Dana DeLorenzo set for new beginning as ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ comes to an end

While the news broke last week that the horror comedy “Ash vs. Evil Dead” is coming to an end after its third season on STARZ, it also marked a new beginning for the series’ breakout star, Dana DeLorenzo. Not only has DeLorenzo’s turn as Deadite slayer Kelly Maxwell earned her respect and loyalty from fans of the series, it, in a serendipitous bit of timing, has also brought her the prestigious Artemis Action Next Wave award from the Artemis Women in Action Film Festival.

And with that, the next wave of DeLorenzo’s career begins when she accepts the honor Thursday night in Los Angeles.

“I am ecstatic and incredibly humbled to be an Artemis Women in Action honoree,” DeLorenzo said. “The timing of the awards gala — days before the series finale of ‘Ash Vs Evil Dead’ — is a staggering example of synchronicity; the most wonderful bookend to the most insane and glorious time of my life thus far. Receiving a Women in Action award is a real tribute to the character Kelly Maxwell, as well as all the unsung heroes involved in bringing her to life.”

In a phone conversation from LA just a couple days before STARZ’s announcement about the fate of the show, DeLorenzo was aware of the possibility that “Ash vs. Evil Dead” could come to an end this season. Was she mentally preparing herself for the possible news of cancellation? Yes, but truth be told, she had been mentally preparing herself since the first season, as there were never any guarantees with the series.

“I think everyone involved in making this show mentally prepared that every season could be our last,” DeLorenzo said. “There’s a lot of competition out there, more so than ever. And in this era of television the longevity of any show is especially unpredictable. So, I think we all treated every episode — and every season — as our last, but in the best way. I can only speak for myself, but whenever an episode or scene was a particularly epic — like the colon fight (in season two) — it was hard to imagine how it could ever be matched, let alone topped. But I think we pushed ourselves to a new level every season; and I believe that’s a result of treating each one as if it’s the last.”

On top of that, DeLorenzo also knew from day one that pretty much every character apart from Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) was vulnerable and could be killed off the series.

“It was all made very clear to us before we started shooting when we were told, ‘Just so you guys know, you won’t know ahead of time if your character is going to die. You’re going to have to find out with everybody else. None of you are safe,'” DeLorenzo recalled. “So, that was understood. Still, it caught you off-guard when people like Jill Marie Jones’ character (Detective Amanda Fisher) were killed off (in season one). It was still shocking.”

The interesting thing is, while Kelly was killed off by the villain-turned-ally-turned-villain Ruby Knowby (Lucy Lawless) in episode six this season (but her soul and life form, at least for the time being — or perhaps forever — lives on in a parallel universe known as “The Rift”), she was still very much a part “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” Whether she was playing Kelly in life or in the afterlife, the series gave DeLorenzo the best experience she’s had as an actor to date.

“It has been such an epic milestone in my life — from the fans to the role to all I’ve learned — everything about it,” DeLorenzo said. “This was my first series regular role that continued beyond the pilot as a green-lit series. So, even if ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ would have lasted one season, it would have held a special place for me. This show is such a part of me and a part of my heart, whether it leads to many more things or not.”

Always one to give credit to behind-the-scenes people on the show, DeLorenzo is sincerely grateful to the writers for finding a way to keep Kelly around for the duration of the series.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have lasted this long as Kelly, and even when I’m dead to still be playing her or other characters … if this is all where it ends, what I can say personally is, ‘Man, what a wild, groovylicious, bloody, insane f—in’ ride it has been.’ I am so honored, lucky and grateful to be tied to this franchise for the rest of my life. It will never get old to me. It will always be a great love of my life.”

Unbridled passion

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, DeLorenzo first attended college and worked in Chicago before she headed out to Los Angeles seeking a career on-screen. Her first speaking role on TV was as “Girl #2” on the hit CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls” in 2011. Other opportunities followed, including a recurring skit where she played Beth the CBS executive on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”; while other promising chances to be on shows like Fox’s “The Mindy Project” slipped through her grasps.

