Tom Ellis on Season 5B, Debbie Gibson, and Saying Goodbye


In the second half of Season 5 of the Netflix series Lucifer, God (Dennis Haysbert) himself has come to Earth, forcing Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis), his twin brother Michael (also Ellis) and Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside) to deal with what that means and sort out their daddy issues. As secrets are revealed, sacrifices are made and Lucifer and Michael end up on a collision course that will force everyone to choose a side.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Ellis talked about how the end of the series is still sinking in (they’ve already wrapped on the sixth and final season), the incredible variety of things this character has allowed him to do, how the unexpected Season 6 pick-up prior to the end of Season 5 changed things, how much fun he had doing the musical episode, the song he personally requested getting to sing, the Lucifer-Chloe relationship, the funny prop he took home from the set, the challenge of finishing shooting during a pandemic, and his hope that they stuck the landing on the series finale.

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 5 finale of Lucifer, “A Chance at a Happy Ending.”]

Collider: What has been the hardest part about saying goodbye to not only this cast and crew, but to this character? After so many years playing a character, did he become like a friend that you had to leave behind?

TOM ELLIS: Absolutely. I think it’s still sinking in, at the moment. It’s a bit of a difficult one. It also feels like I haven’t left it yet because I’m obviously talking about it now and Season 6 hasn’t come out yet. It still feels alive, in that sense. But from a work point of view, I’m fully aware of what a unique experience and a unique character Lucifer was and is, and how many different things I was able to do with that one character. The variety that he allowed me, as a performer, is something that I’m really going to miss. I think I still do it from time to time now, and my children will tell you that I definitely do it, but I slip into Lucifer’s voice quite a lot and will make comments like Lucifer quite a lot. I don’t know if he’ll ever truly leave me, to be honest, but I do need to quiet him down for my next job, so I can just put him to one side. Basically, I need to do another character quite soon just to help me exorcise Lucifer from me. Certainly when we’re shooting, Tom and Lucifer are very, very close to one another, at all times.

When you signed on to do this, did you know that it would be a show that would include every genre in one show, or was that something that evolved as the seasons went on and the writers figured out what story they wanted to tell?

ELLIS: The pilot indicated a few things to me. You have to bear in mind that it was a network show when it was in its first incarnation, and they do like to put media friendly soundbites on these network shows about what they are. I was in my head trying to go, what is this? Is it a procedural? In the pilot, they set up the relationship between Chloe and Lucifer and how that would go on, so I knew that would be a backbone to what we were doing, but I also felt from the pilot that it wasn’t a show that just lived as a procedural. That was an element of it, but it certainly wasn’t what our show was. I felt like just calling it a procedural show would actually be doing it a disservice.

What I hoped was that we would take on the relationships outside of our investigations and that our characters would continue to evolve, so we weren’t going back to the same starting point every week, where everyone gathers around a murder board and says, “What is it this week?” I was very thankful that we didn’t go in that direction. To start with, there may have been some people behind the scenes who would have pushed it in that direction, just instinctively because, as I said, people need to know what the show it and what it’s going to be. But the beauty of the show is that I feel like it succeeded outside of that, and it succeeded for not trying to be one thing, or not saying, “We’re this, or we’re that,” but just by being, really. Finding that balance over the years was something that was tricky and something that I have to give a lot of credit to our writers for. The procedural element of the show became a device to move our show forward and give it momentum each week, in certain areas. But the true heart of the show and the relationships of the show and the serialized nature of the show was the thing that I really enjoyed about it.

There are so many things going on, just in this batch of episodes.

