Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-06-13
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



Nelsan Ellis: From 'True Blood' to 'Hoodoo Love'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Actor Nelsan Ellis has kept audiences entertained for five seasons on the hit HBO show True Blood. Playing the flamboyant Lafayette Reynolds has paid off, as his character was killed early on in the book series but continues to thrive alive on the series.

He moved into the big screen in several films like The Help and Secretariat, and has more coming down the pike.

Originally from Harvey, Ill., and an alumnus of a high school in Dolton, Ellis has now returned to his roots to begin a new project. Gathering a group of local friends together to form The Collective Theatre, the company has now created its first production, HooDoo Love, which Ellis directs.

After watching an early rehearsal, Nunn sat down to talk to the man behind the voodoo.

Windy City Times: Hi, Nelsan. Thanks for allowing me to watch you rehearse. What have you directed before this production?

Nelsan Ellis: I directed a play called Ugly that I wrote. My sister was murdered and as a way to sublimate, I wrote that play and directed it. I have directed a few short films but this is only my second time directing.

WCT: How did The Collective Theatre Company come together?

Nelsan Ellis: We all went to high school together and were thespians. We were the theater kids. We all were in plays together and have been friends ever since. Two years ago we went out to dinner and found ourselves in Chicago and just started a theater company. Now it is being realized.

WCT: This is your first production so the pressure is on!

Nelsan Ellis: [Laughs] I am directing our inaugural play so, of course, I am a maniac. I'm trying to get it right.

WCT: Did you want to be an actor in the show?

Nelsan Ellis: I couldn't be in the show because I didn't know what my schedule would be. I wanted to direct it once we pared down three directors. Being our first production I thought one of us should direct it. I put my name in a bag and was picked.

WCT: It looks like you are doing a great job. I saw improvements after your suggestions just now.

Nelsan Ellis: I try. I am an actor, too, so it is natural for me to talk the same language.

WCT: You attended Julliard, so you must have picked up some tips there.

Nelsan Ellis: I learned a whole lot. We had classes with directors. All of our teachers were directors, so Julliard might as well be a theater education in directing. The acting teachers spoke from a standpoint of directors. We would spend all day on script analysis and bringing out what is really going on in the moment. As an actor, I follow my passion; as a director, I figure out what I am doing, what I am saying, why I have those passions and where it is directed.

WCT: You are not one of those directors who likes to get up and act out the scene to show an example, right?

Nelsan Ellis: No. I don't agree with that method. Part of the beauty of being an actor is discovering all of that in yourself. I will get up and try to find the words to say it but I would never get up and act it out. That would be my point of view. My Ace would be completely different from other people's versions because we have different life experiences and takes on things.

WCT: The story takes place in Tennessee. Are you working on accents?

Nelsan Ellis: We aren't going to deal with accents. We are dealing with so many other things that are more important—like this bikini budget!

WCT: What is the overall show about?

Nelsan Ellis: In a nutshell, it is about trying to have what doesn't belong to you. Most of the characters in the play want to have something that is not meant for them. It is meant for somebody else. The big story is [that] Toulou has a relationship with Ace. Ace gave his heart to his dead wife, Abby. Toulou wants him to be in love with her and possess him. He just comes in, has sex with her and goes. She wants to be married and have him forever. She schemes to Candy Lady to put a spell on him. He finds the bag for the spell and everything falls apart.

There is also a sub-story with her brother, Jib, who had been molesting her. That story is to show the way she is because of trauma by men. She is just looking for love and has never had it.

WCT: Is there content for gay audiences?

Nelsan Ellis: It is about how complex humanity is. If that is not for a gay audience, then I don't know what is. Absolutely it is for a gay audience, a white audience, a Black audience, because you are dealing with someone that just wants to be loved and people who love the wrong individual. I think that is universal.

WCT: What is your long-term goal for this theater company?

Nelsan Ellis: Like anybody, we want it to be successful. Success for us would be owning our own theater and producing work that is wildly respected by the public. We are just great friends who love theater and spend all of our money on it! We hope for the best and would like it to be like Lookingglass Theatre.

WCT: That space is breathtaking, so it's a good goal to have. You have some great projects coming out. Tell me about playing Martin Luther King Jr. in Lee Daniels' film The Butler.

