In Part 2 of this exclusive four-part interview with Mike Costa, co-executive producer/writer on LUCIFER, which is currently streaming on Netflix, he talks about LUCIFER’s identity as a series, the meta “Diablo” episode, and more.
AX: For a number of years, LUCIFER and SUPERNATURAL as shows were making jokes about each other in the episodes – the Lucifer character on SUPERNATURAL, played by Mark Pellegrino, said at one point, “What am I gonna do, go to L.A. and open a nightclub?” SUPERNATURAL for the last two seasons had God as a character, played by Rob Benedict, although their God was a self-obsessed writer. Were the LUCIFER writers watching that and going, “Okay, make sure our God, played by Dennis Haysbert, doesn’t write anything”?
COSTA: It’s interesting, because when we introduced the character of Mom [God’s female counterpart, played by Tricia Helfer] in Season 2, it came up that SUPERNATURAL had done something similar, because they had a character who is God’s sister [played by Emily Swallow]. I have a very good friend who wrote on SUPERNATURAL for many years, so this is embarrassing, but I have not really seen a lot of SUPERNATURAL. However, other writers on our staff, like Chris Rafferty, who’s a co-executive producer, is a huge fan of SUPERNATURAL. So, we do have people on the staff who know that show very well, even though I personally don’t. But when we introduced the character of Mom early on in Season 2, we were still getting our feet as a series. We were not yet an incredibly unlikely fan favorite Netflix Number One series that we are now. At the time, we were still a fledgling show, trying to figure out our identity, and there was some concern of like, “Is this going to look like what SUPERNATURAL did, but not as good?” [laughs] But that’s the only time that that’s actually come up.
Obviously, SUPERNATURAL has the character of Lucifer, but from the very beginning, I think our portrayals of that character are very different, and if we have anything, it’s certainly a friendly relationship with that show. So, to answer your question in a very protracted way, the truth is, it didn’t much come up, because I think one of the things that makes our show work, and one of the things that makes SUPERNATURAL work is, both of the shows have a very strong sense of what their own identity is. We know what our show is. We know what kind of characters and what kind of tone works on our show, and that’s why one of the things that we can do, that SUPERNATURAL also does so well is, we can make fun of ourselves, because we really know what our show is. And SUPERNATURAL really knows what their show is. So, we weren’t too concerned about stepping on toes, because we’re not the same kind of show as SUPERNATURAL. Their version of God is necessarily going to be different than ours, so …
AX: Well, theirs was the bad guy, so …
COSTA: Yes. That’s a very different portrayal right there.
AX: What would you say LUCIFER’s identity is as a show?
COSTA: Well, I think LUCIFER is a show about redemption. The core premise of the show is that even the Devil [in the character of Lucifer, played by Tom Ellis] can be redeemed, that there’s no one so bad that if they choose to be better, that they shouldn’t deserve that chance. But beyond that, I think that we’re also a show that knows that there are bad things, and there is darkness in the world, but one of the things that makes those elements palatable is the ability to laugh at them, and the ability to have a sense of humor. And I think that’s part of what makes our show work, is that we laugh at everything. And we take that from the premise that the Devil himself is an irreverent character. The Devil laughs at things. The Devil doesn’t take things very seriously. And I think that energy helps our show a lot, and helps make it so appealing, even though we’re dealing with major cosmological, life-and-death, Good and Evil ideas.
But the secret weapon of the show really, I think, is its heart, and that is the relationship between Chloe [Lauren German] and Lucifer, the performances of Tom and Lauren, who even when the show is at its goofiest, know how to root these moments in genuine character, so that you always believe them, and you always know that there is real emotion there. And that’s true of the rest of our cast as well, of course. Everybody knows that there is an emotional truth to those characters. And that can be a very tricky thing, to walk the line of being funny but not cartoonish, keeping the characters real. And I think that that’s something that we’re very lucky in all these years that we have a cast, and we have a group of writers that has figured out the way to do that, and I think that’s what makes the show so appealing, and that makes the redemption story so much more resonant, is that, we are laughing at everything, but we are not making fun of everything, that we do take things seriously, including the emotional realities of our characters, and I think that that’s what really makes it work.
AX: Speaking of making fun of yourselves, where did the “Diablo” episode come from? That’s the one where Lucifer and Chloe are investigating the murder of a show runner on a TV series where the Devil is a police detective, played by Alex Quijano.
