TV & Video Magazine

Nelsan Ellis on True Blood and His New Film: “Get On Up”

Posted on the 31 July 2014 by Thevault @The_Vault

“True Blood” star Nelsan Ellis will be featured in the new James Brown film in the part of Bobbie Byrd, the man largely responsible for the career of groundbreaking, “Godfather of Soul and hardest working man in show business,” James Brown. In addition to his part of Lafayette on True Blood, Nelsan has been seen recently in such films as “The Help,” “The Butler,” and “The Soloist” displaying that he is a man of many talents.


In addition to his acting roles, Ellis wrote and directed the short film, “Page 36,” which aired on HBO. Now, with a major role in the incredibly electrifying and engrossing biopic, Ellis’ star status is elevated to even greater heights. Sitting in the world famous Apollo Theater, the affable, engaging and hilarious Ellis opened up about his “Get On Up” experience and discussed some of his own personal secrets.

Read part of that interview below:

How did you prep for such a key role in the career of James Brown?

Did research, checked out YouTube, and read about him although there isn’t much material out there. But it was enough to give me a general idea of his accomplishments, his life but not so much about the man. So James Brown’s grandson, nephew worked and his last bandleader, who all worked on the film were there for input. So I cheated [laughs] a bit.

What comes to mind when you hear the name James Brown?

‘Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.’ My granddaddy used to play that all the time. And also, I remember the negatives. That is why it’s so great when people see this, they will see the trajectory of his life—the beginning, middle and end. I, and most likely those of my generation, just remember the end. But I appreciate the man, as well as the dynamic entertainer that he was.

What was the most important thing that you took away from this experience?

Be Olympic in the way you work. Chadwick Boseman was Olympic in the way he worked. He raised my work ethic tremendously. I watched him work and I would literally be like, let me go and do something, let me go and read my lines and listen to some Bobby Byrd. I took away ‘work harder and harder.’

Besides giving James Brown that once in a lifetime opportunity, how else would you describe your character’s relationship to Brown?

I would say I was the anchor, the consistent force, the love, the brother, and the most trusted confidant.

How hard is it for a celebrity and anyone in the limelight who is constantly being idolized by his/her fans to not become an egomaniac?

I mean it slips in from time to time because you are but I have to go home to a seven-year-old. He doesn’t care about celebrity status. I have to go home to my friends and family. They don’t care about celebrity. So that keeps me grounded.

Bobby Byrd had a very supportive family in the film. Was your family always there for you?

My family was very supportive of what I wanted to do. They may not have understood it, but they ultimately supported what I did. My father didn’t understand my playing Lafayette [his gay character in ‘True Blood’] but they ultimately supported me. They, my father, are very proud of me.

Was True Blood a turning point in your career?

That role is what got me this role. I’m very grateful for that opportunity because that role opened up so many doors for me, and this was one of them.
There is a scene in the beginning of the film where a white man is disturbed by loud music. How much progress has there been since the pre-civil rights era?
[Laughs] That’s an interesting question to ask somebody from Bessemer, Alabama. I think things have changed. I think sometimes it’s going at a snail’s pace, but I think things have changed a lot.

Read the complete interview with Nelsan Ellis here:

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