Nelsan Ellis Worked His Swagger to Become Lafayette

November 18, 2010 by  

From Introvert to Extrovert

Nelsan Ellis, True Blood's Lafayette Reynolds, talks about life in a small townLafayette Reynolds, True Blood‘s colorful short-order cook, knows how to work it. He’s got the swagger to pull off just about anything, including gold pants, and he can apply lipstick as fast as he can deal drugs. However, the man behind Lafayette, Nelsan Ellis, couldn’t be more different from his flamboyant character. Ellis is a Julliard trained, perfectly straight, shy, southern gentleman who initially struggled with bringing Lafayette to life.

Dreaming Big in a Small Town

Ellis was born in Harvey, Illinois and after his parents divorced when he was six years old, he moved to the small town of Bessemer, Alabama. A poor town, Bessemer was not the best environment to grow up in and Ellis has alluded to it as being a town that never truly progressed past the sixties. He doesn’t badmouth his upbringing, but he has indicated that times were often very difficult. In Alabama, his sister, who was pregnant at the time, was murdered by her husband and Ellis channeled his grief into authoring the 2002 play Ugly, which focused on domestic violence. It won the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Martin E. Segal Award.

His big dreams and passion for life began when he was young but he hopes that people realize their true potential, no matter if they’re from a  major city or a small town:

“My hope is that being from a small town like Bessemer, where there were no arts whatsoever, that people will have a dream and dream big. Not many people understand how I got from Bessemer to Juilliard. The way I see it, if God gave me the will, then I should dream big and go after my dream.”

The Hustle and Flow of Lafayette Reynolds

Part of True Blood’s appeal is that the cast portrays their characters so well that it’s hard to believe they aren’t actually real. When Ellis auditioned for the role of Lafayette, he struggled to bring him to life. He had a feeling that he wasn’t going to get the role, but he didn’t give up:

“I went to the first audition and they said go back to the drawing board, it wasn’t going in the right direction. I went to three or four auditions and really didn’t expect to get the part, but I still worked my tail feathers off during the auditions. For the last audition, I was going in there – knowing I wasn’t going to get it – but was going to do exactly what I wanted. And that’s exactly what I did.”

As a gay black man in the Deep South, Lafayette embodies the history of two oppressed societies that, much like the vampires in True Blood, have fought an uphill battle for basic civil rights. Ellis identified easy with the race factor, but the gay factor was very foreign to him. He has crafted a vernacular and strut for Lafayette based on what he overhears and witnesses at L.A.’s gay clubs, which he frequents to research the role.

Hitting His Stride

Playing the role of Lafayette definitely put Ellis on the Hollywood map, but prior to bringing the flair to True Blood, he had supporting roles in several films, including The Secretariat, The Soloist, and The Express. He also appeared on several TV shows, including Without a Trace, Veronica Mars, and The Inside. Up next for Ellis? He’ll be reapplying his hookah lipstick and putting on some dangling earrings because True Blood begins filming in two weeks!

Source: — The Huntsville Times interview – Nelsan Ellis of HBO’s ‘True Blood’ finds road from Bessemer to Hollywood

(Photo Credit: