Actor Jonathan Majors is experiencing an incredible run of projects, from The Last Black Man in San Francisco, to Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods to a stunning turn as Tic in Lovecraft Country. The latter is the latest from showrunner Misha Green (Underground), an HBO series we absolutely adored upon an initial viewing and have been telling everyone to check out, as it is clear that Majors is really experiencing a moment right now. As with Da 5 Bloods, Lovecraft explores a common theme of trauma from an overseas war and encapsulates it into a genre-bending absolutely bonkers piece (in the best way possible) that defies a specific genre, but explore similar themes of isolation and the fate of a Black man having served his country in battle.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our Zoom video interview with Jonathan Majors from the junket for HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
Brief Take: Tic is dealing with a lot of trauma – his trauma from Korea, his trauma from his abuse from his father, and trauma from childhood from being a kid that didn’t quite fit in. How did you go about crafting the character?
Jonathan Majors: Wow. Great question! So some of those things I got from myself. I was very bookish growing up, you know? I grew up in the very machismo south Texas and was very skinny, so I had to deal and navigate my way through the bigger fellas until puberty hit and all the things happened. So there was that. But then the empathy for the post traumatic stress of the Korean War, I was fortunate enough to do a few plays and a few films in which I got to study that. There’s a book – The Body Keeps the Score – that I would read and try to academically understand what that was. Then the issues with father and son, there’s no surprise there that it’s one of the most intimate relationships that a young man can have, with his father. It’s very turbulent and sometimes that turbulence can register in a certain amount of emotional discomfort and emotional trauma. So it was just to reveal that and move through that beat very cautiously and very honestly with Michael K. Williams, who’s playing my father, and to expose that. It was a bit of a cocktail – academic, spiritual, personal – and letting it be.
Do you think the segregated ’50s is that far removed from what the Black community is currently facing in America?
JM: I’ll tell you a very quick story. When you’re on set, you know what you’re going to shoot, what’s coming up next. I saw that we were shooting the pull over scene, and what I wrote at the top of the script page was ‘worst day in Texas, current’. I’m from Texas, and what’s the worst day you could have as a young Black man? To be driving your car, and I’m talking about right now, to be pulled over in your car, and to be in the car with an elder from your family and an intimate, that is probably the most terrifying thing because you know that you’re going to be challenged on so many levels – emotionally, your masculinity is going to be challenged, your personhood is going to be challenged, your morals will be challenged, your integrity is going to be thrown against the car, if you’re not thrown against the car. There are so many books that speak to it and not just Jim Crow. It’s in the DNA of our country and our country is so big. Some places evolve faster and some places don’t, but as a citizen of America, it’s right there on the surface, even where I am now in Santa Fe, it’s on the surface all the time.
One of the things that I loved about the project, when I first got it, and one thing I couldn’t believe is that we were going to talk about all of this. We were going to reveal all of it and then put it on TV. And what has happened in current times, right now, with social media, with body cams, et cetera, is that phrase, the revealing of the fuckery that we have in America is also being revealed. So it feels like a double horse, a double whammy, in that the show itself is in support of the movement that is happening. We are revealing in our world, in our industry, in entertainment, and it’s also being revealed in the day to day. So it’s quite emboldening in many ways. You don’t know what you’re getting into when you step into a project, you don’t know what the impact of the project is going to be. And it seems to me that Lovecraft and Atticus, in particular, really show the sins and show the beauty of our country. It’s fucked up the things we talk about in Lovecraft, that of racism, that of bigotry, the monsters being the manifestation of hatred. We show all of that, and the beauty is that we’re showing it, and this is what you don’t see in the street, we’re showing that and we’re also showing who our protagonists are, who our heroes are. All we see on the news is ‘oh Black people’, but we don’t know much about George Floyd, not really. We have ten hours of the Freeman family, ten hours of Atticus Freeman where you really get to understand the mechanics and the emotions of this Black man and this Black family. You get it from many different points of view – from Leti (Jurnee Smollett), from Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), from Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams), from George (Courtney B. Vance), from Aunt Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), I know the whole cast, I can keep going, but you know what I’m saying? [laughs]
The racism that Tic and Leti face in the show is terrifying. Did you draw on any of your own personal experiences when you were filming those scenes?
