This August, horror fans will never be able to comprehend the influence of legendary writer H.P. Lovecraft the same way ever again. The cast of Lovecraft Country, an upcoming HBO drama from executive producers Misha Green, Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams, assured that to be true during their virtual panel for this year’s Comic-Con.
Based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, the story follows Korean War veteran Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he looks for his missing father (Michael K. Williams), who says in a letter to his son that he is somewhere in a place called Lovecraft Country, which apparently holds secrets to his family legacy. The search takes him on a cross-country trek through Jim Crow-era America, encountering much stranger threats than he would have ever already expected along the way.
In a conversation with Sarah Rodman, executive editor of Entertainment Weekly, the cast of Lovecraft Country, which also includes Jurnee Smollett, Aunjanue Ellis, Wunmi Mosaku, Abbey Lee, and Courtney B. Vance, dish on what their characters mean to the story and to themselves, and how this series, despite its 1954 setting, reflects the social landscape of the present day. These are just seven of the most fascinating things we learned from this SDCC panel discussion about a new series that sheds light on how some of worst monsters are still human.
The History Of The Green Book Will Be Relevant To Lovecraft Country’s Story
If not for the 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner Green Book, knowledge of what that titular travel guide means to history might still be limited today and it still seems to be for many people. However, Emmy winner Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis, who play married couple George and Hippolyta Black on Lovecraft Country, teased how Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book will be relevant to the story of the otherwise fantastic series, as Ellis explained:
The Green Book was this manual that was used by black citizens that outlined places... that were open to them in segregationist America. Our family [in the show] was involved in preparing that information that, unfortunately, black people had to have during that time so they would know where they would be safe when they would be traveling across the country.
Courtney B. Vance added that his character works to "help continue to map out new areas, new territories” for the Green Book. Reportedly, the guide will also be pivotal to the central characters' travels while searching for Atticus' father in Lovecraft Country.
Jurnee Smollett’s Lovecraft Country Character Is “In Search Of A Home”
Joining the search for Atticus' father is the young man's friend Letitia "Letti" Dandridge, played by Jurnee Smollett, who said that what her Lovecraft Country character is really looking for is for her own place in the world. The Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey star elaborated on how Letti returns from photo-documenting civil rights protests to a home that she is not welcome to by the authority of her estranged older sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), whom Letti sees as a "maternal figure" in place of their unstable real mother. However, as Smollett put it, Ruby "kind of looks at Letti as a fuck-up."
Michael K. Williams Likens Lovecraft Country To The Twilight Zone
Atticus Freeman's missing father, Montrose, is played by Michael K. Williams, best known for playing Omar Little on The Wire, another highly acclaimed HBO drama. When moderator Sarah Rodman asked the Lovecraft Country cast who among them took interest in the horror genre before they were cast in the series, Williams chimed in with this flattering comparison:
I was a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, which kind of reminds me of the Lovecraft world. The socially charged mixed with the bizarre. I liked things like that. I loved my Friday the 13th and Freddy Kruegers, but this was a great mixture. This was a very good reminder of Twilight Zone, particularly, for me.
How Lovecraft Country combines the "socially charged" and the "bizarre" would soon become a major focal point of the discussion and began to show its earliest signs when Jonathan Majors spoke up.
Jonathan Majors Believes His Lovecraft Country Role Is An Uncommon Hero For This Story
When Jonathan Majors, most recently seen in the Spike Lee-directed Netflix original film Da Five Bloods, first caught wind of Lovecraft Country and who his character, Atticus Freeman, would be, he was shocked. His explanation as to why during the virtual Comic-Con cast interview says it best:
My first read, I think I read it twice back-to-back when I first got it because I was, in many ways, amazed that this was written. I was like, ‘He’s a black guy? Atticus is black? That’s the guy? That’s who we’re following?’ And, what has happened in the writing and then in the making of it, with Atticus and with everybody, you kind of get to explore, not just the archetypical ideas of what we tend to play. He’s not just this soldier. That’s pretty common. But, he’s also a bibliophile. He also gets to travel. He’s an adventurer. He has all these ideas. He’s of strong body. He’s of strong mind. He’s of strong heart. So, all that was very apparent to me in the reading of the script.
The actor would go onto explain how Atticus' role in the series reflects what it is like to "grow up in a black community at a time when that was a very unexplored area." Abbey Lee's role on Lovecraft Country, however, is quite the opposite.
Abbey Lee Plays A 1950s-Era “Karen” On Lovecraft Country
Former Victoria's Secret model and Mad Max: Fury Road star Abbey Lee initially described her role as Christina Braithwhite, a descendent of the secret Sons of Adam, as "the ultimate provocateur, the agent of chaos, [and] the white antagonist" of Lovecraft Country. The Australian actress would then immediately begin to shed light on how the character runs much deeper, and more relevant to modern day culture, than she initially appears, stating:
I think that she represents, on a larger scale, the oppressed 1950s woman sort of liberating herself from the patriarchal society and the family that she’s been brought up in, all the while doing it with her white privilege. So, she’s the 'Karen' type character that we hear about today…
If she was just a violent, manipulative, nasty woman, it would have been, in a lot of ways, an easier role to approach, but the challenging conflict came in that she was so deeply human and relatable, universally relatable, in that she was herself oppressed, damaged, abused, neglected, lonely. Just trying to get her needs met in very questionable... pretty awful ways... She was essentially looking for the same things the other characters were looking for.
While it is clear that Abbey Lee has a more villainous role than her Lovecraft Country cast members, her performance may surprise audiences with an invocation for empathy. Of course, her character does not have face what Letti does.
Jurnee Smollett Compares The Lovecraft Country Characters’ Experience To Present Day Reality
Sarah Rodman asked Jurnee Smollett to comment on a scene when her and Jonathan Majors' characters struggled to escape the hands of crooked cops in a "Sundown Town," a place in which black people would have until nightfall to leave or they were "fair game," so to speak. Her recollection of filming the intense Lovecraft Country sequence turned into the deepest analysis of the series' historical commentary during the panel discussion yet:
It is tough because, without going into any spoilers, there are so many themes that we explore in this show that resonate with us as being black Americans in 2020 and, unfortunately, as we're seeing, sometimes our police departments are what Angela Davis calls, one of the most dramatic examples of structural racism. Tapping into that energy is a very dark place to go to... but it's necessary. This story is... something that reverberates through our DNA, this visceral connection to the oppression of our people. That's why these stories, we're still telling them.
Jurnee Smollett would end this testimony on a positive note, point out the sense of family that runs deep in Lovecraft Country and among the cast members, citing "her brothers and sisters" as giving her the strength to take on the role. If you thought that would be the peak of how heavy emotions would run during this discussion, think again.
Courtney B. Vance Shares When Police Apprehended Him Outside His Own Home
The cast interview started to become a very personal and therapeutic moment when Courtney B. Vance began redirecting the attention from what Lovecraft Country represents about the past into a full indictment on racial injustice in the present.
The 60-year-old already had some of his co-stars, and moderator, in tears when he started recounting his own experience of being reprimanded by police over a midnight disturbance in his predominantly white neighborhood simply for stepping outside his front door. Michael K. Williams would follow with a similar recent incident that happened to him that only his action prowess helped quell, and, soon after, Sarah Rodman wrapped things up on a lighter note by talking about the silliness acting among CGI monsters.
Lovecraft Country will premiere on HBO on Sunday, August 16, 2020. Be sure to check back for additional information and updates on this new socially relevant, Lovecraftian TV series, as well as even more inside looks into the most revealing panel discussions at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con At Home, here on CinemaBlend.