It was very welcomed news for actor Ray Santiago when he got the call that he was cast on the new Starz TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead, the small-screen follow up to the trilogy of horror-comedy films directed by Sam Raimi in 1981, 1987 and 1992. After more than 10 years living in Los Angeles and making a living with small parts on TV shows like My Name is Earl, Dexter, and Law & Order: LA, Santiago was ready to find a permanent home on a show he could sink his teeth into.
With Raimi back on board for the reboot, Santiago got his chance to prove what he could do as a “cool, hip Latino sidekick.” In Ash vs. Evil Dead, which has already been renewed for a second season, Santiago plays Pablo Simon Bolivar, a co-worker of Ash (Bruce Campbell), who is swept up in some major chaos when the evil beings known as deadites from the prior films are once again summoned through the reading of an ancient textbook. With the deadites looking to arise full force, Ash and Pablo and another co-worker, Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), team up to try and send their demon friends back to hell.
We talked to the Bronx-born actor about how much of himself he lent to his character Pablo, what two things he was more than willing to do to land the part, and how his grandma is “sort of a Santera.”
On how familiar he was with the Evil Dead film series before getting cast
I was a fan of Evil Dead 2. It remains my favorite because it is a combination of comedy and horror. That’s what I think the Evil Dead franchise is. As a kid I was a huge fan of horror films, so going from being a kid who wanted to save people from the monsters to now having that be my job [as an actor] is cool. I watched [the original] Evil Dead and [Army of Darkness] when we where shooting the season.
On how he confronted his character Pablo
“The show is about journey of how these three dysfunctional people become this ultimate monster fighting squad.”
I think Ash as a character is very strong. He knows who he is. We wanted Pablo to have an element of that. [Creator] Sam [Raimi] and I talked about how [Pablo] is the heart and the good conscious of the show. He’s also the eyes of the audience. When Sam auditioned me during one of my final auditions he said, “You know, Pablo is a really good guy and I can tell you are a really good person. We want to make sure we keep that vulnerability throughout.” We talked about the character and what he was searching for and what he doesn’t know about himself. [Sam] gave me his blessing when he recognized that I was a good person and that I had a good heart. He knew that was the core of the character. He knew if I remembered that, I would be a good addition to the team. For me as an actor, normally I’m inclined to go into my bag of tricks and throw an accent on [the character] or try to have some affectation, but I think this time around I tried to remove all that and bring as much of myself to the character as I could. I think it’s harder to do that, but I also think it makes it better and more alive.
On his character Pablo’s Latinoness
It’s really interesting because early on there was this concept of Pablo trying to escape his cultural background and not wanting to embrace it and running from who he is. Ultimately, [his culture] influences his success in the team. He starts to accept where he’s from and where he’s going and what his culture is. It helps him and his team along the way and makes him a better man. There’s that undertone we explore on the show, which I thought was really cool. As the season progresses, we’ll start to see more of it. The show is about [the team’s] journey and how these three dysfunctional people become this ultimate monster fighting squad and become the family they never had.
On whether his audition included a scream test
You know, I kept waiting for them to ask me to scream. The audition process was mostly chemistry between Bruce and I. The rest of it was like, “Do you think you can do this and that?” I was like, “Yes, I can!” But I told them I would scream as much as possible and get covered in as much blood as possible. They knew I was game to do what I needed to do.
On getting actually scared while filming
“I told them I would scream as much as possible and get covered in as much blood as possible.”
Yeah, I’m pretty animated. I have thick eyebrows and a thick moustache, so I like to pretend I have three moustaches on my face. So, anytime I’m reacting it’s pretty funny. I also think there is this vulnerability in my eyes that shines through. You kind of feel bad for the guy because he’s constantly being thrown into a blender of blood situations and trying to learn and seem cool while it’s all happening.
On how he’d react if the events of Evil Dead were real
It’s like in the second episode when Ash says, “All you need is a good hit to the face to get the juices flowing.” I think that rings true to my life. I’m from the South Bronx. I was born and raised in New York City. I’m a little guy, but there may have been a couple of times when someone got a little too loud with a girlfriend of mine and I had to stand up and be a man. I just naturally do it. A lot of my friends are surprised. But I’m also really good at running. So, a combination of the two would be pretty good for any situation.
On how his grandma made him scared of the dark
My grandmother was sort of a Santera. She made a promise to a certain saint. So, I remember as a kid she had this saint called Santa Barbara. My uncle was in the military, so she made this promise to the saint that if she would protect my uncle in the military she would worship her and have parties for her. The statue had a crown and a wig made out of human hair. So, as kids we used to do really bad things to the wig like hide it from my grandma. She’d get super pissed. As a kid, we were always told, “If you don’t behave, the monster is going to get you.” I was afraid of the dark for a while.
On whether the show might find more inspiration from Army of Darkness
I think in Season one we were limited in what we could and could not do because Army of Darkness had these rights issues. But we are in the process of clearing that up, so I would say there is room for time travel to happen.
New episodes of Ash vs. Evil Dead air Saturdays on Starz at 9 p.m.