Catching Up With Nelsan Ellis

6.12.2011

By Michael Martin

Lafayette's dark family drama mirrors Ellis's own. As a child, he was a ward of the state and lived with several relatives before attending The Juilliard School to study acting. His mother, who was never fully comfortable with his playing Lafayette, died between the show's latest seasons. To cope with "a dark moment," Ellis wrote a script about a dying woman whose son rescues her from death by stopping time.

As for his acting, Ellis aspires to Jeffrey Wright's versatility. After a small role in last year's Secretariat, he'll appear this summer with Emma Stone and Viola Davis in the indie film The Help, about black maids in the 1950s South. Ultimately, the flamboyant Lafayette, far from being an ambitious actor's nightmare, has been his launching pad. "He's so different from me," says Ellis. "I'm a boring person. I'm not interesting. I like to get into different skins, and Lafayette is a strong character. Hopefully he's my first step toward convincing people I'm a character actor."

True Blood's fan base needs no convincing. Even out of Lafayette's token eye shadow and mall wear, he's often descended upon by fangbangers. "I get men who think I'm Lafayette in real life and want to do bad things to me," he laughs. "I get women who think I'm Lafayette and want to change me. Honestly, it's the thug heterosexual dudes who are most in my face: 'Dude, the character is sooooo good.' "

And, unlike many of his cast members, he hasn't had to strip down to earn a rabid following. Although he's one of the most consistently clothed members of True Blood, Ellis doesn't feel left out. "No way," he says. "I am in no hurry to get nude. I've purposely tried to let a few places go so they won't make me. I'm eating cheeseburgers."

The fourth season of True Blood premieres June 26 on HBO.

Tags: Television
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