Transcript of Exclusive Interview with Nelsan Ellis
True-Blood.net Interview Transcript – Nelsan Ellis
(tb.net) This is Liz and Mel with True Blood.net radio, and we are here today with Nelsan Ellis, to played – or plays – LaFayette on True Blood. Thank you for taking the time with us today Nelsan, how are you?
(Nelsan) I’m good, I’m good, how are you?
(tb.net) Not too bad! What we want to first start out by asking you, who or what inspired you to get into acting?
(Nelsan) Um, well, I went to high school in Chicago, and 2 teachers there sort of encouraged me and inspired me to act. I was doing speech training, and uh I wasn’t really taking it all that seriously, ‘cuz I was an athlete, but ah Mr. Bill Kirkse (sp?) and Tom Sweeny – I’m sorry, Tim Sweeny – told me that I should go into acting ‘cuz they thought that I had a knack for it. So I did!
(TB.net) Um hmmm…cutting up in the classroom? (laughs)
(Nelsan) Umm (laughs) I didn’t cut up all that bad in the classroom, I cut up in other places!
(TB.net) Well, does that mean you’re a Chicago native?
(Nelsan) No, I’m an Alabama native. I was born in Chicago, and I was raised in Alabama, then ah, my parents split up and I went to high school in Chicago.
(TB.net) Ah. OK!
(Nelsan) So it was back and forth,
(TB.net) Well Liz is a Chicago girl.
(Nelsan) Ah, Chi-town, yeah!
(TB.net) I am! Yes, I love it. I don’t live there now, but I grew up in the city so…no place like home!
(Nelsan) No place like home except for the 10º below winters!
(TB.net) (laughs) Then you want to be someplace else, right.
(TB.net) Well, what do you look for in a role, when you’re looking over scripts that are sent to you, um, what is it that you particularly look for?
(Nelsan) Um, I like roles that are risky, and challenging, and um, keep you on your toes. I don’t really like roles that are mean or, or, straightforward, because then it gets boring trying to portray them. So I like roles that are risky.
(TB.net) Hmm! So would it be accurate to say that risky is what turns you on, creatively?
(Nelsan) Yes! Risky turns me on creatively.
(TB.net) OK! How about spiritually or emotionally, what turns you on?
(Nelsan) Um, (laughs) spiritually and emotionally God turns me on, so if I can do some religious material, or some Christian stuff, I’m very happy.
(TB.net) Wow! We didn’t realize that you were also Christian.
(Nelsan) I am Christian.
(TB.net) Cool! We are as well, so it’s always nice to meet someone in the business who has a strong faith.
(TB.net) Before you landed the role of LaFayette, had you read any of Charlaine’s books?
(Nelsan) Well, when my agent called me, um, and told me about the role, the first thing he told me was “Go read the books.” And so I read all the books before I auditioned.
(TB.net) All 8 of them? Or…
(Nelsan) Well I read 7, there were 7. The 8th wasn’t out at that time.
(Nelsan) I believe the 8th one just came out, right?
(TB.net) Ah, it would have come out after you guys had – were filming, so yeah.
(Nelsan) Yeah, so I read 7. And ah, and I didn’t plan to! (laughs) I was gonna read 1, and call it a day, but – they’re addictive!
(TB.net) Exactly! They hook ya!
(Nelsan) So…yeah, I literally read them books in a week!
(TB.net) (laughing) See?! Everybody says that! And everybody is saying the same thing about the show, as well.
(TB.net) (still laughing) Yeah!
(TB.net) They start watching it and they’re like, “Well, I don’t know…it’s a vampire show…maybe, maybe not.” And then, I mean the ratings speak for themselves, there. They just grew, and grew, and grew, people couldn’t get enough.
(Nelsan) It’ll be the day when my father starts watching, I’m waiting for that day! (laughs)
(TB.net) OK, yah, I won’t let my Mom watch it, so…right!