ELLIS: I like to call it the Dick van Dyke of TV shows. It’s strange and I’m happy for that. I’m really happy that people go, “I don’t know what this show is.” I’m like, “Me neither, but I’ve really enjoyed doing it.” I think there are a few key elements as to why it has worked. I think that the humor of the show has really helped it be able to do all of these different things. If it took itself too serious, I don’t think it would be able to. The humor of Lucifer runs parallel to that as well. It almost feels like there’s a little wink to our audience each week that goes, “We know this is silly, but go with it.” At the end of the day, it’s got real heart, and that’s what counts and that’s why people want to come back and why people are so invested in our characters. It’s not like a Scandinavian whodunit murder thing that goes on for 22 episodes. It’s never been that show. The heart of the show is the humor of the show, and the characters within the show are the reason people keep coming back.

When were you told how Season 5 would end? Did you know, from the start of the season, what the ending of the season would be, or did you not find out until later in the season?

ELLIS: I produce on the show as well, so I was fully aware of where we were going with Season 5. You have to bear in mind that whilst we were still shooting and right up towards the last part of our shooting, that was going to be the end of Lucifer. I knew where we were going, and I was really happy about it and about the execution of what we were doing, and then it was a bit of a curveball, I’m not going to lie, at the very end, for Netflix to decide that they want us to do more. It didn’t take long for Joe [Henderson] and Ildy [Modrovich] and myself to sit down and get our heads around that and think, “Well, look, we really like where we’re going with the end of this show, so let’s just try to preserve that and find a way to continue doing it and take us to that same ending.” I don’t want people to assume that what they see on the screen now would have been the end of Lucifer because it wouldn’t have been. We changed it and adapted it to roll with the punches, as it were.

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Image via Netflix

Was it just the last episode of Season 5 that got changed, or did you have to change some things even earlier in the season than that?

ELLIS: It was mainly the last episode that changed. There were a couple of little story points that needed tweaking, along the way. We were in good stead. We were on the right path and on the right journey. We just needed to find a way to do what I liken to roadworks in London, where you’re on your route and, at the very last minute, there’s a sign that says, “Road closed, diversion,” and it takes you on this little diversion and gets you back to where you needed to be. We needed to find that diversion for Season 6. We found it and I think we fully justified it as well.

The season builds up to a Lucifer versus Michael showdown — what are the challenges of those two characters being off doing their own things for most of these episodes and you not sharing a lot of screen time together, while keeping people wanting to see that final showdown?

ELLIS: I have to give a lot of credit to our writing team for continually keeping lots of irons in the fire and keeping the story going. Obviously, these two characters are going to come head to head, but there are other characters that we need to address as well, within the show, so we were able to explore other people’s things. What’s been great about this show is that people are invested, not just in Lucifer and Chloe, but all of the other characters as well. When we do have an episode that takes you in a different direction, like “Daniel Espinoza: Naked and Afraid,” which is one of my favorite episodes of Lucifer ever, the audience is more than willing to go with us because we quickly come back to where we need to be, in the main story. The tricky thing from a performing side of things, for me, is that I just always had to think of Michael as a different character and as a different person, and almost like me as a different actor. I had to try to keep Michael’s thoughts away from what Lucifer’s are, and Lucifer’s thoughts away from Michael, and just play it that way.

I loved the musical episode and all of the songs that you included. How surreal was it to do a musical number with Debbie Gibson?

ELLIS: It was amazing. Debbie and I became friends a few years ago. I did a show called Rush before Lucifer, and the character of Rush was a Debbie Gibson fan. He name checked her a lot and we used her music quite a lot in the show. She contacted me on Twitter and was grateful that we used her music. We realized we had some mutual friends in the UK, so we just became friends on social media. And then, when this musical episode came up and this part came up, Joe and Ildy were scratching their heads about who we could get into play this part. I said, “I’m friends with Debbie Gibson. I think she might do this, if I call her.” And they were like, “Sure, yeah. You could try.” And so, I did, and it didn’t take any convincing at all. She was like, “Yeah, I’m there.” It was great. I did have surreal moments during the performance of it, where I was like, “I’m on a TV set with Debbie Gibson.” That particular number felt the most like being on stage, out of all the numbers that we did. It felt like the most performative of all the songs. There were lights and it felt very dramatic. It was really fun. The whole experience of doing the musical episode was so much fun, and not just for me, for everybody involved it. Our crew loved it. People were just beaming from ear to ear for 10 days, while we were shooting it.

