Catching Up With Nelsan Ellis
By Michael Martin
Season 3 of HBO's vampire soap, True Blood, was its most extreme yet, dialing up the nudity, bloodlust, and bodily fluids to the point that one of the show's flashiest characters, the hulking queer fry cook Lafayette, seemed at risk of getting lost. Then he got a boyfriend. For 32-year-old actor Nelsan Ellis, it was transformative: His character, whose butch-queen realness always skirted stereotypes, became the show's grounding center.
At first, Ellis wasn't into the relationship thing. He'd established Lafayette as a former hooker, a porn hub proprietor, and a drug dealer who pushed vampire blood. "I had fun playing the prostitute and running the porn website!" says Ellis. "I thought if Lafayette got strapped down that all that fun stuff would go away." But he soon warmed to it. "I like [to portray] the love," he says. "It's rarely seen on TV: courtship, commitment, and faithfulness. In all the craziness of True Blood, you have these two dudes in a real relationship. Honest and real and straightforward -- all that good stuff."
According to rumors, season 4 is set a year in the future, when Bon Temps, La., is beset by a pack of witches. Ellis says Alfre Woodard will not return as his schizophrenic, homophobic mother but that Lafayette and his nurse boyfriend, Jesus, are still together, "doing well" against the odds: In the last episode of season 3, Lafayette learned that Jesus was a witch. "It challenges the relationship," says Ellis. "Lafayette has been in many circles, but witches ain't one of them. He's street smart with vampires, but witches are a bit daunting, especially because he's sleeping with one."
The emergence of witchcraft on the show (joining werewolves, vampire kings, shapeshifters, and Alexander Skarsgard's abs) will result in more warring factions, and hopefully more standout moments for Ellis. His favorite scene to date is one of the series' buzziest YouTube clips: When a trio of rednecks dubs one of the Lafayette's dishes an "AIDS burger," he menacingly licks a bun before rearranging the bigots' faces. "People mention it to me a lot," says Ellis. "Most of them were shocked to see a gay guy beat somebody up -- shocked that he can wear makeup and be fashiony and feminine, and also take off his earrings and whip some ass. I like that dichotomy."