(chuckles all around)
(Nelsan) My father he’s be preaching at me, like, “No, not in my house. That’s the devil’s work!”
(TB.net) (laughing) I’ve read that! I did read that! You had said that in a previous interview.
(Nelsan) Yeah, my father was not…yeah…he’s a holy roller! No True Blood in his house.
(TB.net) I’ll confess there are a few scenes where I have to…I just close my eyes and listen to the dialogue, because I can’t – I can’t get through it, otherwise. ( Nelsan laughs) But as a whole, I just really, really enjoy the – the world, you know, the whole True Blood universe.
(Nelsan) It’s different, I’ll tell you that! (laughs)
(TB.net) It is different!
(Nelsan) And Alan has taken the plot from the books, and he’s just expanding it, and making it WAY bigger than…yeah, yeah. Alan is pretty brilliant.
(TB.net) Yeah, the role of LaFayette was actually pretty much just a, just a shadow role, a character in the book, and he pulled that out and dressed him up, and gave him some, ah, some depth. That was really enjoyable, and the fans ate him up! LaFayette’s a big hit.
(Nelsan) Which is – which is always shocking when somebody say that, ‘cuz…who would have thought?
(Nelsan) Who would have – who would have thought? Especially where I come from. And where I come from, people who I thought never in a million years would have liked the character, dig the character. And I’m going, “That’s…strange.” Um…
(TB.net) You know, I think it’s your portrayal of him, really, that hooked people. You were fearless!
(TB.net) Um hmmnn!
(TB.net) The – I mean, he’s such a large personality, and some of the things that you had to do with that character is just – you know, you’re watching it on screen, going “Oh my gosh!” How do you get there as an actor? I mean, how did you prepare to play that character?
(Nelsan) Um…I’ve probably been to every gay place from New York to California, in a span of I think 3 months!
(TB.net) Whoa! Overload! (laughs)
(Nelsan) Yeah, I’ve – I’ve been in the darkest places, trying to figure out, um…basically how to not make the character, um, something you’ve seen – and to not be a stereotype, ‘cuz I wouldn’t want to offend anybody. So…(laughing) I did a whole lot of research! Whole lot of watching, um, I’ve even gone to, like, strips where the gay prostitutes hang out. Yeah, it was …it was a lot. (laughs) It’s a lot of research.
(TB.net) (laughing) Well this is definitely a risky role for you.
(Nelsan) It is, and it makes – it used to make me nervous, but…after dealing with Alan, I’m not nervous anymore. You know?
(Nelsan) You know, ‘cuz at first you’re a little scared of being an African-American actor, and being pigeon-holed, and going “Am I ever gonna work again after this character? Can people see me beyond this character?” Because they tell me Hollywood is – is small minded. But at the end of the day I’m like, the Christian in me says that something much larger has my destiny in hand. And I have faith in that, so everything else is gonna be all good.
(TB.net) Well, we agree with that. If nothing else, this will have brought you to the attention of, um, other people who want to cast you in a bunch of different roles, we think. I mean, we want to see you in more shows, so…
(Nelsan) Well thank you! Hopefully everybody thinks like that. (laughs)
(TB.net) LaFayette had quite an interesting wardrobe on the show. How were you – how involved were you in choosing how to style him, in his clothing pieces, accessories, um, anything?
(TB.net) Right down to the way he walked?
(Nelsan) Um, it’s all a collaboration, so of course the costuming people come in and say, “This is my idea.” And then Alan comes in and says, “This is my idea.” Then I’d come in and I say, “This is my idea.” And so we all just came up with it, purely accidentally! (laughs) It was kinda like, oh, that feels better, that looks better. ‘Cuz there’s no sketches of LaFayette, that said “This is what he’s gonna look like.” And there’s not – there’s no sketches of his makeup. It was – actually, all of it’s just accidental. Literally it was accidental. And the makeup was as random as “So, what do we feel like today?” (all laugh)
(TB.net) Well that would be true to the character, though, wouldn’t it?
