True Blood fans were shocked to learn over the weekend that Nelsan Ellis, who played the heart of the series Lafayette Reynolds, had passed away at 39 years old after complications from heart failure. Fans of the hit vampire show — and his other work, including a stint on Elementary — have been honoring the late actor on Twitter, but the most personal tribute came from Ellis’ True Blood co-star (and Anna Paquin’s real-life husband), Stephen Moyer.
“Nelsan Ellis was the only actor in the 7 years of True Blood whom [creator Alan Ball] allowed to improvise,” Vampire Bill wrote. “Actually, I’m going to take that back. It wasn’t that Alan allowed him to do it, it was more that when Nelsan inhabited the world of Lafayette, he quite literally COULDN’T STOP himself. It was like he was possessed.” He continued, “Nelsan had that electricity in an abundance I have rarely seen. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Here’s the entire message.
One of the first places we shot on the pilot of True Blood was Sam Merlotte’s Bar.
The kitchen Suzuki Ingerslev built in Merlotte’s had a walk in freezer & working gas burners. It remained my favourite set throughout all 7 seasons – when shooting in Louisiana many months later she took us to the actual bar she had used as inspiration. It was almost as amazing as our Merlotte’s, but not quite – They didn’t have a Lafayette.
In the scene that was being shot that day, Lafayette, a male cross-dressing short order cook in the show, was expounding on his theory of men’s fear of the female anatomy.. specifically, the vagina. ‘I know every man whether straight, gay or George MotherF*ckin’ Bush is afraid of the p*ssy..’
I’m not sure I have ever seen, before or since, people crowd around a monitor at video village with their hands clapped to their mouths from shock, sheer laughter and wonder as the actor playing Lafayette jiggled and shook and humped the butchers block to get his point across. it was completely original, funny, sardonic, risqué and brilliant.
That was Nelsan Ellis. All of the above.
I turned to Alan Ball when the scene was finished and whispered… ‘you can’t kill him!’ (Lafayette’s death at the of the first book is the cliffhanger that leads to Book 2… )
Nelsan Ellis was the only actor in the 7 years of True Blood whom Alan allowed to improvise. Actually, I’m going to take that back. It wasn’t that Alan allowed him to do it, it was more that when Nelsan inhabited the world of Lafayette, he quite literally COULDN’T STOP himself. It was like he was possessed.
In actuality Nelsan was quiet, smart, thoughtful, warm and kind. A published playwright himself.
I think it would be fair to say that he taught all of us that intent and courage and fearlessness and freedom are the aspects of playing make-believe that spark the corners of the room where the dark is most impenetrable; to shine a light on those corners within ourselves is the very reason we go back time and again to Movies, TV shows and Theatre. To see that spark ignited.
Nelsan had that electricity in an abundance I have rarely seen. I can’t believe he’s gone. #nelsanellis