COSTA: Well, that I can speak to, because that one I wrote. I said before, as writers, we really get along very well. There have been a couple of new faces over the years, but largely, the [LUCIFER] writing team has stayed the same from the very beginning. So, we’ve been together for years, and we know each other very well, and now, in this pandemic era, we’re doing Season 6 all from our homes over Zoom, but previous to that, we were in the office in the writers’ room, and we would sit in an office together, in a big conference room, for hours and hours. One of the things you do is, you try to make each other laugh, and there’s constant, constant joking going on. Maybe too much joking, maybe we could work a little quicker [laughs]. But it’s one of the things that makes you look forward to going to work, because it’s so much fun.
And more times than you might think, something that starts as silly jokes that we tell each other, or things that we come up with just to make each other laugh, end up getting on television. And “Diablo” was one of those things. I can’t remember exactly, but it started out someone throwing out an idea of, “Yeah, and then what if there was a show on TV called DIABLO, and Lucifer loves it, because it’s about him?” And it was just a silly thing that we all laughed at, but it really caught on, and people kept talking about it, and I kept coming up with more ideas for it, like, “Yeah, and then the Chloe character [called Detective Dancer, played by Brianne Davis] used to be a stripper, Because that’s the ridiculous network version of that. And then there’s a Dan [the detective character in LUCIFER played by Kevin Alejandro] character. They call him Doofus instead of Douche.” And it just built up around that.
And then one of the things that really crystalizes an idea for a LUCIFER episode is, how those ideas reflect on what the characters are struggling with in that episode. We can’t do an episode about just anything; it has to somehow connect with the emotional conflict that the characters are having. And when we knew that Michael [Lucifer’s spiteful angel twin, also played by Ellis] was going to tell Chloe the truth about how she came to be, how she was made “special,” about how she came out of a blessing, and there was something special about her, that’s when it crystallized for me of how this could be an actual episode. Because you would have the parallel of Chloe feeling like, “Wow, I don’t have free will, because I was created for a purpose, and that reflects on this character in a TV show who herself has been following her scripts, and is in a lot of ways this version of myself that I’m afraid I might be.” And once we figured out that dynamic, then the episode can happen.
I was very happy to have figured that out, because I was the one making the most jokes about “Diablo,” and I really wanted to figure out a way to do it [laughs], so I was glad that we were able to do that. So, it started as a joke that was never meant to be an episode, and then, like a planet forming out of slow gravitational evolution, it became a thing.
AX: Can you talk about in-jokes in the “Diablo” episode?
COSTA: The name of the dead show runner, Matt Owens, is a writer in television who myself and Joe are pretty good friends with, who is himself a show runner. So that was our homage to a writer friend, was the name of that character. The other in-joke there was, the Number Two writer, who becomes a suspect, her name is Keri Bellwood [played by Tessa Auberjonois], and that is a reference to Sheri Elwood, who was an executive producer on our show for the first three years. After we were canceled by Fox, she was scooped up by another show, and when we were resurrected, it was too late, she had already gotten another job, so we couldn’t bring her back, but we love Sheri. And I personally love Sheri myself as well. So I honored her by naming a character with a slight tweak in her name after her.
AX: When you do soundstage work, or scenes actually set at a studio, as with “Diablo,” is that the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank?
COSTA: Yes, we do shoot on the Warner lot, and that was another thing that I was really delighted that we were doing with “Diablo,” is that we were able to show our lot. When they go into the writers’ office, that is our writers’ office. And when Chloe sits down in the writers’ room and you see the whiteboard, that is our writers’ room, that is our whiteboard. Obviously, we redressed it to look like DIABLO, but that is where we met every day. That is our office. And when they go into Keri’s office and arrest her, that is [LUCIFER show runner] Joe Henderson’s office.
AX: Since they were shooting in the writers’ office, did you all have to take the day off?
COSTA: We did not take the day off. We didn’t get that lucky. We relocated for the day to a smaller conference room down the hall, and used that as our writers’ room when they were shooting the scene in the writers’ room. And then Joe just didn’t go into his office when we were shooting in there. He doesn’t need to be in his office all day. That wasn’t a problem.
AX: On the DIABLO writers’ room whiteboard that we see in the episode, did you just write down every crazy thought you’d ever had?
