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Playing Michael in Lucifer Season 5 made Tom Ellis feel ‘like a massive fraud’

By Caitlin Busch

When Lucifer left Earth behind at the end of Season 4 to return some much-needed order to hell, the immediate question for Season 5 became: Well, what the hell now? For four years, the point of Lucifer was that the devil was running amok in Los Angeles. What is Lucifer without Lucifer in L.A.?

Co-showrunners Joe Henderson and Ildy Modrovich knew they’d need something big to bring the devil back into the game. Luckily, the DC comics on which Lucifer is based held some answers. Enter: the archangel Michael, Lucifer’s twin brother.

**SPOILER WARNING: This story contains spoilers for Lucifer Season 5.**

Granted, the Michael of the DC Comics universe — kind, angelic, blond — is a very different Michael from the one viewers meet in Lucifer Season 5. For one, the show’s Michael has Lucifer’s black hair and sharp, dark eyes because he, like Lucifer, is played by Tom Ellis. That is, of course, the genius of the storyline: more than his love for Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German), the one thing that could bring Lucifer back to Earth from hell would be his own ego upon learning someone, especially his brother, was impersonating him. And, it turns out impersonating the devil is an often hellish task — both for Michael and the actor behind him.

“I felt like a fraud standing up in front of people that I've worked with for five years, pretending to be someone else,” Ellis admitted to SYFY WIRE ahead of the series’ Season 5 premiere Aug. 21 on Netflix. “It was such a strange feeling to start with because I'm so used to stepping into the skin of Lucifer and just, at a flick of a switch, going in and out of it. [Playing Michael]  was strange for me, to be honest. I did feel like a massive fraud a lot of the time.”

At first, Michael is ready to play the long game, gazing at himself in a mirror, fully nude, practicing Lucifer’s signature British charm and impish grin. (“Hello, Detective.”) But just two episodes into the season, audiences learn what Michael really is: a feeble, American-accented version of Lucifer who somehow has an even bigger chip on his shoulder.

It has to be said: There is an odd, undeniable cognitive dissonance in listening to a near-nasally American accent come out of Ellis’ mouth. Anyone who’s watched Lucifer for any amount of time is used to a smooth, English timbre — so charming it should be skeezy, but somehow manages not to be. Rachael Harris, who plays Lucifer’s voice of reason, Dr. Linda Martin, can’t help laughing when talking about Ellis’ American accent. She tells SYFY WIRE she couldn’t help but make fun of Ellis (good-naturedly, of course) while onset, calling the voice “unnatural,” since she and everyone else have been listening to Ellis’ normal voice for years.

“I wanted to give him a standard, let's say, East Coast American, educated dialect, I suppose,” Ellis explains. “That was where I was just leading into it to start with. My main thing was I just wanted him to be really different from Lucifer. In the short space of time that we have when we're changing between the two characters on set, I don't have time to go back and do big prosthetic makeup things and all that sort of stuff.

So he had to find a way to transition back and forth between the two characters and truly differentiate them, even when he wasn’t talking. Sure, Michael quickly stops impersonating Lucifer and embraces his own style — turtlenecks for days — but Ellis and the Lucifer team settled on other important factors: a hobbled shoulder and hunched posture to contrast with the confidence Lucifer radiates.

“I had to go old school like you would do in the theater and just think about physicality… think about the way he carries himself and the way that he walks,” Ellis says. He worked alongside director Sherwin Shilati and co-showrunner Modrovich to develop Michael’s schtick. “I went in the room with [Shilati and Modrovich] and just said, ‘Here's what I'm thinking,’ and got up out of my seat and started doing stuff. I said that Lucifer basically is this big, open character. When I say open, I mean physically open to people, as well. 

“Whereas Michael, I wanted to close him off physically and make him much more of a quieter character in that sense. That's where this shoulder thing started,” Ellis continues. “Then we started talking about the evolution of that and why would he have this. Maybe his wing when it comes out on that side is a little bit damaged and whatever. We do actually go on in the second half of the season to explain why Michael is that way inclined.”

That kind of last-minute collaboration is what makes television so exciting, Ellis says. “The beauty of telling stories when you're writing a TV show is that you're often laying the track as you're doing it,” he explains. “There's no answers... You start connecting the dots without even knowing where they're going.”

The first eight episodes of Lucifer Season 5 are now available on Netflix.

Check out SYFY WIRE for more Lucifer Season 5 coverage in the coming week.