In The Shift, a new movie that plays as a science fiction, multiversal riff on the Old Testament story of Job, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow veteran Neal McDonough plays The Benefactor, an antagonist with a dapper look and a smiling face. In the movie, he tries to tempt Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha) into working with him — something The Benefactor tells him is an inevitability — something that happens in every timeline. The Benefactor has a lot to offer, but all Kevin wants is to get back to his wife Molly (Elizabeth Tabish) — something that the Benefactor doesn’t want to happen. In what is technically a spoiler but seemed pretty obvious from the film’s trailer, the Benefactor turns out to actually be the Devil, looking to make a deal with a resistant Kevin.
After years as one of Hollywood’s most prolific villains, how did McDonough end up playing Lucifer? Well, that wasn’t the plan originally. Not only did he initially balk at the role itself — as a Christian, he didn’t feel right at first taking on the part — but he also spent years trying to cultivate a totally different kind of career.
“I came to Hollywood to be a comedian. My first job was working the improv. My goal was, I wanted to be Ted Knight,” McDonough explained. “I wanted to be all these guys that I love watching growing up. And somehow they were like, ‘You know, you’re very funny, but you look like a soldier, you look like an athlete…’ and after Walking Tall, ‘You look like you could be a great villain.’ As everyone knows, I won’t do sex scenes, so my job is to provide for my amazing wife and five kids, so what does that leave me? Soldiers in the middle of the battlefield, or the villain du jour. So I decided I was going to be the greatest villain in Hollywood.”
He added that he struggled with the idea of playing a character who is ultimately revealed to actually be Lucifer, but that his wife convinced him that his faith made him a good candidate to take on the part, since it would allow the movie to play him as more nuanced and not as dark and twisted as someone else might make it. That builds on Lucifer’s biblical backstory, and informs the movie in a way that deepens the character.
In The Shift, after a tense encounter with a mysterious stranger who has otherworldly powers, a man gets banished to a parallel Earth where he fights to get back to the woman he loves.
You can see The Shift in select theaters now.