JM: Yeah, I could just spitfire. Again, America is so large and I’m a 30 year-old Black man who grew up in Texas which is the South, and a lot of the Southern ideals are upheld there, and I grew up in that. A lot of that is the Confederate white supremacy mentality. For instance, I mentioned it earlier, the slow chase in the car…there’s a moment, even in the trailer where Atticus is driving and Leti and Uncle George are in the car, and I look out the car and you see a whole group of white men there. That is something that, unfortunately, I do on a regular basis, even today. When I’m in the street, I’m always very conscious of who I’m around, especially if who I’m around is not Black, I’m very aware of it. There’s also an instance in the show where we deal with the burning of a cross and I remember when I was very young, sitting at our farm down home and seeing a cross being burned within eye sight from our home. I still don’t know if the burning of the cross was deliberate to our grandfather and our family or if it was for our community because it was a group of Black farmers and Black landowners in that area. It’s very real. So I pooled from growing up and from my day to day. Literally walking into the castle felt like walking into university. I was like ‘this is New Haven, got it’, you know? Just aesthetically, you know.
What was it like collaborating with Misha Green and also Spike Lee before this?
JM: I think the best artists are great at balancing the masculine and the feminine energy within themselves. So Spike very much can feel [growl sounds] tough tough tough, like a basketball coach. And that is what he puts forward, and then when you’re working with him, there’s this softness, this intuitive nature that he has, which I would attribute to a feminine quality, he has that. So you have that strong push of the General, and then he balances it with the intimacy and the intuitive nature. Conversely, you have Misha Green who, in my opinion, gives off a very sisterly vibe. She’s very open and open hearted, and then you see what she writes, and she writes direct, hard, aggressive, [growl sound] emotion, she can write that. So that’s what they share, the balance, which is why, in this time and earlier in their careers, have ascended to where they are. I think where they differ is just in their approach, they’re different human beings. Spike is very much in there, he literally wants to move you, touch you, coach you, you know? And Misha is a writer, primarily, but Misha really sets the path in front of you. She will very quickly go “oh yeah, do that”, which is very different than Spike. Very, very different than Spike. Both great but just in different ways, and what they share is a complete balance, complete control over the masculine and feminine energy that’s needed to really create.
Do you see a connection between Da 5 Bloods and Lovecraft Country? You’re almost playing a version of Delroy Lindo’s character, your father on screen, in this project.
JM: Yeah. They’re all connected – Atticus is connected to David, and David is connected to Paul, Delroy’s character. There’s a great amount of mental scholastic carry over in that this is a real debate in the African American community – Black men in war and I’ll expand that to Black people in war, specifically Black Americans fighting in war, and the contradiction of one’s one social wellness in doing that, the type of position you’re putting your morality and your citizenship in. So yeah, there was a deep connection. I must have missed an episode or something but in my understanding, the argument that you’re presenting is that for Montrose. Montrose really bitches at Atticus for doing that and Atticus makes that decision. I think he understands, ultimately, the debate and understands both sides but stands very firmly on the fact that he went to war because he went to war. It’s a really ongoing debate and conversation between African American soldiers and it’s so individual. I love how individual it is because it breaks up the monolith of Black masculinity, of Black people. We’re all very individual and we fight wars for different reasons.
Can you talk about your relationship to the horror genre and sci-fi in general?
JM: Yeah! Speaking of fathers, my father was a Trekkie. So he’d watch Star Trek a lot and as a boy I’d sit by him and take that in. Star Wars made its way into my life. I remember taking field trips as a school to watch that. And then, it was pretty much in my early twenties and teens where the theatre became a big part of my life. I started reading a lot of Edgar Allan Poe and reading a lot of Shelley, and then, jumping forward to Atticus, I didn’t realize that H.P. Lovecraft is in that lineage. You could easily say Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, you know? And Stephen King is someone whose works that my siblings and I would always watch. I think It was my first grown-up horror film that I ever watched. Then there was The Shining and Pet Sematary. I’d say I was probably a 6.7 on a 10 scale of experience before Lovecraft Country, and now I’d say that I’m about an 8.75.
Lovecraft Country premieres August 16 at 9pm on Crave