In the Mix Boston
Homecoming for Elimu…
Actor, acting coach and athlete Elimu Nelson (pronounced E-lee-moo, meaning “knowledge and education” in Swahili), was born in Orange, N.J., and raised in Milton, Mass. He played a teenage-heartthrob opposite Christina Milian in the 2003 romantic comedy Love Don’t Cost a Thing, and had supporting roles on the F/X series The Shield, the ABC drama Private Practice and on CBS’s Criminal Minds. This year, he’s a recurring guest star on the Showtime series House of Lies, starring opposite Golden Globe Award winner Don Cheadle.
Recently, the Banner spoke to Nelson about his role as Ronnie Stepney in the indie film Things Never Said and what this role means to him and his career.
So, how did this role as Ronnie Stepney in Things Never Said come your way?
It came my way because [director] Charles [Murray] and I are friends. We’ve known each other since 1998. When I first read the script I was like, ‘This needs to be seen.’ He said, ‘I want you to play Ronnie.’ Charles knows my emotional life and knew the role of Ronnie was for me. He’s watched me grow as an actor. If I wasn’t ready for the film, he wouldn’t have cast me.
There’s a scene in the movie where your character is abusive. How did you prepare for that scene and are there challenges that go along with it?
It was a very safe set. Charles knew it needed it to be quiet. [co-star] Shanola [Hampton] trusted me and I trusted her. I can relate to an aspect of Ronnie. Him doing the best he can in the way that he knows. I can relate to the pain and frustration.
Would you say that the character Ronnie has been one of your tougher characters to date?
This character is the hardest work that I’ve ever done. My career starts with this film. It was very specific in how I played him from moment to moment. Getting there wasn’t an issue. The thing that surprised me the most was the choking scene. Charles cleared the set. There was a level inside of me that I didn’t know that was there. That was very moving and very deep.
I was recently told that you’ll be making your directorial debut soon. Are you excited?
It’s a short film called Balance. I directed it and wrote it. Balance is extremely exciting for me. I’ve spent years of studying cameras. It’s all part of my plan to do a feature-length film. I’ve always thought that I’ve had a director inside of me for sure.
What do your parents think about your career?
They’re probably my biggest fans for sure. It took a while for them to wrap their heads around it because they don’t have a frame of reference for how to give me advice. It’s fun for them to see their son be famous, and it’s tough for them to handle all the tough things I’ve gone through. My parents completely capitalize on me being a celebrity. My dad will brag about me in a totally unassuming way. They’re very, very supportive.
How often do you get a chance to come home?
I come to the East Coast maybe twice or three times a year. Not always to Boston. I was in Boston last Thanksgiving for a class reunion.
Meet Elimu Nelson at the Boston premiere of Things Never Said, which opens the 15th Annual Roxbury International Film Festival on Thursday, June 27 at the Museum of Fine Arts at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at http://www.mfa.org/programs/series/roxbury-international-film-festival.
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