A Taste of Last Year’s Eyecon-Nelsan Ellis

October 30, 2010

Last year at Eyecon we all got to mix and mingle with True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette), Sam Trammell (Sam Merlotte), Ashley Jones (Daphne) and Allan Hyde (Godric). It was incredible! The actors were really fun and friendly and accessible, mingling at the cocktail party and sitting down to breakfast and dinner. Well this year’s Eyecon 2010 is rapidly approaching and we thought if you were teetering on the edge of going .. this little article might help you make up your mind.

Nelsan

Question: University of Florida vs. University of Alabama in the NCAA Football championship, who wins?

Nelsan: ALABAMA! I’m from Alabama, ya’ll.

Question: What is the difference between you and Lafayette?

Nelsan: Well, me and Lafayette are one in the same. The difference is in what we do in life, but we’re the same person. Of course I’m not a prostitute and I don’t sell vampire blood and sleep with the same people he sleeps with, but you know, we’re from the same place in life. The street type; we have a little street smarts. I’m shyer than Lafayette but if I’m pushed, I can certainly be as bold as he is. I would like to clip some tail every now and then.

Question: How did you get into acting?

Nelsan: It was accidental. I went to Chicago to stay with my father’s side of the family. In Alabama, in my town, we don’t have any arts or acting or dance or anything like that. I went to high school in Chicago for three years and discovered acting, put it down to the military, then I picked it [acting] back up and honestly, it’s the only thing I think I know how to do. It’s the only thing that holds my attention for more than 30 seconds. So I guess they picked me because it’s something I know how to do. I discovered it in high school and I picked it up after the military.

Question: How about the fierceness that the character has? How do you prepare for that? You just seem so calm and poised but when the character comes out, who do you think of to become Lafayette?

Nelsan: My Mama. My Mama, yeah. I don’t think nobody’s as bold and fearless and as courageous as my mama, so all that stuff I get I mold from my mama. That stuff I get from Lafayette comes right from Ms. Peaches, the best in Alabama.

Question: You mentioned the military, what branch were you in?

Nelsan: Hoorah Marine Corp! The best branch of all. The others were a bunch of pussys! I’ll say it and I’ll say it to their faces.

Question: Nelsan, are there any other future plans for something we might be seeing you in other than just “True Blood?”

Nelsan: Well, there’s a movie coming out in June called “Secretariat.” It’s a Disney flick with John Malkovich and Diane Lane and Debra Ross. I play Eddie Sweat and hopefully it’s coming out in June. Hopefully, it’ll come out. ~laughs~

Question: Hoorah! Can you give us any funny stories about fans coming up to you thinking you are Lafayette?

Nelsan: Well, you know Lafayette is a sexually free individual and he certainly welcomes, for the right amount of money, he’ll welcome anything. I’ve gotten some weird propositions. I’ve also been groped at parties; I’ve been followed home. Those are funny, they are funny in retrospect but when you got like three following you home … But people think that I’m Lafayette so they sometimes deal with me as if I’ll excuse the things that Lafayette will excuse which nooo, no. ~laughs~ And they think I’m as fun as Lafayette. I’m actually boring.

Question: I’m from truebloodnet.com and we asked our readers what thesy would like to know from the actors here. They asked us to asked you guys, has “True Blood” changed your life and if so, how?

Nelsan: Well, I can pay rent now. And my father’s glad about it. I can pay rent; I gained weight because I eat consistently now. It hasn’t been a big change only in that I can pay my own bills. I’m not struggling as much as I did when I first started acting. And, you know, having to be careful with certain people because some fanatic fans get out of hand. But you know, I make more money and I can take care of my family now.

Question: That’s good. I wanted to talk to you about when you went to school with Rutina?

