Interview: Jaime Cepero tells us all about Ellis on ‘Smash’
“By the end of this season, the Ellis gun goes off,” Jaime Cepero tells us about his deliciously villainous character on NBC’s “Smash.” We interviewed him to find out more about everyone’s favorite showbiz swindler – and yes, we asked about that little incident with Randall Jones.
So despite all the grief we give him in our recaps, Ellis is one of our favorite characters on “Smash.” And he gets some of the best storylines on the show. Do you agree?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the most exciting thing about this character for me, as an actor, was that he’s really undefined as you go into the series. It sets the platform to kind of go anywhere I want, in as far as storyline. And it’s been really interesting to watch him grow and get a new script each week and see where this kid is going. A lot of the other characters are very defined when you go into the series, and he’s very special in that sense.
He’s also painted as a villain – but do you think he accurately represents a certain type of person in show business?
I’ve definitely met some Ellises in my day! I think that’s why there’s such a strong reaction to the character, because no matter what business you’re in – whether you’re in theater or anywhere – you know this person. We all know an Ellis who’s overly ambitious, and really brownnosing the boss, and kind of slips up under your radar. I think that’s why people are really responding in such a [strong] way, because we all know this person.
We know Ellis is ambitious, but why? What’s his driving factor?
I think as the series goes on, you kind of get more definition about why he is so ambitious. He starts working for Tom and Julia at first, and he’s working for people of this caliber, and he’s very intrigued by this world he’s working in. He’s getting to see how these people are treated and how much money they’re making – he sees all the facts, because he’s the assistant, he sees all the numbers. I think he gets a taste of this world, he gets a taste of these lavish parties, and he wants it for himself because he’s never had it before. That’s very attractive for him. By all means necessary, he’s going to pursue those things for himself.
Is producing his passion, or is he going to try to make his way onstage?
He kind of makes a decision about choosing production as the way to go. I think that stems from his ambition, from watching behind the scenes, from being behind the table and watching how the actors are being treated and the drama he’s seeing on the side. I think he decides producing is the way to go to be in a position with the most power.
What is his biggest weakness?
Probably the blindness of his ambition. He’s just kind of doing whatever it takes – but he brashly makes decisions sometimes without thinking about them, which sometimes works in his favor and sometimes not. It’s his biggest asset and his biggest weakness – how much cojones he has, but also how little he thinks.
Do you relate to those characteristics?
Jaime and Ellis are very different people. I would say that I definitely admire his ambition. If I had as much ambition as my character does, in real life, I’d probably be in a very different spot. It’s really shocking to get the script and be like, “Oh wow, this kid is not playing games. He really wants this badly.” It’s admirable to me, because it’s rare.
What do we have to look forward to as the season comes to a close?
The next couple of episodes are pretty intense. There’s a lot of conflict between a lot of the characters leading up to Episode 15. The show’s been appropriately called “Bombshell,” because the next couple of episodes are a bombshell. By the last episode, each character has a pretty serious cliffhanger leading into the second season. A lot of critics have called my character the Chekov’s gun of the show – when you bring a gun onstage, it has to go off eventually. I can say that by the end of this season, the Ellis gun goes off – and it affects every character on the show.
Is Ellis bisexual, or is he straight but willing to do what it takes?
I think it’s pretty clear what happens when there’s a connection that’s introduced between him and Randall. [Laughs] I love when people are like, “Oh, so he’s gay right? Oh, so he’s bisexual, right?” That episode was a very calculated move. He didn’t go out and meet this guy and get dinner at a bar and bring him flowers. There’s nothing romantic about it. It’s a very, very calculated and specific move for him to get what he wants, in order to continue to push “Bombshell” to succeed. He’s using what he has to get what he wants out of that situation. He really seeks out the manager for the purpose of getting Rebecca Duvall on the show. But again, I’m still learning things as the series goes on.
And what about you – what’s happening right now and what’s coming up next?
I’m really having a ball shooting this, it’s my first television thing. I’m trying to enjoy my time off right now, and I’m singing a lot of benefits. I’ve got a couple of projects on the horizon, but we’re really just waiting to see when exactly we start filming. It’s hard to say yes or no to anything, because it’s a very short break. Tentatively we’re supposed to start shooting like in July or August. But in the future, I’m super excited about Season 2. I’ve gotten a generous rundown of what my character is doing in Season 2, so I’m really excited to delve into that. It might sound cliché, but I really want to be a versatile artist. As far as the business is concerned, I’d like to have a hand in pretty much everything. I’d love to do feature film, and I write music, and I’d like to record. I’d like to kind of be one of those artists you see all over the map. That’s pretty much my plan, that’s where I am at this point.
To keep up with Ellis, check out the latest recap of “Smash.”