Aunjanue Ellis

Aunjanue Ellis Headshot

Actress • Producer

Birth Date: February 21, 1969

Age: 55 years old

Birth Place: San Francisco, California

Aunjanue Ellis may not be a household name in Hollywood, but her face and performances as a versatile character actress left a lasting impression on audiences. From a special agent on "The Mentalist" (CBS 2008-15) to a bitter backup singer in the biopic "Ray" (2004) and a housemaid in 1960s Mississippi in "The Help" (2011), her dynamic roles earned her countless awards and the ability to seek out non-stereotypical characters worthy of her talent.

Aunjanue Ellis was born on February 21, 1969 in San Francisco. Ellis was sent by to her grandmother's farm in Tougaloo, Mississippi at a young age, where the extent of her exposure to the dramatic arts was limited to the lively performances given at her local Baptist church. It wasn't until her second year at Tougaloo College where a visiting drama teacher from Brown University cast her in a student play that this small town girl embraced acting and the world outside Mississippi. She transferred to Brown University to get a degree in African-American studies and went on to get her graduate degree in drama at New York University.

With a name pronounced like "ingénue," it's no surprise that Ellis's first acting job was working in the big leagues, making her Broadway debut in George C. Wolfe's adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" opposite Patrick Stewart in 1995. Ellis's also shared the stage with aspiring actress Carrie Preston, who would later appear with her on the first season of the vampire gothic drama "True Blood" (HBO 2008-). Before Ellis was sinking her teeth into late night dramas, she made her television debut in the hit urban drama series "New York Undercover"(FOX 1994-98) quickly followed by her first film role in the critically acclaimed movie "Girls Town" (1996).

Success came in quick succession soon after, as Ellis nabbed a recurring role as Officer Leslie Joyner in the Stephen Spielberg-produced police drama "High Incident" (ABC 1996) followed by another cast spot on the legal series "The Practice" (ABC 1997-2004). While Ellis worked continuously on the small screen, it was her portrayal of Jo Brashear in "Men of Honor" (2000) opposite Academy Award-winning actors Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert DeNiro that she earned her first NAACP Image Award Nomination. From there, Ellis bounced around the small screen, from guest spots to recurring characters, while also seeking out interesting and independent film projects.

Her range was evident, as she went from the indie comedy "Lovely and Amazing" to playing the campy Sistah Girl in faux blaxploitation comedy "Undercover Brother" (2002). Putting comedy aside, Ellis drew the attention of audiences and critics again, this time as the Raylette Mary Ann Fisher in the biopic "Ray" (2004), which earned the ensemble cast a SAG award nomination. After the success of "Ray," Ellis went back to playing blue-blood professionals, being cast by Jerry Bruckheimer for his military series "E-Ring" (NBC 2005-06) and his legal drama "Justice" (FOX 2006-07).

As a consummate character actress, Ellis manages to standout in even a standard procedural drama, but she proved especially adept at tackling true-life material. She reunited with her former costar Cuba Gooding Jr. for the TV movie "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story" (TNT 2009) and starred in the TV film "Abducted: The Carlina White Story" (Lifetime 2012), the true story of a woman who abducted an infant from a hospital. In addition to her film appearances in "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" (2009), the Biggie Smalls biopic "Notorious" (2009) and her recurring role as Madeleine Hightower on "The Mentalist," it was her role as the wronged housemaid Yule Mae Davis in "The Help" that ushered a new level of critical prestige and blockbuster-sized audiences in her career.

