Lovecraft Country Interviews: Courtney B. Vance, Aunjanue Ellis

Courtney B. Vance plays George Freeman in HBO’s newest thriller, Lovecraft Country. This series mixes the horror of classic H.P Lovecraft literature with the steep racial tensions of Jim Crow America. Vance says this show is timely and necessary.

Aunjanue plays opposite of Courtney as Hippolyta Freeman- devoted wife and aspiring astronomer.

Ahead of Lovecraft Country’s premiere, Her Modern Life was invited to WarnerMedia’s digital press junket. The junket included a series of roundtable interviews with the cast and creator, Misha Green.

Her Modern Life had the honor of being on a roundtable panel with Ethan Sacks of NBC News, Aisha Jordan of Black Nerd Problems and Mia Johnson of Fansided Podcasts.

You can listen or read the full interview with Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis below.

Listen to part one here:

Listen to part two here:

Listen to part three here:

Read full interview here:

Sydnei: Good morning, this question is for both of you, for people who are not familiar with the sci-fi realm, what can we expect from this series?

Vance: Well, I think- it’s Jordan Peele and Misha Green. Underground and Get Out and all of the other projects that Mr. Jordan has done.. and J.J Abrams.. I think you can expect all of the things from them that you’ve seen, known and loved and you put on top of that that it’s in chocolate. So, it’s gonna be some craziness, it’s gonna be some mess, it’s gonna be some “say what, what did he say??” The monsters are gonna be really really monstrous and you gone be dealing with Black people- with all of our wonderfulness; all of our craziness; all of the things we deal with and dealt with back in the 50s and pushing forward into the 60s. I think that in a real sense it’s gonna be eye opening for white folks and it’s an opportunity to find out more about us.. and how we roll. We’re talking about monsters, the figurative and literal monsters that Black folks continue to deal with. It’s an opportunity to learn… It’s so sad that we still won’t look at each other and understand [why you feel that way]. We’re different, ain’t no shame in that.

Ethan: How did you prepare?

Ellis: I started to go down this road of researching astronomy. I didn’t get very far with that because the show doesn’t follow any rules. It follows no rules and I think that’s very exciting. What the show does is takes these tropes and flips them. I decided very very soon that me trying to get as ready as I could to be an astronomer on camera was just really a waste of time. What I need to do was just understand the kind of person Hippolyta was. And decide who I thought who she personally was.. what she was to her family… to her husband. She was a woman who had an imagination; had a desire for herself; had a vision for herself. [It] was frustrated by the community, by the larger society and by her husband’s love- her husband wanting to protect her. So that’s what I tapped into, that was the most successful thing for me to do. Everything that happened after that had anything to do with astronomy but it had everything to do with everything else. I just took that as the way that I would ground myself to play that character.

Vance: And I think the same for me. When you’re working in film… whatever you do- whether you do a bunch of homework or you don’t do it- you’ve gotta be in the moment. So however you do that, it’s not important.. don’t nobody care. The main thing is did I believe you? With research, no research- just get there. George Freeman was about his family. A man with secrets just like any other man. Flawed- did he hold his wife back because he was afraid of the world or because he was afraid that she would eclipse him out in the world? I’m sure there’s a mixture. He was a man of his time period. My father wanted my mother to stop working at the library but if she had stopped working when he passed away she wouldn’t have had her pension and his pension. So thank God she kept working. George is a person that I didn’t need to do a lot of research for because the time period would inform who he was. And I just needed to tap into the fact that he was out there trying to do for his family in the midst of monsters- figurative and literal.

Aisha: What drew you to these characters?

Ellis: I love this idea that we are doing this story that, first of all, is a big finger to the history and the legacy of H.P Lovecraft, and I’m excited about that. Nate Parker did a movie called Birth of a Nation and he called it Birth of a Nation because it was a finger in the face of D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. So this idea of revolutionizing how we look at this genre is what drew me to it.

Vance: I was drawn to it by working with people like Aunjanue and specifically working with Misha Green. The story, all the rest of it was just being in the room where it happened. I asked Misha who was in it and she told me; I said I’m in. A lot of times, you have to go on trust. And Jordan Peele was a part of it and J.J Abrams so…

Mia: What are your passions and how did you bring that to your characters?

Ellis: I read everything. Whatever I hear is good. Every character in Lovecraft is a bit of a nerd. They are all sort of marginalized by their interests. I get it. I carry Flannery O’Connor.. I used to carry her book of short stories around. I used to read Stephen King when I was younger. H.P Lovecraft particularly was someone whose artistry was informed by his racial paranoia. For example he wrote a poem called On the Creation of Niggers, he also wrote a short story about Brooklyn. It was about how monsters were invading Red Hook; but for him, the monsters were Black people and Asian people and Italian people and Spanish people. What I love about this is that we read these novels and we are sort of erased from them. But our presence or lack of presence often times drives the artistry of the genre. He [Lovecraft] was someone who is lauded, appreciated, canonized- if he knew that his name was being used in service of a story about Black liberation, he would die all over again. So as a reader of that kind of fiction and knowing how racist it has been, historically, to be able to be a part of something like Lovecraft that defies that was really significant to me.

Vance: The fact that we’re all Blerds in the story I think is true in life. Myself, Jonathan and Jurnee- you have the four of us in a room and you will get some intensive and intellectual conversations about stuff. And I think it all has to do with.. we all read. I was raised in the library and so the world was opened up to us. Of course the history that we were able to read [in school] was circumscribed. History is told by the winner so we didn’t get a chance to know about ourselves. We’ve all been harmed by the stories… the cherry tree with George Washington. C’mon now- he was a great man but.. he had 100 slaves and didn’t get rid of them until his wife died… stop making him like he was perfect. He was a man of his time. You can’t judge with our eyes because the whole world was slavin’ back then.

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