RELATED: Watch: ‘Lucifer’ Star Aimee Garcia Explains What It’s Like to Work on a Show That Gets Un-Cancelled

Did you get any input into the songs that you were performing? Was there anything that you specifically asked to do?

ELLIS: Yeah, I did, actually. Ildy wrote the episode and with the list of songs that she had already put in, I was like, “Oh, my God, these are amazing. I’m not sure we’re going to get them all because these are all well-known songs and it’s expensive business, doing this song stuff.” But I was actually really thrilled that we pretty much got every song that we wanted.

The only song that I wanted to change, although we weren’t sure about it, but I just pushed and pushed and pushed on it, and it was mainly because of the money factor that people thought we wouldn’t get it, was “Wicked Game,” the first song. I’ve enjoyed singing that, as a guitar and vocal, for years. When I first learned that song, I’d learned it thinking, “This feels like it’s going to be in the show at some point. I just need to find the right moment for it.” Lo and behold, that moment came up. It wasn’t in the script, originally, but the more I got into the script, the more I thought, “This is the time,” so I pushed Ildy. She was up for it, but everyone was like, “Oh, we’re never going to afford that. We can’t do that.” I said, “Please just ask them. Please just go to the Chris Isaak estate, or wherever it is, and ask.” And then, I got a call two days later and they said, “Hey, they’ve cleared ‘Wicked Game.’ We’re doing it.” And I was like, “Well, there you go.”

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Isn’t it funny? If you don’t ask, you don’t get it. It was perfect for the storytelling purpose. I’ve wanted to do a musical episode, but I wanted it to be for the right reasons. Just because other TV shows have done musical episodes is not justification for us to do one, but if we could find justification to do it within our story, then I was all in, and we did. The rest, as they say, is history. I think it’s one of our best episodes we’ve ever done.

It’s not in the musical episode, but when you sing “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” what was it like to perform that?

ELLIS: That was a really last-minute thing that happened. I know that Jason Ning, who wrote the episode, wanted a eulogy song and there were a few suggestions that came in. And then, when that came in and they said they wanted Lucifer and Ella to sing it, there was an opportunity there to give the song a new spin. With that song, there’s so many ways we could have done it, but obviously Aimee [Garcia] being Spanish-speaking, and with the character of Dan and Kevin [Alejandro], I thought it was really lovely to use the Spanish language within it. It just worked really, really well. The moment is what it is. It’s incredibly sad and it was incredibly heartfelt from everyone that was there, as actors. It didn’t take a lot of acting that day.

It made that moment very “Amazing Grace.”

ELLIS: That was my note on it. “Amazing Grace” was my suggestion, but they want to do something that was a bit more contemporary. So, when that song came in, I tried to come up with an arrangement of it that had elements of “Amazing Grace” and also elements of a song by The Cranberries that I love, called “No Need to Argue,” which just uses an organ. That got some ideas going in my head, so that’s where the arrangement came from. It was an infusion of those things. I’m glad you picked up on “Amazing Grace.”

As much as I love and think about Morgan Freeman when I think about a representation of God., I think my love for Dennis Haysbert as God has now surpassed that. Do you think that whole God storyline is one that you could have gotten away with, if the show were still on Fox?

