As one of the greatest character actors of his generation, Ted Raimi has truly done it all. From his early days in his brother’s Super 8 movies, to shemping in “Evil Dead 1,” to co-starring (and nearly destroying himself) as Henrietta in “Evil Dead 2,” to playing multiple parts in “Army of Darkness” and triumphantly returning to the ‘Evil Dead’ cinematic universe in “Ash Vs Evil Dead” playing Chet Kaminski, Ash’s childhood friend, Ted Raimi’s real-life story arc is as diverse as the characters he has played. Even fans dwelling outside the realm of the horror genre will instantly recognize his famous face from his roles in “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” “seaQuest DSV,” Wes Craven’s “Shocker,” “Darkman” and the wildly successful Tobey Maguire versions of “Spider-Man” films. His talent, drive and robust body of work in both film and television is truly undeniable. Along the way, Raimi has also dazzled us from behind the camera as a writer and producer. In 2017, he will begin a new chapter of his career as he helms his first feature film — “The Seventh Floor.” Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up Ted Raimi to discuss unique journey as an actor, the key to longevity in the entertainment business, his role in Austin Reading’s ‘Darkness Rising’ and what the future holds for him in the years to come.
You are a familiar face in television and film. Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get involved with the arts early on in life?
I came into this business unconventionally. Most actors, I think, come to it by seeing a movie, like “Fight Club” or “Goodfellas,” and saying, “Wow! That’s so amazing! I have to do that with my life. It’s something I have to do. I need to get out to Hollywood!” I did it in a very oblique way. I had a series of really crappy jobs when I was a kid. I was a dishwasher, a busboy and a golf caddy! It was all the worst jobs you could have and was only slightly better than digging ditches. [laughs] One of the jobs I had was as a production assistant working for this commercial company in Detroit. A friend of mine said, “You should try to do industrial films.” I said, “What is an industrial film?” I really had no idea what it was. In short, they are movies made for in-house businesses. They are not going to be seen by the public and are made by companies like General Motors, Ford and Westinghouse for their employees. I said, “Well, OK!” Detroit is a big industrial town, so they were making a lot of these movies and I started doing them. The first time I read for one, I got it! It was a half a day of work and they let me go at noon. I never forgot it! This particular one was for Ford. I went home and thought, “My God! That’s the shortest work day I’ve ever had in my life!” A week later, I got the check and that check was worth three weeks worth of washing dishes! I thought, “Oh my God! I’m never going to wash another dish as long as I live!” That’s how I started! It was less that I felt the love of acting and more that it was something I could make a living at and sort of had an ability for but loving it came later. I’m much more of a practical guy! I’m a Detroiter and a practical guy. I thought to myself, “I can make this work! This is something I can do.” I wound up really digging it in my early 20s but as a teenager it was just for the money.
Obviously, you carved out quite a career for yourself in the years to follow and are one of the best character actors out there.
What are the keys to longevity in the entertainment business?
I would say it comes down to having your own life outside of Hollywood. It’s really just that simple. If you only live in the Hollywood world, you will be consumed by it. It will eat you alive. When you are finally spat out you will be someone who is wrecked emotionally, personally and financially. You have to have your own life outside this business. You have to have your own things that you dig, so that when you are told, “No,” and you will be told, “No” a million times, you will be OK and come out on your feet.
As a character actor, you get offered a lot of unique roles. What do you look for when it comes to the projects?
I want something that is unique. That’s number one. Nearly as important, is that it’s fully funded. I get scripts all the time from people and usually they don’t have a dime. I understand that and it’s hard to get money in this business but I don’t even bother looking at those scripts. You have to be fully funded and when you are, I will start looking at it. However, the things that have always tickled me are thrillers and horror pictures. I loved them as a kid and I still love them as an adult! Those stories stay with you and is the stuff of your late night thinking. When I was very young, the very, very last of the radio dramas were in its final death throws. It was on CBS and it was called the CBS Radio Mystery Theater and it was hosted by E.G. Marshall. I think it was on two or three nights a week at 10 o’clock. I’ve never forgotten E.G. Marshall saying in his gravely, creaky voice, “Come in!” It’s something I have never forgotten and something I still think about this very day. I thought, “Man, if I could thrill people like he did, that would be something to look forward to and work towards.” I keep that in my head all the time, no matter where I am in this business. When I pick a project, I think about that!
You take on roles big and small. Tell us about your process to bring the character to life.