“That experience and others like it would be best described with this analogy: I was jockey on my horse, prepared and ready to run the Kentucky Derby — but when the race started my gate wouldn’t open. So, I never got to run the race,” DeLorenzo said, humbly. “In other cases, I got out of the gate but fell off my horse; or my horse ran in the other direction. Sure, it broke my spirit for a while — but it never broke my back. I always got back on the proverbial horse, no matter what. I hope that doesn’t sound too trite, because it’s the truth. It’s an idiom for a reason! Always get back on the horse. I’m grateful I did, because I eventually got to run the race … and finally made it all the way to the finish line.”

The silver lining for viewers is, as difficult as missed opportunities have been for DeLorenzo, those heartbreaks also helped build character. Because of her misfortunes she became resilient and never lost sight of her integrity; traits, that combined with her passion for life and her work, have served her well as she found her way to what has been the ride of a lifetime on “Ash vs. Evil Dead.”

Initially billed in what could have become the thankless role as a foil for Campbell’s chainsaw-wielding, boomstick-slinging, Shemp’s Beer-chugging antihero Ash Williams in “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” DeLorenzo quickly defined the role of Kelly as somebody much more than a “sidekick.” Getting into just as many blood-and-guts-soaked mishaps as the show’s namesake, it didn’t take long for DeLorenzo to become a fan favorite that has rivaled the popularity of Campbell himself. That’s a monumental feat, considering Campbell is the actor who made the role of Ash legendary in director Sam Raimi’s cult classic “Evil Dead” film trilogy.

The amazing part of fandom, as DeLorenzo has discovered, is that the adoration fans have for Kelly Maxwell and “Ash vs. Evil Dead” isn’t limited to U.S. borders. True, DeLorenzo has fans following her on her social media channels from all over the world, but she for the first time felt the true reach of the show meeting people from all over Europe when attended the horror-themed convention Weekend of Hell in Dortmund, Germany. Joining cast mates Campbell and Ray Santiago (who plays Ash and Kelly’s fellow Deadite hunter, Pablo) at the convention earlier this month, DeLorenzo immediately found out that there was just as much an affinity for Kelly’s F-bomb-laced dialogue in Europe as there is stateside.

“When I would sign photos, they kept saying — even though they couldn’t speak much English and I unfortunately couldn’t speak German, I learned a few things – they would say, ‘Kelly, write f–k evil!'”

Weekend of Hell was definitely an eye-opener for DeLorenzo. She got to meet people who’ve been entertained by Kelly in places she never could have imagined.

“Germany was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” DeLorenzo said. “Going overseas, it was very apparent that, even in spite of the language barrier that the love was there. People were waiting two hours to talk, to say ‘hi’ and to get an autograph. I kept getting into trouble because I kept wanting to talk with everybody for five minutes. I was like, ‘You waited two hours? I want to give you enough time!'”

Despite the awakening, don’t think for a second that DeLorenzo has forgotten her U.S. fan base.

“I just get overwhelmed meeting people in the States — it is such a symbiotic relationship — some people say this is just fan service, but this is all very new to me and I’m just so happy to be doing what I love, that anything else on top of it is gravy and icing and cherries, and all the wonderful things in life. Donuts? Can we put donuts on top because I love donuts? So, even in America alone, if I meet a fan, I’m the one freaking them out by the end of the interaction, because I am so passionate and intense.”

Just Dana

Whether you’ve met DeLorenzo at a convention or merely exchanged a tweet, it’s easy to see that she’s just Dana, not Kelly (although she admits slipping into character time and again at conventions), and that she’s completely genuine and humbled over the fortunate position she’s found herself in life. And while it’s nice knowing that her work to fans in person and online have inspired people, that’s not why she does it. If anything, DeLorenzo she’s the one who is inspired, and her overtures to fans are a reflection of her gratitude.

“People have said to me, ‘You’re so normal and humble.’ That’s just because of the kind of parents I’ve had. My parents have kept me very grounded my whole life,” DeLorenzo said. “Also, I’ve had to work very hard my whole life. Not only have I had to work hard and persevere, but I have been through the wringer and that makes you appreciate anything you get that’s positive.

