Monday, August 16, 2010

Breathing Life Into Lafayette: The Nelsan Ellis Interview

He was supposed to be dead and gone by the end of Season One but True Blood’s Lafayette Reynolds was too colorful, fearless and loved to just disappear into television oblivion. Last week, Fangirl got to join in on a chat with the man who brings Merlotte’s flamboyant cook to life, the one and only, Nelsan Ellis.

Nelsan Ellis was born in Chicago and grew up in a tough suburb in Alabama, he returned to Chicago for high school and discovered theater. Eventually, he found himself in Julliard where not only honed his acting skills but wrote an award winning play called Ugly.

Ellis considers himself a “boring person” compared to his beloved True Blood character. He says, “Lafyatte is bold, I’m a little bit shy. Lafayette is gay, I’m not.” He continues to explain the appeal of Lafayette who likewise deals V and engages in some rather questionable internet activities: “I love his boldness, I love that he is who he is, he’s unapologetic, I love that he walks, talks and acts absolutely the way he wants to, regardless of who judges him.”

Having read and watched several other interviews with Mr. Ellis, I truly wanted to find out something I didn’t know about him. My cousin Hank, who’s a bartender, came up with this simple question: If V (vampire blood) were an actual, real life drug, would you do it? I got a quick answer to that—“Absolutely, I would be a crackhead V-addict.”

Then again, who wouldn’t love heightened senses and extra strength?

While Lafayette can be a knockout in his large tank tops, elegantly tied bandanas, his L necklace and false eyelashes—you don’t want to be messing with him because he can he can throw a mean punch. I wanted to know where Nelsan, the actor, learned to throw down, punch and curse.

He reveals, “I have a tomboy momma. I kind of learned how to punch and fight from my momma. I learned how to curse from my momma.”

Aside from visiting gay bars, “I built (Lafayette) from behaviors my mother and sisters have—watching my mother and sisters, how sort of colorful and crazy they are, and I incorporate that into Lafayette.”

That said, his mother has never heard him swear. “My mother has never seen the show” he likewise adds, “in the South, you’re taught not to swear in front of your parents.”

Early this year, Ellis appeared in film called “The Soloist” about an LA Times’ writer’s relationship with an extraordinarily talented, homeless street musician. The film starred Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx and was directed by Joe Wright. Of his working experience with Downey, he says, “I particularly like Robert because he treated me like I was his son, he sort of took me under the wing and taught me all about acting during the shoot…Robert Downey Jr. is a beast when it comes to preparation. The man knows the whole script on the first day of the shoot including your lines and everybody’s lines.”

Next up, he plays a character named Eddie Sweat opposite Diane Lane and John Malkovich in a Disney film called “Secretariat” based on the name of a race horse who won the Triple Crown in 1973.

“I’d like to be all over the board in terms of what kind of character I’d like to play. And the furthest away from me the better because as I said, I’m a boring person.”

Ellis may say that about himself but surely, he can’t say that about his career.

The remaining episodes of True Blood Season 3 air every Monday night at 9pm on HBO and HBO HD with encore episodes Thursdays at 10:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Californication: From the X-Files to the XXX Files?

The Showtime network seems rather proud of their anti-hero leads in Dexter, Nurse Jackie and Californication. Californication has been around since 2007 and has earned an Emmy Award for it’s lead actor.

I jumped right into the thick of Season Three with episodes 7, 8 and 9—seeing main character, novelist and writing teacher Hank Moody, played by David Duchovny trying to put out one fire after another (literally and figuratively) in his crazy life.

At this point, Hank is looking at cleaning up his act and reuniting with Karen (Natascha McElhone) who he refers to as his soul mate. She also is the mother of his daughter Becca. He feels this the time for all three to move back to New York and be a family there.

But when your show is called “Californication” and it’s doing well and a fourth season is set for January 2011, you know things are going to get in the way of that fine goal.

First of all, Hank has currently accumulated three lovers he should be “breaking up” with: there’s Jackie, his student who also happens to be a stripper, Jill, his teaching assistant who he ended up having to “console” after a party and Felicia—the wife of the school’s dean.

Throw into the mix Jackie’s stripper friends, Evan Handler (Hank’s best friend who happens to be in the entertainment business), Rick Springfield playing a hilarious, out of control, god-awful version of himself, Dean Stacy Koons (Peter Gallagher), Becca’s BFF Chelsea (who happens to be Felicia and Stacy’s daughter) and Sue Collini (Kathleen Turner), Charlie’s sexually ravenous and ballsy boss—and you can be certain of things going out of control all over the place.

Hank Moody is a rake and a cad and someone you wouldn’t want your best friend, sister or daughter to date because despite his apparent skill in the bedroom, he’s got a lot of baggage to deal with and is a dead end when it comes to commitment no matter how hard anyone tries to cling to him. At one point, Koons says, “You’re the girl-whisperer”—alluding to the way women just gravitate toward him.

Yet he has a bit of charm, and part of him is quite earnest and rather honest. So you know with that type of person, trouble and personal pandemonium follow him like shadows.

It’s a wonder Hank’s daughter Becca has turned out to be intelligent, loving and honest—often providing her dad with the reality check he so often needs. On a personal note, I like the way she has this goth girl look to her with the black hair, straight cut bangs and black eyeliner.

Is there a happy ending out there for Hank Moody and his family? The writers, David Duchovny and the rest of the cast actually gets its audience to care.