Think Jason Bateman will ever be cast as an action hero? Or Danny DeVito as anything besides a schmuck? Such is the dilemma of character actors — a nameplate True Blood‘s Nelsan Ellis, the straight actor who plays the gay Lafayette, wants to avoid at all costs. And is his skin color making it more difficult?
(Above: Perhaps Lafayette’s baddest-ass scene. Or just my favorite.)
Ellis says he’s got no problems when fans and regular television audiences confuse Ellis (the person) with Lafayette (the fictional character). “I can’t just get upset with regular folk because all they see is the character,” he tells Vibe. His excuses end, however, with the Hollywood machine: “But when the industry can’t tell the difference, I’m like, ‘Damn that’s a little closed minded,’ because when white people play a character people expect it to be a character. But black people—we can’t just be character actors, we have to [really] be the things we’re hired for, which is what offends me. I don’t answer that question, ‘Are you gay or not,’ when it comes down to industry people. But if it’s a regular person asking me, that just says that maybe I’m doing a good job. But when a casting director or an agent asks me that question it takes on a deeper thing that says, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this unless you are that.’”
It’s Ellis’ job to convince HBO’s viewership that he is Lafayette, and we’d say he does a damn good job. (Though Ellis says it took some time: “I didn’t really find Lafayette until the third or fourth episode because I certainly didn’t have him in the pilot.”) And it’s the job of casting directors and agents to know the guy they see on screen is, in fact, just a role being played by a professional.
And in case you can’t imagine what Ellis is like when he’s not in character, press play at right.