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Lucifer exclusive: Tom Ellis talks season two

Image for Lucifer exclusive: Tom Ellis talks season two

The devil is among us, and he’s not necessarily running for office. In this case it’s Lucifer Morningstar, featured character from the television adaptation of the DC comic of the same name who’s returning for the second season of Lucifer in the form of British actor Tom Ellis.

In the season one finale, Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German) watched Lucifer die before mysteriously returning to life, confusing her even more on just who this unofficial “partner” in crime-solving really is. As the new year unfolds, the focus is on brothers Lucifer and Amenadiel (DB Woodside) putting aside their differences to deal with their mother, Charlotte (Tricia Helfer), who has escaped from Hell after being held there for thousands of years and is causing havoc on Earth. Now Lucifer has to keep his promise to “Dad” and recapture her, which, unsurprisingly, is considerably more challenging than originally expected.

What follows is Empire’s exclusive interview with Ellis, continuing the conversation begun last season.

How do you view Lucifer's dramatic thrust this season?

I would say that Lucifer's much less in control of things than he seemed to be in season one. What I have really enjoyed is that it feels like quite a different Lucifer in many ways to last season. There's still the Lucifer we know and love, but going on underneath all that there's a big push and pull about the deal that he made with dad, about his mom and what her presence here is. What does she actually want? At the same time, she's his mom. We grow to learn that Lucifer and Mom had a very close relationship in the past, that he was her favorite son, and there's a bond there. There's also a lot of unfinished business from the time that she was put into Hell by Dad, which is also a main thrust of the season. Plus the fact that Lucifer is still working with the LAPD alongside Detective Decker, and he’s still fascinated by her and what’s going on. And she’s equally fascinated by him, though quite quietly.

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Any lessons “learned” from year one that you’d like to incorporate into year two?

No, I wouldn't say in terms of playing him. I think the writers have done such a great job with him. Like any new TV show, you do your pilot and your first half of your first season is basically reiterating what your pilot was about and establishing who these characters are and their relationships with each other. Then, middle of last season, I feel like the show hit its stride when Lucifer’s wings were stolen. For the first time you see something actually matters to him; that he actually cared about something. That really opened up a new side of Lucifer for our audience, but it was news to him as well. This season there’s a lot more layers stripped away. It’s much rawer at times. We certainly go to our darkest depths we’ve been to with this show.

It sounds as though a focus of season two is going to be on the family dynamic between the brothers and their mother.

Yes, family is a big theme for us this year. Which is great, because one of the reasons that our audience has bonded with the show is that there are themes and relationships that people recognize within, but they’re just represented by slightly larger than life characters. Everyone's got a mom, everyone's got a dad. It's an interesting dynamic that that throws up — certainly the presence of Mom in the show; everyone is different around their mom. You know, behave differently and want to perhaps be perceived differently, and Lucifer's no different.

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But how strange is it calling Tricia Helfer mom?

Pretty weird [laughs]. I’m used to it now, but when she first came on board… I mean, I was a massive Battlestar Galactica fan as well, and I used to have quite a crush on Tricia back in the day, so there was this sort of Oedipal thing that was gong on…I’m joking. But we have a lot of fun with that in the show as well, because Mom is a celestial being who’s never had a human form, but she has to inhabit one. We have fun with the forms that she tries to inhabit where it doesn’t go so successfully, then the form she finally settles in is this character Charlotte. As you can imagine, it’s quite unnerving for Lucifer and Amenadiel that their mom is a rather hot woman.

Plus you had a crush on her.

I did, so it's downhill from there.

What seems particularly fascinating is the way that the audience seems to have really grown for the show between seasons.

You make these things and hope that they’re going to do well and that people are going to care for the characters as much as you do. It feels like people really do. When the pilot turned out like it did, I thought that this show could be really fun and entertaining. Now I feel like we ticked that box and found what the show is. We found an audience to watch it as well, which is great, and not just in America. It’s done really well around the world, mainly, I think, because of people’s fascination with the Devil. Another satisfying thing is that people expected the show to be one thing when they saw what it was called and the brief synopsis put out there. What I don’t think they bargained for was how funny the show was going to be — which was a massive appeal to me when I first read it. We’ve sort of built and snowballed since the show came out, which is exciting. It’s always wonderful to have another crack at it and build on what we started.

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You’ve brought up the humor thing before, and what’s interesting is that when things are spiraling out of control on the show, Lucifer seems kind of desperate to hold on to the lightness.

He needs it. That’s his way of diffusing any kind of anxiety and anything he feels he's not in control of. One thing he absolutely knows how to do is be cynical or whimsical or satirical or sarcastic, all of which are his ways of protecting himself. That's his tool. When things start to go awry, he's really clamoring. I think that when you see the stakes are high, that's when the show's at its most fun and entertaining as well. As dark as the show can go, the humor pops in more, which is quite interesting.

There’s a certain tortured quality to Lucifer that feels very real. Is there anywhere you go to find the character within yourself?

I've always tried to take the weight off the whole supernatural side of it, and the celestial side of it, shall we say, and tried to explore how it would feel to have gone through those experiences. We equate Lucifer's time in Hell, for example, with a time he’s very resentful of. He didn’t want to be there in the first place. In a weird sort of why, it’s almost as if I’m dealing with a character that seemingly is this charming, witty person who sort of floats through life, but actually he’s done some pretty awful things that he was forced to do. He’s very resentful of that time, and he didn't want to be there in the first place. In a weird sort of way it's almost as if I'm dealing with a character that seemingly is this charming, witty person who sort of floats through life, but actually he's done some pretty awful things that he was forced to do.

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It's almost like a celestial PTSD that he's going through from time to time. I don't want to make light of anything in the world at all, but the idea of someone working under a regime that they have no choice about, and being forced or made to do things that they didn't particularly want to do, and then they're being judged for those actions, that's the sort of weight that he carries around with him. On the more specific front, the family things that happened to him, I think anyone can connect to family issues and feelings of loss and resentment and love, and all of those things. That's what I try to tap into to make it as real as possible.

Is it tough to make the Devil sympathetic? This show certainly does that.

When you're playing a character that's a despicable character but it's the hero of your show, you, as the actor, have got to find something that you like about that character and you've got to have an empathy for something that they've been through. You don't have to condone stuff, but you've kind of got to try and understand it. That's always been a thing to me. I did a show a couple of years ago called Rush, and it was a similar kind of thing. It was a despicable character, really, who had a heart, but they were, through whatever experiences they had, hurt and they covered up this hurt with the way they decided to live their life. I never didn't like the character of Lucifer. What I loved about the spin on it was that he didn't like being this character. He didn't want to be that character anymore. He had no choice in being that character and felt completely resentful that he was seen in a particular light and he just wanted to be judged as his own man.

Lucifer does get indignant when people hit him with the trappings of the Devil.

Which is great fun, but there's some dark truth at the heart there as well. Badness and evil exists in the world, and throughout time people have tried to sort of almost shift that responsibility on to the classic cliché of the show, "The Devil made me do it". Lucifer's, like, "I didn't make anybody do anything.” This is the point: It's in everybody, and it's a choice of theirs whether they act on it or not. I think this notion of good and evil is a very black and white notion that film and TV falls into a lot. What I really like about this is there's a sort of gray ambiguous area that we haven't really explored, which is much more truthful to life. Lots of people do bad things. I'm not saying lots of people will go out and murder people, but lots of people do perceive bad things, everybody's flawed. If there's any message at the center of this show, which is never the intention but something that I think is quite true, it’s that people should take responsibility for their own actions rather than trying to pawn it all off to some mythical ether.

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Beyond dealing with family, what is the deal with the relationship between Detective Decker and Lucifer? Is it running in place or does that get a chance to evolve as well?

There is an opportunity for it to change and grow. It's about both characters accepting, or conceding, and compromising about where they're at. At the heart of their relationship, both of them feel drawn to each other, and for whatever reason, whether it could be explained or not, they feel like they need to be around each other. That may come to fruition as the show continues. Those two characters are interesting, because when they're together in their most honest moments, they're the most disarming of each other than any other character. They have to be themselves. Chloe opens up something in Lucifer that he's confused about; he doesn't understand it and he doesn't know what these feelings are. Similarly, he makes her a better detective. He helps her somehow, despite herself. She's like, "No, there's something about this person that I need in my life." They feel very drawn to each other, but of course there is this continual back and forth between them, which is a kind of relationship that I’ve always been fascinated by in pretty much anything. Like Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Everyone else can see that these two are probably in love with each other, but it's much more fun to watch them bicker and be at odds with each other whilst all that is going on underneath.

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What’s odd about the structure of this show is that even though there is a procedural element to it, the mythology seems to continually be pushed forward.

It took us a while to really figure out what the show was. There is a procedural spine to it in many ways, but I don't think it's at the cost of the mythology of the show. Somehow our writers have managed to find this weird balance between the two where one isn't compromising the other, and they're actually working together somehow. They've managed to thread it all together. For me, a procedural drama is you're pretty much starting at the same point again each week. You’ve got your team, they do their thing within the team and they go out and solve a crime, and then the next week they come back and do the same thing. I don't think that ever happens on Lucifer because there's always other stuff going on. This season I would say Lucifer's in a different place with regards to what he's solving. The overriding thing of all of this is that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not a particularly earnest show. That’s its saving grace. I don't know, it was something I was like, "How are they going to do this." As you said last year, it sort of works. It did work. They found how to do that and incorporate it within the show. It's part of the show. I think the overriding thing of all of this is that the show doesn't take itself too seriously. It's not a particularly earnest show. I think that that's its saving grace. Lucifer doesn't really care an awful lot about people, the bodies in these crime scenes, but it's about what's thrown up from that. Why did that person do that to that person? What's that emotion you're talking about? How can I apply that to what's going on with me? There's always a kind of selfish intention there from him tying to the notion that humans are a bit like lab rats to him in this explanation of how it all works.

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Figuring it out, almost like a puzzle.

It's all new to him, he's schooling on it all. He's very good at certain things, but humanity is something that's pretty lost on him. His experience of it thus far is just souls that need to be punished.

Lucifer airs on FOX in the US and Amazon Prime Video in the UK

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