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

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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