This is an interview conducted with Danny Hicks over one phonecall; on April 13, 2011. You can listen to the raw audio recording of the interview below, or read the edited & formatted transcription further down.
He's probably most famous for playing the role of Jake in Evil Dead II, and Bill Roberts in Scott Spiegel's slasher Intruder, along with a cameo role alongside Tim Quill in My Name Is Bruce, but has also appeared in numerous other feature films spanning the last 25 years, along with a whole host of US theatrical productions and commercials.
Danny playing Jake in his first feature film; Evil Dead II (1987)
So to start, you came from a theatrical background?
Yes, I basically have a background in theatre. I have also done a lot of television commercials and industrial films but Evil Dead II was my first feature film.
Did you have any qualms about a going from the theatre, to your first feature film?
Well I had done a lot of industrial filming in Detroit prior to that. At the time it was the auto capital of the country. Whenever they change a bumper mount or shock absorber or something, they would make an industrial film to show the people that we are actually doing the work how it was suppose to be done. So I had plenty of on camera experience, I just had never done a feature film on location. The way it was shot and the pacing of it was much slower than I was used to. No I didn't really have much of problem in the transition, especially working with Sam who is such a great director. He could get a performance out of a rock if he wanted to. So I had no problems with that.
What made you want to go from the theatrical to the feature film world?
First of all, money! Theatre work doesn't pay nearly as much as feature films, and to be honest with you that was a big part of it. That, and the fact I had never done it before. The only film work I had done before was industrial films and television commercials. You go to work, do you the job and pretty much forget about it. With theatre you have to stay in character, maybe two hours or however long the play lasts, whereas with film, you work for ten minutes and then you pretty much have to turn that energy off and relax. If you don't you will just burn yourself up. You can't maintain the level of energy that you need to do theatre in film. It's just not physically possible, it will wear you out. It's just a lot of fun to make feature films.
Danny Hicks' portrait photo
Was it a steep learning curve for you to go from one to the other, or was it all quite easy?
I didn't have much of a problem with it at all. In a lot of ways theatre is much more difficult then feature films because on stage, lets face it, you get it right or everybody in the world knows you got it wrong. In feature films you can say "cut, let's do that again", which you don't hear very often in theatre. So in a lot of ways features are a lot easier to do then theatre.
Danny taking direction from Sam Raimi on the set of Evil Dead II (1987)
Can you tell us a bit about how you came to get the role of Jake in Evil Dead II?
Yeah, I basically auditioned for it in Detroit. Everyone pretty much had the same agent and my agent got the casting call for, I think they described the character as a Scuzz bucket. So I got up that morning went outside and opened the hood of my car, combed my hair with grease from the engine compartment and rubbed some gravel in. I had not shaved for three or four days and then I walked to the audition and I just looked into the camera and I said you want him this Scuzzy? And that was it, Sam Raimi looked at me and said an actor without ego, I love it! So that's basically how I got the part.
So at what stage was the production when you came on board?
They were casting, in fact I think we were originally supposed to start shooting in December of that year and they ended up postponing it until June. It's funny, they had already done some casting in New York and Los Angeles but they couldn't find anyone to play the part of Jake. I found out years later that if they didn't find somebody in Detroit, Sam Raimi would have played the role himself, and direct. So I took the part away from Sam. Ha ha.
Evil Dead II cast; L/R: Sarah Berry - Annie, Danny Hicks - Jake, Bruce Campbell - Ash, & Kassie Wesley DePaiva - Bobbie Joe (1987)
Had you actually seen The Evil Dead, before starting production on Evil Dead II?
No I had not, in fact I didn't actually see the original until about two years ago, which was the first time I had ever seen it. It was playing in a theatre in Hollywood along with Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness and I went and saw all three of them, but that was actually the first time I had seen The Evil Dead.
So what were you thoughts on seeing it first time?
It was much scarier than Evil Dead II and not nearly as funny. It took itself much more seriously, but it was interesting.
Were there any interesting stories or anecdotes which happened while shooting Evil Dead II?
All kinds of them, I think the first day I actually worked with Bruce Campbell in the scene when I come crashing into the house and beat him up. It was so hot and so sweaty in there that I had about an inch of sweat in my boots and when I went to hit him, I slipped and actually did hit him. I thought that was a nice way to start things with Mr Campbell; knock out all of his teeth by punching him as hard as I could. If you look at the film you can actually see it, because they used that take, you can actually see his lips start to swell. Ha ha. We beat each other up pretty good on that film. Ted broke my nose while he was playing Henrietta. He was wearing those opaque contact lens and he couldn't really judge distance so when he reaches through the trap door to grab my face, he misjudged it by about six inches and smacked me real hard cracking my nose! Then in the scene where I force them outside at gun point, I'm there standing there with my legs spread wide apart and I hit Bruce in the back of the head with the butt of the shotgun, and his heel came up and hit me right between the legs, Just about as hard as you can do it! I jumped off the pouch, Sam said cut and I threw up over everybody. Ha ha. It was an interesting experience; actually it was my first feature film, so the entire thing was interesting to me.