(Nelsan) It would! It would! Bridgette literally was like, “I don’t want to …I just want to see you and what you have on, and let’s just do what we feel like on every day, and see how we roll with that. And that’s how we went!
(TB.net) It worked, it worked!
(Nelsan) It did work, it did work! There’s some divine, though, in everything. (all laugh)
(TB.net) Right down to the eye shadow choice, I believe it!
(Nelsan) Yeah, it’s tough to explain, it was da-da-da do this…okay…okay. And it all worked!
(TB.net) Tell us, what was one of your most memorable moments as LaFayette, while you were filming the show?
(Nelsan) The ah, AIDS burger scene. (laughs)
(TB.net) (laughing) Thank goodness! I wanted to ask about that! I thought it was fantastic!
(Nelsan) The AIDS burger scene….um, ‘cuz you know I’m an athletic, rough kind of dude. I like physical activity, and they brought in a stunt dude at first to do my stuff. I said, “Naw, y’all wasted money, ‘cuz I’m doing this myself.” And – and you know, it was thrilling, and the actors who played the rednecks were so good that it was just – it was fun, for the whole day, it was fun for everybody involved. It was just fun! (laughs)
(TB.net) How many times did you have to film that scene? How many takes did it require?
(Nelsan) Mmm, we did I think 4? 4 takes?
(TB.net) You must have been exhausted!
(Nelsan) Nope! No, my adrenalin was going and it was fine. I – whenever we’d do scenes that involved any physical (laughs) activity, then it’s all gravy for me ‘cuz that’s – yeah, it’s fun.
(TB.net) I think that is my favorite scene with LaFayette, it just, I mean, it flew off the screen. It was phenomenal.
(Nelsan) It was fun, it was fun. So that was my most memorable moment.
(TB.net) Yup. Well as a counterpoint to that, what was your most difficult scene to film?
(Nelsan) Um, the very first scene, the very first day of the pilot , ah, the kitchen scene, ‘cuz…(laughs)…I was still putting LaFayette together in my mind, I was nervous, I didn’t know if what I was doing worked, and I was like, “I don’t know if this is going to work, do I have the right temperment, do I have the right…” ‘Cuz Alan wanted somebody who could play feminine and masculine, and I was like “C’mon, they’re gonna fire me,” ‘cuz it was shaky in the auditions. It was shaky, ‘cuz I was like, “What? Masculine and feminine?”
(Nelsan) And I ask him, I said “What – when do you want me to be masculine and when do you want me to be feminine?” And he goes – “Surprise me. Just keep me on my toes.” And I was like, “Oh, my goodness!” (TB laughs) So I was like, “OK, he asked me to pick when to be masculine and when to be feminine, but he wants to see them both. They gonna fire me, ‘cuz I don’t’ know what I’m doing!” So yeah, that was my hardest, the hardest time, that first day.
(TB.net) Well Alan Ball has been a pretty good judge of…um, well, when he was casting for the first season, obviously, ‘cuz ah – Golden Globe nominations, you know?
(TB.net) I mean, that says something! (laughs) Popularity at the show…
(Nelsan) He sees something nobody else does. Yeah! The man is truly great at what he does, ‘cuz he – he has those glasses so he sees what nobody else sees! He has this intuition about things. And which – he earns your trust, because he knows what he’s doing, he’s been doing a great job thus far, so why would he stop? And he – he’s satisfied with things that you do, and you go, “I don’t know why he thinks that’s the only take we need, but I’m gonna run with it.” ‘Cuz, he got an Oscar and I don’t! (TB laughs) So…I’m gonna run with it. And when you see it up on, on – you know, you’re watching the episode – ‘cuz we can’t watch playback – um, ‘cuz if I could my performances probably would be different. But he doesn’t let us watch playback, so the only time we get to see it is when we’re watching it along with the rest of the world. And I’m going, “That take worked! Sweet, okay…I guess I didn’t have a reason to be nervous.”
