With renewed efforts in the entertainment industry for the search of great women roles in film and television, the powers-that-be needn't look any further for an example of greatness than in a series that's had fans buzzing since 2015. It's in the STARZ horror comedy "Ash vs. Evil Dead," where the effervescent Dana DeLorenzo fully realizes the potential of Kelly Maxwell – an electronics store trainee-turned-no-nonsense, F-bomb slinging demon hunter -- who aids the lovably flawed antihero Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) in his fight against gnarly, netherworldly beings known as "Deadites."
While Kelly was initially billed as one of Ash's sidekicks (along with Ray Santiago's Pablo Bolivar), the character has easily asserted herself as a force to be reckoned with in the first two seasons of "Ash vs. Evil Dead," where she's gotten just as drenched with blood, guts and goop as Campbell via devices appropriately dubbed "blood canons." The great thing is, if you've loved everything Kelly has stood for so far in the first two seasons of the series, you'll find out in Season 3, which premieres this Sunday on STARZ, that she's only getting started.
In a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles, DeLorenzo said that while it's a thrill to have such a memorable role in the series, it's even better to know that the role is in a genre known to stereotypically portray females as sex objects and/or victims -- where "women fell into the horror movie trope of being the girl running naked through the woods and being the damsel in distress."
The tricky part about how things play out in "Ash vs. Evil Dead" is that the character of Ash -- who first appeared in "Evil Dead" in 1981 and was back for "Evil Dead 2" in 1987 and "Army of Darkness" in 1992 -- continues to be a bad-Ash in the series, even though times have changed considerably for the aging lothario. Basically, Ash is a 1980s and '90s character living in 2018, and Kelly isn't having anything of it.
"What we love about Ash Williams are his great flaws. He's ignorant. He has antiquated views about a lot of things, including women. What I love is how 'Ash vs. Evil Dead' had the foresight to keep Ash Williams as Ash Williams and not apologize for who he is, yet put him toe-to-toe with a strong female character like Kelly who was going to call his a-- out and not let him get away with it. It still gives Ash the opportunity to say those spectacular one-liners that only Bruce Campbell can do, yet it lets Kelly hold her own and allows her to be the voice of the audience. I love that in the very first scene of the series where we meet Kelly, Ash is being Ash and is immediately hitting on her. She's looking at him like, 'Are you kidding me, dude?' and then 'thump!' she just throws his a-- down on the counter. I love that scene."
As refreshing as that first scene is, DeLorenzo is thrilled that there's much more to Kelly than her toughness. Apart from the character's physicality and her keen ability to handle any weapon she can get her hands on to dispatch her Deadite foes, DeLorenzo feels fortunate that Kelly can display real human emotions, too.
"While it's nice to play a bada-- female that kicks a--, what I like most about Kelly is that she's flawed and vulnerable. She's not afraid to show her fear. You can see when she's afraid -- she's not just gritting her teeth like Annie Oakley -- you can see these vulnerable moments with her," DeLorenzo said. "But I think what makes her a true warrior is that she pushes through that fear. She has the courage to dive into the deep end, because that's when we root for the underdogs. That's what we want to see, to go into a situation when you're most afraid and take the leap. I love that most about her, that she's multi-layered, and that she's got a bit of a mouth on her. That's pretty fun to play."
Without question, part of the reason Kelly resonates so much with fans is her willingness to say exactly what she thinks, which oftentimes includes her authoritative use of F-bombs and mother F-bombs. The bonus for the audience is, since DeLorenzo has such a command on the delivery of those curse words, her prolific use of the F-bomb and its variations easily ranks her alongside Jack Nicholson and Samuel L. Jackson in the pantheon of the all-time great screen swearers. When Kelly curses, the audience listens –sometimes laughing out loud and other times pumping their fists -- because it's so (insert F-bomb here) entertaining.
DeLorenzo said it was a conscious decision by Campbell and Tapert to have Kelly the character swear the most on the show, mainly because she was able to give those curse words some extra meaning.
"It was in Season 2, after we had a whole season under our belts, when Bruce and Rob both said, 'I really think that only character that should really swear is Kelly," DeLorenzo recalled, gleefully. "Swearing can be something done for just a cheap shot -- swearing for the sake of swearing -- but they very much enjoy the way the lines are written and the creative ways that Kelly can swear, so I'm happy to take on the role of the sailor."
Not toying around
One particularly memorable time where DeLorenzo got creative with her use of the F-bomb was in Season 2, where Kelly got into a verbal battle and physical throwdown with a demonic hand puppet named "Ashy Slashy" (think one of the puppets from Broadway's "Avenue Q," except that it looks like Ash Williams). The scene was such a hit that collectibles company NECA made a full-scale replica of Ashy Slashy, which DeLorenzo can't wait to get her hands on … maybe.
"I was at first thinking, 'Do I really want that thing my house?' I'm sure I will be tormented by it," DeLorenzo said with a laugh. "I honestly feel like I'll have to chain the little brat down."
For those who were knocked out by the Kelly-Ashy Slashy battle in Season 2, DeLorenzo promises there's a scene in episode 6 this season that rivals it. This time, though, it involves Ruby (Lucy Lawless) -- the villain of Season 1 who becomes allies with Ash, Kelly and Pablo in Season 2, only to return to the dark side for Season 3. The stakes are raised this season because Ruby is going after Brandy (Arielle Carver-O'Neill), the teenage daughter Ash never knew he had.
"I stay relatively clean in the first five episodes, unlike the bar scene in the opening episode of Season 2, where I had 26 gallons of blood on me," DeLorenzo cracked. "This whole season for Kelly is about forging her own path. She finally gets an opportunity in episode 6 -- a small window -- to potentially end the battle with evil once and for all and goes toe-to-toe with Ruby. But since Kelly has this pent-up rage after being painted in this bloody corner for the first five episodes and having her hands tied, she goes ballistic. It's reminiscent of the Deadite deli slicer scene from Season 1."
Anybody who can recall that magnificently manic scene (or countless others) well knows that DeLorenzo has an incredible passion for her work, and it shows everywhere, whether it's on-screen, off-screen at conventions with fans or in phone calls to talk about the show. DeLorenzo is in the unique position to help build upon one of the best horror comedy franchises of all time, and that's something she's never lost sight of. Even casual fans don't have to look hard at one episode of "Ash vs. Evil Dead" to see DeLorenzo gives her all to the series.
"I'm exceptionally passionate as well all the people who are involved in the show, from the crew to the stunt people to the writers, it truly is a passion project and a bloody love letter to the fans," DeLorenzo said, humbly. "For me, not a day goes by where I don't think about how I finally got that little streak of luck after so many beatdowns for so long while chasing the dream. I was working at a bar when I got the audition for this job. In fact, I almost couldn't go to it because I was working at the bar until 2 a.m. and I had to learn my lines driving in the car as I was on the way the audition."
But lucky for fans, DeLorenzo made that audition and they've embraced her and the indelible character of Kelly -- something DeLorenzo is reminded of in and around the course of making "Ash vs. Evil Dead," if not every day.
"It's great to meet with fans and talk with people like you who share our excitement and are entertained by our over-the-top silliness and gore," DeLorenzo enthused. "I mean, what more could you want? Give me a blood cannon in the face any day."
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