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True Blood' actor Nelsan Ellis: Former star quit because he didn't 'want to play a gay part'

Posted by on Jul. 25, 2014 at 12:03 PM
  • 96 Replies

True Blood' actor Nelsan Ellis: Former star quit because he didn't 'want to play a gay part'

Posted: Jul 24, 2014 10:42 AM MST Updated: Jul 24, 2014 11:01 AM MST

LOS ANGELES –  When Luke Grimes started on HBO’s “True Blood” last season his character James Kent was wooing a female vampire. But Grimes reportedly quit in December when he found out Kent was bisexual and starting a romantic relationship with a gay character in the seventh and final season.

Now Nelsan Ellis, the actor who plays Kent’s gay lover on the show, is speaking up -- and he’s not happy.

“You quit your job because you don’t want to play a gay part? You make a big statement when you go, ‘I don’t want to play this part because it’s gay,” Ellis told New York Magazine following the airing this week of his character’s sex scene with the new actor playing Kent. “You just made a statement, and it has ripple effects.”

Back in December Grimes’ rep said his departure was due to a scheduling conflict with the filming of forthcoming movies “American Sniper” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” and had nothing to do with storylines. However, HBO announced that he would be replaced by Nathan Parsons in the final season due to differences in the “creative direction of the character.”

So how hard is it for an actor to get out of a contract if they don’t feel comfortable with what their character is doing?

“Usually the production company agrees to let them out of the contract, rather than have a risk of a no-show or someone who performs badly. But the network or production company does not need to let them out of the contract,” L.A-based entertainment lawyer Julian Chan told FOX411. “They were being nice.”

Chan said that typically production companies have the freedom to tailor television scripts in whatever direction they desire, and it is only when nudity is involved that it must be written into a performer’s contract. Hollywood agent Alec Shankman says that while the specifics of each and every contract vary, “the creative direction is typically left to the directors, producers and distributors” and the “work-for-hire talent” is not usually involved in the creative consultation unless its built into their agreement.

Born and raised in a devout Christian family in Dayton, Ohio, Grimes’s father is a Pentecostal pastor and the actor attended a Christian High School. In an interview with Filler Magazine, Grimes said that while he still values the religious teachings he learned as a child, his is undecided the “modern Christian religion.”

Yet critics argue that Grimes should have known what he was getting into when he initially signed the dotted line, given that the supernatural drama – created by the openly gay Alan Ball and produced by his company in conjunction with HBO – routinely pushes the envelope when it comes to relationships.

“It’s unfortunate that an actor today would feel uncomfortable playing gay, especially on a program that has always put LGBT characters front and center,” Stacy Lambe, Associate Editor for the gay and lesbian-focused OUT Magazine said. “But Nelsan Ellis and Nathan Parsons are proof that Luke Grimes is not the norm. Grimes is the exception.”

According to some media and entertainment industry experts, being an exception not willing to have a same-sex escapades on the screen may have career consequences. Larry Gross, a professor specializing in LGBT and TV issues at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism said that in today’s climate “refusing to play a bisexual role is not a good career move.”

“It’s pretty clear Luke will suffer as a result. Hollywood will either say he was unprofessional or a phobe of some sort,” added Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture at the Media Research Center. “It is his prerogative, but he will suffer for it.”

HBO declined to comment, and reps for Grimes did not respond to requests for comment.

Follow @holliesmckay on Twitter.

by on Jul. 25, 2014 at 12:03 PM
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by on Jul. 25, 2014 at 12:26 PM
7 moms liked this

I am going to start a hot mess I think, but if the actor doesn't want to play a role them let him decide that, it is his life! I hope he doesn't have negative consequences like they said, I believe that if a person doesn't want to do something and it isn't in their contract than let them decide. 

by SenseandSensibility on Jul. 25, 2014 at 12:30 PM
3 moms liked this

What a shame that he doesn't seem to know that actors and actresses play roles that are not what they are in real life.

That's how we have people playing murderers, rapists, bank robbers, terrorists, pedophiles, someone played Bernie Madoff I think in a TV being a vampire and sucking blood is OK, but playing a bisexual vampire is not because....people might think he's really a bisexual vampire?

Sometimes the stupid.....

And one more thing....if there are consequences for this in Hollywood, there should be.  It is not always possible when doing a TV show or movie to know the direction that a character will take, and to hire someone who you know might object and quit if you don't make their character as they would like is a risk.  I wouldn't hire him if I were in that position in Hollywood based on that alone.

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by Platinum Member on Jul. 25, 2014 at 12:52 PM
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Huh- funny that. I didn;t even notice the swap out.

I have to say- wtf did actor #1 think he was getting himself into? This was no disney series. He was playing a vampire and in this story line, all the vampires are well known to be bi-sexual regardless of who/what they were when they were still alive. It's the nature of the beast.  

and wtf was such a God-fearing Christian doing playing the undead- one who is supposedly without a soul. I guess that didn;t bother him when he was cashing his checks.

by on Jul. 25, 2014 at 1:17 PM
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Good for him

by Platinum Member on Jul. 25, 2014 at 1:18 PM
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His prerogative.

by Silver Member on Jul. 25, 2014 at 1:34 PM
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If an actor does not feel comfortable in any given role there are, at times, clauses that can release them from that role.

If you sign up knowing your character will eventually find themselves in a position such as mentioned in the OP, you knew it going on.  Do your job.

If not, and often times the characters change and evolve as any given show goes on, the direction of which is not always known at the time any given actor signs on.

If an actor's character is due to be nude and have sex in upcoming seasons and that particular actor is not comfortable with such, not having know this possibility from the beginning, I can understand they may want to remove themselves from the equation. On the flip side, characters evolve and change all the time and perhaps an actor should be ready to tackle what they are presented with.

Is this particular actor homophobic?  I don't know. I have no idea who he is and I have never watched 'True Blood'.

by on Jul. 25, 2014 at 1:36 PM

His choice. I would play a Lesbian in a movie if it paid well and if they guaranteed that the role didn't involve kissing anyone, sex scenes. :)   

by Bronze Member on Jul. 25, 2014 at 1:37 PM

I'm more disapointed in Nelsan Ellis.  I really like him as an actor, and also the character (Lafayette) he plays on the show.  It's not like Luke Grimes quit the show and them made a huge statement about it.  Sounds like he left the show quietly. For Ellis to come out blasting him for it, I think, is kind of ugly.  But I'm still a fan of the show and Nelsan Ellis.  Anyway, it's probably best for the show that Grimes left because if he wasn't comfortable with the role, there would have been no chemistry between him and Ellis.  

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by Emerald Member on Jul. 25, 2014 at 2:38 PM

That is his decision. Hope he can find another job that makes him happy. 

by Gold Member on Jul. 25, 2014 at 2:44 PM
5 moms liked this

 “American Sniper” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” 

I see he has strict moral guidelines he's upholding in his career. 


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