'True Blood's' Nelsan Ellis on Series Finale and Favorite Lafayette Moments (Q&A)

The actor promises "a happy ending" for his character's new relationship when the series concludes.
John P. Johnson/HBO
"True Blood"

[WARNING: Spoilers from this past Sunday's episode of True Blood, "Karma."]

It didn't turn out well the first time Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and his then-boyfriend experimented with the supernatural. In this past Sunday's True Blood, Lafayette and Lettie Mae (Adina Porter) had a vision of Tara (Rutina Wesley) via vampire blood from his new partner, James (Nathan Parsons) — but that romance is heading for "a happy ending," Ellis tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The pair had sex outside the Bon Temps "celebration of life" in the previous episode but were discovered by an infuriated Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), who immediately broke up with James. That prompted a reprimand from Lafayette: "Has it ever f—ing occurred to you that Lafayette, that queen that makes all you white heterosexuals laugh and feel good about yourselves — has it ever f—ing ever occurred to you that maybe I want a piece of happiness, too?"

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"He does get that happiness, and it's a long time coming," Ellis tells THR. "He had to kill his last boyfriend [Kevin Alejandro]. This season for him is about redemption and taking command of his happiness."

Lafayette's speech to Jessica is one of Ellis' favorite moments of the series, the actor says. He's one of a handful of characters who have been on the HBO drama since its first episode, and Ellis says his favorite moment ever is season one's "AIDS burger" scene in which Lafayette responds to a customer of Merlotte's insults by licking a hamburger and shoving it into the man's face (then sauntering off with a "tip yo' waitress").

The actor tells THR about what's upcoming for Lafayette, his Beyonce inspiration and why series creator Alan Ball nearly didn't cast him.

What's your favorite thing about playing this character?

I based the character off my mother. My mother was a tomboy, and Alan Ball wanted this character to be feminine and masculine. Every time I play this character — because my mother died — I have a piece of my mama, I have a piece of her memories and who she was. She died in the third season, and my favorite part of Lafayette is every time I play him, I'm doing my mother.

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And what's the most difficult?

Keeping him fresh. I can get bored with myself; I've been playing this character for a while. I can just sit on all the things that he does rather than live in the moment. I was like, "I need to find something fresh because I'm just sitting on what Lafayette used to do," and of course humanity doesn't do that. It's unpredictable. I've been looking at a lot of RuPaul to find out new language to keep him fresh. [RuPaul] goes, "You better don't," which I put in: "She better didn't." All the language RuPaul has, I've taken inspiration from for Lafayette this season.

So you have freedom to improvise?

Yes. I'm very lucky. They've been giving me free range to change things up a bit.

What gets you in character?

I listen to Beyonce — "Partition" please — and then I'm sitting there and I'm getting all feminine. Rihanna used to be the one, but then this season, [Beyonce's] album is so sexual and feminine and marvelous. It gets me to that place. They put the makeup and the eyelashes on, and I listen to "Partition," and I'm doing the switch and the hand movements, and I turn into my mama, and I turn into Lafayette.

Most of your scenes this season have been with Nathan Parsons. What's working with him like?

With Nathan I was like, "I'm so damn lucky. I get love interests where we have great chemistry." Dude is phenomenal. It's so funny because both my love interests are greedy people, in that both of them had two jobs at the same time. Kevin was a series regular on [Southland] and here, and Nathan is a series regular on The Originals and also here. I'm like, "Y'all are greedy-ass dudes!" But it justifies how brilliant they are. I love every second working with him. He's a cool-ass dude and a phenomenal actor.

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How is Lafayette's relationship with James different from that with Jesus?

I think the relationship with Kevin's character was deeper, but I think the relationship with Nathan's character is more stable. I think it's lasting. He's in it for the long run, and you know there's a lot of different things that will play into him being a vampire and living for how many years. But I think [with] this relationship, Lafayette is thinking, "I need to settle down. I'm done." Lafayette used to be a prostitute, and I think he's just like, "We love each other. Let's just do it." I think that they made a decision, and Bucky [showrunner Brian Buckner] was like, "We're going to give him a happy ending" — no pun intended.

You're one of the most complex gay characters on television. Do you get recognition from the LGBT community for the performance?

One of the things that Alan Ball wanted me to do and ensured that the actor who played him was doing was make him a human being, and human beings are complex. He did not want a caricature. He did not want a stereotype. He wanted a person, and to be honest, he didn't even want me after the third audition because he thought I brought in a caricature. It was the casting director that was like, "Please," and when I went to my acting coach, she was the one who said, "You need to find something in yourself, because you need to bring a person in," and I found Lafayette in my mother. I'd been watching that woman all my life, and I was like, "I'm just going to be like her. She's masculine and feminine, strong and weak." I would do a disservice to the community if I brought in a caricature. I would actually be making fun of him.

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Is there a best Lafayette season?

This is the best season for Lafayette. This season I'm present, and I'm living in the moment. I think it really is what my goal was. This is my best season.

You're also in a film opening this weekend, the James Brown biopic Get On Up.

I play Bobby Byrd, the best friend of James Brown [Chadwick Boseman], a record producer and a songwriter in his own right. What's most interesting about him is his humility — he was the frontman in his band, The Famous Flames. James Brown was actually the drummer, and he gave James Brown the frontman spot, and he took the backseat because he recognized James Brown is brilliant.

It's funny because I met his wife yesterday, and his children. And the sentiment about him is how amazingly wonderful this man was. I don't know what made me deserve to put my feet in his shoes, but I'm honored to play such a marvelous man — that nobody knows about. He was the man behind the man. He's the one credited for discovering James Brown, who got him out of prison and took him to his house to live with his family. He was the man who gave direction to one of the greatest artists in the world and yet he is not known.

Email: Austin.Siegemund-Broka@THR.com
Twitter: @Asiegemundbroka