common. They share that Williams’ stubborn streak, the habit of acting first and thinking later (or never in Ash’s case), their trust issues and sense of humor. But at the same time I still wanted Brandy to be very much her own person – she’s more ambitious and quite a bit smarter than her father.

Carver-O’Neill with Bruce Campbell in “Ash vs Evil Dead”

TrunkSpace: One of the things that seems like a rite of passage for all “Ash vs Evil Dead” regulars is a complete on-camera drenching in blood and/or demon-related fluids. How long did it take before you got covered in cinematic goo and what was that experience like?
Carver-O’Neill: I had eight blood canons while filming the 10 episodes of this season. Yup, eight! And a blood canon is only one of the ways they get you with the gore and viscera!

In case anyone doesn’t know… a blood canon is a way they can hit you with a hell of a lot of fake blood in a shorter amount of time. So there’s a keg of cold, sticky fake blood with a hose connecting to an air pressure tank thing with another hose being held by a very happy-looking special effects crew member who is pointing the end of that hose at you, and most likely at your face. There are also different nozzles on the end to change the look and shape of the blood as it hits you… I could write a book on this process just from one season! Anyway, it sounds like a chainsaw and it feels like a high pressure hose and there is no controlling your face or body when it hits you. Pretty much every time you have to pretend you don’t know it’s coming so the shock is real. It’s quite the adrenaline rush. I recommend it to everyone.

My first blood canon we had new directors to the series and it was also their first blood canon… they got a bit excited and just let it roll for about 30 seconds. That’s a steady stream of blood to my face for 30 seconds straight.

TrunkSpace: Those Deadites love to throw out one-liners while they’re raising demonic hell, but truth be told, that Deadite look – the milky white eyes, gnarly teeth and emaciated faces – is pretty terrifying. When you’re staring down a costar in Deadite makeup, is it easier to tap into the primal fight or flight response for the sake of the scene? Does it help you to express fear as Brandy?
Carver-O’Neill: It always does make it a little easier when it’s all there in front of you. The prosthetics and visual effects team on the show are such incredibly talented and skilled artists that it does take some getting used to when you’re standing behind a Deadite in the lunch line.

I had so much fun working with different methods on the show. Sometimes all the Deadites are right in front of you, grabbing at or chasing you and that’s always a little easier. But it was such a fun exercise when you get to use your imagination and there’s actually nothing there. Or you’re fighting an inanimate object, or yourself!

TrunkSpace: In a single sentence, how would you best describe your acting journey from where you began your career to where you are today on “Ash vs Evil Dead?”
Carver-O’Neill: Hard work pays off.

TrunkSpace: Within that journey, did you ever question if you were taking the right path? Was acting a choice or the ONLY choice for you?
Carver-O’Neill: I never really had that day or that moment where I was like, “That’s what I wanna do! I wanna be an actor!” I’ve just always known and always loved it. I can’t remember a time that was different. Though it’s definitely had it’s hard moments, there’s been a lot of struggle but I keep reminding myself in those times that persistence is key. I’m a hard worker and I love doing it and I plan on acting until I either can’t or I stop loving it.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you with a time machine and offered you a chance to have a glimpse at what your career will look like 10 years from now, would you take the futuristic peek?
Carver-O’Neill: Nope. I would hate knowing. It would make me so neurotic! And those movies never turn out well… either it’s good news and they get complacent so the future changes and goes bad, or it’s bad news and they try desperately to change it, only to make it worse. I’m good letting my story unfold as I go.

Ash vs Evil Dead” airs Sundays on Starz.

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Wingman Wednesday

Ray Santiago

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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.

© 2018 Starz Entertainment, LLC

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.

Photo by Geoffrey Short/© 2016 Starz Entertainment, LLC

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!

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