LEE MAJORS ON ‘ASH VS. EVIL DEAD’ AND THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF TELEVISION
Author: Christian Long
An instantly recognizable actor on big and small screens for more than 50 years, Lee Majors has joined the cast of Ash vs. Evil Dead for its blood-splattered second season. While in attendance at this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas to promote the Starz network’s flagship series, we got the chance to talk to him about everything from starting his career in horror, working with Bruce Campbell, and how binge-watching the first season convinced him that he needed to be a part of it.
Were you a fan of the Evil Dead movies?
I was never a big horror person. The only horror movie I ever did in my career, and I was only getting started… I played Joan Crawford’s husband, believe it or not, in a picture. 1963, black and white, directed by William Castle, who was a poor man’s Alfred Hitchcock. In my little hometown in Kentucky, which is very small, there was one little theater so they put on the marquee ‘Starring Lee Majors in Strait-Jacket,’ the name of the film, ‘…with Joan Crawford.’ People came in and out of the hollers to watch the film and she chopped my head off with an axe before the credits came up. The only other time I was seen, my head was in the bed at one point. That was my first experience with horror and my first film credit, believe it or not. I don’t even think I got credit.
But you got on the marquee.
At home, but not on the film. That was where people paid their 25, 30 cents, whatever it was back then, and they didn’t even see me, so I never went home for a while. All my stuff, all the series I’ve done, I’ve done about seven, were all action-oriented, family fare, so to speak. Six Mill, [The Six Million Dollar Man], the families watched that one together, and they let their kids watch it. Fall Guy, the same way.
How did you end up joining the cast of the show?
So when they called me to ask if I’d be interested in doing this, I’d heard of Bruce Campbell. I knew who he was and he was a good actor. I said, “Let me look at the first one of the first season.” I ended up sitting there, on my iPad, going through the 10 shows. It seemed like it went really quick, because it’s 30 minutes, no commercials. You can skim right through them. I said, “This is batshit crazy, it’s funny and I’ve got to be a part of it.”
And Bruce is so underrated as an actor. I know he did good drama but for him to be able to chainsaw somebody’s head off and throw a good one-liner out there to make it funny is hard to do. He does it so well. It’s just a pleasure working with him and, of course, I come in as his dad and I get to throw some zingers at him so you can see where he’s a chip off the old block. We do have some competition with the ladies and so forth. It’s a fun season and can only be on Starz because no other network would have put this on.
Did binge-watching help ready you for the gore factor?
I think they’re going to go crazy with the second season. I’ve never seen so much blood. When I started there were only three networks: NBC, ABC, and CBS. [When] we shot somebody in The Big Valley. they’d put a dab of blood. Sometimes they’d say “Oh that’s too much blood,” so you’d cover it up, no blood. In this show, on the first one, he was chainsawing somebody with blood being splattered all over my nose and in my eyes. It’s a fun show. It’s got a crazy fan base.
Everything is good, of course the only thing is they shoot it in New Zealand, which is a long way to go. You didn’t know that, right?
I didn’t know that.
They shoot it in New Zealand but I say it was a nice, paid vacation. It’s a long trip, but Auckland is beautiful, so, it psyches me a little bit, even though we were working.
Do you shoot all 10 episodes back-to-back when you’re down there?
I did most of my stuff there at one time. Their summer is our winter. It’s opposite. Right now, if it’s Monday here it’s… what’s today? Monday. It’s probably Tuesday morning there, or something. It’s like a day ahead so when you go there it’s hard to get used to the time change, but it’s fun. They’re great producers and directors and the cinematography. Have you seen any episodes of it?
I got to see the first couple episodes of season two.
Two? So, you know my house [in the show], for example… When Bruce is coming back, his house where he grew up, I go up there and it’s like a soundstage. It’s dreary looking and then when they light it up, everything comes to life. I’ve got to give them credit. What you see on screen is really, really beautiful compared to what we’re really shooting in. It’s wonderful to see what they do.
You’re a little resistant to your son coming back into your life.
Well, I don’t want him there. I hate him. He killed my daughter, you know? I think he killed my daughter and he’s out looking for some “jinxing evil,” which I don’t even know what’s he talking about. I just don’t want any part of it. Then I begin to learn what he is really doing, because I perhaps and then I think he’s a hero.
What’s it like being able to more easily connect with your fans?
It’s good because I didn’t even know how big a show Six Million Dollar Man was until probably 10, 15 years ago because I was always working. I did, let’s just take three series, each of five years. That’s 15 years. When we were shooting, some of these shows would start at 40 episodes. We went to 38 episodes, one hour long. It takes a long time to shoot those. It kind of went down to 32 for a long time, then down to 28. Now you’re lucky to get an order of 10 or six. I never got out much and when I was not working I went to a cabin I had at a little lake and fish and just hung out. No phone, no TV.
[So,] for many years I never paid attention to anything other than my work. Then I started traveling the country, around the world and stuff and then you go to some unique little village somewhere and they’d say, “Oh, on Saturday night all the people would come from all over the village, the town and they had one TV to watch this bionic man.” When you do these Comic-Con things, you have the veterans and people that come up and say, “Well, I joined the service because of you” or “I did this and became an astronaut or became an engineer.” Anything. You have some come up with new parts. Bionic parts, you know what I’m saying? The legs and the arms and even some eye transplants now. They call it “the bionic eye.” It’s just been amazing that that technology, that I was happy to have a part to push that along a little bit.
They say that this generation’s technology was influenced by the prior generation’s science fiction.
It is, believe it or not. Everything’s influenced by it because [we think], “This doesn’t work so why doesn’t somebody invent something better?” That’s what starts people thinking and that’s what pushes technology along in every direction. You’d think when you do some of these interviews like we’re doing here, you see I have to put the wire under and put the battery pack in your pocket and they still have to clap to sync the sound and the picture together. You’d think that the technology would even be better now to have to do some of that stuff.
I didn’t get my first iPhone until about two years ago. I had the flip phone. Paul Newman said “Hell, I’m still trying to get last year’s messages off my iPhone.” It’s takes us a while. I’m up in the older generation now. Two years ago I was 56. Last year I was… 56? 67, last year. It’s now where I can’t turn [the numbers] around anymore. 77, you can’t turn around. You see I’m getting to that now. I don’t run, I walk in slow motion.
Speaking of, Steve Austin or Colt Seavers?
Well, come on, Six Mill would have to win that, but as far as which show I like and enjoy the most would’ve been The Fall Guy. It was closer to my personality and it was more fun. Six Million Dollar Man, you know, the ’70s, bell-bottoms and the wide-collared shirts and stuff. You want to try running through the forest in bell bottoms catching on every damn branch there was and falling on your ass? No, thank you. It was a little tough acting with bell-bottoms on. Fall Guy was more fun and, of course, most of my career I’ve done most of my stunts and it would always make the day go faster and it was more fun. Now at least I use my stunt man more. My one knee here I’m thinking about going to replace a little bit but I keep putting that off. Other than that, life is good.
Ash vs. Evil Dead returns Sunday, October 2, on Starz at 8 p.m. ET.
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