Nelsan Ellis

Nelsan Ellis

Highest Rated: 84% The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

Lowest Rated: 57% The Soloist (2009)

Birthday: Nov 30, 1977

Birthplace: Harvey, Illinois, United States

Actor Nelsan Ellis specialized in offbeat characters who lived life on the edge. The classically trained actor appeared in a number of primetime crime dramas before landing a star-making role in director Alan Ball's sexy vampire drama "True Blood" (HBO, 2008-14), playing a gender-bending, morally ambiguous fry cook named Lafayette Reynolds. Critics heaped praise on Ellis' compelling performance as the show's resident drug-dealing prostitute whose otherworldly image was both effeminate yet tough. Ellis also took a bite out of feature film acting, with lead roles in "Secretariat" (2010) with Diane Lane and as James Brown's right hand man Bobby Byrd in the biopic "Get On Up" (2014). Throughout his career, Ellis turned in impressive performances on television and film, establishing himself as that rare actor whose range was far too vast to be boxed into a single genre. Nelsan Ellis was born in 1978 in Harvey, IL and moved to Bessemer, AL when he was six with his mother after his parents' divorce. He had a turbulent childhood; at one point during his teen years, Ellis and his siblings became wards of the state before moving back to Illinois to live with relatives. At Thornridge High School, he excelled as an athlete who had no acting aspirations, but tried out for theater at the encouragement of his teachers. After graduating from high school in 1997, the future TV star joined the Marine Corps before attending the famed Juilliard School where he wrote and staged his award-winning play, "UGLy," about the tragic consequences of domestic abuse. Ellis was inspired to write the play after his sister, Alice, was shot and killed by her husband in 2002. He also performed a compelling monologue - as the effeminate Miss Roz - from "The Colored Museum" while training at Juilliard. In 2005, he made his television debut in the HBO film "Warm Springs," a biopic of Franklin D. Roosevelt starring Kenneth Branagh and Cynthia Nixon. That same year, he was cast as a series regular in the crime drama "The Inside" (Fox 2005), but the show was canceled after only 13 episodes. Ellis continued to make headway in television with guest appearances on "Veronica Mars" (The CW, 2004-07) and police procedural "Without a Trace" (CBS, 2002-09). He also had a small role in the sentimental drama "The Soloist" starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Ellis was tapped to play Lafayette Reynolds, a cross-dressing fry cook who peddled vampire blood in the award-winning vampire saga "True Blood," based on the The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, that follows the residents in a small Louisiana town who coexist with modern-day vampires. On the show, Ellis' Lafayette wore club clothes and heavy eye makeup when he worked as a short-order cook, which often drew harassing comments from the male customers who, more often than not, quickly received introductions to Lafayette's fist. Ellis managed to extract his character's multilayered persona effortlessly, which started off hard and edgy but slowly evolved into someone who was extremely business-minded and a fierce ally to his friends. Lafayette was at the center of some of the show's most provocative storylines - including a Season two episode where Lafayette was locked in a dungeon, shot, and saved by drinking vampire blood. While his character usually lived on the edge, Ellis displayed a softer side in season three when he meets his mother (Alfre Woodard) and has a love interest. Ellis took a break from bloodsuckers when he co-starred as horse's groom Eddie Sweat alongside Diane Lane in "Secretariat" (2010) about the famous Triple Crown racehorse. Between seasons of the series, he also filmed small roles in "The Help" (2011) and "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2012), as well as writing and directing his own short film, "Page 36" (2013). As "True Blood" wound down, Ellis refocused his energy on film, co-starring in Lee Daniels' "The Butler" (2013) as Martin Luther King Jr. and in the James Brown biopic "Get On Up" (2014) as the bandleader's right hand man Bobby Byrd. After co-starring in the indie drama "The Stanford Prison Experiment" and interracial-family-in-suburbia comedy-drama "Little Boxes" (2016), Ellis joined the cast of TV crime drama "Elementary" as underworld informant Shinwell Johnson. In 2016, Ellis filmed the drama "True to the Game," based on the novel by Teri Woods. It would prove to be his final film role: Nelsan Ellis died of heart failure on July 8, 2017. He was 39. Shortly after his death, Ellis' family revealed that after a lifetime struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, the actor had attempted to stop drinking on his own and subsequently died as a result of alcohol withdrawal.

Highest rated movies

The Stanford Prison Experiment
Get On Up
Lee Daniels' The Butler
Little Boxes
The Express
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The Soloist




No Score Yet 59% True to the Game Tyrik (Character) $465.0K 2017
67% 49% Little Boxes Mack (Character) - 2016
84% 75% The Stanford Prison Experiment Jesse Fletcher (Character) $643.6K 2015
80% 68% Get On Up Bobby Byrd (Character) $30.5M 2014
71% 78% Lee Daniels' The Butler Martin Luther King Jr. (Character) $116.6M 2013
57% 61% The Reluctant Fundamentalist Wainwright (Character) $519.5K 2012
64% 76% Secretariat Eddie Sweat (Character) $59.7M 2010
57% 56% The Soloist David Carter (Character) $31.7M 2009
62% 75% The Express Will Davis Jr. (Character) $9.6M 2008


No Score Yet No Score Yet Rupaul's Drag Race: RuVealed Judge 2017
95% 89% Elementary Shinwell Johnson (Character) 2016-2017
84% 77% RuPaul's Drag Race Guest 2015
68% 73% True Blood Lafayette Reynolds (Character) 2008 2010-2014
No Score Yet 0% The Talk Guest 2011
No Score Yet 66% Without a Trace Unknown (Guest Star) 2007
91% 78% Veronica Mars Apollo Bukenya (Guest Star) 2007
No Score Yet No Score Yet The Inside Carter Howard (Character) 2005