Ray Santiago Says His Character Is Slashing Into Horror History on ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’

Ash vs Evil Dead” is slashing its way through its third season on Starz, but is also approaching more frightening milestone. The franchise, which started with Sam Raimi’s campy 1981 supernatural thriller “Evil Dead,” is creeping closer to its 40th anniversary. Most of the attention goes to the series star, Bruce Campbell, with former warrior princess Xena’s Lucy Lawless lending a hand unencumbered by a chainsaw. The anti-hero Ash Williams is magnetic enough to turn the opening of a hardware store/sex toy emporium into a must-attend community event, but Ashy Slashy’s trusted sidekick Pablo Simon Bolivar is also making horror history.

“As a fan of horror and comedy, it’s an honor,” Ray Santiago, whose character is on the verge of ascending to the title of El Brujo Especial, tells Entertainment Voice exclusively. “It’s an even bigger honor as a Latino actor to be part of the franchise. To know, 20 years from now, people will watch it and I’ll still be alive on a show somewhere. The image of Pablo and the rest of the gang will live forever.”

The Ghostbeaters don’t only take on the Deadites. They are also part of a movement taking on rules of horror that are as old as the Knights of Sumeria. Santiago can envision Jordan Peele as a fellow combatant. “I think ‘Get Out’ is great,” Santiago says. “Diversifying the genre is, as weird as it sounds, a new idea. That’s what ‘Get Out’ did. I think it’s a beautiful film. Beautiful in the sense they weren’t afraid to talk and go there.” The actor also credits the efforts of El Jefe’s crew with varying the faces of fear. “In a small way, we got a little bit of that with ‘Ash.’ I can’t really think of a Latino sidekick that we’ve had on television. As a kid I loved horror and wanted to be a superhero. I wanted to be the person who saved people from the monster. I also enjoyed the idea of being chased by the monster. On “Ash,” I’m one step closer to becoming the superhero I always dreamt of being as a kid.”

Being a historic footnote in genre entertainment is a heroic feat that opens to door to newer heroes. “I think it’s important nowadays to have these characters. It’s important for the younger generations to that. To see, on a small scale, Pablo on a cult classic comedy horror show, they get something I never had as a kid: a Latino, an undocumented immigrant, a quirky guy trying to fight evil, trying to be a good guy, trying to leave his mark on the world.”

The first episode of season 3 opens with the Deadites laying waste to a school. The shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are only the latest of a series of mass gun violence. “Ash vs Evil Dead” doles out its carnage with comic camp, and in its reality is based on a certain detached flippancy that doesn’t equal insensitivity. “We’ve gotten shit before, but I feel there is definitely a separation. It’s a television show,” Santiago says. “It is a difficult question,” but in the end “Ash vs Evil Dead” is “cartoony, comic book” entertainment.

Even Bugs Bunny made social commentary and the show tosses subtle digs at the current era of political malevolence. Santiago lent empowering notes on how his character could be presented at production meetings. “Instead of calling me ‘trusted sidekick,’ could you just call me ‘my little amigo?’ Can we really amp that up,” he recalls suggesting. “I challenged them to push that part with Pablo, as much as I could. I looked for things we could throw in there about Trump, or building walls. We definitely tried.” Santiago doesn’t have the same power as Campbell, as far as suggesting one-liners or switching lines, but he says “about 90 percent” of “what I suggested at the season’s meetings happened.” That is, “short of having my head shaved on camera, which is something I really wanted to do?”

The new showrunner had to put some restraint on the chaotic magic of the production. Mark Verheiden, wrote the book “My Name is Bruce,” and adapted the first “Evil Dead” film into a comic book for Dark Horse in 2007. Santiago says Verheiden “brought this kooky element” to the proceedings and visiting Ash’s childhood felt like “an expanded version of ‘Three’s Company.’” Santiago says Verheiden also brings a “sense of family to the franchise, in a sense where we’ll get to see my connection to my family and Ash’s to his family, and what that does when you throw it into horror and comedy. How these characters are trying to survive and still be a family.”

This gave Santiago an opportunity to tap into his own roots in spiritual destiny. Pablo and I were “born into a predetermined culture, and make the best of that, trying to figure out how to make the world a better place,” he says, giving the “Miss America answer.” The character is poised for major changes this year. He is going into the family business as El Brujo Especial. But it’s not a job his uncle Brujo got him. It was his grandmother. She wasn’t a bruja. “My grandma is a Santera,” Santiago explains, “which means you worship a specific saint. You make a promise to a saint, and you worship a saint. They have parties for worshipping a saint that you make a promise to.”

Those parties informed the basis for his creation of Pablo. “As a kid, I used to watch my grandma and her friends go through these rituals,” Santiago remembers. “There was a wooden door in my grandma’s house, where they used to put the kids in this room while they had these parties.  I would watch them talk in tongues and do all these things.” His grandmother would “say things and they would come true.”  Santiago says the memories help him “identify with Pablo.”

This doesn’t mean you’ll catch Santiago reading the “Necronomicon” for fun. He isn’t a student of the occult. “I’m terrified of death,” he says. “I’m not terrified of how I’m going to die, but I just like living life so much the idea of exploring the afterlife doesn’t really appeal to me.” Santiago practices “Buddhism, because I’m trying to find some resolve,” but he says he’s “kind of a wimp.” Although he does admit acting is a kind of possession. “Through acting, I’ve come to believe in the hero that lies within me. I try to find myself in every role I’ve tried on.”

While Pablo is one step closer to being a superhero, he is a quick and easy leap from slipping into the role of super villain, having become part of the very book he vowed to destroy. He may still never be as bad as the womanizing, vice-indulging, possible serial killing Ashy Slashy on a good day, but he’s going to want at least a taste of blood. The actor, whose character Javier Garza was skinned on the series “Dexter” simply for the fun of it, admits there is some allure to the dark side, especially some of the harbingers of things to come. “It’s hard to fight the dark side, regardless,’” Santiago says regarding the spectral messenger who delivered his promotion notice. But “that naked woman, I was like, ‘are you trouble? Am I supposed to trust you?’” Still he admits “I’d rather have naked women popping up and maybe torturing me a little bit, in lieu of being hog tied by Lucy Lawless.” He says he finds “some hope” he could “manipulate” some “random naked woman into letting me get away.” With the Ruby character “there was no way I was going to get away from her. But I loved it when Pablo puffed up his chest and thought he could maybe take her on.”

While the Brujo Especial label ultimately fits a “brand of tequila,” we will get to see “the evolution of Pablo,” which has been “implanted in seasons 1 and 2.” He “has this undeniable relationship with the Necronomicon, and his loyalties lie with Ash. He wants to be a good guy, but it’s going to be really difficult for him to control what the result all of this is going to be. Is he going to be able to manage it for the good of the team? It’s a really interesting dynamic they created this season.”

Every episode of “Ash vs Evil Dead” ends on a cliffhanger. To keep readers on the edge of their seats, we got Santiago to admit he doesn’t think he’ll be “babysitting Ash and Ruby’s kid, but I definitely will be babysitting Ash’s kid this season. And I don’t know if I’m going to be a good babysitter or a naughty babysitter.”

Ash vs Evil Dead” season 3 premieres Feb. 25 and airs Sundays on Starz.