It’s not Chris Rafferty’s fault that the Devil conjures up many preconceived notions; culturally and historically about what he represents. However, after wrapping up the Netflix series Lucifer, I can’t help but wonder about Rafferty’s soul.
“I guess the guilt-motivated Spider-Man is the closest thing I have to Jesus.” Rafferty jokes. “Any re-examination I did during Lucifer wasn’t about religion. The writers room made up our own mythology, using different sources as inspiration. It’s all about the character and his journey, not about adhering to one culture’s notion of how the world works.”
During our phone interview, I find myself re-examining my own preconceived notions about some of the ways that people can end up in this industry. I mean, how many of your favorite screenwriters can you say had a career in graphic design doing labels for pill bottles or DVD covers for Barney, the Dinosaur.
The core of Lucifer focuses on the fact that he’s the Devil, but teaches us that he is more than what others think of him. It’s a lesson in never judging a book by its cover.
The show, on its face, stripped down to its most simplistic terms is a cop procedural. As the show unfolded it revealed a deeper introspection of an unholy mix of heart and hilarity. You can see a bit of that in Rafferty himself.
Rafferty has written and produced 10 episodes of Lucifer throughout its six-season run. Similar to Pavlov’s dog, any fan knows that even in a show as unconventional as Lucifer, once the credited “written by Chris Rafferty '' appears; one should automatically be reaching for the nearest tissue box.
From looking at his first episode, “A Priest Walks into a Bar”, that showcases Lucifer coming to terms with his loneliness and misplaced anger as he befriends a priest or “Monster”, a deep dive into Lucifer’s self-destructive behavior and fear of acceptance; one could argue that some of Rafferty’s episodes deal with themes based in religion: guilt, introspection and resentment. But they often lead to Lucifer finding a hearty breakthrough to examine the core root of his inner strife via the caring relationships he makes on Earth.
“Those particular things are big parts of who I am as a person. Though the entire writer’s room is responsible for coming up with Lucifer stories together, those particular themes pop in my episodes. I definitely didn’t try to push religious beliefs in my scripts, unless you count the sense of integrity and heart I tried to imbue in all of our characters.” Rafferty explains.
As the saying goes: “with great thematic power, comes great write-ability.” OK, it doesn’t go like that, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves anyway. Let’s go back and explore how Rafferty landed in Hollywood and wrote his way into the heart of the Devil.
The Origin Story
“My dad is an unusual guy, a renaissance man.” Rafferty says when I ask about his childhood. “He delivered babies in the Air Force. He’s been a chemist, computer programmer, a photographer, he’s done a lot of things in his life. The variety of my dad’s past showed me that there were no limits on what you could do.”
Due to constant cross-country shuffling from Maryland to Northern California on behalf of Papa Rafferty’s military and entrepreneurial jobs, Chris and his two younger brothers relied on each other for companionship and entertainment.
“I moved around a lot and had to constantly make new friends. I created imaginary worlds, because I could take those with me.” Rafferty reminisces. “Nobody ever knew me. I was always the new kid in town. What’s so fulfilling now that I made this family here [at Lucifer], is that it’s nice to have people who are aware of you and your work.”
You can certainly see how family has an effect on Rafferty’s episodes. As of this writing, his most recent episode in the second half of Season 5 “Nothing Lasts Forever” deals heavily with familial healing and togetherness. Not only does the episode provide a soothing balm to Lucifer’s millenia long resentment with his absentee father, but it also further solidifies the love and resilience of Lucifer and Amenadiel’s brotherly bond.
“I grew up in a small family and became very close to my brothers because even though we moved a lot, my brothers were always there for me. So, I loved writing the brotherly scenes for Lucifer and Amenadiel, as they were both easy and emotional for me.” Rafferty says.
Having a penchant for storytelling and illustrations at a young age, Rafferty knew he wanted to be a comic-book artist. He cites his inspiration to comic book writer Chris Claremont and illustrator Greg Capullo:
“Growing up, writer Chris Claremont’s epic run on Uncanny X-Men had a huge impact on me. His super long form storytelling, where every dangling plot thread was an opportunity for a future story. His tales were full of misfits and the prejudices they faced. The super diverse casts of characters and personalities, all of them interesting and able to carry their own stories. You never knew where those stories would go.” Rafferty continues. “My visual storytelling skills are heavily influenced by the work of comic book illustrator Greg Capullo. His rendering skills are top-notch, he’s always creating a world that’s so tangible and exciting. But his director and cinematographer’s mind is even more powerful. He’s always choosing camera angles, composition, and lighting that best convey story, character, mood, everything. The kinds of things he did in the 90s blew my mind and will be forever seared in my brain.”
