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‘Lovecraft Country’ Made the Most of Its ‘Significant’ Budget to Help Expose America’s Monsters

Cast members Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett joined showrunner Misha Green at a virtual panel for HBO's upcoming H.P. Lovecraft series.

Lovecraft Country HBO Jonathan Majors

Jonathan Majors in “Lovecraft Country”

Elizabeth Morris / HBO

The last time Misha Green was running the show, her co-created drama, “Underground” was debuting on WGN America — a basic cable network that, in 2016, was still trying to make a name for itself in the TV market. Now, Green is back, not only with a hotly anticipated adaptation of Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel “Lovecraft Country,” but a blockbuster HBO property, given the network’s prime Sunday night timeslot this fall — and a budget to match.

“I think one episode of this show was [the same cost as] maybe five of ‘Underground,'” Green said during HBO’s virtual “Lovecraft Country” panel, held during the CTAM Press Tour. “The playground you can play in is incredible. Our production designer said we had 162 sets. The VFX houses we’ve been working with, the makeup special effects places we’ve been working with — they’re some of the biggest. They make ‘Star Wars’ movies. There’s no limits other than my imagination, which is fantastic.”

“You see the opportunities at this level and you wish everyone could have them because they’re so helpful,” Green said.

“Lovecraft Country” follows two childhood friends, Atticus and Letitia (played by Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett, respectively), as they travel with Atticus’ uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his father, Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams). Along the way, the trio must not only face the racist terrors of white America, but monsters, ghosts, and more — hence the need for a top-of-the-line production.

“With a monster, you know what you get,” Smollett said. “The unfortunate thing about the spiritual warfare that our characters are engaged with […] is that you don’t know where it’s coming from. That can be even more of a threat. […] It effects your pursuit of happiness, your pursuit of joy, your pursuit of family. The attacks come on every level from racists. With a monster, you just gotta outrun it.”

“With a monster, it’s a direct physical threat. They want to eat you. So, run faster,” Majors said.

Much of the panel was spent discussing how monsters are used as metaphor in “Lovecraft Country.” The panelists repeatedly emphasized that, even though the 10-episode series is set in the past, it’s obviously intended to speak to modern struggles.

“It was quite sobering to see the parallels: the fact that the systemic racism this nation has been built on has yet to be dismantled. […] I could relate to so many instances in the text,” Smollett said. “Essentially, our heroes are going on a quest to bring down white supremacy, and we’re still on that quest today. Racism is a demonic spirit [and] something we’re still fighting off.”

Smollett said she read novels by James Baldwin and plays from Lorraine Hansberry to prepare for the part, while Green said the series takes a deep dive into genre stories. The writers and producers made sure to watch “The Shining,” “The Amityville Horror,” and more classic horror films to get in the right mindset and promised “big genre fans” will find plenty of easter eggs and homages throughout.

Moreover, Green said “Lovecraft Country” may not have made it to air without the groundbreaking work of executive producer Jordan Peele. “I think this would’ve been incredibly hard to get on the air without ‘Get Out,'” Green said. “That helped pave the way for people of color playing in genre spaces.”

“Lovecraft Country” premieres Sunday, August 16 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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