Tom Ellis on Fox’s ‘Lucifer’ and Rethinking the Devil As A Rejected Son
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, actor Tom Ellis spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about just how much fun he’s having on this show, who this version of the devil is, why he’s at a point in his life where he’s self-reflecting in a way he never has before, genuinely enjoying working with his co-stars, how bad Hell must have been for Lucifer to leave it behind, what he’s really looking for, and how being rejected by his father has shaped him into who he is now.
Collider: Does having people call you Lucifer Morningstar every day ever get old?
TOM ELLIS: I know! It is a strange one. I walk in and people go, “Oh, look who it is! It’s the devil! Speak of the devil!” It’s fun. I’m having a lot of fun. I’m not going to lie. It’s a little bit like being able to say anything you want to and getting away with it. Rush was fun because he thought he was immortal, but this is more fun because Lucifer is immortal. It’s been rewarding because it’s been so fun. If it wasn’t so much fun, it would be arduous because our shooting schedule is tough. But there’s an amazing writing team writing these scripts, and I’m having so much fun voicing the character of Lucifer. The more we do it, the more they hear me doing it and we tune in to each other. It’s great. I hope people enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it.
Who is this version of the devil?
ELLIS: Part of the show is the misconception of who the devil is and what he does. Everyone thinks he makes people do evil things. “The devil made me do it” is a classic phrase. But he’s never made anyone do anything, ever. He’s revealing their dark desires and thoughts and weeding them out. He’s very resentful of this label that he’s got, and that’s one of the main reasons he decided he wanted to leave Hell. He wants to be judged as his own man. That’s the angle that we come at it.
Lucifer seems like he’s at a point in his life where he’s self-reflecting and re-evaluating things in a way that he’s never done before. Why do you think he’s doing that now?
ELLIS: We talk about him leaving Hell because he’s bored. That may be the reason he left. Where we pick up the story in the pilot, we’re assuming he’s been on Earth for about five years, leading this hedonistic, playboy lifestyle, which is no more gratifying than what he left. He’s alluding to the fact that it is, but he’s got no purpose. But, that experience of being around all of these people and being on Earth is affecting him. He’s never looked back into himself before. In the pilot episode, he encounters Detective Decker and his assumption of power doesn’t work on her. And then, they cross paths with Dr. Linda, the therapist, and he comes back and admits that he’s having some kind of existential crisis and he needs therapy. Throughout the series, we will play out Lucifer in therapy and go through these things that perplex him. As a human being, those things are obvious, but to him, it’s not obvious because he’s never experienced it before. He thinks everything is black and white. He’s got no concept of moral ambiguity. So, there’s a lot of fun to be had with that.
Rachael Harris is so fantastically funny. Do you have trouble getting through those scenes without laughing?
ELLIS: We laugh a lot, Rachael and I. In fact, as a cast, we all genuinely got on really well and laugh a lot, and there’s a lot to be said for that. There’s no one around being cynical about this show. We’re enjoying it. We’re enjoying this world and we’re all very supportive of each other. We know that we’re lucky to be doing a job that we’re really enjoying. One of the big parts of my decision-making process is knowing that when you’re signing up for something like this, you’re signing up for multiple seasons, should it be successful, and in theory, you want it to be successful, but you also want to be doing something that you’re enjoying. As an actor, I enjoy variety. That’s a big thing for me. So, if I’m going to put my name to something and commit to something that’s going to take up a lot of my time, it has to be something that I know is going to be enjoyable and worth my while. Otherwise, what’s the point?
How intrigued and confused is Lucifer by the fact that he’s found someone in Detective Decker who doesn’t respond to his charms?
ELLIS: He’s very intrigued. There’s a part of him that sees it, at first, as a challenge. She sets something off in him that he’s never experienced before, and that fuels his curiosity about her. He wants to be around her. He finds himself drawn to this person and he’s never had that before. He’s never really felt like he truly cared for someone, or trusted and had someone trust him. All of these things that Chloe brings into his life are new concepts for him. They’re quite obvious concepts for other people, but for him, it’s almost like he’s a kid. He’s very good at what he used to do, and that’s still inside of him. He knows one world and he’s brought his attitude to this new world, not bargaining on the fact that things will affect him. At the heart of the whole show, we tell the story with a real sense of fun.
What do you think Hell must have been like to cause Lucifer to want to voluntarily leave and look for an alternative?
ELLIS: (Executive producer/pilot director) Len Wiseman and I mused over that for awhile. Everyone’s Hell is different because it’s all tailored to their own personal hell, and I like that notion. We touch on it in the series that Lucifer is much more affected by the role that he had to play and that was forced on him than he lets on. People assume that he’s intrinsically evil, but he was forced to do a job he didn’t want to do. He bears a huge chip on his should about people’s misconception. I think his personal hell is being on his own and not around people. He’s a very gregarious sort, so to have that taken away from him would be his personal hell.
What do you think he’s really looking for?
ELLIS: I think to be judged for his own doing and not what people assume of him. I think he’d love to find that sense of peace somewhere. We’re picking up at this rudderless stage of his life where he’s left Hell and decided to go to Los Angeles and do his thing. At his heart, there’s a really lonely person. To have a true connection with somebody is what he doesn’t realize he wants. As much as he flaunts the, “I’m a devil,” thing as a security blanket, there’s a real soul in there. At the very heart of what this show is, it’s a redemption story about the most irredeemable character that we know.
How much has being rejected by his father really affected Lucifer?
ELLIS: Hugely! For me, that’s the cornerstone of his want for something different. He bears a huge resentment toward his father and anyone who attributes their faith to his father. He’s like, “You don’t know! You don’t know what he did to me!” We allude to the fact that he was the favorite son until this big fall. Not to invoke any theology into it, I’ve tried to perceive it as a very human dilemma. His relationship with his father is as human as any other person’s and as real as any other person’s. That’s the driving force behind his path to redemption, even though I don’t think he realizes it.
And he can’t escape it because everybody is worshiping his father.
ELLIS: Even to the point where everybody uses his father’s name casually, in every day life. When people climax at the height of sex and go, “Oh, God!,” he’s like, “Why did you have to bring his name into it?!” All of the things he really enjoys doing, his dad is still managing to ruin. It’s a real simmering resentment.
Lucifer airs on Monday nights on Fox.