During his time as an art major at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Rafferty found himself jaded by the lack of discipline and subjectivity of the assignments. “I would spend all weekend crafting, writing, and drawing things, and then on the way to class, I’d see a classmate pick up a rock and take off his watch and put them on the table.” Rafferty laughs. “They’d make up some crap about how that was art. That’s when I realized that I could do all of this stuff on my own anyway.”
Like father, like son. Rafferty, despite being a year into his art major, got the desire to switch into filmmaking after befriending Barcelonian international film student, Hector Claramunt (now a writer/director). Living in the creative and performing arts dorms still gave Rafferty plenty of opportunity to hone his drawing and writing skills: “Hector started asking me to help him with his filmmaking projects, so I started storyboarding for him and other people around me making movies.”
Claramunt then cast Rafferty as a villain in his short film and the rest as they say was history. “That was my first time in front of the camera and being involved with behind the scenes production. I immediately fell in love with filmmaking and dropped my art major.” Rafferty recalls.
A Graphic Designer Walks into a Mall
After college, film degree in hand, Rafferty bypassed the grueling internship-to-filmmaking industrial complex, known as Los Angeles, to instead flex his self-taught skills in photoshop and graphic design in the Bay Area.
There he designed labels for pill bottles and medical newsletters, until finally making the move down to LA after getting a job designing movie posters and DVD covers.
3:10 to Yuma, Hannah Montana, and Marvel’s animated The Invincible Iron Man, are just some of the designs under his belt.
“That was my favorite version of graphic design, because I was working on movies doing packaging and advertising. That was fun.” Rafferty says
Even now, fans of Lucifer can see Rafferty’s flair for visual elements through the work of Lucifer’s art department in easter-egg references and posters that pay homage to Rafferty’s favorite comic books and horror movies.
Rafferty explains that even for his own original artwork, before putting type to screen, he's already seeing in color, “I often sketch character designs, unique props, logos, even mock location floor plans for complex action sequences to track choreography. It's the number one comment I get on my scripts: ‘I could really see every moment.’”
In addition to graphic design, as if Rafferty didn’t have enough on his plate, he juggled other creative endeavors that picked up after his move to LA like acting, improv and building a website.
For a while, it was the best of both worlds as he toiled away into the working hours of graphic designer by day, using his “lunch break to read Script Magazine cover to cover" and still fervently working on his own features, short films, and prose writing by night. However, there's nothing like a dash of burnout and the weight of existential dread that settles in during your 30s to get you on the straight and narrow.
“I got to a point in my life where I was like ‘am I ever going to be a filmmaker?’ I went to school for it. Other than all the stuff I’m doing on the side, I’m not in the industry. I’m just writing a bunch of stuff, but I’m not shooting it. But now I'm in my 30s. After a really intense bout of thinking, I made a turning point. I told myself that I either needed to go for it or give it up. So I quit acting, I stopped doing improv, I stopped building the website, I stopped doing graphic design, and I told myself ‘I’m not going to do that anymore. All I’m going to do is focus on my writing.’”
Rafferty hatched a plan: by using his savings and living cheaply, he was going to “pretend” to be a paid professional screenwriter, just to see if he would like it.
“Writing all day was something I was never able to do because I was working a regular day job. If you only do something [part-time], of course, it seems wonderful, but if you have to do it all day, every day, you could get sick of it. I focused on developing discipline and I didn’t write at home. Instead, I wrote at the mall and made it my office.”
Rafferty purposely fired himself from a 10-year career to basically go rogue, and make one of the riskiest decisions of his life, and yet I’m fixated on why he decided the mall was the appropriate venue for his writing endeavors. Wasn’t it distracting? The noise? The constant smell of the food court? The (pre-pandemic) crowds of people? Would he advise other aspiring writers to work in such a location? Who am I to judge? Sometimes, I write at Panera. But I judge him anyway.
Rafferty rises to the mall’s defense for having everything a writer needs, “I’m not sure what’s considered conventional or not, I think every writer has their own methods. But I encounter a lot of surprise when I tell people I used to write at the mall. It’s actually not as difficult as people imagine. You block out noise with headphones and soundtracks. If you need it, there’s constant outside stimulation and people-watching opportunities. Food. Restrooms. Lots of great walking space to free up a stuck mind. I had to develop a unique method of notecarding scenes so that I could pack up and go quickly if security ever tried to boot me out. Now I use the method even when I’m working at home.”
And who knew that Rafferty’s double or nothing attitude of pretending to be a professional writer would one day lead him into becoming a real one.
