LOS ANGELES | When he changes continents, Tom Ellis changes identities.
In Great Britain, the 37-year-old actor is known for his work as wholesome characters. In the United States, he’s a bit of a rogue. In “Rush” he played a drug-addicted physician who operated outside the bounds of traditional medicine. Now, in “Lucifer,” he’s the devil himself.
Ironically, Ellis’ father, sister and uncle are all ministers. “But I was never going to follow in their footsteps,” he says with a smile.
“I grew up on the very human side of Christianity, so messages in the household were about peace, love and being understanding of everybody, which I think is quite cool.” TV’s “Lucifer” isn’t designed to prompt “some big theological debate. If there’s anything at the heart of it all, it’s we should take a look at ourselves and responsibility for our own actions as opposed to trying to put it into some mythical ether and blaming it on someone else.”
The original graphic novel, producers say, was designed with David Bowie in mind.
“What we did do was take some of Bowie’s music and infuse it into the pilot,” Ellis says. “Lucifer is a massive David Bowie fan.” That music comes into play at Lux, the upscale nightclub the devil owns in Los Angeles. A pop star is murdered outside its doors and Lucifer is intrigued enough to seek justice. He joins forces with Chloe Dancer, a homicide detective (played by Lauren German), and is immediately struck by her inherent goodness. That prompts the angel Amenadiel to come to Earth to convince Lucifer to go back to the underworld.
“Lucifer himself says, ‘Am I the Devil because I’m intrinsically evil or am I the Devil because dear old dad decided I was?’” Ellis says. “That’s kind of the crux of where we find him in the show.”
Because he had no history with the character, Ellis read the graphic novels and relied heavily on the pilot script that spelled everything out. Creator Neil Gaiman contacted him after he saw the pilot and gave his blessing.
“That was a really important thing,” Ellis says. “It didn’t feel like we were bastardizing something – there was a reality behind taking a character and making a TV show about it.”
Weekly, Lucifer looks at different crimes, which gets him to ponder why people choose to do evil things. “He doesn’t care if they get put in prison,” says Director Len Wiseman. “He does care if they’re punished.”
Ellis says Lucifer perceives humans as his “lab rats.” “There’s no conscience behind it. He’s putting the puzzle in place of humanity through all these experiences he’s going through. The biggest thing about why he works with Chloe is he’s fascinated by her and not what she’s investigating.”
By the fifth episode, Lucifer’s supernatural side collides with his earthly one and he’s caught in the middle.
“What he finds so interesting about Earth is that (humans’) fates aren’t decided yet,” Executive Producer Joe Henderson says. “What’s fun is now Lucifer’s encountering humanity at a moment of choice.”
While Ellis didn’t consider the clergy as his calling, he hasn't always exhibited angelic behavior. “I like to drive quite fast some times,” he says. “I’ve had a few tickets in my life.”
The show’s script, he says, suggested Lucifer was a fun character. It had “loads of potential to carry on. Doing shows that haven’t worked, you sort of hone in your senses about what your choice has become. This, for me, was a very obvious choice. I really wanted to do it.”
“Lucifer” premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on Fox.