I never think about what another actor would do with the part. I only think about what I would like to do. In other words, I start very unconventionally. The actors that I typically don’t care for are the ones who are trying to be like other actors. I just try to be like myself. I start big and I let the director bring me down from there. I start with way too much usually. That way, the director can pair it down to the size he wants. Some actors prefer to start very, very small and let the director sort of mold them but, for me, it’s the other way around.
One of your latest roles is a cameo in ‘Darkness Rising’ how did you get involved there?
The director, Austin Reading, is a very good friend of mine and we’ve worked together in the past on a few things. ‘Darkness Rising’ was a very good script and he asked me to do a cameo in it. Normally, I don’t do those, but I really enjoyed the script and Austin’s directorial style, I said yes. Ya know, it’s basically an old fashioned, spooky haunted house movie. With that said, there a lot of those, but I think this one’s unique. The cameo that I do is a period piece, so that made it doubly interesting.
You have a big body of work. How have you evolved as an actor since those early years?
I think I’m more confident as an adult, so I’m much weirder than I was when I was younger. I was called quirky when I was younger. As you get older, you are still quirky but people just call you weird! [laughs] That’s really about it! [laughs]
What’s the most challenging role you took on?
That’s a good question. The first picture I got my Screen Actor’s Guild card for was “Evil Dead 2.” In that movie, I was covered in prosthetics for 13 full days in 100°+ weather. That was a huge challenge physically and it was rough! I also feel all the TV series I have done get very rough because you get very complacent. After a few years of doing a TV show, you get very comfortable and being too comfortable is dangerous because you get boring. You start doing the same things over, over and over again. That’s really bad and it’s death for an artist. You never want to do that!
Your work continues to be discovered by new generations of fans. For those who may be new to your work, where should they dive in? What are some of your favorite projects?
For those who are just seeing me for the first time, it just depends on what you dig. For the most part, sci-fi, fantasy, horror films and television shows are about 95% of my body of work. There is plenty of it! They can check out the “Spider-Man” pictures or “SeaQuest DSV,” an old NBC show I’ve done, I think they will like that. It all depends on how old they are too. I have voiced a lot of cartoon characters that I think younger fans might dig! So, if you are young, you don’t want to be starting off with movies like “Midnight Meat Train” or “Evil Dead.” That might damage your mind a little bit! [laughs]
Where are you headed in the future? Are there projects you are anxious to tackle?
Mostly I have put acting aside and this year I’m directing my first feature. It’s call “The Seventh Floor” and I’m doing it with a company called Veva Entertainment. I’m very excited about it. It’s in pre-production right now and it’s a thriller. It’s right up my alley! I can’t wait! We start shooting in September. I never thought my first feature would be something I didn’t write but the script was so enticing and the writer was so good that I had to say yes! That’s what I’m doing now! This last year, I also created an ad campaign for the Starz Network for their show “Ash Vs. Evil Dead.” I shot that and it’s now running simultaneously on all their websites and might even be running on the cable channel as well. There are three or four more ads that should appear later this year for season three of the series. I’m looking forward to those too! To answer your question, I’m mostly just directing now.
No offense, Ted, but what took you so long to make the jump to directing a feature?
No offense taken! [laughs] You’re absolutely right! It took too long and I should have done this 10 years ago to tell you the truth but I just wasn’t ready to do it. However, I’ve always been late with everything in my life. Everything! For heaven’s sakes, I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 22 years old! I didn’t even have a date until I was 21! Everything has been later for me. That’s what I can really give to you and the only one I can give to myself.
Who are you biggest influences when it comes to directing?
I would say my biggest influences are the classic guys. Jacques Tourner is one and I know that seems like a weird one but he is basically the guy who invented the horror genre, if you look back at his pictures. “Cat People” is pretty amazing. He’s a guy who really created the movies that we see today, so I find his work very impressive. There are also guys like John Huston. I love his work and I’m very inspired by him. I’m also inspired by modern guys to some degree — Tony Scott and David Fincher. I love all of those guys and I take a lot of influence and visual styles from them.
We can look to the career as an inspiration. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
I would say, “Be yourself above all else.” Don’t try to be what Hollywood, your managers, your agents, friends, photographers or teachers want you to be. Be who you are. With that in mind, you will find that you will have a lot of hits and misses but you can always go home knowing who you are at the end of the day. That’s a rare thing in Hollywood. This town, though it appears it’s a dream factory and to some extent it is, produces a lot more bruised bananas than peaches, if you get my meaning.