Making the pivot from graphic designer to screenwriter wasn’t without its challenges. As all creatives know, comparing yourself to the greats like Aaron Sorkin or Steven Speilberg can lead to an inferiority complex. “I underestimated [my talent] by comparing myself to the greatest people in the world. Therefore I felt I wasn’t ready. I was spreading myself thin, because ultimately I was afraid of having this dream and going for it, the chances of failure increase exponentially.”
He attributes screenwriter peer groups, and the placing in industry writing competitions to helping shake off that self-doubt. His big awakening came when he placed in the top 15 for NBC’s Writers on the Verge, though he didn’t make it to the program, it proved to him that he was on the right track. Rafferty had spent well over a decade studying, writing and producing scripts, and he certainly wasn’t going to stop now when he was this close.
“What I learned is; you really have to just go for it. Yes, it’s scary and you can’t eliminate fear. But, the possibility of not pursuing my dreams to their fullest extent was much scarier.”
The Devil Finds Work for Productive Hands
Rafferty’s risk was rewarded with a placement at the Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop. It’s an immersive program geared towards preparing writers for eventual staffing after graduation. In one of the sessions, Rafferty and his peers were assembled into a faux writer’s room complete with a mock showrunner, and as devilish-luck would have it, the mock showrunner of his scenario ended up being the very real future co-showrunner of Lucifer, Joe Henderson.
Rafferty would come to find out after graduation, Henderson was secretly his fan.
“I met Joe in that scenario, but we didn’t develop a relationship [until later],” Rafferty remembers. “But what I didn’t know was that, while I was in the workshop, and then after graduation and during my staffing on The Flash, Joe had been reading my samples. And he loved them. When he asked if I wanted to be on this brand new show Lucifer, I said ‘absolutely!’ It was one of the best surprises of my life to know that I had someone advocating for me that I wasn't even aware of, and then had just so happened to have a show.”
While putting this article together, I can't help but slightly compare the fictional Lucifer's journey to the non-fictional Rafferty. Both of them left their respective homefronts, both of them challenged themselves to fight complacency and were ultimately rewarded with a more fulfilling life than they could have ever imagined.
“You only have one life,” Rafferty says. “And I got to a certain point in mine where I was like ‘man, I’m not going to know the joy of pursuing my dreams to the fullest extent because maybe I’m afraid.' I had to summon the courage and go for it. And I was right, because the life I’m living now being a TV writer is freaking amazing, and I feel incredibly fulfilled.”
He also offers advice to anyone needing the incentive to face their own creative dilemma: “My advice would be to really figure out what your true passion is. It’s silly because I work on the show Lucifer, and he keeps asking people ‘what do you truly desire?’ If you can figure out what that is and you really know it in your heart, then go for it. Because otherwise, you’re just getting by. What I learned in my life is; I wanted a lot of different things and I got a lot of different things. But I had to figure out the thing I wanted the most. And when I asked myself that question ‘what do I want the most more than anything else?’ My answer was to be a screenwriter. And so that's why I dropped the design, the acting, all the other stuff and just focused on the screenwriting.”
Henderson’s keen eye for talent and Rafferty’s hard work had collided into one hell of a payoff.
Rafferty’s first credited Lucifer episode, “A Priest Walks into a Bar” viewed by fans as iconic and integral by the writers for the dynamic parallel of not only the romantic tension between Lucifer and Chloe, but also the turning point in which they really become friends, while sharing an intimate piano moment as they play Frank Loesser and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul.”
It’s been a turbulent, but also wildly successful road for a show of Lucifer’s caliber. A show that on its “resting devil” face, shouldn’t have worked. I mean seriously, the Devil on a sabbatical from Hell to solve crimes? And yet, it’s been canceled by Fox, saved and renewed twice by Netflix. That's because audiences know, like I know, that this show was worth saving.
The soul of this show’s themes of redemption, love, and perseverance undeniably permeates it’s place in the pop-culture zeitgeist. Along with the Lucifer cast, Rafferty is just one piece from a chorus of beating hearts pouring their souls into these scripts as we journey with them into the final season.
Once again, I ask Rafferty to reflect on his time on the show, and the resonating themes that he will be leaving behind with his final episode that he deems his most heartfelt episode “Goodbye, Lucifer.”
“My hope for our audience is that they too have appreciated the journey. That they’ve enjoyed all the emotions, good and bad, that we’ve guided them through. And that they’ve also found a sense of family, like I have. I am hyper-aware of the audience’s attachment to these characters and get messages on the daily about wanting the show to last forever. But the world doesn’t work that way. All good things come to an end. And my number one goal going into Season 6 was to be mindful of that. And to help the audience find some sense of peace by the time it’s over. To focus less on dreading its end, and more on appreciating the time we have together. To remember the value of the experience as a whole. That is what will live on forever.”
It’s time to grab the tissue.