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Nelsan Ellis (born November 30, 1977 or 1978) is an award-winning American film and television actor and playwright. He is well known for his role as Lafayette Reynolds in the HBO series True Blood, which he has been playing since 2008. Ellis was born in Harvey, Illinois, near Chicago. When Ellis and his siblings were younger, their mother, a single parent after her divorce from her children's father, broke down over the death of her brother. Ellis and his siblings became wards of state as a result. They were then raised in Bessemer, Alabama by their grandmother. In Alabama, Ellis attended Jess Lanier High School for a year, then transferred to McAdory High School. He moved back to Illinois at age 15, where he lived with his maternal aunt, and in 1997 he graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois. He joined the United States Marines at the age of 17, but quit not long afterwards. When Ellis was 21, he was accepted for enrollment at the Juilliard School's Drama Division (Group 33: 2000–2004) where he befriended True Blood-colleague Rutina Wesley (Group 34: 2001–2005). Ellis earned a B.F.A. degree from Juilliard in 2004.