Lovecraft Country is based on the best-selling novel by Matt Ruff of the same name. HBO’s series tells an horrific story of Atticus Freemen (Jonathan Majors) and his childhood friend, Letitia Lewis (Jurnee Smollett).

We see them travel across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father. Their search and rescue mission turns into a fight for survival. They will face white supremacists… and monstrous creatures known as shoggoths and cthulhus!

The show’s showrunner, Misha Green, and stars, Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett, spoke with the TV Critics Association last week. Their new horror series premieres on HBO August 16th, 2020.

Lovecraft Country, Season 1 -  Courtney B Vance, Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett
Lovecraft Country, Season 1 – Uncle George (Courtney B Vance), Atticus (Jonathan Majors) and Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) ©2020 HBO, photograph by Elizabeth Morris

Lovecraft Country Showrunner

We are referring to Misha Green as the showrunner. She is credited as one of the Executive Producers and wrote all the Season 1 Teleplays. Interestingly we note that she was story editor for a popular tv show featured on this website, the 2012 tv series Spartacus.

Misha, what previous TV projects and films set the stage to make this series possible? How hard would it have been to get this on screen without their influence and success?

Misha Green: I think that it would have been incredibly hard to get this on air if Get Out hadn’t come out. That kind of paved the way for people to really open up to the idea of seeing more Black people in dominant spaces.

Lost paved the way for this bigger TV making, because the show is definitely an epic journey that wouldn’t have been possible if we weren’t making TV at the level that started with that pilot. And then every genre movie imaginable!

The series depicts racist white Southern men as worse than the monsters as they harbor greater evil intent. Did you seek to put them on the same plane as monsters?

Misha: Yes. Only they’re not Southern. Our show does not take place in the South. It’s all in the North which was one of the things when reading the book that really struck me. You think of Jim Crow South, but Jim Crow was everywhere at the time.

It was really important that it was clear for us that the show was taking place in the North and understand that this was a problem all across America. And, yes, we definitely talked a lot about putting them on the same plane as the monsters.

Lovecraft Country 101 - Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollet
Lovecraft Country, 101 – Looking out in the South: Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and Atticus (Jonathan Majors) ©2020 HBO, photograph by Elizabeth Morris

Given the success of Game of Thrones, were HBO executives excited about the sci-fi concepts of the story and willing to give you a budget for your vision?

Misha: Willing? That’s an interesting phrase. They were excited, and the thing about doing this thing at such a high budget is they also get scared very easily. So I think that they were excited, but scared. And so that every step of the way there had to be a moment of going, ‘We’re okay. Let’s take a breath, relax. We’re going push a little bit further.’

But it wasn’t about convincing them about the aspects of the sci-fi concepts. It was more so just the aspects of how different each episode was going to be, and being confident that that could be navigated.

Lovecraft Country Stars

Jonathan, how did your theater training help in this role and working against special effects?

Lovecraft Country, 101 -  Jonathan Majors
Lovecraft Country, 101 – Atticus Freemen (Jonathan Majors) ©2020 HBO, photograph by Elizabeth Morris

Jonathan Majors: Dealing with monsters and ghosts, and those things is an actor’s dream. In the theater you’re dealing with the fourth wall. You’re dealing with imaginary circumstances in both mediums, but the imagination was key.

Jurnee, as an activist, what was it like for you to look back at the America that was, and still is, in preparing for this role?

Lovecraft Country 101 - Jurnee Smollet
Lovecraft Country, 101 – Letitia Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) ©2020 HBO, photograph by Elizabeth Morris

Jurnee Smollett: In preparation for this it definitely required a lot of research and was quite sobering to see the parallels.

One thing I love so much about the research process was going back to writings like James Baldwin or Gwendolyn Brooks. These great minds and thinkers like Lorraine Hansberry; there’s such wisdom and knowledge that they provided then that we can gain from now. And it’s humbling.

Jonathan and Jurnee, can you speak to the idea that the true monsters of the show are the racist humans rather than the monsters?

Lovecraft Country, Season 1 -  Courtney B Vance, Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett
Lovecraft Country, Season 1 – Uncle George (Courtney B Vance), Atticus (Jonathan Majors) and Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) ©2020 HBO, photograph by Eli Joshua Ade

Jonathan: Absolutely, I’ll jump in. In my opinion, a monster is a monster. A monster is something that is driven by an inside system. And that system is to terrorize or destroy and there’s no compromising with it. That’s interesting when it’s a feral dog, for instance. Where the dog is being told by its internals to attack, bite, kill.

It’s quite different when that monster is disguised in the same body as you and the only thing that’s different is the skin color. You’re completely confused in many ways and that confusion leads to distress. That distress gets your adrenals up. Then, all of a sudden, you’re in a horror film. So I would say, for me, racist(s) in general, are extremely that much more terrifying than the shoggoth or cthulhu,

Jurnee: And I would add to that. If you see a shoggoth, you know what you’re up against. The unfortunate thing about the spiritual warfare that our characters are engaged with in bringing down the racism, is that you don’t really know where it’s coming from. And that is sometimes even more of a threat because it’s unexpected and it affects you on every single level.

Lovecraft Country Soundbyte

Jonathan and Jurnee were asked about the variety of genres that each episode spotlights. Which episode did they love doing the most? Click below to listen to their answers.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.