Family, horror, science fiction, fantasy and the supernatural are just some of the elements that make up the highly anticipated new genre show, Lovecraft Country. During a special panel for the 2020 [email protected] virtual events, the cast of the show spoke about how many of the situations their characters face in the series are still very much a part of their experiences as Black people in America today.
On the panel hosted by Sarah Rodman were cast members Jurnee Smollett, Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors, Aunjanue Ellis, Michael Kenneth Williams, Wunmi Mosaku and Abbey Lee. To start, Smollett gave a brief synopsis of the plot:
“It is a new drama from HBO, called Lovecraft Country. It’s about a young man called Atticus, who returns home after his father has gone missing, and he goes on a quest to bring his father back home, with his Uncle George, with his friend Letti Lewis.
But really it’s a family drama. It taps into so many themes…that we get to explore about who we were as a nation. Who we are now. Who we were in Jim Crow America, 1955. It’s a show about family in search of family.”
Williams spoke about a conversation he had with Smollett the night before the panel, in which he expressed how nice it was to see the ways in which the show portrays Black romantic love, especially between the characters of George and Hippolyta (played by Vance and Ellis respectively).
“I said to Jurnee, there’s really something special about the scenes with Courtney and Aunjanue. The level of Black love…you know the spooning, and when she looks over her shoulder with that smile and he’s holding her…it is…there is something so beautiful about that, and I agree, it’s just grown Black love. It was beautiful to see.”
For George and Hippolyta, their relationship as a couple, and that with their daughter Diana (played by Jada Harris), is tested when Hippolyta wants to travel throughout the south to conduct research for The Green Book. Ellis described what the Green Book is, and how the family helped create it.
“The Green Book was this manual that was used by Black folks, Black citizens, that gave and outlined of places that it was safe — safe to go to eat, safe to go vacation, restaurants, hotels, places that were open to them in segregationist America. So our family 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 were traveling across the country. That’s what The Green Book is.”
Lovecraft Country focuses on two families, the Black family consisting of Atticus, his parents, and sister, and the Dandridge family, Letitia (Smollett) and her sister Ruby (Wokamu). Due to distance and estrangement, there is a tension that exists between the Dandridge sisters, but despite their differences, they need each other. For the characters and actors, music played a part in helping them to connect, and rehearsals were where they bonded, Wokamu said.
“It was like a different vocal genre than I was ever used to. Being the kind of person who’s used to being free to improvise with a band, that’s not me. I was in a choir and you know…1,2,3, not off the beat, you know! Had to sound like the other girls. And trying to find that vocal identity and individuality, and then also us having to find that kind of vibing together as sisters, so that you believed that they grew up together, and did these dances together. It was fun! We needed those rehearsals to kind of establish that kind of physical, vocal familiarity.”
Seeing Black characters as leads in sci-fi projects is slowly becoming more common, but for a project like Lovecraft Country that fits into various genres and centers Black families, on a major network like HBO, is still a rarity. For Majors, having the opportunity to play Atticus was the opportunity to show how Black people are multifaceted and don’t fit into specific molds, and tropes.
“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, how is… Is this a Black guy? Atticus is Black? That’s the guy that’s who we’re following? And what has happened with the writing and making of it, is that with everybody, you kind of get to explore not just archetypal ideas of what we tend to play. You know, he’s not just this soldier, right? That’s pretty common, but he’s also a bibliophile. He also gets to travel. He’s an adventurer, he has all these ideas. You know, he’s a strong body, strong mind, strong heart. And so all that was very apparent to me in the reading of the script, you know, the connections, you know.
You look for a character who is connected to the idea of [..] fatherhood, and what it is to be a son. What it is to be a Black son used to grew up in a Black community at a time where, you know, that was a very unexplored area. You know, we didn’t have any stories about that. When we first meet Atticus, he’s ready Edgar […]book You know, he’s a Lovecraftian bibliophile, you know, that’s not commonplace. So, no, it didn’t take me much to know. […]”
Majors commented on how they as actors were able to cope with the heavy topics and themes dealt with in the show, and do their work to bring them to life, due to the atmosphere being balanced and a safe space for them to bond like family. Vance continued that it was because of the atmosphere that showrunner and executive producer Misha Green created on set.
“I think that has a lot to do and a lot to say about the person who’s not here, Misha Green. The world that she set up with us from the pilot, and all the way through the shooting it…surrounding us with those people that can make us, help us become a family.”
We become family on every set for good reasons, and for not so good reasons when things don’t go well, we don’t have appropriate leadership, or behavior, we become tighter or the opposite can happen. The cast can fracture. But, you know, there were challenges on our set, as in all sets, and we became tighter.”
After this the cast related their own experiences with racism and bigotry in America. They spoke about how the show can be something that causes people to see how little society has changed its attitudes towards Black people, how the current civil rights movements of Black Lives Matter is important, and show how Black people are more than what media has been portraying them as for decades.
Lovecraft Country premieres on HBO, August 16, 2020.
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