You read that headline correctly. Though Smash‘s Ellis has let his ambition lead him to lurk behind many a doorway and snitch when given most any opportunity, his shiftiest shenanigans are yet to come.
During a visit to TVLine’s Times Square offices — straight upstairs from where many a location scene of NBC’s musical drama is filmed – Jaime Cepero shared his take on the not-so-warm welcome Ellis received, cleared the air on the schemer’s sexuality and revealed why it’s rather unlikely his character will meet a grisly demise (contrary to the haters’ wishes).
TVLINE | When I first met you on a flight to TCA in January, before Smash even premiered, we spoke about how Ellis maybe might one day cause a stir about giving Tom and Julia the Marilyn idea. Did you have any idea back then that he would instead cause other kinds of commotion?
I had no idea! It’s a very new world. I knew he was going to turn into a kind of a slimy villain, so I was looking forward to seeing how everybody reacted. But I didn’t know that people would get this into it.
TVLINE | Has it been a sort of relief to see Julia’s son also draw some fire? You must be like, “More Leo scenes! More Leo scenes!”
It’s fun. It makes me laugh when people come up to me and say how much they hate me. “Thanks so much?”
TVLINE | Did Megan Hilty (who plays Ivy), [showrunner] Theresa Rebeck or any of Smash‘s other Broadway vets ever take you aside to assure you, “Yes, there are opportunistic gofers like this in the business”?
Theresa and I have spoken about the character a couple of times – and she’s given me some homework assignments. Like, she had me watch All About Eve and read What Makes Sammy Run?, this old ’40s book about a young kid who’s a paper pusher and then somehow manages to use his sharp tongue to turn into a big Hollywood producer. I’ve also known people like Ellis in real life, so there’s been some character study.
TVLINE | Ellis had that one particular bold moment where he tried to parlay his success in bringing Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) on board into a co-producer credit.
Yeah, he brought her in, so he feels he deserves credit. It’s not that he’s evil; he is just really invested in the product. He kind of considers it his show, so he wants it to do well.
TVLINE | Has he done anything that when you first read it in the script it floored you?
That [aforementioned] scene with Anjelica [Huston] — I was like, “This is the most cajones-y thing he’s done thus far.”
TVLINE | What about his wooing of Rebecca’s manager – did they give you a heads-up that Ellis had a “wide variety of interests”?
I knew there was going to be something happening along those lines, but I didn’t know how it would come about. “I was like, “Oh, OK. Here we go! Let’s shoot it.” But that just showed insight into the character and his mind. I know a lot of people are like, “Ellis is gay now?” It wasn’t a romantic dinner; it was very specific and calculated. It’s not about, “He’s confuuused.” He knows what he’s doing.
TVLINE | Have we already seen the best of Ellis and Eileen’s working relationship? He just caught her snooping at his desk….
They’re still a team, but by Episode 15 [aka the season finale] there’s definitely going to be a little tension between the two of us. There’s quite possibly going to be a bit of a triangle thing between me, her and Nick (played by One Life to Live alum Thorsten Kaye). [Cepero proceeds to demonstrate a scarily spot-on impression of Kaye's bassy brogue.]
TVLINE | With a new showrunner coming on for Season 2, do you worry that he or she might try to make their mark by appeasing viewers and killing Ellis off, violently?
I think every show needs a villain, because without conflict there’s nothing to watch on a one-hour drama. Nothing’s set in stone, but I’ve gotten a pretty generous rundown of what’s happening with my character in Season 2, and you can definitely look out for him a lot, doing some more [sneaky things]. I’m probably going to be even more hated. [Laughs]
TVLINE | So, no stepping in front of a cab in the opening moments of Season 2?
No, he’s a little too smart to be hit by a cab.