With only a week to go before HBO's supernatural drama, Lovecraft Country begins its journey down a dark and dangerous road (starting Sunday, August 16), showrunner, writer, executive producer, and director Misha Green (Underground) discussed what went into adapting Matt Ruff's best-selling 2016 novel of the same name. As the title of both the book and series bluntly implies, the works of famed/infamous science fiction/horror author H.P. Lovecraft, who remains controversial to this day for the racist themes in his writings as well as his own well-documented bigotry. For Green, it wasn't necessary to do a deep dive into Lovecraft's work to connect with what Ruff was referencing: "I'd read a bit of Lovecraft; his influence in horror-fan culture is huge. And you can definitely tell he was a racist from his work. It's hard to miss those troubling themes. So when I was reading Matt's book, I understood the Lovecraft references, but didn't feel it was crucial to dive fully into that canon in order to write the series."
Executive producer Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) certainly knows a thing or two about taking the concept of the horror movie and flipping it on its head. It was that mutual love of horror that made their first meeting a smooth one: "My agents said, 'We think you'd would get along really well.' And I was like, 'Why? I don't like to laugh.' (Laughs) 'No, no, he's a huge horror fan and he's working on a movie right now.' And we vibed right away. Then Jordan said, 'I want you to watch Get Out.' I saw it and went, 'Phew!' We'd gotten along so well that I didn't want to watch it and be like, 'Oh, man.' But it was amazing," she explained.
Green continued, "Then when we were working on Lovecraft – he was doing the film Us at the time – we talked a lot about our shared belief regarding horror, which is: You need the metaphor. I'd played with that on 'Underground'; that it was a heist movie but set in slavery times. That the people pursuing the heist happened to be enslaved people trying to steal back their most precious possession: their lives. I used the heist genre to appeal to people who thought, 'Ugh, I don't want to watch a slavery show.' But you did want to watch this one because we used genre as a doorway into something deeper."
Then there's the matter of her two leads, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Jonathan Majors. With Smollett-Bell, Green had an actress and friend she had worked with on Underground, which gave Green a perspective on why Smollett-Bell would be perfect for Letitia Lewis: "I generally don't think of prospective actors when I write. But Jurnee kept asking, 'So, how's that script going?' I was like, 'Good!' When I was done, I asked, 'Do you want to read it?' She said, 'What can I say? It's f***ing amazing. So when are you gonna say you want me to be in this?'(Laughs) We're very close friends, but also have a beautiful artistic partnership based on energy, commitment and a shared desire to go deeper and challenge ourselves. She brings truth to every role and is so ferocious. But a lot of what we talked about on Underground we continued in Lovecraft Country. What's the vulnerability underneath this woman's strength? Let's see both sides of her."
With Majors, the approach was almost the complete opposite- and his casting as Atticus Black would prove a "revelation": "When we were casting, Yann Demange said 'There's this amazing cat Jonathan who was in my movie White Boy Rick.' He walked into the room and I was like, 'Oh my God, you're Atticus. I believe you're the soldier, the geeky kid, the black nerd.' Halfway through shooting Lovecraft, I saw Jonathan's film [a24's] 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco.' I told him on set 'Holy f*** dude!' There wasn't an inch of Atticus in the character of Monty. He was like, 'That's the biggest compliment you could give me.' He was a revelation the entire time we were shooting. I was like, 'How have you not been in everything?'"
Green, Peele, and EP J.J. Abrams' Lovecraft Country introduces us to Koren war vet Atticus Black, who joins up with his friend Letitia "Leti" Dandridge and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip to find his missing father and claim a family legacy. Atticus is known for two things: always having a pulp novel in his back pocket and wearing his heart on his sleeve despite the daily injustice of living in the 1950s Jim Crow America. The trio must survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the malevolent spirits that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback. In the following combination of new and previously-released scenes, the deeper the trio find that as they travel further along on their journey, both worlds will haunt (and hunt) them:
Joining Vance, Majors, and Smollett-Bell are Aunjanue Ellis, Elizabeth Debicki, Wunmi Mosaku, Michael K. Williams, Jamie Harris, Abbey Lee, Jamie Chung, Jordan Patrick Smith, Jamie Neumann, Erica Tazel, and Mac Brandt, and Tony Goldwyn. Adapted from Matt Ruff's novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country stems from Academy Award winner Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw Productions, J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot, and WBTV. Yann Demange (Top Boy) directs and executive produces the series opener; with Misha Green writing the pilot and serving as showrunner, as well as executive-producing alongside Peele, Abrams, and Ben Stephenson. Daniel Sackheim (The Americans, True Detective) is directing the second and third episodes of the series, and will also serve as executive producer.
Season 1, Episode 1: "Sundown": Veteran and pulp-fiction aficionado Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) travels from the Jim Crow South to his South Side of Chicago hometown in search of his missing father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams). After recruiting his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) to join him, the trio sets out for "Ardham," MA, where they think Montrose may have gone looking for insight into Atticus' late mother's ancestry. As they journey across the Midwest, Tic, Leti, and George encounter dangers lurking at every turn, especially after sundown. Teleplay by Misha Green; directed by Yann Demange.