True Blood: Nelsan Ellis Q&A
True Blood's Nelsan Ellis took to the stage at the recent MCM Expo - and here's what he had to say...
One of the esteeemed guests at the MCM Expo back in October was Nelsan Ellis, whose performance as Lafayette in the southern-fried vampire series True Blood has brought the actor to the attention of TV fans and slash-fiction writers the world over. As part of the Expo's festivities, he took part in a Q&A session on the main stage, fielding queries from all and sundry - speaking of his introduction to True Blood, the creation of Lafayette, and working with show creator Alan Ball.
What is it like for you, when you come to conventions like this, and you see all these people who respect your work?
It's flattering. When an actor experiences people appreciating his work, it feels good.
How did you first become involved in the series?
I auditioned! I had four auditions, and for some reason, Alan Ball hired me.
Did you know anything about the books [The Southern Vampire Mysteries series] before you auditioned?
I did not know anything about Charlaine Harris' books. My agent told me to audition, and I read seven of the books - I think at the time she had only seven done. My character dies after the first book, so I was like, 'damn!', but I read all seven before the audition.
And, of course, you read that, and know your character is going to die. How did that change your performance?
Well, it was straightforward. They gave me a one-year contract, and said 'you're gonna die after 12 episodes', and I was cool with that.
And when you didn't, how did you feel?
Elated! Because I still had a job! Alan Ball told me after we had the table read of the twelfth episode. So, up until that point, I thought I was dead. He went 'you know you're not dying, right?', and I said 'I didn't, but thanks for telling me!'.
Your character has been described as a homosexual, drug-dealing chef. What was the biggest challenge out of having to do all of those? Can you cook?
I cannot cook! [laughs] In fact, my son rarely eats my food. But, it's make-believe! And I have a strong imagination, so I think I'm pretty good on all the stuff.
How is it playing a role that is so different from how you are as a person?
It's fun. Every chance I get to where I could be something that's not me, I jump at it. Because I'm guarded and I have these rules on how I should behave, but whenever I get to jump out of those rules, and go fucking crazy (excuse my language), I do! Lafayette is a dream role for me.
What gave you the urge to audition for the role?
My agents, they told me to audition - so I did!
What has been your favourite moment playing Lafayette so far?
The AIDS-Burger scene [cheer from audience] was my favourite moment. I'm a rough type of dude, I was in the military, so I like physical activity, so I got to do that, and beat some ass. That was my favourite, and plus it was just a well written scene. (Link)
How did you come up with the Lafayette character?
It was a collaboration. We all threw in some ideas. The scarf thing, is 'cause my momma used to wear a lot of scarves. I think there's some Prince influence in there. We did research, went to a whole lot of gay clubs, we'd go down on the strip, so we just came up with it. We also threw in some ideas into this stew of his wardrobe. Especially his head-wraps.
Do you relate to your character in any way?
Absolutely! I don't know how. His toughness, his aggressiveness. What else? I'm a creature from the street, so his street-smarts. I'm not as bold as he is, in all situations, but I'd like to be.
Has the show caused much controversy in the American South?
I think so. We've been banned in Shreveport, Louisiana, from shooting in certain places, because they're morally against the message the show gives. So, there are some places in the South where I think there's some controversy.
Who are your friends on the set, and who would you like to work with again?
I'm probably the closest to Rutina [Wesley], because we went to school together. But the person I'd like to work with most is Alexander Skarsgård, because he's a good actor, we've become good friends, and I like the dude a lot.
Speaking of Alexander Skarsgård, will we actually ever see any of Lafayette's dreams with Eric?
[Laughs] I think I heard Alan Ball say there might be a scene or two... Why, do you want to see that? You wanna see me and Alex getting it on? [plenty of slash-fic screams/applause from the audience]
What has the toughest part of playing Lafayette been so far?
Well, I'm going through some post-traumatic stress disorder in the second season. And that was tough, because I'm used to Lafayette being fun, and so for him to be breaking down with this disorder, it's kinda hard.
What's it like working with Alan Ball?
He's a god among men. He really is a genius at what he does. I get to rub elbows with him on a daily basis. He writes some of the episodes, and he directs some of the episodes, so I end up being a sponge, soaking up all his genius. When he directs you - and I'm like, this dude has won Oscars - he knows what he's doing.
Lafayette came about from a collaboration between myself and Alan. He set out the course, for how he wanted this character to be played, because Lafayette in the books is different... and that's because Alan Ball wanted Lafayette on True Blood to have more dimension than what Charlaine Harris gave the character in the books.
You're appearing in The Soloist at the moment, can you tell us anything about that?
Joe Wright, who's from here, he casted me as one of the homeless people. And Jamie Foxx couldn't come to the table read, so he, just, off the cuff, said 'hey, you read Jamie Foxx's part'... I said 'cool, I'll do it'. So we did a table read, and after the table read, he gave me a bigger part - the part of David, who ran a homeless shelter.
If you weren't an actor, what would you like to be?
A lawyer, because I've got a lot of criminals in my family to represent!
True Blood is currently showing on Channel 4. The Soloist is out now. Find out more about MCM Expo here.