Nelsan Ellis shines as Lafayette Reynolds in True Blood, he makes his character so believable that many a fan actually thinks he’s gay in real life. He talked with VIBE about creating his character and what the future holds not only for Lafayette, but for himself too.
VIBE: Lafayette is dead in the book so how did you make the TV character your own?
Nelsan Ellis: I think by the second or third audition I got some bad notes from the casting director. They figured I was playing a stereotype or something like that so I got a friend of mine to come and work the audition with me and somehow I found the character inside of me versus putting on something that wasn’t real. Alan Ball wanted the character to be a myriad of things and at first I was skeptical but I somehow found it, maybe it was God helping me out.
VIBE: So that stereotype you were playing must have been a Queenie type of gay guy, huh?
Nelsan Ellis: Yeah, at first because in the break down he was supposed to be almost drag queenish but I didn’t really play that right coming in, even when I got the job. I didn’t really find Lafayette until the third or fourth episode because I certainly didn’t have him in the pilot. There were takes where I was playing with who he was and takes that I was—they just happened to pick takes that were consistent with who Alan Ball thought the character should be.
VIBE: Lafayette has been a lot softer lately as he’s being manipulated by vampires and reconnecting with his dysfunctional mother. What new developments can we look forward to with his character?
Nelsan Ellis: He’s gonna get softer because he’s gonna fall in love but there’s still gonna be that violent part of Lafayette that don’t take no bullshit. But yeah, they’ve given him a love interest so hes gonna be wrapped up in that and dealing with the complications between he and his mom. But we may see a darker Lafayatte, who knows.
VIBE: How annoyed do you get when people can’t differentiate between Nelsan and Lafayette?
Nelsan Ellis: It annoys me when the industry people are like that but I can’t just get upset with regular folk because all they see is the character. But when the industry can’t tell the difference, I’m like, “Damn that’s a little closed minded,” because when white people play a character people expect it to be a character. But black people—we can’t just be character actors, we have to [really] be the things we’re hired for, which is what offends me. I don’t answer that question, “Are you gay or not,” when it comes down to industry people. But if it’s a regular person asking me, that just says that maybe I’m doing a good job. But when a casting director or an agent asks me that question it takes on a deeper thing that says, “I can’t believe you’re doing this unless you are that.”
VIBE: So no men trying to get with you in real life, thinking that you’re Lafayette?
Nelsan Eliis: I get that but I don’t sit down with folks like, tell me what y’all think. But I get the hitting on me and stuff. But then again, I do play a gay character.
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