Nelsan: Yes, we’re good friends so it’s crazy then when three years out of school, we’re playing cousins on the show. Funny story about Rutina – I know I’m gonna get in trouble for telling this – but we’re very, very, very good friends. Her husband‘s school was also Julliard. We went to go see a play in New York and Rutina was stopped by the police because they thought she was a hooker. Because Rutina has a body out of this world and it was in the summer time so she had on some shorts and she had on this nice shirt and the police actually stopped her. I looked at them like, “What’s going on?” She’s a first-year student at the Julliard school; she is not on the corner trying to get rent money. Funny story. She’s gonna get upset that I told y’all that. She’s gonna read it somewhere and call me ~high pitched scream~ “NELSANNNN! Why’d you go and tell people that?” No, we’re very good friends. My sister was murdered my third year of Julliard and Rutina and I were supposed to go off and do a play together and I couldn’t do it. It was during the summer but she was sort of my representation there to be like, “Look, he can’t be here for obvious reasons.” She has sort of always been in my therapy process. When my sister was murdered, I sort of checked out of school and Michael Conna told me, “You’re not really doing anything in school,” and I said, “Yeah, because my mind’s somewhere else.” He gave me the option of either being kicked out or, he said, whatever you need to do, I’ll help you do it. So I said I would do a play and I did a play, a whole lot of readings about it, and Rutina was one of the main people involved all the way until the end. I’m still working with domestic violence stuff. People think I’m crazy but she’s always one of the main people who will come out and help me though it. Yes, she’s a very, very, very, very good friend.

On Being Chained

Question: Was it very difficult to film the scene where you’re chained in the first episode of season two?

Nelsan: At first it wasn’t difficult. I’m not one of those actors that have to come in and relive a bad experience. I just go in and do the work. But with that scene – also because it was graphic and violent – it just creeped me out. It was only difficult in that the body looked real and all the blood. It was cold and wet and stankin’ so it was only difficult in that respect.

Question: Where is this going to lead between you and Eric? Is there something going on or…

Nelsan: You mean in real life or …

You know I honestly don’t know. Well Alex said his intention was that Eric is attracted to Lafayette’s character because of Lafayette’s entrepreneurship but there was never intended for anything funny between the two characters. It’s something to explore, I think. Maybe Alan will go there, have a dream or something, I don’t know.

Question: Do you think it would be funny to play a vampire? Do you like vampires?

Nelsan: Not now. I think one of the things that makes Lafayette, Lafayette is the fact that he’s human and he can do as much as he does in terms of his survivor skills. If he was a vampire, I think he would be evil and cruel. The power, I think, would go to his head. Eventually I think Alan can make him a vampire but not till the seventh or eighth season.

Question: We love those words.

Nelsan: Hopefully, y’all continue to watch and all that stuff and buy the DVDs. That’s Alan’s shameful, “Buy the DVDs” plug. ~laughs~

Question: I am very sorry for your loss with your sister that you mentioned. Do you work with charities for violence against women or violence against people? Do you have a charity that you work with?

Nelsan: I do. I do anything with domestic violence and child molestation. Halle Berry has an organization in Southern California called the Genesis Center and I always work worth them. Whenever we do something, the proceeds go to them and, more importantly, they come out with all their resources and make it the life of the event on behalf of the cause. Domestic violence is an epidemic worldwide and particularly in America but because it’s so taboo, we still don’t want to deal with the fact that some of us beat our women and children in secret and so it’s just a destructive secret to have. It’s called The Genesis Center. It’s a wonderful organization and its in Southern California they do great things. They will actually take a whole family and put them in a safety house. The statistic is, a woman is most likely to get murdered if she leaves, which is a horrible statistic. To me, it says something about our law system. The Genesis Center, what they do if a woman can call and says, “Listen, I need to get away form my husband,” they will actually sneak in and take the whole family out and out and put them in a safe house where the husband can have no contact and can’t get to the family. It’s a wonderful organization and Halle Berry brings a lot of money in because, of course, she’s been through it.

Question: Were you an Alan Ball fan before “True Blood” with “Six Feet Under?” Also when you sign up for an HBO show, obviously there’s going be a lot of nakedness going on. How uncomfortable is that?

