Actor Nelsan Ellis, who plays Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s hit vampire series “True Blood,” remembers what he’d hear in meetings when he was a Juilliard graduate trying to land roles in Hollywood.
“Everybody kept saying, ‘I just don’t know how to sell you,’ ” he recalls. “I’m odd. I don’t think you can put a finger on me. I have some sex appeal, but I’m not the sexy dude. Although I can be a leading man, you wouldn’t look at me and go, ‘He’s a leading man.’ ”
Does it surprise anyone, then, that what would launch Ellis is a stereotype-busting role as a gay, muscular short order cook/prostitute/drug dealer who wears makeup and can beat up rednecks? Sitting at a sidewalk café on a busy street in Los Angeles, Ellis, dressed in a T-shirt and flat cap, explains how, in many ways, Lafayette is him.
TRUE BLOOD, Today, 9 p.m., HBO “The only difference is behavior and what we do in life,” says Ellis, 33, who is straight (and, it probably goes without saying, doesn’t turn tricks or peddle vamp blood). “But other than that, he comes out of my anger, my pain, the femininity that’s in me from watching my mother, and my masculinity. He comes out of me. That’s hopefully how I make him human.”
Ellis’s witty turn was so instantly galvanizing, it practically demanded creator/executive producer Alan Ball alter his fate from the Charlaine Harris books the series is based on: getting killed off.
“I knew the first day of working with him that Lafayette couldn’t die, because Nelsan is such an extraordinary actor and presence,” Ball wrote via e-mail. “I wasn’t going to let that go.”
And now, after a few seasons on the periphery, Lafayette is in the thick of it on “True Blood” with hot Wiccan boyfriend Jesus (Kevin Alejandro), and complicit in witch Marnie’s conjuring nefariousness.
“I have a lot to do,” Ellis says of this season, which will reveal that Lafayette has a certain power. “It means Jesus is going to have to deal with this newfound gift that [Lafayette] doesn’t know how to control.” He won’t say more, except to add, “Exploring new territory is fun.”
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