COSTA: In fact, it’s all this stuff that no one will ever know. I personally love episodes like that. So does my other co-executive producer, Chris. The two of us are on the nerdier side of the writers’ room spectrum, and we really love digging into the minutia of things, and the detail. Because his episode, Episode 8, has the big Dan revenge board that Lucifer’s putting together and stuff like that. He was very involved in the creation of that.
I was very involved in the creation of all the cards on the whiteboard. Every writers’ staff has a support staff, where we have a writers’ assistant, whose job is largely to take notes in the writers’ room, while people are speaking, they’re keeping track, almost like a court reporter. We have a script coordinator, whose job is to proof all the scripts, and it’s actually a very complex job. She has to keep track of all of the continuity of the scripts, making sure that not only do things make sense in the logic, but also when is it day, when is it night, keeping track of doing all the legal clearances for the names, distributing the scripts to all of the different people on the set, keeping track of all the revisions on the set.
Luckily, because we have a staff of people that have been on for many years, we are pretty good about that ourselves, but Mira Z. Barnum, our script coordinator, catches us all the time. She actually has a story by credit on [Season 5] Episode 11 [“Resting Devil Face”]. And we also have a p.a. who basically runs the office and does the administrative work, makes sure that we always have coffee. So I recruited the three of them, our writers’ assistant Josh [Duckworth], our p.a. Anna, and Mira, and I said, “Okay, here’s what you’ve got.” And I gave them a list of all of these episode titles that I came up with for all of the episodes of DIABLO that have aired, and then a couple that were going to air but hadn’t, because the show runner was killed. And I said, “You guys do whatever you want, coming up with pitches.” They all work in the writers’ room, they know what a real writers’ room whiteboard would look like. I said, “Just use these as a template, all of these titles, and come up with anything you feel like would be pitched for these episodes, and arrange the whiteboard.”
And they came up with stuff that was so much better than I could have come up with on my own. It was so fantastic. I should really put a picture up on Twitter or Instagram, because you can’t really see the whole board, and even what you can see is sort of out of focus. But I can tell you, it wasn’t just gibberish written up there, it was as if they were breaking episodes of DIABLO. And when Lucifer opens up the little cabinet and finds the knife in there, there are binders in there for the individual episodes, [like what] we have when we work on our episodes, and they all have episode names. I was very careful – the script that they read from, I wrote multiple pages of DIABLO episode scripts. So, we spent so much time working on what the show DIABLO would be that it was probably sixty percent figuring out the episode of LUCIFER, and then forty percent figuring out what are all these episodes of DIABLO are. So yeah, that is all figured out.
AX: There is something on the DIABLO whiteboard about “the Magic Castle Bounce” …
COSTA: [laughs] Well, that is a deep, deep in-joke. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Magic Castle [a members-and-guests-only showcase for magicians in Hollywood]. I have been a member of the Magic Castle for over a decade now. I have a lot of friends in the magic community, and traditionally, when we start every season, we would take a trip, all of the writers and the support staff, to the Magic Castle for the evening, and I would get friends of mine to do private performances. It just became a LUCIFER tradition to go to the Magic Castle. And that was a pitch I think they threw in there as a reference to my love of the Castle, that there would be a DIABLO episode about the Magic Castle.
AX: On the “Diablo” episode, those two main actors actually try to solve a murder. Has anybody involved with LUCIFER, apart from your police consultants, ever tried to solve a real crime?
COSTA: [laughs] I don’t think so. Hopefully, none of our cast members or people involved in the show has been close enough to a violent crime that they would feel compelled to do that, because in real life, it’s a very scary situation, but as far as I know, no.
But it felt like the right thing to do for the cast of DIABLO, that they would interact with Chloe and Lucifer, trying to solve the crime themselves. It just felt like, if they’re going to be on a show about the Devil solving crimes, that because they’re kind of dumb, they’d think that they could also do it in real life. That is one of my favorite scenes that I’ve ever written, is Diablo and Dancer showing up at the crime scene, and then Diablo revealing that he stole evidence from the original crime scene, and Lucifer saying, “Well, I wouldn’t do that.” That’s one of my favorite scenes of all time.
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Article: LUCIFER: Exclusive interview with Co-executive producer Mike Costa on Season 5 – Part 2