ELLIS: I’ve never thought about that, actually. I hope so. I’d like to think so. I wasn’t sure if we’d ever meet Dad. And then, as the show went on, it was like, “Well, maybe we will get that opportunity,” I didn’t know what that was going to be like, should we have that opportunity. All I can say now is that it feels so right that we did it, and it feels so right that it’s Dennis, and it feels like I can’t imagine having done this show and not visited that part of the story. Some of the stuff I got to do with Dennis is some of my most memorable and favorite moments on Lucifer. Dennis and I become great friends outside of it. There is a paternal quality that Dennis has, in my life as Tom, weirdly. He just has that kind of energy about him. And so, it was a serendipitous moment to have Dennis come and play God in the show because our friendship after it is going to be long-lasting. I can’t wait for people to see him as God because I think just so perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him enjoy himself so much on the screen either.

And you got to do a duet with him.

ELLIS: That was so much fun. When I heard Dennis speak, I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s where thunder came from.” He’s got this rumbling voice and it’s just incredible. He’s a unique specimen, that man.

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Image via Netflix

I also love the slow-motion fight scene that Lucifer and Maze get to team up on. What was that like to shoot? Are there challenges specific to doing a fight scene when there are so many people involved in it?

ELLIS: That was quite an ambitious one because it was basically one shot. What that throws up is that everyone has to be on their game and know what they’re doing. We’ve got an incredible stunt team at Lucifer and they’re always so prepared and willing to give us the knowledge that we need and the prep that we need to do things like that and pull it off. In that particular instance, that was a lot down to Lesley-Ann Brandt. Lesley-Ann works really hard on the fight scenes and on the choreography of them. That was an easier one for me because I basically just had to be behind her or just in front of her, flinging people out of the way. She had the much more intricate moves to do. But from the start, Lesley-Ann and I have been very committed to getting better at doing fight scenes and improving our own skills as actors. I think both of us are much more accomplished in that area, five years into doing it, than when we first started.

What would you say to tease fans of the Lucifer and Chloe relationship, for this batch of episodes?

ELLIS: I would tease them with the fact that, even though it seems like Lucifer has taken his eye off the ball, he hasn’t, and there’s a huge payoff. There’s a lot going on. Basically, Lucifer has got ADD. He can’t focus in one area for too long. He very much becomes embroiled in Dad’s presence on earth. There’s so much history there and so much that he needs to get out and so many questions he needs answered, but doesn’t wanna ask. All of that stuff becomes a distraction for him. But then, as the story goes on and into the finale, we get what I think are some of our most amazing Lucifer and Chloe moments.

The end of the season is going to leave fans very anxious for Season 6. What can you tease to hold them over, until they get to see those episodes?

ELLIS: With Season 5, it feels like our story has gone full circle, but there’s something that we haven’t done yet. That’s what I’ll tease about Season 6.

Are you really finished with the show now? Do you have a sense of closure that you didn’t have before?

ELLIS: There’s definitely a sense of closure, for sure, story-wise. When the show was canceled after Season 3, part of the thing was that we hadn’t finished telling the story. Our fans felt that and we felt that at Lucifer. We were like, “This is only the interval.” But now, certainly, we feel closure in the story. In the incarnation of Lucifer that we know as a TV show, for sure, that’s it. We’ve done nearly a hundred episodes of the show. I think that is a lot of episodes of television. I come from a country where we don’t do season after season after season after season. Part of the reason that we don’t do that, I believe, is because you want to leave your audience wanting more. I think that’s really important. If we were to do three or four more seasons of Lucifer, I think there would be people out there going, “Why are they still making that show?” whereas now, it just feels like the right time. From my point of view, I’ve played the same character for six years. I love being an actor and I love the variety of acting, so I’m ready to take on new challenges, for sure.

Now that the show has finished filming, did you get to take something home from the set? Did you have your eye on anything that you finally got to leave with?

ELLIS: I had my eye on Lucifer’s Corvette. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. The one thing I managed to get was something from Lucifer’s penthouse, which was always full of artifacts from his time on Earth and his visits to earth over the millennia. There was something in Lucifer’s bedroom that’s quite phallic looking and has lots of intricate carvings on it. It looks like an elephant tusk, but I can guarantee you that it isn’t. It’s plastic, otherwise I definitely wouldn’t have taken it home. It’s an intricately carved tusk with what looks like the tip of a piece of genitalia at the end of it. Even though that wasn’t heavily featured in Lucifer, it was certainly heavily featured in jokes between takes on Lucifer.

