Friday, June 22, 2012

Chelsea Lately, Nelson Ellis and a Whole Lot of Problems

Chelsea: This is you on the cover of Entertainment Weekly by the way (she’s holding up the magazine) with makeup on right? You have eyeliner on there for your character?

Nelsan: Yes Ma’am

Chelsea: You have to wear a lot of makeup don’t you?

Nelsan: I do, I probably wear a lot more makeup than all the females.

Chelsea: So you play - it’s true he does. You play a gay character on the show and you’re a medium.

Nelsan: I am

Chelsea: Well don’t so excited about it. (Nelsan laughs) So you get possessed basically by a different person each season, or for the whole season, or for just a couple of episodes?

Nelsan: Umm, pretty half the season and it’s mostly women.  And so I am playing a gay dude and I get possessed by nothing but women.  (audience laughter) There’s only so far my masculine body can move in terms of....(Nelsan moves hands and a wave like motion)

Chelsea: So how did you decide to play a gay character, if you’re a straight guy?

Nelsan: I just act like my momma. (audience laughter) I been watching her all my life. I’ve been watching her, imitating her all my life so I was like, I can just do what she do (Nelsan snaps his fingers in a Z snap formation)

Chelsea: Your father, your parents are conservative right? Your dad’s like a deacon?

Nelsan: My father’s a super duper deacon. He’s one of those deacons who jumps and shouts. Mmmm Jesus.  So then he has a son on tv wearing lipstick hooker. (Nelsan snaps his fingers) So uh, yeah.

Chelsea: So what does he say about the show? He must have been horrified in the beginning.

Nelsan: This type of material would never exist in my father’s house; it never has. Now, he’s watching the show.  I mean, he supports me now but in the beginning not so much.  Yeah, it’s like, that and Jesus don’t exist in his world. But now, he called me yesterday and he was like “that first episode was good son. It wasn’t all weird like always is; it was good.  

Chelsea: Have you ever questioned your sexuality in real life?

Nelsan: No, I’m nervous

Chelsea (looking over her shoulder): Chewie have you?

Chewie: No

Chelsea: Am I making you nervous? Did you just say you were nervous?

Nelsan: I am nervous, can you tell?

Chelsea: Why are you nervous?

Nelsan: ‘Cause, I’m a really big fan of yours.

Chelsea: Oh you’re so cute you don’t have to be nervous.

Nelsan: I’m sweating

Chelsea: No, I’m sweating to (fans herself) it’s not just you. It’s hot in here. It’s very hard to come on for interviews for normal people.  So, don’t feel weird, everyone feels like that unless you’re really obnoxious like me. (Nelsan laughs) So I appreciate you being honest and telling me that you’re nervous but don’t worry, Chewie shits his pants every single day.

It’s a short video but there’s a lot of problems here that make me cringe to watch it.

Firstly - one of the most prevalent ideas that dog gay men is the idea that gay men are somehow less men than straight men. And this is hammered throughout this short clip - Nathan Ellis jokes about how his “masculine” body can only move so far. Yeah, because playing a gay man is so much stress on a straight man’s body.

He compounds this by his inspiration for Lafayette - his mother. Because, of course a gay man is based on a woman. Why is a straight man deciding the best way to look for inspiration to play a gay man is too look towards women? Why are women templates for how a gay man should act? A gay man is still a man - being gay doesn’t change that.

Then there’s his recounting of his father’s interactions. This sounds is so funny (at least the audience thinks so) but we’re not just talking about a character here, we’re talking about people. When we discuss him being horrified, this isn’t a fun, light hearted question - these are people, actual, vulnerable people, he is horrified by. So when he’s saying “that material and Jesus don’t exist in the same house” we’re not talking about a character or a role or a show. We’re talking about people, actual GBLT people - what he is recounting is some really painful bigotry for so many of us. And the audience finds it funny. People die for this, people are murdered and commit suicide because of this - I’m not laughing. (And the first episode he found good? Yeah that was the episode when Jesus is dead, so Lafayette is single again. Yay.)

And, of course, there’s the inevitable question “do you question your sexuality in real life?” I wonder, I really do, how many actors playing straight roles are asked this question?  What is this? Is it ongoing horror about playing gay characters? The idea that only a GBLT person would possibly play a GBLT character implies that it’s just either so alien, or so horrific that no right thinking straight person would touch it (don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather marginalised people play marginalised roles, and I strongly dislike privileged portrayals for many reasons - but to assume someone who identifies as straight, must be lying to play the dreaded gay as Unfortunate Implications). Or maybe they think being gay is catching - and just assuming the role will implant being gay into the actor?

And the audience. What is so funny? A man is wearing make up! Oh dear gods, the shock - that’s worth a laugh? The number of times they laughed was deeply depressing. And this is another trope - I grew up gay in Britain during the 1980s - and from Lieutenant Groeber to Mr. Humphries this is what we were (and don’t tell me it hasn’t stopped now - not while Graham Norton is still on the television). If a gay man isn’t a dangerous sex predator then he is mockable and funny - comic relief simply by existing. Oh he’s wearing make up! laughter, oh he’s snapping his fingers laughter. What’s so funny?

This reminds me why, before being part of Fangs, I generally avoided actor and author interviews. I was always worried about learning something about them that would skew my opinion and damage my enjoyment of the show or book (to this day, I can’t pick up the Dune novels again). Now, when I watch True Blood, I’m going to hear this in the background and Lafayette just got that much more problematic (not that it was perfect before).