(Nelsan) So he sees things that you don’t. I mean, his intuition – he hired me, and I don’t know what I did in the audition that was any good whatsoever. But, I’m certainly enjoying myself now! So he – yeah. Alan Ball is Alan Ball, and he’s a god among men.
(TB.net) Yeah, he’s – he’s a love. We love him. We just had the precious opportunity to speak with him last week, and ah…he’s a treasure. I enjoyed talking to him so much. Can you – are you able to tell us if you’re going to be working on season 2?
(Nelsan) Um…I am not. The only thing I am able to tell you is that – remember the world we’re in. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean that they’re gone. (all laugh)
(Nelsan) (laughing) Yeah!
(TB.net) This is true! You could be one of the undead.
(Nelsan) I could very well be one of the undead, or a number of other things that could pop up out of Charlaine’s books.
(TB.net) That’s true…(laughs)…which are many! Yeah.
(Nelsan) (laughing) Which are very, very many!
(TB.net) OK! Well, what role would you like to do that you have not done yet?
(Nelsan) You know, I don’t know, because I (laughs) …if I had the role in mind, I don’t…I don’t know! I would much rather find a role that was like, “Oh! That’s exciting and weird!” ‘Cuz I come from the theater world, I’ve been studying theater in school, and I’m not much of a theater dude no more after graduating from Julliard, and living and breathing it 15 hours a day, I don’t want to do theater. So that cancels out all those roles, and that’s all I know. Film roles, or TV roles, are yet to be discovered. So, I’m in that world, of hopefully something will pop up where I go, “Oh, that’s magnificent. I wanna audition for it.”
(TB.net) Hmmnnn…that’s exciting.
(TB.net) It is!
(Nelsan) It is! So that’s where I am.
(TB.net) What kind of movies or television shows do you like to watch on your own?
(Nelsan) (guffaws) I…I…(chuckles) I watch stuff like Supernatural, and Smallville…(still laughing) And Big Love…
(TB.net) You’re among friends! You’re among friends, Nelsan. (laughing)
(Nelsan) Yeah – I watch shows that are like that, and – and, you know, I’m an HBO fanatic, so I watch Big Love, um, stuff like…those are the shows I watch. I’m afraid you’ll tease me, but yes, I watch…and Damages, and CSI…I watch those. And I got a few reality shows, I know it’s tragic of me, but a few reality shows that I absolutely…(laughs)…watch. Like Hell’s Kitchen, I can’t get enough of it.
(TB.net) They suck you in! And then…yeah.
(Nelsan) They do.
(TB.net) Those darn reality shows. Well –
(Nelsan) I live and breathe Hell’s Kitchen. I can’t – I can’t help myself.
(TB.net) Are you a cook?
(Nelsan) I am not, but I love watching that dude just go off on people.
(TB.net) (laugh) Now I’m wondering, is LaFayette at all modeled after – after him?
(Nelsan) (laughing) No, nononononono. He doesn’t really go off on – that’s Tara.
(Nelsan) My character only goes off if someone really provokes him.
(TB.net) Yeah, that’s true. Although I’m sure he would argue that he’s being provoked.
(Nelsan) That’s true. (laughs) That’s true.
(TB.net) But yeah, that is more Tara’s temperment.
(Nelsan) It is, it is.
(TB.net) Yeah – how cool would it be to see you on Supernatural? Hmmnnn…
(Nelsan) That would be – that would be ridiculous for me. I mean, it would – it would be ridiculous. I mean, ‘cuz I’m the dude in school everybody was making fun of, because my goal when I graduated was to be on Charmed.
(Nelsan) I was like, “I want to be on Charmed! I just want to get a guest spot, or even play a demon in the background, or something.” That’s my goal from graduating from Julliard. And then it got canceled, and I was like, achh, the moon it just fell out the sky.
