Nelsan Ellis

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Nelsan Ellis
Nelsan Ellis at True Blood premiere party.jpg
Ellis in June 2009
Born November 30, 1978 (1978-11-30) (age 36)
Harvey, Illinois, U.S.
Education Juilliard School (B.F.A. 2004)
Occupation Actor, playwright
Years active 2002–present

Nelsan Ellis (born November 30, 1978[1]) is an American film and television actor and playwright. He is well known for his role as Lafayette Reynolds in the HBO series True Blood, which he played from 2008 until the completion of True Blood in 2014, and most recently for starring as Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic, Get On Up.

Early life and education[edit]

Ellis was born in Harvey, Illinois,[2] near Chicago. When Ellis and his siblings were younger, their mother, a single parent after her divorce from her children's father, broke down over the death of her brother. Ellis and his siblings became wards of the state as a result. They were then raised in Bessemer, Alabama, by their grandmother. In Alabama, Ellis attended Jess Lanier High School for a year, then transferred to McAdory High School.[3] He moved back to Illinois at age 15, where he lived with his maternal aunt, and in 1997 he graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois.

He joined the United States Marines at the age of 17, but quit not long afterwards.[4] When Ellis was 21, he was accepted for enrollment at the Juilliard School's[4] Drama Division (Group 33: 2000–2004)[5] where he befriended True Blood-colleague Rutina Wesley[4] (Group 34: 2001–2005).[5] Ellis earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Juilliard in 2004.[6]


  • While at Juilliard, Ellis wrote a semi-autobiographical play entitled "Ugly", which was performed at the school and later won the Lincoln Center's Martin E. Segal Award. The play centered on his pregnant sister's murder at the hands of her husband.



Year Film Role Notes
2002 Lost Hoffa Short film
2005 Warm Springs Roy Collier TV movie
Trespass Trespass
2008 The Express Will Davis, Jr.
2009 The Soloist David Carter
Talent Titus
2010 Secretariat Eddie Sweat
2011 The Help Henry the Waiter
2012 The Reluctant Fundamentalist Wainwright
2013 Page 36 Writer and Director Short Film
The Butler Martin Luther King, Jr.
2014 Get On Up Bobby Byrd
2015 The Stanford Prison Experiment Filming
Year Title Role Notes
2005 The Inside Carter Howard 13 Episodes
2007 Veronica Mars Apollo Bukenya Episode: "I Know What You'll Do Next Summer"
Without a Trace Deng Nimieri Episode: "Lost Boy"
2008–2014 True Blood Lafayette Reynolds Regular

Won Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film

Won Satellite Award for Best Cast – Television Series

Nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

Won Ewwy Award for best supporting actor in a Drama series

Won NewNowNext Award for Brink of Fame: Actor

Nominated for a Scream Award for best supporting actor

2015 RuPaul's Drag Race Himself, Guest Judge Episode: "Conjoined Queens"


  1. ^ "Nelsan Ellis". Yahoo! TV. Retrieved March 14, 2012. 
  2. ^ Herrmann, Andrew (November 22, 2008). "'True Blood' actor Nelsan Ellis credits Thornridge teachers with on- and off-screen success". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010. Retrieved July 9, 2009. Ellis, now 30 
  3. ^ Sharp, Dave (August 9, 2009). "'True Blood's' Lafayette a glamorously shady character". The Birmingham News. Retrieved August 9, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Gopala, Nisha (July 7, 2011). "Nelsan Ellis on True Blood’s Season of the Witches, Lafayette’s Mohawk, and Dodging the Marines". Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Alumni News". The Juilliard School. May 2008. Archived from the original on 2011-11-11. Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Juilliard School Newsletter". September 6, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2012. [dead link]
  7. ^ "2008 13th Annual SATELLITE Awards Nominees". International Press Academy. Archived from the original on December 18, 2008. Retrieved December 15, 2008. 
  8. ^ "NewNowNext Awards: Who Won?". Retrieved on May 23, 2009.
  9. ^ "Scream 2009 Best Supporting Actor". Retrieved on September 1, 2009.

External links[edit]