Nelsan: I was a fan of Alan Ball’s with “American Beauty” and “Six Feet Under.” I think it was one of the best shows on TV. Especially the season finale and quite frankly, I don’t think I ever seen an episode of a show that was quite so perfect. It was just perfect. I’m queasy about my nakedness. I grew up in a strict Christian family that believed in covering it up, so that when we get to the points where I got to show my no no parts, it’s gonna be nerve wracking. – especially when you’re looking at 80 people. You have all these people and you have to strip down. Anna is used to it at this point so it’s easy for her and she just takes it well. Me on the other hand, I’ll be like, “Can we just have the director here? Do I have to take my drawers off too?” You just wear a little sock; the men just wear a sock. That’s it. Sometimes it comes off or sometimes something crazy happens and like Mehcad Brooks that plays Eggs? They could not find one to fit him. It was huge scandal on set, “We can’t find a sock to fit Mehcad. We gotta go out and get a special one for him.” And then it fell off. So it was awkward in the scene. I was trying to put it back on and Rutina’s trying to block me. She’s probably going to get upset with me for saying this.

Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette in Gold

Dressing the Part

Question: Do they let you keep the gold pants and the gold underwear?

Nelsan: They don’t let me keep nothing. HBO, bless their hearts, but no, they ain’t giving me none of that … I’ll have to steal it if I want to keep it and even then, I’ll probably get some phone calls. “Nelsan, did you see those pants because we can’t find them in inventory?” My father hates those pants.

Question: You have women falling everywhere …

What was it like working on “The Soloist?” Do they really work on a lot of the (can’t make her out)

Nelsan: Yes, they hired 15 homeless people from the homeless shelter, which was a good thing because they got paid as much as we did. It’s work experience and we got to actually see because we spent so much time in that district downtown where you actually come in face-to-face with how just egregious homelessness is in California. It should not be; it’s just out of control and it’s because of those of us who live there. We have 200,000 homeless people in California – it’s ridiculous. Many of them are piled up in one place in California. It just should not be and many of them are mentally ill. From what I understand, some of them were dumped there because their families could not pay for, or continue to keep them in a home, so they were dumped out there. That’s the one lesson many of the actors got, including Robert Downey Jr., is how much we now have to deal with this huge problem of homelessness in California. It’s just bad, it really is. But yeah it was good to work on.

Question: How old are you?

Nelsan: I’m 28.

Question: Do you have any kissing scenes this year on anything?

Nelsan: Well, I understand they’re going to give me a friend so I guess in having a friend there’ll be some kissing. We’ll see, we’ll see. I don’t like really kissing on screen. I’m like, eh. It’s hard to fake a kiss so you got to do it for real and I got to kiss men. ~laughs~! I mean, I have no with problem kissing men, but you know, it’s just hard for me.

Question: What is your favorite episode in each season?

Nelsan: First season my favorite episode is episode five, which is kind of egotistical because I have a lot of scenes in episode five. My favorite in the second season … Which one? I think I have a couple. Jason was so marvelous in the second season that I think the three episodes that he dominated are my favorite because he was so freaking good. He’s always good but the second season is he was funny – especially his Rambo-type and saving the world. He was hilarious. I don’t know which one but there were three that were my favorite because Jason sort of took them over and he was hilarious.

Question: The character that you play on “True Blood” – are you more tempted to play this sort of role in the future? I know you’re branching out. It’s great doing different kinds of roles, but is this something you’re thinking of even more than this kind of genre?

Nelsan: Oh the genre, or the character? Lafayette is so out there and I don’t know if I can play his kind of character again because I don’t know if I can find a character that would top his. So no more characters like Lafayette. The genre? No, probably not. I’m more of a dramatic dude so, I lucked out on getting “True Blood” because I don’t think there is any other circumstance that I would be in a vampire flick other than the show. So I think this is it on the genre and this is probably it on the character. Then we move on …

Question: I have a two-part question. First of all, have you read any of the novels Charlaine Harris has written and what the show is based on?

Nelsan: Yes I, read several of the books.

Question: And second, we know she did a cameo in the last episode of the show of the second season. Which part did she play?

Nelsan: She was at the bar. She just played a patron. You’d miss her if you blinked. The camera just slid right; you don’t even see her whole face, you just get sort of see this profile. If you actually didn’t see her how she looked, you would never even guess it was her. She has a line but it’s like, real quick.

Influences Past and Present

Question: Who has influenced you with your acting and who would you like to work with in the future?