Credits

Exhibiting Forgiveness

Actor
Joyce
Movie
2024

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat

Actor
Movie
2024

Nickel Boys

Actor
Hattie
Movie
2024

Justified: City PrimevalStream

Actor
Carolyn Wilder
Series
2023
91%

The Color PurpleStream

Actor
Mama
Movie
2023
81%

OriginStream

Actor
Isabel Wilkerson
Movie
2023
82%

OriginStream

Executive Producer
Movie
2023
82%

61st StreetStream

Actor
Martha Roberts
Series
2022
71%

CBS Mornings

Guest
News
2021

King Richard: Extras

Actor
Show
2021

King RichardStream

Actor
Oracene "Brandy" Williams
Movie
2021
90%

Lovecraft CountryStream

Actor
Hippolyta Freeman
Series
2020
88%

The Subject

Actor
Leslie Barnes
Movie
2020

When They See UsStream

Actor
Sharon Salaam
Miniseries
2019
97%

Miss VirginiaStream

Actor
Lorraine Townsend
Movie
2019
53%

The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of GospelStream

Actor
Mattie Moss Clark
Movie
2019

If Beale Street Could TalkStream

Actor
Mrs. Hunt
Movie
2018
95%

Pimp

Actor
Gloria May
Movie
2018

Designated SurvivorStream

Guest Star
Eleanor Darby
Series
2016
71%

The Birth of a Nation

Actor
Nancy Turner
Movie
2016

QuanticoStream

Actor
Miranda Shaw
Series
2015
70%

The Book of NegroesStream

Actor
Aminata Diallo
Miniseries
2015
100%

Romeo and Juliet in Harlem

Actor
Lady Capulet
Movie
2015

Romeo and Juliet in Harlem

Executive Producer
Movie
2015

Variety Studio: Actors on Actors

Guest
Show
2014

q

Guest
Show
2014

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy FallonStream

Guest
Talk
2014

Get On UpStream

Actor
Vicki Anderson
Movie
2014
81%

Una Vida: A Fable of Music and the Mind

Actor
Una Vida
Movie
2014

Sleepy HollowStream

Guest Star
Series
2013
74%

The Volunteer

Actor
Leigh
Movie
2013

Missing

Guest
Show
2012

Missing

Guest Star
Show
2012

Abducted: The Carlina White Story

Actor
Ann Pettway
Movie
2012

The Resident

Actor
Sydney
Movie
2011

The HelpStream

Actor
Yule Mae
Movie
2011
76%

The Talk

Guest
Talk
2010

Blue BloodsStream

Guest Star
Sylvia Marshall
Series
2010

Money Matters

Actor
Pamela Matters
Movie
2010

Game of Death

Actor
Rachel
Movie
2010

The Tested

Actor
Darralynn Warren
Movie
2010

NCIS: Los AngelesStream

Guest Star
Series
2009

The Good WifeStream

Guest Star
Linda Underwood
Series
2009
93%

NotoriousStream

Actor
Sandy
Movie
2009
53%

The Taking of Pelham 123Stream

Actor
Therese (Garber's Wife)
Movie
2009
51%

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story

Actor
Candy
Movie
2009

The Hungry Ghosts

Actor
Nadia
Movie
2009

The MentalistStream

Guest Star
Madeleine Hightower
Series
2008

True BloodStream

Guest Star
Diane
Series
2008
68%

Cover

Actor
Movie
2007

Justice

Guest Star
Series
2006
63%

FreedomlandStream

Actor
Felicia
Movie
2006
24%

E-Ring

Actor
Master Sgt. Jocelyn Pierce
Show
2005

NUMB3RSStream

Guest Star
Series
2005

Jonny Zero

Guest Star
Show
2005

Perception

Actor
Vera
Movie
2005

The D.A.

Guest Star
Show
2004

RayStream

Actor
Mary Ann Fisher
Movie
2004
79%

Brother to Brother

Actor
Zora
Movie
2004

Jimmy Kimmel Live!Stream

Guest
Talk
2003

MDs

Actor
Show
2002

Undercover Brother

Actor
Sistah Girl
Movie
2002

Law & Order: Criminal IntentStream

Guest Star
Carmen Rivera
Series
2001

The Caveman's Valentine

Actor
Lulu
Movie
2001

John John in the Sky

Actor
Earlene
Movie
2001

Lovely & Amazing

Actor
Lorraine
Movie
2001

Men of HonorStream

Actor
Jo
Movie
2000
42%

Disappearing Acts

Actor
Pam
Movie
2000

The Opponent

Actor
June
Movie
2000

Law & Order: Special Victims UnitStream

Guest Star
Reverend Laura Chase
Series
1999
78%

Desert Blue

Actor
Agent Summers
Movie
1998

Side Streets

Actor
Brenda Boyce
Movie
1998

The PracticeStream

Guest Star
Series
1997

High Incident

Actor
Officer Leslie Joyner
Show
1996

Girls Town

Actor
Nikki
Movie
1996

New York UndercoverStream

Guest Star
Series
1994

Good Morning America

Guest
News
1975

News aboutAunjanue Ellis