Cardiff-born Tom Ellis—who first came to the interviewer’s notice as the sexy barman in the BBC sitcom Miranda (a YouTube must) and is currently starring in the lead role of Fox’s Lucifer (with just a nod to Milton’s Paradise Lost)—gives forth on Shakespeare, Brexit and working in the US (spoiler alert, it’s a joy for him).
“It feels strange to me that in the modern world this is still a talking point (women in positions of power). The right leader is the right leader as far as I’m concerned irrespective of gender or race.”
NYM: With your extensive experience in comedy, would you like your next role to be on the lighter side or are you hooked?
TE: It’s not that I’ve chosen to work in comedy a lot it’s something that I’ve fallen into more than anything, but it’s certainly a genre that I enjoy and feel very comfortable in. I trained as a classical stage actor covering all aspects of drama and to this day still love the variety that acting throws up. Right now it feels like the next role is just the one that feels right, be that drama or comedy, stage or screen. I will always go back to working in the theatre because it’s the purest form of what we do. Stuff happens on stage that only the audience there that night get to witness. I equate it to rehab for acting.
NYM: You were born in Wales so did you find any limitations with a Welsh accent and can you relate any funny misunderstandings?
TE: I was born in Wales but moved to England when I was 2 so I never had a Welsh accent, but even still there’s often confusion with the trans-Atlantic language barrier. I was doing a show called Rush a couple of years ago and my character was American. I decided that the easiest way to go about that process was to be American all day at work. In my social time when I was back to British, I spent so much time repeating myself because people couldn’t understand me (especially when asking for water!) that I gave up and ended up being American all of the time instead of some of it!
NYM: Your current role as Lucifer is quite a step away from what you have done in the past. How did you prepare for this? Where did you go for your inspiration for the dark side?
TE: Lucifer is certainly a step in a different direction from a lot of the ‘wholesome’ characters I’ve played in the past, but it’s certainly one of the most enjoying and fulfilling characters I’ve taken on. A lot of my early inspiration for the role was on the page of the first pilot script I read. Tom Kapinos of Californication fame had written it and there was this bizarre, irreverent, larger than life character having so much fun that I was immediately drawn to it. It wasn’t stated what accent this character had but it leaped off the page like a Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde character with a rock n roll swagger. I then started to create a playlist of music that I thought Lucifer would listen to and that might sound good in a soundtrack and just started to grow the character from there. I use music a lot when I’m creating characters as its a big part of who I am. It helps take me back to places and feelings and create tone and mood. Like a sense memory almost. There’s a real rhythm to the way Lucifer is written so tapping into that was a big key for me in how I was going to do this.
NYM: You come from strong religious family background so how has this role been received by both them and incidentally by any of your own faith-based beliefs?
TE: I did indeed grow up in the church. My dad is a Baptist pastor and so are my uncle and my sister! A lot of people have asked me how they feel about me playing Lucifer and the honest answer is they love it because they watch in the spirit it should be watched. It’s been interesting hearing people’s reactions to the show. Before we were even on the air there were a few people online asking for FOX to pull the show because it was glorifying evil, etc. etc., but none of those people had even seen it which I think suggests more about them than it does our show. Ultimately I see Lucifer as a satire using the most evil character in literature to tell the ultimate redemption story. If there is any message at all (which is not our objective) then it’s that people should take responsibility for their own actions, which I don’t think is such a bad thing. The messages that I get that really make me smile are from Christians who tell me about their faith and then say how much they love the show!
NYM: I understand you have been in the US working on the show. How is this different to the UK and what are you enjoying the most and least about this?
TE: The actual work process is no different really. Filming is the same the world over, but the biggest difference about working in the States is the amount of press and promotional stuff that comes with it. Fortunately, I’m doing something that I love and am proud of so it’s easy to talk about but I can’t imagine doing that much press when it’s something your hearts not in! I’ve been to Comic Con a couple of times now which was amazing and the response from fans is so encouraging. It really helps remind me who we are making the show for. Categorically the hardest part about shooting in the states is being away from my kids. The rest of it is a joy!
NYM: Being from the UK, what is your opinion of Brexit? Do you think actors and entertainers should use their public platform for political and social purposes? Why/why not?
TE: Being away from the UK as the Brexit result unfolded was such a strange feeling. I normally feel so proud of where I’m from, but this left me so sad and disillusioned. Lots of people will talk about the economic reasons for leaving, but to me it was about immigration and sent out a message of intolerance and lack of social understanding to the rest of the world. The Brexit campaign was, like many things these days, based on fear. It prayed on people’s ignorance and promised things that it couldn’t deliver. People don’t realize how fortunate they are to be born in a country that offers them so much and after Britain did its best in the 19th and 20th centuries to colonize the world the fact that people now want to retreat and shut up shop is a huge step backward in my opinion. I don’t think there is anything wrong with celebrities using their position to bring attention to things. It’s a privilege to be in that position. Using your privilege to bring up discussion and debate is certainly one of the more positive actions you can do.
NYM: As a father of young daughters, how do you feel about supporting women leaders today? Do you believe Hillary Clinton and Theresa May will strengthen the ‘Special Relationship’?
TE: It feels strange to me that in the modern world this is still a talking point. The right leader is the right leader as far as I’m concerned irrespective of gender or race. I think as a diplomat and representative to the world people would much rather be dealing with Hillary than Donald that’s for sure!
NYM: Which Shakespeare play/character would you most like to explore? Do you like the idea of 10 minute adaptations of his plays?
TE: I’ve always loved Much Ado About Nothing. It’s not his richest play, but the relationship between Benedict and Beatrice captivated me the moment I saw Ken Branagh and Emma Thompson do it in the movie version. That for me was when I first heard and understood Shakespeare. I’ve done a couple of productions of it, but played Claudio both times. I’d love to get my hands on Benedict one day!
NYM: Mark Strong once said to you “Just know what you’re in.” What would be your best advice to anyone trying to grow to become the next Tom Ellis?
TE: I think I’m really fortunate to be doing something that I love as a career. First and foremost I would pass that on to people. Then it would be to take your work seriously but not yourself too seriously. Very important.
NYM: We understand you play the French Horn and enjoy music and the arts, has music played a big part in your life?
TE: My mum was a music teacher and subsequently my sisters and I were all allocated instruments! I started on cornet when I was 5 then progressed to the trumpet and then at 10 my parents made the executive decision to buy me a French horn. We all played to a high standard in various bands and orchestras, but for me, it wasn’t something I really appreciated until later in life. As a kid, it got in the way of the other things I loved like sports, but as I’ve gotten older I realize how lucky I am that I had music around me all my life.
NYM: What do you try to do when you are relaxing before a big project? And when on vacation with the family? Are you a) sporty b) old church-y c) lie on the beach-y?
TE: Well, when I’m not working I spend a lot of time being a dad so most of my extracurricular pursuits have been put on ice. However, I love golf. I became obsessed with it in my early 20’s and find it completely infuriating and relaxing at the same time. Unfortunately, my game has suffered a bit recently because this acting thing has gotten in the way, but I’m still dreaming of making that European Ryder cup team one day. That’s if I’m allowed after Brexit.
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