Jake leading Annie & Ash out of the cabin at gunpoint (1987)
Jake's demise at the hands of Henrietta, played by Ted Raimi (1987)
Bruce, Ted, Denise and Richard all suffered with prosthetic make-ups in one form or another, were you quite glad your role didn't require that?
Well at one point they did make a mask, a full mask of me, but I don't think we ever used it in the film, just covering my face completely with the latex or the plaster or whatever, I found that very uncomfortable, very claustrophobic, but we didn't use any of the prosthetics in the film.
Do you know what the idea behind that mask might have been?
No, actually I don't remember why we did it. I think must have something to do with the way whey were going to kill me. Maybe they had a couple of different ideas. In fact the shot where I get thrown into the tree was I pick-up shoot in Detroit that was done probably three or four months after principal photography in North Carolina was concluded. I think Sam just wanted to torture me a little bit more.
Annie trying to remove the Kandarian Dagger (1987)
You may have heard various horror stories about how gruelling The Evil Dead was to shoot. Did Evil Dead II just feel like a regular film?
Well there are films where you just say your lines and go home, there's nothing to it, and then you do something like My Name Is Bruce, and that was pretty difficult. Evil Dead II meant running around the woods at night, the temperature was very hot in some of the scenes we did, and we had a lot of insect problems, with people getting stung by bees. So it depends on the film really. Some of them have been very easy; some of them were very gruelling. A film I did, Intruder was in grocery store, that was pretty difficult. I had a lot of running around to do and a lot of, well I wouldn't say my own stunt work because I try not to do that any more, I'm getting to old but back in these days I did a lot of my own stunt work, and it depends on how much you put in to it as to how difficult and gruelling it can be.
Was there anything that was in the script for Evil Dead II that couldn't be achieved on set or didn't make the final film?
Not to my knowledge, no. I think Sam got all the shots he wanted, and I don't think where was anything that was planned that they couldn't do. I think he pretty much got everything he needed.
So the original shooting script was pretty close to the final film?
Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was, except for a few pick-up shoots which we did later in Detroit, such as me flying into the tree. I think they just added that for extra effect. It just felt a little bit more of a surprise so they could show me coming back in after everyone thought I was dead.
At what point did you see the film on the big screen for the first time and what where your thoughts?
Well the first time I saw it, was at the première in Hollywood, California at the Chinese theatre. My thoughts were "wow, this is cool" Ha ha. I had no idea I was that ugly or I could've been made that ugly. It was very exciting, it was a little overwhelming, this being my first feature film and especially on that big, big screen which they had at the Chinese theatre at the time.
Did you find that Evil Dead II has since given you tread with other prospective film productions?
Oh yeah, in fact it still is. I'll go into an audition now, even tomorrow and someone will say "it's Jake from Evil Dead, god we loved you in that!". I'm probably more famous for that role then everything else I've ever done. Especially with people freshly out of film school that are trying to make their way. I think just about anybody who goes to film school in Los Angeles has seen that movie at least fifty times. So they're all pretty impressed with it, and that's mostly down to Sam and how inventive and ingenious he can be with his camera work.
Are you still in contact with any people involved in the production?
I'm still very good friends with Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi, I think that's about it. I saw Robert Kirtzman last month, he was involved in that, but mainly Bruce and Ted. I'm still in very close contact with them.
On its theatrical release, Evil Dead II was censored in the UK. The one thing what was cut out of the whole film was you kicking Bruce Campbell in the head. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Well I know that here in the United States it was released unrated which was worse then an 'X' rating, so I know they had some problems. Now it seems so simple and innocent. Today it would probably get a PG-13 rating, I don't think that it would be any kind of issue whatsoever, but yes I was surprised. Evil Dead II had violence, but it was obviously over the top, so over the top to be almost comical. I mean when Henrietta drags me into the cellar they used fifty five gallons of fake blood. What kind of human being has that much blood in there body in the first place? It was so over the top to be laughable and I don't think anybody could possibly take it seriously though to give it an X rating.
Jake's final bloody moments, dragged in to the cellar by Henrietta (1987)
Have you seen The Evil Dead the Musical?
