Any monster that a sci-fi writer could dream up pales in comparison to the evil that might reside in human hearts, a fact made abundantly, terrifyingly clear in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
The new series, based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel, is a blend of period drama and the type of horror and science-fiction popularized by author H.P. Lovecraft. It stars Jonathan Majors (When We Rise) as Atticus Freeman, a military vet who returns home to look for his father, Montrose (The Wire‘s Michael Kenneth Williams), who has mysteriously gone missing. Things get weird fast when elements of the fantastical stories Atticus likes to read begin to show up in his journey.
And in case you need more proof of the project’s genre bona fides: Jordan Peele (Get Out) and J.J. Abrams (Westworld) are among its executive producers.
Ahead of the series premiere Sunday (9/8c), Majors and his co-star Jurnee Smollett (Underground), as well as showrunner/EP Misha Green (Underground), spoke to reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Read on for the essentials.
THE CAST | In addition to Majors and Smollett — who plays Atticus’ old friend, Letitia Lewis — Lovecraft Country also stars Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) as Atticus’ uncle, George; Aunjanue Ellis (Quantico) as Atticus’ aunt, Hippolyta; and Wunmi Mosaku (Luther) as Letitia’s sister, Ruby. Jaime Chung (Once Upon a Time), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) and Jamie Neumann (The Deuce) also appear.
THE ERA | Lovecraft Country is set in the 1950s. Uncle George and Letitia join Atticus in his trip, which opens them up to increased hostility and violence in Jim Crow-era America as they search for Montrose.
SCARY STUFF | As you might have guessed, it’s not long into the premiere before racist law-enforcement officers single out a car of three Black adults. (Without giving too much away, it’s when the cops are in the woods with Atticus, George and Letitia after dark that things really get interesting.) “I think that the monsters are a metaphor for the racism that’s kind of always been through America, and even globally,” Green said. “For me, genre works best when it is the metaphor on top of the real-life emotions that you explore in the real-life problems.”
ADVENTURE TIME | Like Ruff’s novel, which originated as a TV-show pitch, the HBO adaptation explores more horror/sci-fi as the episodes unfold. Episode 3, for instance, is set largely in a haunted house; another installment finds Atticus & Co. breaking into a natural history museum to find much more than what’s on the floor plan.
HITTING IT HEAD-ON | Lovecraft, himself, was a known racist. The series addresses this in the premiere episode, when Atticus mentions how his father never liked to see him reading the author’s work.
THE FIGHT CONTINUES | “Our heroes essentially are going on a quest to bring down white supremacy,” Smollett said, “and we are still on that quest today, in 2020, as Black Americans, because racism is such a demonic spirit. It’s something that we are still fighting off.” Majors later cited some of Lovecraft’s better-known beasts, adding: “For me, yeah, the white racist — or racists, in general — are extremely that much more terrifying than the shoggoth or cthulu, et cetera.”