Nelsan Ellis Reinvents Lafayette

July 5, 2010

Taking on the role of Lafayette Reynold – a gay man in the south in HBO‘s True Blood – would be a challenge for a lot of actors, but Nelsan Ellis has made this role his own, becoming so popular that his character was given new life.  In the books Lafayette has a very small part and is killed off at the end of the first book.  In fact Nelsan‘s initial contract was for one season as a recurring character but Alan Ball felt that Nelsan did such a great job with the part and was so popular with the fans that he had to keep him around.

On a television show about vampires, shape shifters and fairies, one would think that casting a small part about a human that dies at the end of the first book would be a fairly easy task.  According to Alan Ball however, Lafayette Reynold was the hardest character to cast.  Ball tells the Philly News:

“Whenever you have a character in which one of his defining qualities is his sexuality, it’s always challenging, because you don’t want to bring in someone who’s going to play that in a phony way.”

Too often in television and movies there is a tendency to play these types of roles in a stereotypical way.  Nelsan has taken care to stay away from that type of performance and brings a depth to Lafayette that keeps fans excited to see more of him.  How does Ellis, a former marine, pull this off?

“I think I’ve been in every gay club from New York to California. I would be in clubs with my recorders in my pocket, taping people talking. But at the end of the day, I drew more from my [four] sisters and my mother. I’ve been mimicking them my whole life. They’re in my bones.”

Nelsan grew up in rural Alabama surrounded by women.  He had no running water, used an outhouse and joined the marines right out of high school.  A couple of years after transferring to the reserves he enrolled at Julliard in Manhattan.  Julliard was not a happy experience for him.

“You spend the whole time adjusting to old white teachers who are somewhat behind in the times. They’re absolutely brilliant in what they teach you, but they lack grossly in cultural – phenomenon. Like black people and international students.”

After landing some small roles in films like The Soloist with Robert Downey Jr. and The Express, he landed the role on True Blood.  At first Nelsan was concerned with how his deeply religious family would react to his taking on this part, but the role has brought Ellis critical acclaim, respect in the industry and has led to more opportunities for him to showcase his talent.  He will be seen next in The Secretariat in which he plays the groom to the famous racehorse.

With the addition of Alfre Woodard to the cast as Lafayette‘s mother and Kevin Alejandro playing his new love interest Jesus, we look forward to seeing more of Nelsan Ellis and watching Lafayette grow in Season 3.


(Photo Credit: HBO Inc.)