I've have not had that honour, but I was at a horror convention in Kalamazoo and they were doing a production of it there, and they asked me to come down and introduce the show. So I went on stage and met all of the actors and characters backstage and signed their books and scripts. The whole cast also signed one script which they presented to me, which is now one of my prized possessions. Unfortunately I had other commitments and couldn't stay to watch it, but I understand it's quite something. Good old dependable Jake I believe is my characters name in the main song in the play. One of these days I will see it, from what I understand it's playing just about all over the country in different places now.
The entire cast of Evil Dead: The Musical, playing in New York
Was where any question of you appearing in Army of Darkness in any capacity?
Actually I was on the set of Army of Darkness. They dressed me up in a suit of armour, put me on a horse, and I rode it around for three days, but I had other commitments and had to leave before I actually got in front of the camera. It would have been hard to bring back the character of Jake back saying as they murdered me so horribly in the previous one, unless I was a skeleton, Ha ha!
You mentioned Scott Spiegel's Intruder earlier on, how did you go from Evil Dead II to Intruder?
Well I actually met Scott while I was auditioning for Evil Dead II. I had never seen or met him before and that morning I walked into my agent's office. So there was a guy sitting there that I didn't know and I pretty much knew all of my agents clients. So I ask who he was, he said he was Scott, I asked him if he was there to audition for the role of Jake, he said yes, then I asked him how he get involved in this, he said he actually I wrote Evil Dead II. So there I am thinking I'm sure I'm going to get this part with the author auditioning for it. As it turns out I did. Years before, Scott had written another version of Intruder and filmed it very low budget, I can't even remember the name. It wasn't Intruder, it was called something else. So after Evil Dead II, Scott and I became familiar with one another. He actually rewrote the character of Bill Roberts with me in mind. He pretty much knew I could do the job, and do the job well.
Danny as Bill Roberts in Intruder (1989)
Danny with Eugene Glazer's severed head (1989)
How did you feel about taking on quite a different role because Jake from Evil Dead II and Bill Roberts from Intruder are quite different characters?
That's what makes acting so much fun. You get to be other people. That to me is the most exciting thing about being an actor. You can be someone else, and a matter of fact the better I do my job as a character actor, the less people see of you, so it gives you a tenuous amount of freedom.
Did you have any qualms about appearing in a second feature which was also a violent film?
No, none whatsoever.
Were there any interesting stories or anecdotes which happened while shooting Intruder?
Well, yeah it was a very difficult shoot, and there wasn't a whole lot of money involved, so we shot it quite quickly and some of the working conditions were pretty difficult. We shot it in abandoned grocery store in Bell, California, most of it at night, and at the time it wasn't a nice neighbourhood so we couldn't wonder to far from the set. There is a scene where Sam Raimi gets thrown into, I think it was Pepsi or Coca Cola display, and he actually hits it so hard that you can see the cans explode. When you play with these guys, you play pretty hard, Ha ha! It was a lot of fun making that movie and was a great honour to be able to work with Emil Sitka. I don't know how many Three Stooges movies he was in, but he was in several. Plus there were two of my favourite people; the characters actors from Green Acres Tom Lester, and his escapes to me, Mr Kimble I can't remember the actors real name right now. Yeah it was really interesting to work with him too.
Both Intruder and Evil Dead II originally came out on VHS, but are now available on DVD and even the internet now. What are you feelings towards new mediums?
Well, it's kind of interesting, I mean you can actually get both movies on your cell phone if you have the right equipment. I've never done that so I don't know how it would affect my feelings. I can't imagine you'd get too much enjoyment or really feel the entire effect by watching Evil Dead II on a cell phone. Intruder is going to be re-released some time in the near future too.
Sam Raimi playing Randy, thrown into a Pepsi display (1989)
A KNB fake head of Bub, crushed in a trash compactor (1989)
Yes Scott Spiegel mentioned that it was going to be released by Synapse, and he's done a commentary track for it.
Yes, In fact I was at a horror convention in Indianapolis a few weeks ago and I did my portion then. I'm not certain of the date when it's going to be re-released but I'm looking forward to it because a lot of the people never got to see the movie. The violence was over the top, so the releases they were all messed up. You see this version, that version, I think the first version I saw was cut up so badly it hardly made any sense. Scott sent me a copy that he did himself which included everything. Here's a Interesting point; there's a scene where a man's head is put in to a trash compactor. It was so realistic when we did it, the script supervisor sitting on top of a stepladder making notes in her script and looking over everyone's shoulders so she could see the set, she passed out and fell off the ladder. Ha ha! Even through she knew it wasn't a real person and it was not really happening. It looked so realistic at the time, she believed it, she fainted!
The My Name Is Bruce cast; L/R: Tim Quill, Danny Hicks, Bruce Campbell, Taylor Sharpe, & Ben McCain (2007)
How did you get your cameo role in My Name Is Bruce?
