The Devil returns to Netflix on May 28 with Lucifer‘s new episodes! As we wait, let’s look at 5 great actors’ unforgettable film and TV portrayals of the character.
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From the embodiment of evil to misunderstood, rebellious angel, from horrific, monstrous being to sex symbol, the Devil has been given many roles throughout the centuries, so much so that he has now become a veritable pop culture “Rock Star”. If, up till a few centuries ago, Lucifer was imagined as a terrifying, often vaguely goat-like being, the birth of cinema brought a metamorphosis to the character’s iconography, with the charming (if not handsome) actors cast to portray him giving a new meaning to the idea of “temptation of evil”.
On May 28, Netflix will release of eight more episodes of Lucifer‘s Season 5, where the Master of Darkness is played by charismatic Brit Tom Ellis. To soften the wait for for the much anticipated second part of the series, let’s take a look at the 5 most unforgettable and intriguing portrayals of the devil in recent film and TV history.
5. MARK PELLEGRINO
SUPERNATURAL, TV SHOW
In order to be able to walk on Earth, the Devil, who is also an angel, needs a willing Vessel – a physical living being who volunteers their own body to “host” him within himself. Mark Pellegrino initially plays the man who (not without considerable manipulation) lets Lucifer possess him, giving him a face.
Mainly known for his portrayal of Jacob in Lost, Pellegrino is a histrionic Devil, and, over the course of the show’s 10 seasons, he has managed to craft a character who is disquieting and amusing at the same time, and to develop his narrative arc, making him completely his own. Gifted with a mad light in his eyes and the ability to convey danger even in the most “amusing” scenes, Pellegrino’s Lucifer is not just charming, but also the veritable incarnation of Evil – a being who will stop at nothing to achieve his one aim of bringing destruction and grief.
4. PETER STORMARE
This is perhaps one of my favourite portrayals of the Devil, and it’s certainly the film with one of the most memorable scenes – a scene that sums up, with incredible accuracy, the character’s deepest, most complex and most “capricious” nature. Not only that, but the performance also introduces the Devil’s “businessman” persona, which will become his central role in future portrayals.
**SPOILER ALERT** (the following paragraph contains spoilers on Constantine‘s ending)
In Francis Lawrence’s Constantine, Lucifer’s wish to possess the soul of a man he despises, and whose terminal lung cancer and recent suicide attempt condemn him to forthcoming death and damnation, is so strong that, having made the frustrating discovery that the human was able to obtain God’s pardon, Lucifer decides to literally tear the cancer out of his lungs with his “bare hands”, so that he may live to become a sinner worthy of Hell in the years to come. What a legend!
3. AL PACINO
THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, FILM
Well yes, we do like to win easy.
John Milton is the most accurate portrayal of that “businessman” attitude we love to bestow upon the Devil, especially in contemporary American culture.
This unscrupulous being doesn’t hesitate to worm his way into the many layers of consumerist society, highlighting those same perverse, self-destructive mechanisms that humanity itself contributed to create and nourish throughout the years. The film’s protagonist, Kevin Lomax (portrayed, once again, by Keanu Reeves) is responsible not only for his own life’s self-destruction, but also for the annihilation of justice itself, and a system where the individual’s ambition leads to the irrevocable triumph of Evil.
2. JACK NICHOLSON
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, FILM
If Al Pacino‘s Devil was the businessman, Jack Nicholson‘s is, without a doubt, the seducer. “Tempter”, in every possible meaning of the word, Nicholson was born to play this role, and his Devil is bewitching and irresistible, at least according to the film’s three protagonists, who struggle significantly not to be crushed by his coils.
Even if the film’s story is centered on the Devil’s “ménage à trois” with the witches, and would appear to have been given an aftertaste of sexual liberation and the semblance of emancipation, Nicholson’s Devil actually brings with him an “unhealthy” kind of baggage, which defines the sort of manipulative, coercive relationship that’s typical of a misogynous, sexist culture – the kind of dynamics that would make it hard for a film like The Witches of Eastwick to be released today.
1. ROBERT DE NIRO
ANGEL HEART, FILM
The issue faced by the other performers mentioned in this article is that none of them is Robert De Niro in Angel Heart.
Louis Cyphre is the sum of everything the Devil represents today, and much more: charming, mysterious and intimidating, he’s the King of deception, and he’s fully aware of his role. When others think they can deceive him, his punishment is not only ruthless, but also, and above all, infallible.
If the “Devils” who came before him failed, proving to be “incomplete”, in a way, Cyphre is the Deus Ex Machina who dominates the scene and leaves nothing to chance, perfectly at ease in a 1950s New York City that further emphasises De Niro’s “old-fashioned” charm.
Angel Heart is an essential film, for narrative and atmosphere, and De Niro’s performance is terrific.
Lucifer is back with eight new episodes with Season 5 Part 2, premiering on Netflix May 28, 2021.
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