(TB.net) Nooooo! Instead you have to get this prominent role in a vampire series on HBO. Gosh.
(Nelsan) Who would have thought? (all laugh) Yeah, I’d love to be on Supernatural.
(TB.net) Well we’ll see if we can contact Erik Kripke for you.
(Nelsan) You must! That would make my day.
(TB.net) Put a bug in his ear.
(TB.net) Well you know, we promised Michael Raymond James that we would work on getting him a movie with dolphins, that swear, that includes softball…
(TB.net) …so somehow, somehow, I’m thinking Nelsan’s goal is more attainable.
(Nelsan) (laughing) That dude is such a marvelous actor, that man is incredible.
(TB.net) He is.
(Nelsan) Sorry to detour, but that man is an incredible, incredible actor.
(TB.net) Yeah. We – we miss him. We miss him. Although it’s been fun, he’s been popping up here and there, guest appearances on other shows.
(Nelsan) He needs to have his own TV show, ‘cuz he’s – he’s marvelous. I’m a batty dude, so I’m always – I never know what’s going on about anything, ‘cuz I’m in my own little world. I didn’t know the man was the killer until the 9th episode!
(TB.net) (laughing) Well that’s kind of ironic.
(Nelsan) I did not know. I’m at the table read and then, I read, and I went “ Ooohhh! You’re the murderer, dude!”
(TB.net) But you’d read the books! Didn’t you remember that it was Rene?
(Nelsan) I did not remember that it was Rene.
(Nelsan) I did not remember in the books, I did not remember. (laughs)
(TB.net) Well he kept us guessing. I mean, we read the books more than once, and as we’re watching the series, we’re going, “It can’t be Rene, can it? It is?” And then, of course they tried to make us believe it was Sam, which I was against from day 1.
(Nelsan) Yeah –
(TB.net) Yeah, ‘cuz Sam –
(Nelsan) Yeah, but Alan is tricky. He’s – he’s switching up some things to keep it – I think he’s doing it purposely, because there are so many people who…I mean, the following of the books is so, so massive that I think he’s switching up some things to keep people on their toes.
(TB.net) Well he admitted to us when we talked to him last week that he puts out fake casting sides –
(TB.net) Yeah…so we’re onto his tricks.
(TB.net) Uh-huh…can’t fool us! Of course now, there’s gonna to be obsessive perusing of every casting side to figure out what’s fake and what’s not. So that’s gonna be fun.
(Nelsan) It’ll be fun, and hard, ‘cuz he’s – he’s – yeah…
(TB.net) He’s sneaky!
(TB.net) Yeah…well, speaking of the books, which because of the series is gaining even more popularity, the True Blood – er, the Sookie Stackhouse series – being that the show was based on the books, what book would you like to see brought to the screen that has not been done yet?
(Nelsan) Umm…I should have wrote it down, I knew you was gonna ask me this question, I knew I was gonna forget the book…
(TB.net) Did it have to do with vampires? (laughs)
(Nelsan) It does not have anything to do with vampires. But, there is a lot – I’m a fan of Anne Rice, and she has many, many books that I’m like, “I wish they would’ve made this into a…” You know, I – I loved Interview With A Vampire, and I want to see a sequel with Lestat. And I’m going, “When are they gonna make the sequel to Lestat?” Because she had – she had another book out about Lestat, so I would love to see that come to – come to life on screen.
(TB.net) Well Tom Cruise ain’t getting any younger, you know? They gotta speed it up!
(Nelsan) They can – they can get somebody else to play Lestat. You know, he did a marvelous job, but…
(TB.net) Yeah they could recast it.
(Nelsan) We can get somebody else in it.
(TB.net) There you go. Well you could, you know, that could be your next project.
(TB.net) There you go!
(Nelsan) I could be Lestat! We could make Lestat a – an ex-slave. (laughs)
(TB.net) (laughing) There you go!
