A gorgeous, mounting African-American star of film and TV, Elise Neal had her first brush toward fame with roles in four movies released in 1997, including as the teen Beulah in John Singleton’s Rosewood, the pregnant lover in Money Talk and the roommate Hallie in Scream 2. She gained even more recognition with her role as the exasperated wife of a successful suburbanite in the sitcom “The Hughleys” (ABC, 1998-2000; UPN, 2000-2002), in which she nabbed two Image nominations. In a more recent time, Neal drew attention with her scene-stealing portrayal of Yevette in 2005’s Hustle & Flow. The role brought the actress an Image and SAG nominations.
The 5’ 4” tall performer also had regular roles in “SeaQuest DSV” (1995-1996) and “All of Us” (2003-2005), a recurring role in “Loving” (1994) as well as guest roles in a number of shows, including “Law & Order” (1992), “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1994), “Chicago Hope” (1995) and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (2005). Her other film credits include Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992), Restaurant (1998) and Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars (2000).
Off camera, Neal produces an R&B female group named “Assorted Flavors.” She has a Pisces tattoo on her lower abdomen and a dog named Rusty. Her love life has been linked to film director F. Gary Gray (born July 17, 1969), with whom she became engaged in summer 1999.
Childhood and Family:
Elise Neal was born on March 14, 1966, in Memphis, Tennessee, to mother Arletha Neal. She graduated from Overton High School of Memphis, Tennessee in 1984, where the popular teen was voted Homecoming Queen. After high school, she spent a year studying in The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and then relocated to New York to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a dancer. Later, she moved to Hollywood to try her hand in acting. Elise attended the summer program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts – West.
Hustle & Flow
An accomplished dancer before turning to acting, Elise Neal started dancing when she was six years old. After high school, the Tennessee native headed to New York to pursue a career as a dancer. She found frequent work in musical theater, including one the brief, all-black revival of the Gershwin musical “Oh, Kay!” (1990), which also marked her Broadway debut, and supported herself by doing commercials. Neal quickly began to realize her love for appearing on camera.
After relocating to Los Angeles to follow her newfound dreams of becoming a professional actress, Neal landed a guest spot in the NBC series “Law & Order” (1992) and made her big screen debut in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, that same year, in which she appeared as a hooker. She continued to appear in the miniseries “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City” (1993), the made-for-TV film There Was a Little Boy (1993), as well as in episodes of “California Dreams” (1993), “Family Matters” (1993) and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1994). Also in 1994, she had her first recurring role on the ABC soap opera “Loving,” playing a street-smart teen, Janey Sinclair, for four months.
The following year saw Neal make an unforgettable guest appearance as a teenager with breast cancer in “Chicago Hope,” a performance that led to the regular role of Lt. J.J. Fredricks in the primetime series “SeaQuest DSV” during 1995-1996 season. She also supported Campbell Scott, Jennifer Beals and James Goodwin in the romance film Let It Be Me.
1997 marked Neal’s banner year since she landed roles in four films. She first was cast as Beulah, a teen whose family takes in a strange border, in the John Singleton-directed Rosewood and then appeared as Nadine in Def Jam’s How to Be a Player. Her breakthrough screen role arrived when director Brett Ratner had her play the role of Chris Tucker’s pregnant girlfriend in the action Money Talks, which was followed by a memorable supporting turn as Neve Campbell’s college roommate in Scream 2.
After her excellent year, the actress could be seen as a singer and waitress who starts an interracial relation with a bartender in the celebrated independent film Restaurant (1998). However, it was not until she was cast as Yvonne Hughley in the television series “The Hughleys” (ABC, 1998-2000; UPN, 2000-2002) that the actress made the leap into sitcom territory. For her brilliant performance as the frustrated wife of D L Hughley, a triumphant suburbanite, she received two Image nominations for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series in 2000 and 2001.
Neal revisited the big screen with roles in Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars (2000), The Rising Place and Sacred Is the Flesh (both 2001) as well as Paid in Full (2002). She also costarred with Allen Payne in the drama/romance Playas Ball (2003). A year after The Hughleys came to an end, she joined the cast of the UPN comedy show “All of Us,” produced by Will and Jada Smith. She played Tia Jewel from 2003 to 2005.
In 2005, Neil attracted attention with her role as Yevette in Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow. Costarring opposite Starring Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson and Taryn Manning, she was handed a 2006 Image nod for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture and a 2006 Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Later that same year, she was seen making guest spot in an episode of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
The 40-year-old actress is scheduled to play the supporting role of Jare’ in the forthcoming 4 Life (2007), a direct-to-video action starring Wood Harris.