Nelsan: Morgan Freeman, Jeffrey Wright, Denzel Washington, Lawrence Fishburne, Angela Bassett. I love me some Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie. I’m sort of eclectic in all the people that I like that influence me. My biggest influence is probably Jeffrey Wright. I think of all the actors he’s the only one I can see a style I’m the most relatable to. Who would I like to work with in the future? Lawrence Fishburne, Jeffrey Wright, Jaimee Fox again, who else? I’d like to work with whoever will hire me. Obviously if you gonna meet my (quote) ? , I wanna work with you. But you know if I were to work with Denzel Washington, I’d probably be pissing myself. I think there are kids in the room … sorry! ~laughs~

Question: If you were not acting, what job would you do? What’s your dream job?

Nelsan: I would be a bum. No, I’d like to say if I wasn’t acting, I would probably be a preacher or a lawyer but I don’t know. I sublimate though acting. I get out because I’m not an emotional dude; I don’t cry and all that stuff so I can get out all my emotions in acting. So if I didn’t sublimate, I would probably be like a criminal. I have all this stuff I want to get out – I would just want to beat a person up. So I don’t know. I would like to say a lawyer or a preacher. Then maybe I just might be like a criminal. Maybe I might be Lafayette.

Question: What would be your most memorable scene in the first and second seasons?

Nelsan: The Lafayette AIDS burger. That’s only because I like the physical stuff so yeah, the physical stuff in the scene just sort of worked well. All the acting and directing worked well. I got to kick some ass. It just worked well so that’s my most memorable scene in both seasons.

Question: Did your agent prepare you for the convention experience or did he just kind of send you off here to the wolves?

Nelsan: I didn’t even know this was a convention that focused mainly on “True Blood.” I thought I was going to come here and see some “Twilight” people, some “Supernatural” people, some “Buffy” people. All this attention’s sort of disconcerting. Is it just us? Really? Now where are Anna and Steve? They’re the lead faces. No I didn’t know they didn’t prepare me for it. They just sort of sent me out here. Yeah, I mean they made me come because they wanted their commission. They just sent me out here, didn’t give me no information. But I’m havin’ fun! Are y’all? ~applause~

Question: So how did you land the role of Lafayette?

Nelsan: Well, my agent called me and he was like, “There’s something I think you can get.” I said, “Really?” He goes, “Yeah, there’s like a drag queen part.” I was like, “Adam.” He was like, “Remember that monologue I saw you do at Julliard, Ms. Raze?” I said yeah so he sent me the script. I loved the script. I went to audition for it and Libby Goldstein, the casting director, is like, “You’re too masculine. You’re just so masculine. You know this is a drag queen part right?” I said, “Yeah.” She’s like I know you black people have a hard time in getting parts like this. I mean, it wasn’t offensive she was just being honest. She was like, “I think you’re cute so just show me what you can do.” So I did it and she said, “Well, I’m going to bring you back for Alan.” So I came back for Alan and it wasn’t a good second audition. I called my agency and it wasn’t working out; it just wasn’t. I came back for the third audition and it just wasn’t good. I came back for the fourth audition and I was like, I’m not going to get the part so I’m going to go up there and play off all of my instincts. At one point, I put my ass in Libby’s face. I had my legs crossed and Alan was sitting there and I’d be in his face. I was like, if I don’t get the job at least I’m going to play off all the instincts. I was getting up walking around and the person who was taping it she had to follow me. I walked out and I was like well, I know I didn’t get it, but at least I did everything that I wanted to do in the audition. Four days later, they said that I got it. I was like, you must be crazy. He was high. But he picked me. I don’t know why.

Question: Do they allow you to improvise on your character? Because you seem to own the part so well and I was just curious.

Nelsan: Well, no. I can get away with throwing in some phrases here and there so improvise is not quite the right word because you can’t really improvise. With Alan, when it’s his script and he’s directing, absolutely. And some other writers too, but some of the writers, I can’t even throw a phrase in. They’ll stop me like, “No, please stick with my words.” So I’ll have to go, “Okay.” So yeah, I throw in some phrases here and there but you can’t improvise on TV.