When you play a character like this that you love and you become attached enough to that you said he’s probably never going to fully leave you, how hard is it to find the next character? How do you approach what you want to do next?

ELLIS: Who knows what’s out there and who knows what’s going to grab me, but my initial instinct, as Tom, is to go, “Well, I feel like I’ve played this really larger-than-life character for six years. He’s a big character. As a performer, I feel like I’ve been doing a big full-on set for six years and I just want to do a small acoustic set.” That’s what my instincts are. I’d like to go back to the theater, which is where I started. I love working in comedy, but I trained as a dramatic actor, so that’s something that I want to do as well. I’ve been lucky enough to find lots of different elements of that within this show. But who knows, is the honest answer. Who knows what the next running character I’m going to take on will be, but it will grab me when I read it. That’s the thing, I never know until it finds me.

Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next?

ELLIS: I know what my next job is. I’m doing a movie, a rom-com, for Netflix with Gina Rodriguez from Jane the Virgin. It’s called Players. I’m looking forward to doing that and working with Gina. I’m playing a well-known international writer and reporter, who she thinks is her perfect man, but it turns out that he probably isn’t. That’s my next screen job. In terms of TV characters, I don’t know yet. I honestly don’t know.

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Image via Netflix

What was it like to finish filming this in a very different world than when you started this show? You finished during a pandemic, with all of these new safety protocols. Could you even laugh and cry and hug each other and have a wrap party? How weird was that?

ELLIS: It was weird. There were so many things that I was resentful about, in the last season. That wasn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just the way the world is. I had to really deal with that myself, in certain ways, because I felt very unsatisfied performing in those circumstances and having people have to do their jobs in those circumstances. But then, on the flip side, I was really grateful that I had a job. I kept saying at work, “I’m really glad that we all know each other because how weird would this be, if I didn’t even know what you looked like under that mask and that shield?”

So, I was glad that we had our sense of community already. I’m glad that we were doing it together, as a group of people that already knew each other. But I felt incredibly frustrated, at times, that it was very creatively difficult to work in those circumstances. Just from a human level, it was very tough because we are a group of individuals who really respect and look after each other at work. I realized that one of my main currencies, as Tom, is that I like to hug and I like to have contact with people. I miss being able to express myself in that way to people, but we just had to deal with it. It was part of what it was. But I was grateful to have a job and I was just astonished that our crew put themselves through what they put themselves through because they loved being there. That made me want to come to work every day.

From the time you were told what the ending of the series would be to what we will see at the end of Season 6, how close did it actually turn out?

ELLIS: The total end of the show is something that Joe and Ildy and I have mused about for a couple of years, actually. I think that we ended up in the place that we always wanted to end up. The journey that we took to get there, there were a couple of surprising elements, for sure, that I hadn’t counted on, but that’s the nature of doing an ongoing TV show. You’re laying the track down as you’re going, but we did know what our destination was. It just wasn’t a straight line. There were a few incarnations of the ending of the show, over the years, when we’ve mused about it. But maybe two years ago, we were sitting down and talking about what the end would be. Because we thought Season 5 was going to be the end, that became a very relevant conversation and we were all thinking in the same direction, as to what it should be. There was no roadmap for this show, when we first started it, so we had to work out the beginning, middle and end of that journey. The reason people got upset was that we ended the journey too early. But we had the luxury of knowing that we had the end of our show to do, so our concern was about doing it properly and sticking the landing. I hope that’s what we’ve done.

Lucifer is available to stream at Netflix.

KEEP READING: ‘Lucifer’ Showrunners on Season 5’s Biggest Swings, and How Adding a Season 6 Affects the End


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