Bruce called me and said look we'll doing this movie, what do you want to do, both to Tim Quill and myself, Tim Quill played the blacksmith in Army of Darkness. Bruce wanted us to be included but wasn't sure what he wanted us to do, so he just said "I'm not gonna put anything in the script for you guys, so I'll fly you up to Oregon and we'll figure something out". So he basically let Tim and me write our own parts. As the whole movie revolves around Bruce making fun of his movies, I thought it would be interesting to make fun of my character in Evil Dead II, Tim said "you do that and I'll make fun of the blacksmith in Army of Darkness", and Bruce didn't know what we were going to do. So we are sitting there on the first day of shooting, the set's lit, everything is ready to go and he comes up to us and asks us what we were going to do. I explain, and Bruce thinks about it for a second and says "that's good, but your both gay". So he made us gay, roll cameras, roll sound and action. So that's how that all came about, Ha ha. It was kind of interesting.
Danny as the Dirt Farmer in My Name Is Bruce (2007)
Apparently Bruce Campbell is now working on Bruce vs. Frankenstein apparently to be released in 2011?
Yes, we were supposed to have done it this year, but Bruce took the option of doing the Burn Notice two hour Sam Axe special instead. I talked to Bruce about a month ago when we had dinner together and I'm not sure when Bruce vs. Frankenstein is going to be done, maybe not even this year, as Bruce hasn't said one way or the other. I know he wants to do it but I imagine he is pretty tired, and needs little bit of a break. I don't have a specific role, but I'm sure I'll figure in there somewhere.
Can you tell us about your cameo role in Spiderman II?
Sam's producer Grant Curtis called me and said come down and we'll find something for you, and I ended up spending about six weeks on the set. I think I had one line in the movie but I was on the set everyday for six weeks. So that's how that came about.
I guess there would be little chance of you being in Spiderman 4 if Sam Raimi's not on board?
No I don't think so, however he is working on, I'm not sure of the working title, but I think it may be The Emerald City, which is a spin-off from The Wizard of Oz. I know they were planning on starting production or principal photography in Detroit this July, but now my understanding is that the incentives in Michigan have been revoked and I don't know what their plans are right now. I think it may be kept hold while they find a location to shoot, but I know my agent has been talking to them about me playing a role when and if they get to that stage, but right now I think it's all just up in the air.
Bruce Campbell, Tom Sullivan, Josh Becker and a number of the cast The Evil Dead all appear at various conventions around the US. Were you aware of the fan following, and do you have plans to follow suit?
You know, I wasn't. One day Bruce called me from a convention in New Jersey and he said "Danny if you don't get you butt out here and start doing these conventions I'm not gonna be your friend any more, get out here and start selling stuff!". At first I wasn't really interested, but I've got to tell you that was the big mistake on my part. I've gone to probably ten of them now and I'm absolutely amazed how many people just think that Evil Dead II is the greatest movie ever made, and how interested they are in my character. They have my lines memorized, and run around screaming like Bobby Joe when they see me, and make references to some line or other I said in the movie. I was really shocked that people would be interested, and I'm scheduled for three more conventions this year. It's kind of amazing because we made that movie in 1986, and a lot of the that people think it's the greatest movie ever made, were not even born at that point. I go to these conventions not knowing what to expect, especially the first couple, but I ended up getting the rock star treatment. You know, a little frightening and very gratifying. You should find me one in the United Kingdom, I would be happy to be there.
So what are you working on at moment? Are there any new films on the horizon?
No, but I've just finished shooting one episode of Ted Raimi's web series called Morbid Minutes. It's a pretty interesting concept, he tells the entire story in about one minute thirty seconds from beginning to end and he is doing a series of these. I've been working on episode four. I really can't tell you what it's about because I'll give the whole thing away, but it should be out soon on the internet. It's also in 3D if you have that capability. It was very interesting to work for Ted, I've worked with him more times then I can remember but this is the first time I have ever worked for him as a director, it's just has much fun working Ted, as it is working for his brother Sam. Teddy is a very good director and I had a lot of fun doing it.
In fact I actually got Ted Raimi is first paying job as an actor. That was back before I'd met the Raimi's, Bruce or Rob, or any of the guys. A friend of mine was directing a play called See How They Run at the community college in Farmington in Michigan, and she asked me to help with casting. So I was sitting there watching these people audition and Ted walks on stage, instantly I don't know who this guy is, but gave him the part, he obviously had something going for him. So that was Ted Raimi's first paying role as an actor.
Thank you for talking to us, is there anything you would like to mention to your fans?
Just Morbid Minutes, that's about the only thing I have to put out there. I have some other projects in the works but it's the film industry and when they say action and the check doesn't bounce, that's when you know your working, Ha ha!
Jake, still a possible skeleton Deadite in Evil Dead 4?