Based on characters created for DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint, the new Fox series Lucifer follows Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis), the world’s greatest villain who abandons his throne because he is bored and unhappy in Hell and looking to have some fun in the city of Angels. Devilishly handsome and charismatic, he has a talent for drawing out people’s darkest secrets, which proves to be more of a burden than he would like.
While at the TCA Press Tour, executive producer/pilot director Len Wiseman spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what made him want to get involved with Lucifer, finding the tricky balance in tone, why he’d prefer not to focus on or actually show God, the challenge of finding the right actor to bring this character to life, how fast the production process for the pilot was, the he approach film and TV the same way, and why falling in love with the characters on the page is so important to him.
Collider: What made you want to get involved with Lucifer?
LEN WISEMAN: Really, the reason I wanted to do this was that it was so different from what I’d done before. I didn’t want to make it so much of a genre show. Even the character was far more grounded with very twisted, dark humor. It’s been so great. It’s really important for you to feel for Lucifer. Is it possible to show a very irreverent portrayal of Lucifer where you actually feel bad for the guy, and what would that be? Some people will embrace it. My family is Mormon. I’m not Mormon, but my family is, and my mom was like, “You’re doing a show called Lucifer?! But I will admit, he is handsome, so I’ll watch it.”
Is it tricky to find the balance between having this guy be sarcastic and cynical, but still having him be sympathetic and likeable?
WISEMAN: He says whatever he wants, he does whatever the hell he wants to do, and he doesn’t give a shit about anything. It’s almost a fantasy of us being able to do whatever we want, in any kind of situation. But, the things that actually tie in with him personally is where you really see what he’s struggling with. It’s a great character because he’s so confident, and yet really, really, really insecure about what he’s doing here. I pitched it to Tom [Ellis] early on as, yes, it’s the devil and God and angels, but I didn’t really ever want to mention or even say God that much, and instead address him as Father. It is a relationship between a father and his son and his brother, and that family dynamic where the son just thinks, “Dad doesn’t love me. He’s always hated me. Screw him! I quit! I’m moving out of the house. I’m not doing what he wants me to do. I’m going to live my own life. It’s gonna piss him off, but he doesn’t love me anyway.” It’s like a teenager rebelling at his dad, which I think we can all relate to, in a way that has nothing to do with God and the devil.
Do you think about whether there will be a point where you have to show that Father, or can you get away without ever doing that?
WISEMAN: I don’t think we should. I say that now because we’re in Season 1, and further down the line, I don’t know. But, we aren’t going into those fantasy realms much. It’s boiling under the surface and we know that it’s the drama that is fueling his fears and his quest. It would take away from how grounded it really is. It’s a weird show. It’s weird, in a great way. The first draft that I read, there were so many things that we were looking at and I was like, “You know guys, I love this Lucifer script.” A lot of people were confused by that because it is very strange. I thought he was a really strangely endearing guy, in the way that House, M.D. was. House is such an asshole, but you like him. It was a chance to do something very different from what I’ve done.
Was it difficult to find the right actor to embody Lucifer Morningstar?
WISEMAN: It makes or breaks the project. Early on, I said, “If I don’t find the right Lucifer, than I’m not going to do the show because everything I could possibly bring to it isn’t going to matter, if you don’t have that actor who can hit the right tone and do the dialogue.” The dialogue was written in such a way that you could get into it too much. If you get into it too much, the guy comes across like he’s condescending, and then he’s not very likeable. He’s just kind of a dick. So, I was looking for an actor that read those lines as matter-of-fact. He’s not trying to be condescending when he says that he has a persuasion over all women and that all women are attracted to him. It’s just reality. At times, it’s a nuisance. He’s not trying to brag or be smug about it. It just is. It’s just the way it is. That is his reality. And so, to play it matter-of-fact is somewhat charming, rather than knowing that he is putting somebody down. That was a very, very important tone, to me.
How did you approach the production for this and what sort of schedule did you have for this pilot?
WISEMAN: This was really fast. My deal is at 20th and this is a collaboration with Warner Bros., so that took a little bit of time to work out. And it was late in the game of a pick-up for the script, which I think had to do with the subject matter and the weirdness of the script. You either hate it or you love it, and that depends on how the tone is executed. So, by the time we were officially greenlit, we were very late. My experience of it was mad rush. Our prep time was very, very short.
Whether it’s film or TV, do you typically approach everything the same way, or do you feel like there’s a big difference between the two?
WISEMAN: I don’t feel a difference. I thought I would, to be honest. When I started doing television, I thought that I would change the way that I shot, the way that I blocked, and the technical side of it. You’re not going to change your relationship with the actors or how you approach the characters. That wasn’t any different. But, I really thought the process and what I’m used to doing on film would be different. I thought that because I wouldn’t have the same amount of time, I wouldn’t do all of the tracks that I like to do or the lighting that it takes. And then, I got there and realized that I don’t know any other way. I just do all that stuff really, really fast and under a lot of stress. One thing that is very different technically is that you don’t get a lot of coverage in television. Not like you do on a film. I know we don’t have time for separate set-ups, so I will design a scene where I’m hiding multiple cameras within that set-up. That way, if I don’t have time to do five set-ups, I can do four cameras in one set-up. It’s a different kind of approach for that. For the most part, a lot of television, in a visual sense, lacks time for the atmosphere and putting you in a place, and we really want to sell Los Angeles as a sexy, cool, fun place to go and hang out.
It seems as though your focus has really shifted to the characters at the center of a story. Have you consciously made that shift?
WISEMAN: Absolutely! If you don’t fall in love with the character on the page, it’s going to be hell for you. I look for that now. Within this genre, you get sent a lot of scripts where your agent will say, “You’re going to love this concept. It’s got a great concept and a great world. The characters needs a little bit of work, but they’re going to be okay after a polish.” I run away from those now. I will embrace it when my agent says, “These characters jump off the page. You’re going to love these characters. I don’t know about the world. It needs to be figured out. The rules are a little strange. But, the characters are great.” That’s how I approach it now.
Lucifer airs on Monday nights on Fox.