When True Blood graced our screens, in 2008, we were captivated by the montage of peculiar southern twanged Americans that resided in Bon Temps, Louisiana. It was clear that one character, unique in his own right, would break through his stereotypical image and become more than the boy who wore women’s clothes. Lafayette Reynolds, entrepreneur in every sense, has evolved over four seasons into a must see character for season five. The intensity of the supernatural storylines mixed in with Lafayette’s comic relief excels the adapted show to another level. Lafayette is beloved and valued amongst ‘Truebies’ for his spunky transgender style and heart felt connection towards those he loves. Lafayette is protective like a brother, reliable like a sister, will scold you like a Grandmother, a shoulder to lean on like a cousin and flirty fun like a best friend. However, in season four Lafayette’s newly ordained abilities may require you to take a second look to make sure it is the real Lafayette you are talking to and not a vengeful spirit possessing his body. The man behind Lafayette, actor Nelsan Ellis, has embraced this role with outstanding aptitude which in my opinion is only destined to get better.
Book Lafayette vs on- screen Lafayette
‘Cheerful, entertainingly, mischievous, clever, flamboyant, make-up-and-long-fingernails gay and known for his ‘burgers Lafayette’.
On screen Lafayette first appears in his du rag, makeup and accessories, gyrating behind a fry cooker at Merlottes bar and grill. Lafayette is complimenting Sookie on her appearance that escalates into talking about women’s anatomy,
“I know every man, whether straight, gay or George mother-fucking Bush is terrified of the pussy.” – Lafayette – season one
The scene reflected exactly what Charlaine had described and had fans laughing and aching for more of that ‘Lafayette Lingo’. Alan Ball, creator of True blood the show, expressed his need for more African American characters on the show,
‘This is small town rural Louisiana and I really needed some African American characters…and so I went with my instincts” Paley Fest 2009
“I’m an entrepreneur.” – Lafayette Reynolds – Season one
In season one of True Blood Lafayette is seen behind a fry cook at Merlottes, digging holes on the side of the road, dancing and stripping for his own web site, selling illegal drugs to the locals and prostituting himself to anyone that was willing. Being focused on making money, by any means necessary, came with moments of public disapproval or being made guilty by association for example; three men enter Merlottes refusing to eat their order claiming the burger had aids,
“Excuse me. Who ordered the hamburger, with AIDS? … Bitch, you come in my house you’re gonna eat my food the way I fucking make it! Do you understand me?” – Lafayette season one.
Another example is in season two, we see Lafayette fight for survival as he is chained in a basement suspected, by vampire Sheriff Eric Northman, of knowing the whereabouts of missing vampire Eddie Gauthier. Lafayette had an arrangement with Gauthier but did not cause him harm therefore his demise was by association and Lafayette tried his best to strike a deal with Northman,
“Oh, don’t get it twisted honey cone. I’m a survivor first, capitalist second and a whole bunch of shit after that. But a hooker dead last! So if I’ve got even a Jew at an Al Qaida pep rallies shot at getting my black ass up out of this motherfucker I’m taking it!”
When Lafayette is set free he attempts to live and work as normal, even though he is continually haunted by being chained. The desperate need to have nothing more to do with vampires or their blood he is re-appointed at fang point by Sheriff Northman. A particular scene whereby Pam, Northman’s second gives a large amount of V to Lafayette and orders him to sell it in 24 hours exposes the pressure he is put under,
Lafayette – “…no hookah look I can’t sell all this shit by tomorrow I got a cousin in trouble she need me…”
(Pam pushes Lafayette over the counter and speaks calmly in his ear)
Pam – “I don’t know what it is about me that makes people want to tell me their problems maybe I smile too much maybe I wear too much pink but please remember I can rip your throat out if I need to and also know that I’m not a hookah that was a long long time ago… you picking up what I’m putting down?”
Lafayette – “I is”
The stress to sell the blood rides heavy on Lafayette’s shoulders and the continuous fear of being chained in the Northman’s basement again deteriorates his flamboyant nature to one filled with caution and restraint.
Lafayette’s background is gradually revealed throughout the series however one relationship remains strong is the one he shares with his cousin Tara Thorton. The connection they share is strengthened when they come in contact with paranormal beings such as a Maenad in season two and the Coven of Witches in season four. Tara was raised in a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic, bible bashing mother and relied on Lafayette for much more than a place to crash when times got tough. Lafayette took on the role of a surrogate mother protecting her from her own arrogance when she would quarrel with Sookie Stackhouse,
“Tara, stop, get off her. What the Fuck is wrong with you? That’s Sookie your best friend in this whole fucken world” Lafayette – season three
Lafayette would tease her like an older brother when matters of the heart were concerned,
“Look at you…you still got a thing for that boy…That boy is sex on a stick. I don’t give a god damn how stuck-up he is.”- Season one episode one
Or tell it to her straight when she was trying to make money,
“Shit, Sam must have lost his damn mind, because you should not be allowed to work in no situation where you actually got to interact with people” – season one episode one
In season three Lafayette scolded her like a protective Grandmother,
“Life ain’t not having problems, Tara! It’s about being able to deal with the ones you got…if I gotta drag your narrow ass through this world kicking and screaming. Buddha wasn’t lying when he said life is suffering, but that doesn’t mean you get to check out early and leave me here”
Lafayette also confides in Tara, in season three, the reason for working more than one job. He takes her to see his mother, Ruby-Jean, in an Elder care facility.
“…There’s some darkness in this family Tara…but hookah if you ever try to pull that shit like you pulled last night again I swear fore God you’re ass goin get a room right next to Ruby-Jean…”Lafayette – season three
Toward the end of season three Tara leaves Bon Temps in an attempt to bury the past and start fresh, Lafayette is also beginning a new life with love interest Jesus, an elder care nurse whom he met while visiting his mother. The relationship has a flirtatious beginning and a skeptical Lafayette approaches the courtship with restraint but releases his inhibitions for a chance at something real,
“I’m feeling something all kinda intense with you but I don’t know if I should trust it…” Lafayette season three
Jesus has a significant role in season four as the new relationship unearths paranormal components. Jesus discloses he is a Brujo (shaman) and that Lafayette has the same abilities if not stronger. A Brujo (Bruja for a woman) is a folk magician or a witch that may or may not practice black magic. Just when things are starting to settle Lafayette is thrown into the depths of seeing the dead walk and talk, one of these spirits walks into Merlottes it is a woman wearing clothes from the past and is singing an eerie lullaby. Lafayette sees the spirit reaching for Arlene’s baby Mikey. This same spirit would later invade Lafayette’s body and kidnap Mikey. Jesus is able to defuse the situation whereby Lafayette regains his body and the woman is healed from losing her own baby and moves on toward the light. Although Lafayette struggles with his new found abilities Jesus consoles him with support and confidence as they venture further into the supernatural realm of witchcraft.
Season five prediction
As we count down to season five of True Blood with the remnants of season four behind us we recall the last scene of our beloved Lafayette. I would be lying if I were to say that watching Lafayette on the bed did not bring me to tears or prompt me to leap through the screen and take him in my arms and cradle his sorrow. When certain characters would move on in the show losing them did not affect me as much as loosing Jesus. It appears that suffering and pain go hand and hand with joy and pleasure in Bon Temps and if I were to predict season five for Lafayette I would say he will have the ability to go either way, vengeful or righteous, based on how we last saw him. I hope with all sincerity that he rises above his pain knowing that his ability is not a curse but a means to overcome the evil that lurks within the town. There are evil forces that are set to encroach and if Lafayette embraces his gift he will be joined with those from the other side for support.
The man behind Lafayette
Actor and extremely gifted chameleon Nelsan Ellis, embraced his role as Lafayette with the feeling of ‘it’s great to have a job’ a comment he made to Chris Harrison in an interview for TV guide. Ellis grew up in Alabama and Illinois, he attended Julliard where he met and be-friended fellow True blood cast member Rutina Wesley who plays Tara Thorton. There is a great connection on screen between them both that is undeniably shared off screen as well. Wesley and Ellis breathe life into such powerful, misunderstood characters and True Blood creator Alan Ball shares his opinion of Lafayette,
“Nelsan’s performance definitely brought him to life in a way that made me realize we could never kill this character the way he dies in the books.” – Philadelphia Inquirer – 2010
Ellis gave credit to the women in his family,
“I drew more from my [four] sisters and my mother. I’ve been mimicking them my whole life. They’re in my bones.” Philadelphia Inquirer – 2010
Nelsan further clarifies how he is able to step into the role of Lafayette,
“I have more makeup on than any of the females in the cast. Once they get me with the fake eyelashes and the eye makeup, I listen to some Rihanna and I’m there.” – Philadelphia Inquirer – 2010
Nelsan has taken other roles outside of True Blood and continues to seek out further acting experiences that strengthen his craft. He appears in the Soloist starring Jamie Fox and Robert Downey Jr and in The Help starring Emma Stone and Viola Davis.
In closing, Lafayette begins as a flamboyant transgender entrepreneur that goes through a traumatic experience that he later overcomes as he sees the demise of his cousin Tara. Lafayette meets Jesus and the instant attraction leads onto a relationship. Jesus encourages Lafayette to explore his supernatural gifts and discloses that Lafayette is in fact a medium, someone who is able to see and speak with the dead. Lafayette is shattered in the final minutes of season four as his heart aches for the one he has lost as well as coping with the burden of being a psychic. This is an amazing character evolution that can only suggest the encompassing brilliance of actor Nelsan Ellis and the edgy, well thought writing of the True Blood creators. Although, I tend to favor the books heavily over the series it goes without saying that True Blood’s Lafayette is my most favored character I feel personally allied to. The strength he has to overcome, his willingness to protect and look after his family despite their judgments, his ability to give and receive love and the flirtatious wit that leaves you speechless that he just said something so scandalous. I adore Lafayette for all of these character traits and through all my years of reading fiction and watching shows and movies I have yet to embrace a fictional character of Lafayette’s caliber. There is a saying amongst some African American actors that any movie with a black character will be the token to write off. Thankfully, True Blood creators were able to breathe life into Lafayette for longer than one season because in the books he perished before the second publication. Alan Ball saw more than a token character he saw the je ne sais quoi of Nelsan Ellis behind Lafayette and that these two combined would raise the bar of the show to a whole new level. I can’t wait to see where the writers will take this profoundly superb character in season five.
Vive la Lafayette!
Lisa Eden is a mother of four from the beautiful country New Zealand. She is a big fan of the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris and her favorite sups are the werewolves. Lisa is currently working on her first paranormal urban romance novel.
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