Question: You said you read seven of the books. They introduce a lot of new characters in each of the additional books. Are there any of the characters that you hope to see from the books come to “True Blood?”

Nelsan: I would want to see Russell. I’m interested in seeing Russell. The tall, bald-headed dude – Quinn? I’m interested in seeing him because I’m interested in who is going to play that dude. Because if he’s going to be as bad ass on the show as he is in the books, I want to see what I can play Quinn.

I don’t know about Vin Diesel.

Question: That’s who she based him on.

Nelsan: Well, then maybe. Who am I to say? Who else? You know what? The demons.
I’d really like to see the demons, like the old man and the two chicks. I mean, who will they get to play them and the old dude? Oh, the fairies? I’m not into the fairies. Fairies ain’t got no muscle on them. Especially the brother. I mean what did he do? He’s just pretty and he would show off And he thinks he’s pretty, he’s pretty, he’s pretty; we get it. He don’t do anything. It’s like, what’s your function dude? What do you do? Like he has no function other than being pretty. His sister – she’s the one that takes care of Sookie. She has a good function. She needs protection. The brother? I’m territorial with my pretty.

Question: I was wondering with the books was there any particular part you want to see?

Nelsan: I want to be around for the war between the vampires and the werewolves. That’s my favorite part in the book. I think it’s the fifth book. I want to be and I want to fight in that war – on the vampires’ side because they gonna win. Yeah I want to fight. It would be interesting if Jason fights in there as a werewolfe. I’m sorry, did I just spoil that for someone?

Question: If you don’t see yourself in this specific kind of genre, where do you want to branch out? I noticed a lot of people that you mentioned also do a little more serious work. What is your favorite? What is your goal?

Nelsan: Wow. I haven’t figured all that out yet. I’d like to do more serious movies – not that “True Blood” isn’t serious. I’d like to do more in the way what Jeffrey and Lawrence Fishburn and Denzel, more on that road. In terms of a goal for myself … I don’t know. I still haven’t found out how completely evolved I am as an actor. To figure that out, ultimately. My goal is to work. That’s a big thing for the actor because our life span in terms of just working … It’s like most of the time we’re at home, chilling, auditioning but actually working? There’s very few of us, so my goal is to continue to consistently work. What jobs I get, only God can tell. Hopefully, I’ll work on something like good movies.

Question: I love the way you portray Lafayette. It’s exactly the way I thought it would be. And I have to ask you, what character in “True Blood” would you like your character to do bad things with?

Nelsan: You’re gonna have to clarify. You mean legal things or …

I would mostly like to do illegal things with Eric. Because I mean, plain and simple, there’s nobody more powerful. And I think he schemes as darkly as Lafayette. I would most likely do naughty things with Anna Paquin. Steven Moyer did good.

Question: What are some of your favorite films?

Nelsan: Oddly enough, “Interview with a Vampire” only because it’s a drama. “Interview with a Vampire,” “Shawshank Redemption.” Let me think now that I’m put on the spot. Let’s see, I don’t know. I have a lot of Asian movies that are my favorite films but they have gone out of my head.

Cast Tidbits

Question: The casting is amazing. What do you think of Evan Rachel Wood as the queen?

Nelsan: I was surprised by it, but I do like it. It’s hard because you have nothing to compare it to, to say, ah, Angelina Jolee would be better. But I think it’s a part that you can’t really mess up because the writing is so good. All you gotta do is talk. And she’s hot. She’s great to look at. What do you think? I have a question for you. What do you think about the casting of Evan Rachel Wood for the queen?

Question: I love her. Someone said a horrible thing is that 97 percent of the people are disappointed.

Nelsan: So who did they think should play the queen?

Question: I hear Michelle Pfeiffer. She was supposed to be young in the books.

Nelsan: I will say this, I thought they would get a woman with more age and ravenous. I’m not saying she’s ugly; I like her as the queen. I just thought they would get more Michelle Forbes and she could tear the frickin’ screen a new asshole. I mean she just drop kicks it hard because you have Michelle Forbes on the screen. But of course, Michelle Forbes had a whole season. Rachel had now many seasons? Give her a chance!

