Reviews

Small Screen’s Sexiest Summer Sensations

NELSAN ELLIS

With the ever-growing fascination (or should we say obsession) with vampires, it was no surprise that HBO’s series True Blood would be a winner right out of the gate. But for one of the show’s few non-vamp characters, the level and success has been far more than one could imagine. On the show, Nelsan Ellis portrays Lafayette Reynolds, a protagonist with just the right mix of masculinity and sass from the South. Over the past five seasons, he’s found a place in viewers’ hearts, and continually leaves you wanting more. Although he initially wasn’t a fan of the outlandish wardrobe-wearing, over-the-top character, Ellis has been able to define and develop the characteristics of such a complex role and fully make it his own. “I didn’t like him (Lafayette) in the books, but I loved the person I saw in the pilot,” he says. “He has to be hard and direct because of the things he’s had to deal with and overcome.” Part of the appeal and success of True Blood is its uncanny ability to portray characters that seem so real and lifelike that you begin to question the actors themselves. But what one should note in the case of Lafayette and Ellis, art does not imitate life. “Fans often have trouble making the distinction between a character and the actor in real life, and that is something that can be somewhat a double-edged sword. It’s annoying when industry people can’t differentiate, and although fans seem to confuse the two, I tend to overlook it with them because all they really see is the character.“ For the record, the very straight, award-winning actor needs people to understand, “I play a gay character on a very successful show, so it’s natural for people to assume things. I joke and say it means I’m doing a great job, but for me, it’s just a character.” An avid supporter of equal rights for the gay community, Ellis strongly believes his character and the show poignantly deal with the prejudices the gay community faces, and hopefully aids in the overcoming of such obstacles. Fully aware of the typecasting that can go along with playing such identifiable roles, this Julliard-trained actor and playwright continually strives to diversify his portfolio. With upcoming roles in such films as Gods Behaving Badly, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Butler, he’s ready to show the many facets of his talent. “When possible, I try to do films in my off-time from the show. This way Hollywood can continually see me as a character actor,” he says. As for the future of Lafayette? Nelsan says we need to just stay tuned and continue to follow as he and True Blood develop more with each season. Something tells us that with the millions of viewers watching each week, that will not be a problem.

BETH RIESGRAF

Beth Riesgraf has little in common with her mysterious character, Parker, known as “The Thief” on TNT’s Leverage. But that hasn’t deterred the youngest of six siblings from portraying her orphaned and socially awkward persona on the hit series. Moving to L.A. from Minnesota at the age of 20 after landing a modeling contract, Riesgraf discovered she was an aspiring actress and booked a role on the heels of her first audition. Following a few smaller parts in films and short appearances on the small screen, the blonde beauty has found her niche as part of the main cast and team of skilled criminals that work to expose the real crooks in a present-day Robin Hood effort on Leverage. “[Parker] seemed really unpredictable, funny, dangerous and alone, which meant there was a lot of room for her to grow over a series arc,” Riesgraf speaks on her initial attraction to the show. “There was a lot of mystery in her backstory, which was challenging but really exciting at the same time. Plus, the pilot script was really cinematic and included stunts, comedy and drama – so basically, it had everything that I love… As long as [Parker] stays sharp, fun and doesn’t lose her edge, then I will be happy. I did ask for more wigs and a bullet wound in Mexico, but so far, I’ve only gotten the wigs…”  While Riesgraf admits to doing her fair share of the stunts (i.e. wire work, repelling), she also realizes her limits and lets the pros do their job when necessary. This may leave her more time to focus on the long-awaited romantic relationship between Parker and the team’s “Hacker,” Alec Hardison (played by Aldis Hodge). “I think the time has come for them to be together,” Riesgraf says. “The pacing has worked because it’s allowed time for them to mature individually and as teammates. It’s given time for Parker to figure herself out, which was really important. Until that happened she wouldn’t have been comfortable or capable of having a relationship. So I think we earned it in an honest way, and I feel good about them being together now. I love their dynamic.” As the fifth season gears up to get underway, viewers will be experiencing some changes along with the Leverage crew, and Riesgraf dishes on just the basics, disclosing that the new season is now actually shown in Portland, Oregon, where it has always been filmed, instead of being doubled for Boston. Last year also saw the actress’ talents played out in a different way when she was commissioned to write and direct a short film as the first in a series to document a collaboration between Swedish fashion label WeSC and The Standard Hotel. A longtime WeActivist, Riesgraf released A Standard Story to admiring reviews, has seen it win four awards to date and is continuing to work on new projects to produce and direct. As far as roles she’d like to pursue, she reveals, “I’ve been in a real Downton Abbey kind of mood lately, so I want to do a period film or TV show soon – preferably with Martin Scorsese or Ang Lee. The love stories, women standing up and taking their own road during a time when they were expected to sit quietly. With those costumes, the countryside and beautiful lighting? I mean…so fun.”

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