Love or hate "Smash," there's something most viewers will agree on: Ellis is the worst. But don't blame star Jaime Cepero -- he's just doing his job.
I caught up with Cepero to talk about what fan reaction has been like to his "slimy," "conniving" character (his words, not mine) and if Ellis will ever be redeemed in "Smash" fans' eyes. He also opened up about Ellis' ambiguity -- both with his professional goals and his sexuality -- and the joys of playing Buck Hunter with Oscar winning costar Anjelica Huston, whether fans liked that scene or not.
Keep reading to find out what's next for Ellis in tonight's episode (Mon., Mar. 19, 10 p.m. ET on NBC), "The Workshop" (hint: his sleazy ways have not gone totally unnoticed), and beyond, including an impossible mission we wouldn't be surprised to see him on.
We talked for a while at TCA, and at the time, Jaime, I did not know that Ellis was going to be such a snake!
[Laughs.] It kind of snuck up on everybody!
We're supposed to not like Ellis -- I get that -- but have you been surprised by how much fans really freaking hate him?
Yeah, it's taken a little bit of adjusting. This is my first television show ever, so being in the spotlight like this is a little jarring, especially for my first job on TV, but everybody's been really nice ... the most I've ever gotten is, "I hate you on 'Smash'!" But that means I'm doing my job right, so ... I'm just really happy that everyone's responding so well to the show.
He is the villain -- that's a big responsibility!
It is a big responsibility. It's a little challenging, and I'm definitely stretching my muscles as an actor ... I've never really gotten to play a villain, so I'm having so much fun being this slimy and conniving. [Laughs.]
Slimy is the perfect word. There's a moment in tonight's episode where he just appears at the worst possible moment, just slinking back into this dark corner to spy. He is everywhere!
[Laughs.] Yeah, that's been the running joke throughout the series. It's always like, if you pan back far enough, you're gonna see Ellis somewhere! Sitting behind the couch or like ... I feel like they're going to pan up and I'm going to be like "Mission: Impossible," above the fan. [Laughs.] It's really funny.
That wouldn't be a shock at this point. I was happy that Ellis finally gets a bit of a smackdown this week.
Yeah, for sure. He's gotten spoken to before, but he's very ambitious and he has some cojones -- he'll talk back -- but I think he's met his match in Eileen Rand, Anjelica Huston's character, and I think you see that tonight.
And we definitely see more of Eileen's wild side this week -- I can't believe that Bushwhack makes another appearance!
I know! It was a really cool place to shoot. It's not called The Bushwhack, but it is a real bar in Long Island City, where we shot that. We had a lot of fun that night. It's a really cool bar ...
Well obviously -- they've got Buck Hunter!
[Laughs.] I was like, "Am I really playing Buck Hunter with Anjelica Huston right now? What is my life? What's going on?"
Can we expect to see another side of Ellis in the rest of the season? Is there redemption in his future?
You're definitely going to see some definition in his character. What's so exciting about this character to me, as an artist, is he's so undefined. You don't really know where he's from or what he wants at the beginning of the series, but as the series goes on, he starts to get more and more definition. You see just how ambitious this kid is, and really how much he wants this power and the finer, lavish things in life. It's really fun to watch him climb the ladder as the series goes on.
Undefined in so many ways -- even sexually! All of a sudden, Ellis has a girlfriend and everyone was like, "Hold up -- Ellis is straight?"
I think it was kind of written for him to be little ambiguous and for people to be guessing. In the Broadway industry, there are a lot of guys that you meet that you might think are gay, but they're not. He's that character -- I mean, I've met those people in real life, and I think I can speak for everybody from the Broadway community that's on the show: We all know those people. You'll see more definition as far as his sexuality as the series goes on.
I'm giving you the chance to say something to fans in defense of Ellis. Go!
I think that he's a young kid and he's just very ambitious, and he really wants to rise to the top, by any means necessary. I think he's young and he doesn't necessarily make the correct choices to rise to the top, but he's doing what he feels is right. He wants his due for the show because he feels like it's his idea ... and we all make mistakes. [Laughs.] But yes, he's a little slimy.
Will "Smash" get a second season? See the fates of all your favorite shows here: