‘Elementary’: Nelsan Ellis on His Recurring Role as Shinwell Johnson

Nelsan Ellis as Shinwell Johnson in Elementary - 'Folie a Deux'
Michael Parmelee/CBS
"Folie a Deux" -- When a serial bomber becomes active again after being dormant for six years, Watson seeks help from Shinwell Johnson (Nelsan Ellis), a former patient whose life she saved when she was a surgeon. Also, Holmes senses Watson is unhappy and questions whether she is still fulfilled by her detective career, on the fifth season premiere of ELEMENTARY, Sunday, Oct. 2 (10:00-11:00, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured Nelsan Ellis as Shinwell Johnson©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

In his new recurring role on CBS’s Elementary, True Blood vet Nelsan Ellis (above) again plays a colorful, somewhat dubious character based on a literary creation. Ellis became a fan favorite as the flamboyant medium and illicit pill dealer Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s long-running vampire drama inspired by the Charlaine Harris book series.

His Elementary character comes from a much older work: Former convict Shinwell Johnson first showed up in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1924 Sherlock Holmes story “The Illustrious Client.” In the modern retelling, “Shinwell is a former drug dealer who wants to reform,” says Ellis. “At heart, he’s a good guy. He’s just not used to living an upstanding life.”

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Now that he’s consulting on cases with Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) and Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), “Shinwell is adding a little grit to the normal proceedings,” says Elementary’s creator, Rob Doherty. But he won’t be a supporting player forever. Hints Doherty, “As we get further into the season, we’ll realize Shinwell is carrying a bit more baggage than we understood. He becomes a case unto himself.” Good thing he’s hanging around Sherlock.

Elementary, Sunday, Oct. 23,10/9c, CBS