This fame in my early 20s would have been hell: Tom
Actor Tom Ellis has gone from heart-throb as Miranda Hart's love interest in Miranda to the devil, as Lucifer in the hit Fox drama. He tells Gabrielle Fagan how he copes with fame and fatherhood
Tom Ellis is delving into his struggles with the Devil and how people wrestle with right and wrong. "There's such a grey area between good and evil and everyone's capable of doing bad things. At the end of the day, it's down to people's consciences and how they take responsibility for what they've done, and live with it," declares the actor.
Handsome Welsh-born Ellis (37) isn't actually referring to any personal moral dilemmas. He's talking about reprising his role as a seductive Lucifer for a second series of the hit Fox comedy-drama on Amazon Prime Video.
He plays original fallen angel Lucifer Morningstar who, bored and unhappy as the Lord of Hell, has abandoned his throne, and retired to Los Angeles - appropriately nicknamed 'the City of Angels' - where he's teamed up with an LAPD detective, Chloe Decker (Lauren German). He's helping her hunt down criminals as well as running a nightclub.
"This is the biggest character I've ever had to play both in terms of him being larger than life and him being the Devil. Everyone has ideas about who or what the Devil is, which makes it even more interesting for me shaping him into something original," enthuses Ellis, who originally found fame playing Dr Oliver Cousins in EastEnders, and followed that with success in comedy with roles in BBC One's Pulling and as Miranda Hart's love interest Gary in Miranda and ultimately her on-screen husband.
After that, his career appeared to have stalled somewhat - an American medical drama, Dr Rush, in which he played the title role, was axed after the first series in 2014 - but Lucifer has firmly established him as a star.
"I didn't want to make Lucifer arch and gothic. Instead, I wanted him to be as human as possible. He has an irreverence, swagger, charm, and sense of fun, as well as the cockiness of immortality.
"I wanted him to almost be like your mate who can extract from you what you didn't even know was there, without you even realising," explains Ellis, whose father, uncle, sister and brother are all clergy.
"I come from my own superchurch," he jokes, but acknowledges he's drawn on his religious background to understand the serious issues underlying the satire.
"In this second series, Lucifer's much less in control of things than he seemed in the first season - in fact he feels like quite a different Lucifer. There are a lot more layers stripped away from him - his mother's (Tricia Helfer) come on the scene - and there's a lot of raw emotion revealed rather than the devilish veneer that he had before.
"It's been fascinating developing him into someone who's starting to understand feelings and have a conscience as he learns from humanity.
"He's in a constant state of evolution and has learned from helping solve crimes as well as therapy sessions."
Ellis, who has two daughters, Florence, eight and Marnie, four, from his marriage to actress Tamzin Outhwaite - the couple divorced after seven years of marriage in 2014 reportedly because of his adultery - has undergone his own soul-searching.
"I've had therapy. I find it incredibly helpful actually. I haven't been able to go for a while just because I've been so busy, but it's something I'll always go back to from time to time because I think it's good to check in, evaluate yourself and look at what you're doing," he says candidly.
Filming in America 10 months of the year for the series inevitably means long absences from his daughters - he also has a nine-year-old daughter, Norah, from a previous relationship - and he admits that's hard to cope with.
"Fatherhood's a huge part of my life and the toughest thing about this job is being away from the girls. I think the most important thing is that they know I love them and they love me.
"Although we keep in touch with Skype and by text and they come and visit during their school holidays, there's no substitute for being with them day to day."
He credits his children, in part, for helping him "stay grounded" despite the heady cocktail of fame and acclaim he's currently enjoying.
"If I'd had this success when I was in my 20s it would have been very hard to cope with and not be tempted by all sorts of things on offer," he admits.
"But I'm older, have sort of served my apprenticeship in my years of working, so I was ready for this opportunity and have my children who keep my feet on the ground. So I just focus on putting all my energy into doing the job well and, when I'm not working, I want to be with the girls, stay under the radar and keep a low profile."
Ironically a 'low profile' was the last thing he wanted when he was in his 20s and having just left drama school was envious of the stellar success of his best friend, James McAvoy, who's appeared in a host of TV dramas from Shameless to State Of Play as well as the Spielberg mini-series Band Of Brothers and films including Atonement and The Last King Of Scotland.
"When I first left drama school, I did measure myself against James. My career was on an upward curvature, but not as steep as his," he recalls.
"I eventually found peace in realising that everyone's on their own little journey and life's not a competition. We all have our own paths to chart. I don't have that jealousy at all any more.
"I'm a much more grown-up, well-rounded person these days, although I do have to admit there are still a lot of times when I feel like a kid! There's a youthfulness about this job - dressing up and pretending to be someone else is child-like in a way - and it's useful to harness that in my work.
"I don't talk about my personal life, but at the moment I couldn't be happier. I'm doing a job I love, playing a role I love, and it doesn't get much better than that. I honestly think life gets fuller and more interesting as you get older."
- Lucifer Season 2 is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video now, with new episodes weekly