Nelsan Ellis: It is a small part but there is a lot of pressure that I did it right! [Laughs] It was amazing working with Liev Schreiber.

WCT: You wrapped Gods Behaving Badly, with Edie Falco and Sharon Stone.

Nelsan Ellis: That was a fun project. It's a comedy.

WCT: It doesn't seem you are sitting around between seasons of True Blood.

Nelsan Ellis: It can make you lazy. It would be easy to wait until the show starts taping but I am literally taking a two-month break after this play just to take my kid to school and back. If I didn't have this True Blood thing, then I would be on the grind and on the hustle. I have been fortunate and God has been good. I have gotten some great projects.

WCT: Your character on True Blood was killed off in the books a long time ago so it must be a huge compliment that they have kept you on.

Nelsan Ellis: Alan Ball has really taken care of me.

WCT: Did you know someone that you modeled Lafayette after?

Nelsan Ellis: I modeled him after my mother. I had never even seen people like that until years later of playing Lafayette. My mother did the head thing and the hand movements. I can mix my mother's femininity with me and it comes off as real. I have been watching her move all of my life.

WCT: I read you were friends with Rutina Wesley, who plays Tara, before True Blood started.

Nelsan Ellis: Yes, we went to Julliard together. I got the part first. The part was between Rutina and another woman. Rutina was in a play in New York and couldn't fly for the audition to meet Alan Ball so the part went to the other woman. When she was able to come to meet him she then got the part; this was after the pilot was shot. She called me and said, "We are going to be working together, motherfucker!"

WCT: Her character has changed a lot.

Nelsan Ellis: Absolutely—she's a vampire now.

WCT: They put you in the craziest costumes. Has there ever been one you refused to wear?

Nelsan Ellis: Yes—only once, when they tried to put me in a dress. Lafayatte is not doing full drag!

WCT: When do you start shooting again?

Nelsan Ellis: We start after Anna Paquin drops her babies. We are at the mercy of her womb. [Note: Paquin had twins the day after this interview.]

WCT: Would you ever move back here?

Nelsan Ellis: I would move back. My family is from Alabama and Chicago. My roots are so deep here. All of my friends that I have known for 15-plus years live here. I would live in L.A. for the winters, though!

Come see Ellis and friends' first creation, HooDoo Love, at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., running Sept. 27-Oct. 25. For exact show times and ticket prices, visit or call 773-935-6875.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

About Face Youth Theater to present Scarey Stories to Save Your Life 2018-06-15 - CHICAGO ( June 15, 2018 ) — The About Face Theatre Youth Theatre Ensemble is pleased to present the world premiere of SCARY ...

Gay News

THEATER Summer pride shines on in five plays 2018-06-13 - Pride Films and Plays fills the summer season with five plays in PAC Pride Fest. ( The "PAC" stands for Pride Arts Center—not ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Bat-Hamlet 2018-06-12 - Playwright: Jordan Pulliam At: Corn Productions at the Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $10-$15; Runs through: July 14 "Sometimes ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW The Opportunities of Extinction 2018-06-12 - Playwright: Sam Chanse At: Broken Nose Theatre at the Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.. Tickets: pay-what-you-can; Runs through: June 30 ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Pink Orchids 2018-06-12 - Playwright: Patrick Cash At: Buena Theater, 4147 N Broadway. Tickets:; $25-$30. Runs through: July 7 Monologues are a powerful dramatic ...

Gay News

Critics' Picks 2018-06-12 - Suddenly Last Summer, Raven Theatre, through June 17. Well-acted, well-directed, well-designed production of Tennessee Williams' psychological thriller pitting rich Mrs. Venable against her ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Burnham's Dream: The White City 2018-06-12 - Playwright: June Finfer ( book/lyrics ) and Elizabeth Doyle ( music/lyrics ) At: Lost and Found Productions at Theater Wit, 1229 W. ...

Gay News

THEATER SPOTLIGHT Wild Women of Planet Wongo 2018-06-12 - Attention People of Earth: Did you yearn for the days of Lost in Space and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman? Do you dream ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2, & 3 2018-06-12 - Playwright: Suzan-Lori Parks At: Goodman Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: 312-443-3800;; $10-$40.Runs through: June 24 Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW The Laramie Project 2018-06-12 - At: Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: 773-828-9129;; $15-$25. Runs through: July 8 It's been nearly twenty years since ...


Copyright © 2018 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.