‘Lucifer’ Star Tom Ellis on Playing the Crime-Fighting Devil

Tom Ellis Lucifer
Brinson+Banks for Variety

After 15 years as a scene-stealing fixture across the Pond, plus a breakout turn as the star of USA’s short-lived “Rush,” Welsh actor Tom Ellis has landed one hell of a role — as Lucifer himself, in Fox’s eponymous supernatural drama. Perhaps it’s time to give the devil his due.

Lucifer is a character who comes with a lot of preconceptions – did you have any trepidation about taking the role?

I think I was wonderfully naïve about that, actually. [Laughs.] I read the script and literally, four or five pages in I thought, “this is something I really wanna do,” because it was so funny. So I didn’t think, I suppose, about the gravity of playing this character or what that means to lots of people. But obviously since accepting the role and doing it, yes, certain groups have come forward to express their displeasure about this. I always find it interesting when people comment on stuff they haven’t seen. It says more about them than about what we’re doing…

I come from a very religious household, growing up; my father’s a pastor, my uncle’s a pastor and my sister’s a pastor, and they’re all thrilled that I got this job and they’re able to understand what this show is, I suppose, which is a satire using the character of the devil to tell a redemption story. And that’s ultimately what this is – it’s not trying to offend anyone or throw up any big theological debate, it’s just a piece of entertainment, basically. If there’s anything at the heart of it that’s didactic or there’s a message there, then it’s maybe that people should have a little look at themselves and take responsibility for their own actions rather than put it on other people or other things, other beings.

In the same way that “Bruce Almighty” had Morgan Freeman in a white suit playing God, that’s the tone in which we enter this sort of theology. It’s not out there to offend people. And if people do get offended by it, there’s lots of other things on.

What differentiates “Lucifer” from other Fox odd-couple procedurals like “Bones,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “The X-Files”?

When I first read this and then we started to move into the series, I think more about “Moonlighting” than I do about any of the others… and another template for me in terms of the tone of their relationship is Benedick and Beatrice in “Much Ado,” you kind of feel that they really love each other but there’s too many things in the way, and it makes for great entertainment, that will they/won’t they aspect of any show like that, it’s a big hook.

But I think what makes it different from those shows is that Lucifer’s indifferent to the crime they’re solving. It doesn’t really matter to him about finding out about the crimes, so much, until something might twig for him along the way, but it’s all a game to him, and if it’s ever more than a game, it’s something that he hasn’t bargained for. I think that’s what differentiates this from a lot of those shows. And I know the pilot is funny, but for a network hour drama, I think how funny this show is differentiates itself from those shows, it doesn’t take itself too seriously… We’re not trying to do anything or replicate anything, we’re just having a lot of fun with this character and his experience and hopefully people watching will get that sense of fun.

What’s the biggest culture shock between working in the U.S. and the U.K.?

The volume of episodes and the size of everything. When we were shooting the pilot, it was 18 days. We would close down Hollywood Boulevard for five days to do these night shoots, and I’m like, “This is insane; I can’t believe this is happening.” Since working in the States, I’ve had a lot of “pinch me” moments.

What’s the best career advice you’ve been given?

It was from Mark Strong, and it’s always stuck with me: He said, “Just know what you’re in.” Finding the tone of the piece that you’re in and your performance fitting within that is the key.

“Lucifer” premieres Monday, Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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  1. Gay Pinder says:

    I was a big fan of Castle and since that has come to its end, Lucifer will be my next romantic comedy police procedural. Can’t wait until the new season begins.

  2. Georgina says:

    The British accent and some British jargon makes the show much more appealing to the international viewer …..entertaining series…will keep watching……anyone who takes it at all serious ….should go back to watching a more believable fairy tale such as a documentary about Christopher Columbus discovering Americaa…..its better brainwashing

  3. Linda Heffington says:

    Totally agree with Tom on his view of this show. I think it is about redemption (the devil’s even though he doesn’t know it or really want it; yet subconsciously he does, he feels betrayed by God). I LOVE this show and sooo hope they don’t cancel it! I can’t wait to see how they play out the show. The only thing I really don’t like is how he can now be hurt, even though I know why they are doing it… As for the religious people, they are close minded group. Forget them, God probably has!

  4. gabrielle says:

    What a great change of pace for television

  5. Marie says:

    He is so perfect for this role. Love the show and he makes it perfect…

  6. Jac says:

    Extremely fun, interesting and surprising in that a fallen angel is tired of having everyone think he is the devil, when he perceives himself as being abandoned and forced into a :job” he hates. He is tired of being the bad guy.

    His partner, the detective is rebuilding her life as well.

    The conversation between who is good, why they are good, who is evil and why they are perceived one way or another is interesting.
    And it is cleaver in the wit and talented performers.

    Love it!

    I sincerely hope this show lasts more than just few episodes. It is a keeper!

  7. sfvmovielover says:

    The “crime-fighting” should not be so casually dismissed. It’s great entertainment, not to be taken too seriously, and sets the stage for some wonderful lines of dialogue that Tom Ellis gets to say. Also delicious are the moments when Lucifer shows his true face, which they are careful not to have him do too often.

  8. mike says:

    It a cool show. Funny at its best. And if it offends someone, well at least it does dipictate that the devil is real and heaven and hell exsist and falls in line with the old testament in a funny but percurlier way.

  9. joann says:

    i think the show is great and quite funny….and it’s long overdue for some good and funny and entertaining tv…. with someone who is also so very yyyyyyyyy pleasant to look at..
    folks who are making foolish comments.. shld realize this is tv. and its meant to entertain.. thelines
    are great and so amusing at times…., and quite interesting…. I have watched many times over again
    on demand…. just to enjoy the laughs and great writing…& of course tom ellis… so many stupid reality shows… this is a keeper as far as myself and many other s can see… keep it goin, please..

  10. Bill B. says:

    A crime fighting Lucifer?! What could be more ridiculous.

    • cameo says:

      With good writing, even an implausible premise can come around to making sense. The show has some really good writing, and you just want to go with it!

      Ellis just has that mischievous sparkle in his eye that makes you think of a super cool jazzy kind of devil – the one that the phrase “devilish grin” came from. Not an easy thing to pull off, and he just has it. Loved the piano playing episode. He is so watchable, people seem to forget how devastatingly beautiful Lauren German is. I imagine she is going to turn out to be some kind of angel – maybe a fallen one too?

      Keep writing this series, we love it.

    • Nicole says:

      Did you miss the part where he said it is “a satire using the character of the devil to tell a redemption story”? The character is really well developed and the premise is fantastic.

    • Rodrigo says:

      Have you watched the pilot?

  11. iceblast says:

    Really looking forward to this series.

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