Nelsan Ellis on 'True Blood' finale: Fans are going to be upset
"True Blood" is gearing up for the finale of its fourth season Sunday night, and actor Nelsan Ellis, who plays flamboyant, forthright medium Lafayette Reynolds, promises that it will be one to remember -- and not just in terms of momentous events for his character and his partner Jesus, played by Kevin Alejandro.
"The finale turns Bon Temps upside down," the actor said, speaking recently by phone from New York, where he was shooting a feature film tentatively titled "Gods Behaving Badly." "Lafayette and Jesus are directly in the middle of it, and it doesn't end well. No finale in the history of 'True Blood' has been worse than this one in terms of the cliffhangers. People are going to be [upset] because they're going to have to wait like seven months before they figure out what materializes after this finale."
By the end of last week's episode, "Soul of Fire," Lafayette found himself possessed by the spirit of the recently dispatched witch Marnie (Fiona Shaw), who's more than likely to use his body to her own evil ends as she seeks to eradicate vampires not just from Bon Temps but also from the world at large.
Lafayette's newfound abilities to communicate with the dead -- and occasionally host them in his body -- has offered Ellis a number of exciting opportunities to play an even wider range of scenes than usual. But he said when he first learned about his new gift, he wasn't initially that thrilled.
"Honestly, I was like, 'Why can't I get a cool gift?' " he said. "When they told me I was a medium, I was like, OK, like Whoopi Goldberg in 'Ghost'? That was my first impression. But for an actor it's pretty good being a medium because you can portray other people. Alan Ball, he's good at challenging his actors, I'll say that."
"I had to work with her to figure out what she was doing, and figure out how I was going to do what she was doing inside of me," he said. "It was a long discussion, myself and Fiona, we sort of did the same thing, figuring out how that's done. What we figured out is that there's a third person that's created. I didn't have to mimic Nondumiso, Mavis, rather I had to find out how she was in my body because she's coming into my mechanics, we had to figure out how that was."
Apart from taking on new identities, working with Alejandro has been a particular highlight this season, Ellis said. "Last season, it was just us maneuvering around each other trying to make this relationship seem real to the rest of the world," he said. "It wasn't that much of a stretch. This season you see him doing things where I'm in the scene with him and I'm completely in awe and I'm in a master class of acting. He's an inspiration to watch."
Although the actors had immediate chemistry, Ellis said they took pains to build the rapport they now share, key to their making the relationship between their characters seem so authentic on screen.
"The first season we worked together, we didn't [have the same kind of rapport] because we didn't know each other," Ellis said. "It's odd for two dudes to, you know.... It's odd. Something happened this season where we met up at his house, we really talked about all the stuff we did the first season [together] and then we got comfortable with each other all of a sudden. Then everything started to work out. I wasn't uncomfortable anymore. He wasn't uncomfortable anymore. We always had good chemistry for some reason. I don't know why, but we always had good chemistry. That was undeniable, but we didn't really start to formulate something in our actor minds with each other until this season. It worked out really well."
Ellis, who can be seen on the big screen right now in the period literary drama "The Help" opposite his godmother Viola Davis, said he's a bit mystified by the ardent fan fervor "True Blood" generates, but he's grateful for the professional doors his turn as Lafayette has opened, including the feature he's shooting, due out next year, in which he'll play the Greek god Dionysus opposite Christopher Walken's Zeus and Sharon Stone's Aphrodite.
"I see a project and I say I want to audition for it and people let me audition for it," said Ellis, who studied for a time at Julliard. "There's a lot to be grateful for."
— Gina McIntyre
Photo: Nelsan Ellis. Credit: HBO.