Question: Anybody who reads seven books just to prepare for a role is just amazing, but I’m interested to know, what do you think of (???)

Nelsan: Well, I read the books because my agent told me to. When I read the first two books, they’re so addictive I just read the other ones. But he told me you better read the books so you know what world this is. Vladimir Nabrokhof is one of my favorite authors. His prose is otherworldly. “Lolita” I can read nine times a year just because of his prose is just amazing, and every French writer, really. I typically lean towards European writers. For some reason, their language, their grasp of our language; they write it sometimes a little better than us.

Question: What’s it like working with Pam?

Nelsan: Oh, she’s wonderful! I love that chick. She’s wonderful. She is kind of like her character. She’s wonderful and funny. Her and Eric together, they’re a riot. In fact whenever I see him without her, I’m always looking for her to enter or come out and say a snazzy line. I love Pam.

Question: I think you would have liked the queen because people are so hot for him and all the blondes (not sure

Nelsan: They just want to kiss on him.

Question: What do you watch on TV besides “True Blood?”

Nelsan: “Dexter,” ~applause~ “Medium.” Is “Supernatural” back on? ~applause~ You know, I used to love “Heroes” but I’m phasing it out because I’m like, what are they doing? What is going on? No continuity. It’s like every episode is so different. Is “Smallville” still on because that’s my show. I just got into “Grey’s Anatomy.” I never watched TV but when you’re on a TV, show you go to all these functions with other actors and they come up and go, “I like ‘True Blood.’” And then you sit there going, what show are you on? And they’re like, “Supernatural.” I literally have to look at TV because of my peers now. It’s TV and you have to support them because they support you. A lot of shows I watch just because I want to know who I’m talking to. Because we are invited to the awards ceremonies like the Golden Globes and all that and you’re sitting at the table and it just looks pitiful when you have nothing else to say about anyone else’s show. Especially when they’ve been running for seven years.

Hello. You’re gorgeous. I’m going to get in trouble. Wow, this better not show up on YouTube.

Interviwer: It’s already there.

Nelsan: It’s already on YouTube? You got a live feed going? Oh my goodness. I am in so much trouble. I betcha McCaden and Tina is texting me right now. I’m sorry go ahead.

Question: Would you want to do any other show on HBO like “Curb Your Enthusiasm?”

Nelsan: I don’t do improv. “Curb your Enthusiasm” is improv.

Question: Is there any other show like, “Entourage?”

Nelsan: Every man wants to get on “Entourage.” On “Entourage,” they’re bastards and they’re fun. Honestly I don’t think there’s any other show on TV that’s as good as “True Blood.”

~APPLAUSE~

No other show can measure up.

Oh no, no, no, make no mistake, I am gangster in that. I will tell anybody to their face, “True Blood” is the best show on TV. I don’t care how much you love that show, how bad you may think you are because you ain’t gonna beat my ass. “True Blood” is the best show on TV.

Question: So, I’m just curious and I am sorry for anyone who hasn’t read the book because this is going to be a major spoiler. Lafayette’s character is very different in the books because he died. So I was wondering when you got the part, were you signed on to be in any more seasons?

Nelsan: No, it was only a one year contract. But Alan did tell me I was going to live beyond 12 episodes, and he was very cavalier about it. He was like, “You know you’re not going to die, right?” I said no I didn’t, but thanks for telling me. And is good to work in the middle of a recession so God bless him.

Yes M’am. Hello.

Question: Hello, how are you?

Nelsan: I’m good how are you?

Question: This is such a delight. We all want to thank you for being here.

Nelsan: Thank you for inviting me and all the people who invited me. It’s where he is the one who invited me is not here and thanks everybody and thanks everybody and Godric. ~laughs~

Question: One quick question. The girl who sang in the band, the Christian band … I understand that she’s a soap opera star. Would you happen to know her name?

Nelsan: I don’t know but I just know when I saw it, “she’s good” I don’t know who she is. She’s on “Days of our Lives.” Wow, I did not know that but she is good.

MC: Alright sorry to cut it off but we got to bring in this old guy.

Nelsan: Godric has to come up y’all!

Transcription: April Lollar

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