“So, for me, it’s not about being on TV, but just the fact that I have a steady job that I can go to, day in and day out, getting up every day to do what I love,” she added. “It’s the only thing I’ve worked for and wanted my entire life, so the transition from dream to reality is the greatest reward.”

Relating a story of how her parents have kept her level-headed, DeLorenzo noted, “An acquaintance said to them once the show was on the air, ‘Oh, my goodness, your daughter is on billboards and she has fans and people are dressing up like her.’ Then they said something along the lines of, ‘Do you realize that she’s a name?’ and my mom just looked at her and said so matter-of-factly, ‘No. She’s just Dana.’ It’s funny because to everybody else things look different. But at the end of the day, if you get a promotion at an office job, you got a promotion, but you’re still you. Your situation has changed, but you are still you.”

Anchors aweigh

There’s been a theme enveloping the character of Kelly Maxwell since the very beginning of “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” in that her character has been anchored, so to speak, in the Ernest Hemingway literary classic “The Old Man and the Sea.” It began to take shape when Ash, Kelly and Pablo made their fateful trip to Kelly’s parents’ house in episode two of season one. In a pivotal exchange, Ash tries to coax the Deadite out of Kelly, and Kelly’s mother, (Mimi Rogers) said she was a teacher and her favorite book was “The Old Man and the Sea.”

From there, sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed that in addition to Kelly’s favorite color being purple, the wardrobe or jewelry that costume designer Barbara Darragh conceived for DeLorenzo in every episode, in one way or another, incorporates an anchor.

Fast-forward to episode six this season, when the “The Old Man and the Sea” motif comes full-circle. Kelly decides to confront Ruby alone to destroy evil, even though she’s aware that the odds of survival are not in her favor.

“There’s a famous quote from that book that I think perfectly applies to Kelly’s final moments in episode six, which is, ‘A man can be destroyed, but not defeated,’ which really just gives me chills every time that I think of it,” DeLorenzo said. “It’s so important to me to draw the parallel because I love how it ties into Kelly’s journey. She went into battle because she, No. 1, took advantage of an opportunity that evil would never see coming; and No. 2, she thought since Ash and Pablo were off doing their own things, ‘If I go into this right now while evil’s not expecting it, I could potentially end this battle once and for all and no one has to die.'”

Third, and most importantly, DeLorenzo said, the motivating factor behind Kelly’s actions in the episode is how evil destroyed her family. Kelly could have moved on after evil was seemingly vanquished at the end of season two or chosen to not get back into the fight when it reemerges to begin season three, but that is not her purpose.

“We all know that Kelly is out for revenge, but she’s also at the start of season three a warrior without a war. She needs to stay in the fight against evil,” DeLorenzo said. “She also needs to follow her heart to forge her path, which is what mortal Ruby encouraged her to do in season two. What I’ve learned from playing Kelly it that it’s OK to be afraid, but the strength comes from having the courage to go for it in spite of that fear. You can assess the risks, but if the reward excites your spirit, you’ve got to go for it every time — and when you do, you’ve already won.”

While fans will have to wait until this Sunday to find out whether Kelly’s soul will remain adrift for all eternity in “The Rift,” they will be happy to know this: No matter the outcome of the character, DeLorenzo will push off from “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” hands firmly gripped on the ship’s wheel (or horse’s reigns, per her earlier analogy), charting her own course.

It’s a course that began with a casting director named Julie Ashton, who cast DeLorenzo in her first LA pilot out of Chicago and later her first television speaking role on “2 Broke Girls”; and whose keen sensibilities prompted her to eventually cast the actor in her first guest-starring role on NBC’s smash hit “Will & Grace” in February. It’s also a course that reunited her with the first person she met in Los Angeles, Ross Marquand (who, ironically went on to battle evil himself in “The Walking Dead”) for his 2015 comedy series “Impress Me”; and it’s a course that led her to a tender independent movie, 2017’s “The Mad Ones.”

Sure, in between those sunny beaches were rough waters, and DeLorenzo knows she’ll encounter them again. But risking those waters is how she fatefully arrived at “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” As for what’s next, it’s not a matter of if, but when DeLorenzo finds her way back.