When “True Blood” returned for its seventh and final season earlier this summer, fans immediately noticed that one crucial character had a different face — James, the studly vampire who entered the show in season six to romance Deborah Ann Woll’s character, Jessica, was now being played by a new actor, Nathan Parsons.
The actor who initially played James, Luke Grimes, issued a statement saying that his abrupt departure “had nothing to do with storylines” and more to do with other opportunities. (He’ll be appearing in 2015′s sure-to-be megahit “Fifty Shades of Grey,” for example.) And HBO, for its part, attributed his decision to “the creative direction of the character.”
But once it became clear that Grimes’ former character was bisexual, and headed for romance with Nelsan Ellis’ fan-favorite character Lafayette, the story got a bit deeper — and now, weeks after Buzzfeed first reported that Grimes indeed exited the show because he didn’t want to play gay, and that his actions “baffled and angered” the “True Blood” cast and crew, Ellis himself is speaking out.
“I mean, I can say I’m not going to make a comment, but I just think that, you’re an actor, you’re an actor on a show that’s ‘True Blood,’” Ellis told Vulture after the July 20 episode, which featured Lafayette and James’ first sex scene. “We’re all sitting there going, ‘You quit your job because … really?’ I’m just… I’m over him. You quit your job because you don’t want to play a gay part? As if it’s … You know what? I’m going to stop talking.”
Ellis didn’t stop there, however — he pointed out that Grimes’ actions make a definitive statement, and that a statement of this kind can have consequences.
“You make a statement when you do something like that,” he continued. “I did a documentary called ‘Damn Wonderful,’ about gay suicide, and you make a statement, a big statement, when you go, ‘I don’t want to play this part because it’s gay.’ If you have a child, if you have a son, and he comes out as gay, what are you going to do? If you have a daughter who comes out gay…? You just made a statement, and it has ripple effects.”
Ellis also said that, as an actor, you can’t come into a project — especially a project like “True Blood,” which boasted five full years of sex and LGBT-friendly content before Grimes even entered the scene — and tell your bosses what you will and will not do.
“When scripts come, we’re like, ‘What are they going to have us do this week?’ But when you make a statement that is a judgment … I was kind of like, ‘Have you met Alan Ball?’” he said, referring to the show’s openly gay creator. “I’m supposed to do what my boss tells me to do, as an actor. I can’t approach a character with judgment. I certainly can’t tell my boss, ‘I can act what I want to act, but not what you tell me to act,’ especially on a show where you come in, knowing what it is. I was like, ‘Okay… I guess?’ I just thought that, having just done the documentary, I didn’t like what he did because he made a statement, and sometimes you have to take responsibility.”
Well, there you have it — the mystery of James Kent’s new face has officially been solved. But don’t for one second feel sorry for Ellis, who says he adores and has “great chemistry” with Parsons, who seems more than happy to be starring on this blockbuster show. And then, of course, there’s the fact that Grimes will likely not be invited to star in the “True Blood” musical… or on any HBO shows in general, according to Ellis.
“I don’t think he’ll be invited back to HBO,” the actor concluded, with a laugh.