(TB.net) Woooo, wow, that would be interesting.
(Nelsan) And I can be – or the, or the child of Lestat, somebody Lestat turned many, many moons ago right off the slave ship. I could be Lestat.
(TB.net) See? There you go, it can be done.
(TB.net) This is a full service show, I’ll tell you what.
(TB.net) We’re getting things done!
(Nelsan) Call Spielberg …tell ‘em, make it happen!
(TB.net) That’s right, get them on speed dial over here.
(TB.net) So – can you talk about any projects you’re working on now, or…what’s coming down the pipe for you?
(Nelsan) Ah, The Soloist is coming down the pipe, which comes out April 24th, I believe, with Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Steven Root…um, a few other folks. It’s a project I fell in love with doing with Joe Wright, um, based on a true story about a uh, a Julliard student who went crazy. And uh, it’s based on a true story. So that’s coming down the pipeline.
(TB.net) Hmm! Wow, that’s an amazing cast and creative team, there.
(Nelsan) It is! I mean, Robert Downey Jr., I fell in love with the man. He’s – I mean, my goodness, he’s an extraordinary actor, and he’s an extraordinary person. ‘Cuz I was fairly new then, in movies, and he took me under his wing. And every step of the way he was showing me a better way to do things. And I thought that was marvelous of him. ‘Cuz you know, when you work with mega-celebrities, they don’t typically have time to – to really (laughs) deal with anybody, you know what I’m saying?
(Nelsan) So they do their work and then they’re whisked away in ah, some dark tinted vehicle off to their trailers. And he actually spent time between takes, telling me what I should do, better tricks, um…and during the shoot, he would do things to improve my performance. For example, when the coverage is on me, he would – he would always give me something different so that my take can be as real as I possibly can make it…
(Nelsan) …um, based on what he had given me…and he was just marvelous. Jamie Foxx is extraordinary as well, um, the dude is funny all the time.
(TB.net) I’ll bet he is!
(Nelsan) So yes, The Soloist, directed by Joe Wright. Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx are the, ah, the leads.
(TB.net) I see that Steven Root is also in this.
(TB.net) Uh-huh – can’t get away from him, huh?
(Nelsan) I cannot! But I love the man, so…true that.
(TB.net) That sounds exciting! OK, I just looked it up on IMDB, and you’re right, it is April 24th, so…something to mark on the calendars. Check it out!
(TB.net) Well, that’s all we really had for you today. Um, is there anything else that you wanted to talk about, any other projects that you had?
(Nelsan) No, ma’am.
(TB.net) No ma’am? All right! Um, all right, well I guess we’ll wrap it up then. Thank you so much for taking the time to ah, to chat with us. We really appreciate it.
(Nelsan) Thank you!
(TB.net) Thank you Nelsan, and best of luck to you with The Soloist, and with anything else you do, and we’ll be looking for that Lestat movie.
(Nelsan) Thank you!
(TB.net) And a special appearance on Supernatural.
(TB.net) That’s right!
(Nelsan) That – that would make my freaking day. That would make – I kid you not – that would…I found out Raelle Tucker was a writer on that show, and I was like, “Whoa! Hook me up!” She’s like, “I don’t really – I just wrote scripts and gave it to them. I don’t really…”
(TB.net) We surely – surely she can write in a demon for you to play.
(Nelsan) But she no longer writes for – she’s on our show.
(Nelsan) (laughs)Yeah, she no longer writes for Supernatural, she’s with us now.
(TB.net) Oh, well. Well – we’ll do what we can.
(TB.net) That’s right!
(Nelsan) Thank you, I appreciate that!
(TB.net) Well thanks again, and we’ll – we’ll talk with you later!
(Nelsan) OK, have a good day.
(TB.net) Thanks, you too!
(Nelsan) All right, bye.
(Credit: Majel (McM) for typing this up. Thanks, m’dear!)