They say the devil’s in the details, and that’s especially true when you’re bringing an acclaimed comic to life on television.
As a longtime comic book fan, “Lucifer” executive producer and showrunner Joe Henderson (“White Collar”) knows well the kind of story and character gold that can be mined from the character. For his show, Henderson has looked both to Neil Gaiman‘s introduction of the fallen angel in Vertigo‘s acclaimed “The Sandman,” and Mike Carey and Peter Gross‘ subsequent run on his solo series.
In a conversation with CBR News, Henderson revealed that his writing team will be looking for as many creative ways as possible to realize elements of the source material in their broadcast adaptation. And though he stopped short of committing to bringing any of Gaiman’s Endless to the series, he admitted interest in the idea, saying, “If DC’s willing, how would you not want to play with those?”
CBR News: I’m very curious how often you dipped back into the comics in your process, knowing that the pilot was kind of already done before you came on board.
Joe Henderson: I had the entire room read the entire series. Some had already read it, some hadn’t; one of our writers is Mike Costa, who’s a comic book writer. Some of us were familiar, some of us were outside, and part of the game we play is every now and then sort of go back into the wild. What’s still there? What are we missing? What are characters we could play with? What are themes we could play with?
I personally am going to try to get Gaudium in there at some point. I don’t know how — I don’t think we’re going to be able to do a Grey Gargoyle Cherub, but what’s our version of that? What’s our translation of that? We sort of have a checklist of themes, the ideas. the stuff we can play with from the original work, the Mike Carey and Peter Gross run, the Neil Gaiman stuff, “The Sandman.” It’s really nice because we’ve got all these crazy ideas that can be the impetus for different ideas that we can make our own.
Have you had any conversations with any of the comics writers about the show and where to take it?
I’ve emailed very briefly with Neil, who has been nothing but wonderful. He’s actually been tweeting support, which I just find incredibly touching. It’s actually really nice. He retweeted one of my interviews and said that it sounded like we were going in the right direction, which, coming from Neil Gaiman, is one of the nicest things you would possibly say.
I’ve emailed very briefly with Mike Carey and Peter Gross. They’ve also been really nice, they’ve been very supportive. Neil and Mike, as I came on, had this Twitter exchange, and I was just following them, because I follow them anyway because I’m a giant nerd. They were writing about how when you create something for a company, you’re playing with a toy. You’re creating a toy, and then you’re leaving it in the sandbox and you walk away. Then someone else comes up, and they play with the toy. Then they leave it in the sandbox. Then someone else comes up. That’s what that job is when you’re working for a company like DC or Marvel.
The fun of it is seeing how the next person plays. What I love about that is, I’m the next person playing. My challenge, which I take very seriously, is not to break the toy. I get to take that toy and take it in different directions. I get to play with it, I get to take it on whole different adventures. But when I’m done, it goes back in that toy box, hopefully having gone on different adventures from Neil and Mike, but still consistently so someone else can pick it up.
In the comics, did you see a story or a plot line that you thought, “That will make a great episode — maybe a standalone episode, or we can do exactly that story for our show in some way?”
The biggest story is the idea of Lucifer creating his own Heaven. That was the thing that I gravitated towards immediately when rereading because that’s a metaphor. That’s just a son trying to get away from his father and make his own rules. I think it was already pretty inherent in the pilot, which is him going on vacation.
But to me, as I started processing the show, it was taking that a step further. What is it like when the devil decides to create his own rules, or try to understand himself outside of dad? Because that’s what it really was. Sure, it was the world of centaurs and all sorts of awesomely crazy stuff, but really it was, how to I get away from dad and define myself without his rules?
How many siblings are there? We see one, but presumably there are other angels and demons and so on.
That’s a good question. Yeah, that is something that is it a lot of conversation in our room. We haven’t nailed it quite down yet but we have a number of ideas that we’ll be playing with upcoming.
Apart from dad, are there entities of equal power to Lucifer? Like the brother that visits him–
Amenadiel. It’s a mouth full. There are. The goal of the show is to start off grounded with touches of fantastic. And as we go in, we’re going to start peeling into the fantastic a little more and diving in and out. And we will definitely be playing with other characters of an equal strength in a very formidable way.
Are The Endless off limits? Or are, perhaps, variations on The Endless possible?
We haven’t even asked, because we wanted to really establish Lucifer as is. It’s definitely, as we start moving forward, something that we can start having conversations about. I don’t know. We were just so focused on letting Lucifer stand on his own feet. Believe me, it’s tempting to try. We made a very conscious decision: this is Lucifer’s story, let’s not muddy the waters yet. But if DC’s willing, how would you not want to play with those? But we don’t know.
Can you think back to your earliest discovery of the source material and the characters and how you felt about them back then?
Yeah, because I borrowed my older brother’s copy of “Sandman,” and I wasn’t supposed to be reading it — it’s a mature comic. And I fell in love. So I stole his issues until he found out and got mad at me, and then just started lending them to me. So, yeah. He was very formative to me, very early on, Neil Gaiman’s writing. I’ve read all of his books. I’m a fan. So when I got an email from Neil Gaiman, that was a day. That was cool.
What was the thing you took away from the character of Lucifer that you still want to make sure is front and center of what you’re doing?
He’s not evil. He’s just a fallen son. What I loved in Gaiman’s run, when Morpheus comes back and he’s ready for the war with Lucifer, Lucifer’s like, you know what, I’m done. I’m going to walk away. It was so unexpected and so ballsy and so bizarre. To me, that defined the character so well. He’s not a bad guy. He’s not evil. He’s like us, in as much as that he just wants. He has desire.
What we’ve really done is embrace that and run towards that as, like, he draws the desires out of everyone else. What I love about that is, it’s not a bad thing. It’s good to embrace your desires, because sometimes burying them deep down just makes you unhappy. He’s like, why do we do that to ourselves? Why does humanity do it to themselves? That’s one of the questions that he’s exploring.
Do we see Hell at all?
That is a good question. Not yet.
What does Len Wiseman bring to the equation for you? As executive producer, what’s the ingredient he sprinkles into your stew?
He brings — for one thing, the visual aspect, I think, is just phenomenal. When you turn the channel and you turn on “Lucifer,” I think it looks like its own thing. I think you know that you’re watching “Lucifer” because he just — he shoots it so lovingly and beautifully and it’s just got that sort of like, that gothic horror beauty to it. Even horrible moments look kind of beautiful, but they still land with a sense of heft and darkness, but also poignancy. He created a tone that I don’t think is on TV right now, and that’s our challenge every week, to maintain it.
You’ve publicly addressed the great visual influence the late David Bowie had on the “Lucifer” comic book. Any plans to pay some sort of tribute to him on the show?
That’s a nice idea. You know what, we haven’t even thought about that. I would love to. What I don’t want to seem is like we’re being… I don’t want to seem opportunistic. He is such an inspiration, obviously, for the character. But also, his vibe to me is so much of what that character is. I think hopefully we’ll just honor him by playing his music and rocking out to it. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know what the right move is to be quite honest, and I want to do the right thing.
“Lucifer” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on FOX.
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