Semper Fi? Ex-Marine one of HBO’s top characters – NELSAN ELLIS (Lafayette Reynolds), TRUE BLOOD – SEASON 4: HBO {Mild Spoilers}

Nelsan Ellis plays the sassy short order cook cum dealer cum prostitute Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s supernatural stake-through-the-heart comedy drama True Blood. Born in Illinois in 1978, he had a troubled upbringing in the south, joined the US marines, wangled an exit and stepped into Juilliard School of acting in New York. Since then he’s been building a respectable career until True Blood gave him the big break. Interestingly, he’s nothing like Lafayette in real life.

Nelsan Ellis: [Laughs] Well, I wear more makeup than any of the girls on the show. He’s inspired by my mother really, the way he is.

  • Q: Even this season’s Mohican?

NE: [Laughs]. That was actually my idea. I figure since he’s got a boyfriend, he probably wants to jazz it up a bit.

  • Q: But this boyfriend is getting him into more trouble than ever – messing around with a coven, summoning evil witches from hundreds of years ago…

NE: Yeah but it’s not his choice. He’s been roped into this by Jésus and the situations spin out of control and he finds himself right in the middle of all this stuff. Up to this point he has just been a regular dude in Bon Temps. He operates among the supernaturals as a business endeavour but he’s been just a normal hustler so now we see him to where he actually has to deal with this intimately. It’s a wild season for him…

  • Q: When the trouble really starts, the head witch Marnie seems to get her power when Lafeyette touches her – does he have some kind of power?

NE: That comes in later. In that moment you find out that Lafayette has some power but his power doesn’t come into play until later. He is a powerful dude though.

  • Q: Does this change him?

NE: He definitely changes, yeah. He’s going to hit a low. I like the happy Lafayette, the funny Lafayette. This season is the dramatic Lafayette and the not so fun Lafayette but you’ll see, he definitely changes. I have been stretched more this season than I ever have as an actor. I like the first two seasons, they’re my favourite but my acting satisfaction comes from this season. When I saw the script I was like, “Jesus, how am I going to do this?” Well, you’ll see.

  • Q: Playing a character that is black and gay in the Deep South was always going to be a responsibility for an actor – especially a straight actor.

NE: Yeah, I’m from the south and Lafayette doesn’t exist where I’m from because he couldn’t. Even today he’d be chased out of town or he would have to be a strong character devoted to taking you down if you cross him. But, more importantly, I had to make him real because if he’s not real then it’s just offensive. He can be a prostitute and flamboyant and crazy – he can be all that if he has a humanity that people can understand. That took the pressure off of trying to please all these communities, you know the black community, the gay community, my family, my church.

  • Q: Has that worked?

NE: Well, my father works at a meat-packing company and is a deacon in the church so it makes him uneasy. He’ll turn True Blood on, but he won’t actually sit down and watch it.

  • Q: How did you get the role?

NE: It’s sort of thanks to Sam Mendes. I tested for a project for three full days and it changed how I act forever. I come from Juilliard, it teaches you about the stage. Nobody in the theatre is looking in your eyes because they can’t see your intention from your eyes so when he told me, “It doesn’t matter all that stuff you do; I have to see it behind your eyes”. I didn’t get that, but the next part I went up for was True Blood and I got that thanks to him.

  • Q: Has the show changed things for you?

NE: Yeah I went from a shy, quiet actor who had some anonymity to having to deal with people in the bathroom, in restaurants all day. [Laughs} I have no anonymity more, I can’t do anything bad because everybody seems to watch the show. I’ve broken a lease a couple of times because one person has seen me walking their dog, coming out of my apartment building and all of a sudden the whole neighbourhood is going crazy. See my godparents were actors, they’re like, “Wow, yeah that’s what happens.” I think honestly every actor wants to be famous but you don’t know what that means. You’re not prepared for it. Famous to me was saying more than three lines on TV. Because back home fame is if you talk on TV. People are like, “Wow, he’s famous.” But it’s so temporary. Having a lot of friends who are actors I understand that you have a moment and then they can be gone.


  • Q: You had a tough childhood. How did you get into acting?

NE: Yeah, I was looked after by my grandmother for a long time, with my sibilings. My mom found things tough. Then there was the US marines. And I left that. It was not until I was 21, one day I woke up, and I was like, “What should I do?” I’d always dabbled in acting and this girl told me, ‘You should go to Juilliard.’ I didn’t know it was hard to get into. And you know, I’ve just been shooting a movie called God’s Misbehaving – it’s a comedy, a good break from True Blood and I’m playing Dionysus god of wine and sex and happiness. Literally I just sit there and I’m drunk and high the whole time and I love it. How good can life get?

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