What did we learn during the LOVECRAFT COUNTRY panel?
With the premiere of HBO’s new supernatural thriller series LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, its accomplished cast along with moderator Sarah Rodman gave us a glimpse of what to expect. They were careful to talk about the series without giving away spoilers. What they did share was an insight into the world of this new series and how it relates to the current social and political climate of today.
LOVECRAFT COUNTRY stars Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors, Michael Kenneth Williams, Aunjanue Ellis, Wunmi Mosaku, Abbey Lee, and Courtney B. Vance. It is a part drama, part sci-fi, adventure series that focuses on Atticus (Jonathan Majors) who returns home after his father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) has gone missing. He goes on a quest to bring him back home with his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and Letti (Jurnee Smollett). It’s a family drama that taps into multiple themes, like the relationships between functional loving, and dysfunctional families. The series takes place in the South during the Jim Crow era in 1955.
After introductions, moderator Sarah Rodman got things started by revealing the opening to the series which gives us “grownup black love” between Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis,) and Uncle George. The cast took a moment to laugh and the chemistry between them was on full display. “That was a fun sweaty, Chicago scene,” said Aunjanue, to which Courtney B. Vance added, “Hot Fun in the summertime huh?” Though they were careful not to reveal key plot points, the theme that kept coming up was the complexity of their characters. How the range of emotions each person had to tap into during the shoot stayed with them, especially as it pertains to issues going on today.
They discussed the relevance of a scene from the pilot in which Atticus, Uncle George, and Letti have a run-in with the police. The premise of that scene is those three are being pulled over by police in a “sundown” town. Sundown towns are places that African-American people believe that if you are caught within the limits of said town after dark, you may never be seen again. While on this quest to find Atticus’ father, Uncle George, who is a jack of all trades, is helping to develop a Green Book. Yes, that kind of Green Book that informs African-Americans in the South what places are safe for them to visit and enjoy.
When asked about what he thought when he first read the script, Jonathan Majors said, “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. He’s also a bibliophile. He also gets to travel. He’s an adventurer. He has all of these ideas. He’s a strong body. He’s a strong mind. He’s a strong heart. So, all of that was very apparent to me in the reading of the script.”
With such demanding material, the cast all agreed that during the shooting of the series, they all became extremely close. Jonathan Majors recalled a scene they shot on the first day with him, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Courtney B. Vance, which set the tone for the entire production. The look on the rest of the cast faces said that they agreed, whatever the scene was, it was tough and it helped to build a bond. The ecosystem was up and down but they built a family. In showrunner’s Misha Green’s absence, Courtney B. Vance spoke about what Misha Green did to greatly contribute: “The world that she set up with us from the pilot and all the way through the shooting of it. In surrounding us with those people that can help us become a family.” “I don’t know how I would have survived this without my brothers and sisters at arms,” added Jurnee.
The show will depict race relations in the south during Jim Crow. When asked how do they feel about the show being a potential conversation starter Jonathan Majors said, “The interesting thing when I was a boy down in Texas driving, couldn’t nobody watch that. Couldn’t nobody see that. The white folks would drive on by. Even other brothers and sisters would drive on by.” The on your own mentality, hoping for the best but expecting the worse, was a staple within all communities. You hope that the person being bullied by the police was okay. Things have changed now because, instead of wondering what happened, people take out their phones and record. The world can see what happens when the law goes too far and abuses it instead of upholding it. During the same discussion, Courtney B. Vance added, “At what point are we going to say that’s enough now? We’ve got to treat everyone the same and reprogram the police.” The cast then shared various stories about their run-ins with police officers. Lovecraft will seemingly confront the bigoted ideals instead of run from it.
There are human monsters and metaphorical ones. When discussing the monsters on the show, that’s when the tone of the meeting became more lighthearted as they were asked about the fantastical sci-fi aspects of the show. Michael Kenneth Williams said the show reminded him of the “Twilight Zone“, socially charged mixed with the bizarre. Asked how it was to shoot and feign fear when scared of green screen monsters, Courtney B. Vance said, “We’re just being silly and trying to keep the bugs off of us.” Jurnee Smollett added, “It’s also a different muscle to exercise because it requires so much imagination.”
The panel ended with a question of why should we watch LOVECRAFT COUNTRY? “Because it is so different and so engaging and especially during this time period we’re living now. You thought you had something going on with Game of Thrones but watch out,” said Courtney B Vance. The panel concluded and I was treated to a sneak peek of a scene from the series.
Atticus, Letti, and Montrose are in a museum at night, searching for a way out. They have flashlights inspecting a statue when Montrose tells them to shut them off. The moonlight illuminates off of the statue, onto a map on the wall and back onto the open mouth of an alligator attached to the statue. Letti pushes the lever, revealing and opening. What mystery did they find? How much of the supernatural world will they encounter? I can’t wait to see it. LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, which premieres on HBO starting August 16th, promises to be an adventure, unlike anything we’ve seen.