HBO horror drama series Lovecraft Country is set to stun the entertainment world with a rich, enthralling thriller infused with real-life and supernatural horrors. The story centers on Atticus Freeman, a Black soldier and science fiction aficionado in search of his father Montrose. His childhood friend Leti and Uncle George, a fellow bibliophile, accompany him on a trip that alters the course of their lives. They find peril at every turn as they battle a racist, segregated 1950s society along with monsters seemingly ripped straight from their favorite horror and fantasy sagas.
A key element in Lovecraft Country’s allure is leading man Jonathan Majors, who infuses Atticus with a formidable mix of vulnerability, gallantry, emotional intelligence, and perspicacious judgment. The Dallas, Texas, native and Yale School of Drama alum spoke to Nerdist about his various connections to Atticus, his inevitable path towards acting, spiritual grounding, facing life’s monsters, and more.
“When I read the script, the first script, I felt deeply for Atticus,” Majors said. “I felt for his longing for connection and need for family and need for community. And then what surprised me is that I felt his rage and his deep discomfort. And those things really don’t go hand in hand. You don’t really find a character so early on in the story that’s so full, right? I thought, ‘Wow, I can really get behind this’—the connection he has with his father, [which is] a turbulent relationship, and that he falls in love and experiences so much heartache.”
Atticus’ fraught relationship with Montrose (Michael K. Williams) is a critical lynchpin in Lovecraft Country. It incites the initial action, serving as the gateway to uncovering family secrets. Atticus and Montrose’s estrangement and the general mystery surrounding Montrose’s recent moves elicit a tangled string of emotions. Atticus worries about his father’s well-being, risking his life to save him.
He’s also angry about their intense past yet longs for his acceptance and love. Their relationship loosely mirrors Majors’ own terse relationship with his father, while Atticus and Uncle George’s (Courtney B. Vance) bond is a direct reflection of the actor’s relationship with his uncle. “I’m very attached to my Uncle Chuck,” Majors reveals. “I’m very close to him. He opened up my eyes to the arts and to jazz and metropolitan living.”
It’s hard to discern which threats are more horrifying for Atticus, Leti (Jurnee Smollett), and Uncle George. Is it the hellish monsters with tentacles, the murderous man with a badge, or the bravado-infused young white supremacist? There’s a deep, gripping disquiet coupled with simmering anger that overtakes the trio in every interaction with white people.
Sometimes, those moments are fleeting and demeaning aggressions. Other times, they are outright violent acts swerving between harassment and near-death experiences. These rooted-in-reality exchanges coupled with the unveiling of dark creatures leads to a pile of trauma. Majors may not have experience with monsters, but he understands the elements of racism all too well.
“I’m very familiar with elements of racism as a young Black man growing up in the South. The Jim Crow South is very similar to a bad day in Texas. Growing up in that dynamic with that internal rage, you know, trying to keep your dignity and humanity. The question for me—and Atticus—is how do you live fully when you’re always on guard and trying to protect yourself and those you love.”
Taking on an emotionally taxing role in the midst of real-life strife can throw even the best actors off balance. But the Lovecraft Country star finds peace through reading religious texts like the Bible and Quran as well as meditation to stay grounded. His close relationship with his castmates also played role in providing needed stability.
“I’m always close to my castmates,” Majors says. “I think that’s the best way to lead. You really have to get in there with them and love them, you know? I don’t think she would mind me saying it but me and Jurnee Smollett would pray every day before we started shooting. I could be heated and come to work mad, which was rare. And I would knock on her trailer door or she’d knock on my trailer door and we’d pray. The ritual was so important.”
Majors believes his calling as an artist is yet another way to liberate himself and, by extension, others. “I feel a lot, a whole lot, all the time, and I can’t really shut it off or numb myself to it,” he affirms. “Then there’s the fact that when I’m acting, I feel freer than I ever have in my life. When I’m creating, I’m most liberated. I continue to act because when I feel liberated and hear what people are receiving from my work, It’s a beautiful thing. It liberates other people.”
A part of liberating others through his work is embedded in the intentionality behind his role choices. Majors’ recent films Da 5 Bloods and The Last Black Man in San Francisco examine Blackness and friendship through various lenses. They showcase vulnerability, pain, love, and camaraderie through fully realized characters. He believes centering characters like Atticus who don’t fit into preconceived notions about Black manhood and general heroism is vital for several reasons.
“When you put us on stage or in a television series being writers, activists, bibliophiles, and scientists with all our Blackness, that opens up the mindset of young people growing up and seeing that. That’s for us. Then there’s the idea of the archetypal hero… the iconic hero doesn’t look like us. It’s not what we have been taught to identify with—we’re the best friend or the Magical Negro or the slave or the gangster, something like that… we never get to really play dogs*** reality. When others [outside Black communities] see Lovecraft Country, they have an opportunity to see all types and facets of Blackness and can come to understand that Blackness is not a monolith. It’s as diverse as any other race.”
The actor hopes that the power of family will resonate loudest with viewers. He says the story will encourage people to face the monsters in their own lives. “Face your monsters inside and out and win the war. That’s how you win the war. You have to face your monsters… that’s how you’ll win. It’s how Leti and Atticus get so close. They witness [monsters] with each other. They fight monsters together. But they are also fighting their interior monsters as well.”
Right now, Majors is enjoying the fruits of his Lovecraft Country labor. But the wandering thespian is always a man making moves. He’s set to begin production on his next project, Devotion, later this year. Majors will portray Jesse Brown, the first Black man in the U.S. Naval history to become a fighter pilot. His career is certainly taking off but he will never waiver from his career manifesto. Majors wrote the pledge during his first job while still at Yale and shares it with his students, agents, and anyone who wants to understand him.
“My journey is mine,” he says. “Others may walk alongside me but in all cases their journeys and their plans are irrelevant to that of mine. Greatness, humanity, patience, work ethic, and truth are my tools. They have been earned and learned. My only job is to employ them with an indefatigable zeal and to use them to their full potential.”
It’s only a snippet but it sounds like solid words to live by—whether we are facing things within ourselves or, like Atticus, monsters coming at us from all sides.
Featured Image: Miguel Villalobos