One of the most enjoyable genre shows of 2016 has been FOX’s Lucifer. Loosely based on the Vertigo comic book series of the same name, Lucifer centres on Lucifer Morningstar as he gets bored of his position as the Lord of Hell, instead opting to leave his throne behind and explore Los Angeles where he ends up helping out the LAPD. With Season 1 out on DVD later this month, and with the second season now available on Amazon Prime, we caught up with devilish star Tom Ellis to discuss this fan favourite genre show.
STARBURST: Lucifer is such a brilliant concept, but what drew you to the show? Was it an audience process or were you hunted down?
Tom Ellis: It was a bit of both, actually. I was over in the States – I’d done a show a couple of years ago called Rush. When Rush was no longer, I found myself in pilot season again. I was sent a lot of scripts to read, and a lot of them were very sort of same-y. Then one day I pulled this script out of my bag, Lucifer, and I thought “Oh God, here we go”, and I opened it up, and by about the third page I was thinking that this is what I want to do. It was great, really funny. It was so much funnier than all of the scripts I’d read, including the comedy scripts. There was just something about it that really drew me in. It was a joyful read, just really entertaining. I just thought about how I’d love to do this job because it had a lot of potential. I then went to go and meet Len Wiesman, who’d just been brought on as a director, and it was pretty much an instantaneous bromance. Basically, because we had a shared feeling about the script, about the character, and I think he was really down with the way that I had seen the character, and that was it really. Len championed me to Warner Brothers and FOX, and I think they didn’t take much persuading really because I think they were fans of Rush. It was about trying to find the right thing to do, and this seemed like the perfect fit.
When you got that script through and it says Lucifer on it, and it’s in amongst the many scripts that you’ve had, what was your expectation when you saw that? Were you thinking some sort of ‘generic horror’ type of affair?
Yes! A lot of people ask me whether I was a fan of the comics. True story, I got the job and then the day it was announced on Deadline.com, I read the article and it said “blah, blah, new series based on the comic book, blah, blah…” I was just like, “What?!”. In a way I’m kind of glad that I was a bit ignorant on that side of things, because my choices that I made about the character were made purely on the scripts that I had in front of me. I’ve done quite a few pilot seasons, and over the years I’ve started to learn about what I don’t want to do. Obviously reading the front page of this and seeing Lucifer, you’re thinking “Gosh, what is this going to be? Some sort of weird devil story?”, but it was just so fun and engaging. My sort of surprise about the script, and I think it’s been reflected by our audience… there’s been a lot of people say to me about how surprised they’ve been, how it’s not what they thought it would be and that it’s really funny. So I think it’s been a nice surprise all round.
When you realised that it was based on a comic book, did any trepidation kick in at the thought that there was a fanbase already out there that would be expecting to see certain things?
I suppose there was. With that comes a lot of people who are die-hard fans of the comic. But from the start, we always sort of said that this is ‘inspired by’ the comic. At no point did we try and make this a literal translation of it. In actuality, we’re trying to make a network TV show with potentially 22 episodes a season. We’ve got to find a way to make that work in a new format. The one thing that’s always stayed the same is the essence of the character; it’s been the same from the start and I’ve tried to keep that as true to the first scripts that I read. But I think that the way that this show has gone, the people that were feeling begrudgingly we were not doing service to the comic book have sort of come around now and accepted it as a different entity and accepted it for what it is – which is just an entertaining, fun TV show. And also, I think we’ve broadened our audience by doing that. There’s lots of people watching this show that wouldn’t normally sit down to watch a comic book-based thing.
You mentioned how there’s lots of humour throughout Lucifer, but there’s also a very dark, serious tone to it at times. How difficult was it to make sure that that was well balanced rather than going too funny or too dark?
It was a fine line that we had to walk, really. I think we earn our moments of gravity in the show by the use of humour, actually. I think with the show being funny and irreverent and the character of Lucifer sort of being funny or irreverent and saying what he wants to people, that in itself is quite funny, but to me I needed to find some moments to sort of ground it. I think this started to happen very organically. When we shot the pilot, we had a lot more time to shoot than when you actually go in to series. Len and I were experimenting when we were shooting, really, with different levels of stuff. We weren’t sure how it was all going to come together in the end, but we thought that if we gave ourselves enough options then we knew that we could plot our way through it. When we had that in place and the pilot was fixed, then I had something to work with.
When this was all coming together, were you aware of all of the petitions from people trying to get the show shut down before it even got going?
I think I would be naive to think that to do a show in this day and age called Lucifer that there wouldn’t be some people that were a bit unhappy about that. I mean, the truth of the matter is a lot of these people that were up in arms and petitioning against the show hadn’t even seen it. To me, that says a lot more about them than it does about our show. But I think the thing that makes me smile is when I get messages on social media from people who contact me and say, “Hi, I’m a Christian but I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been watching the show and think it great”. And they take it for what it is, and that’s all we hope that people can do. But there’ll always be haters out there.
It’s like when Kevin Smith was getting death threats whilst working on Dogma. When religion comes into play, people start to get a little tetchy…
They do, they do. I don’t think we really indulge the religious aspect of it, and I think we’ve always been clear about the fact that our source material that we’re drawing this character from is a comic book, not ‘the big book’. Let’s be clear about that.
Was it a bit ominous to be tackling the heavy topics of Heaven, Hell, God, demons, etc?
I suppose so. One of the things I’ve always been keen on is to try and sort of find some grounding aspects to that, so that it’s not just this kind of mythical thing. We’re referring to Heaven as ‘home’ or Hell as ‘home’, and actually really thinking about what a home is to a person. Rather than get carried away with the whole scale of that kind of thing, just to treat it as. For example, for my relationship with Amenadiel, D.B. Woodside and I sat down and talked about the fact that we wanted to try and get the idea that these two brothers were brothers and had grown up together; that they had a proper sibling rivalry, they used to fight in their bedroom and all that sort of stuff. We were trying to find elements that ground the show.
And before we let you go, what can you tell us about Season 2? How big a role was Lucifer’s mother have to play, and can we expect a longer, full season this time around?
We go out in the Fall, so we are essentially a full season this time. We’re doing 13 episodes at the start of it, then there’s the potential to do another 9 on the back. In terms of storyline, I don’t know an awful lot is the truth . What I would say, though, is one of the big storylines of Season 2 is going to be about Lucifer’s mum, who she is, what she represents, what effect she has on him. I think for the first time, at the end of Season 1, you see Lucifer’s quite scared. It’s going to add a new dynamic to the show, for sure.
The first season of Lucifer is available on DVD from October 17th, whilst Season 2 is now showing on Amazon Prime Instant Video.