Jurnee Smollett (‘Lovecraft Country’) on uplifting Black women: ‘In this day and age, normalizing our stories is still radical’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

When Jurnee Smollett first read the character of Leti in Misha Green‘s script for “Lovecraft Country,” it was the rare experience of feeling such a “deep connection” to a part that “under no circumstances will you allow anyone else to play this role.” The actress “literally started losing sleep about it” as she waited for an offer, finally getting it from executive producer J.J. Abrams. Watch our exclusive video interview with Smollett above.

Based on the novel by Matt Ruff, “Lovecraft Country” follows Leti and Atticus (Jonathan Majors) as they investigate a supernatural mystery while contending with the horrors of racism during the Jim Crow era in the United States. The series blends science-fiction, fantasy, and adventure, and it spans centuries from American slavery to an Afrofuturist journey through time and space. But despite its wide-ranging styles and references, “our story really unfolds in a very classical design … Our heroes go on a quest to restore order in their land.”

What makes this quest unique is its point of view. “When you try to tell a classic story like that and you center it with Black voices, inevitably it’s going to be unique to the Black experience. How can you actually restore order to a land for which there never was any for us?” So it’s a story about reclaiming power that was stolen from African-Americans for generations, and the series represents something similar artistically: influential author H.P. Lovecraft was notoriously racist, but now his creative legacy is being subverted to empower African-Americans.

But in playing Leti, Smollett’s immediate focus wasn’t on the show’s overarching themes, but rather on “playing the truth of the moment” and “speaking the truth of the character.” There’s something revolutionary even in that: “I think it was so essential for us to just tell the truth of who Black women are … how we as Black women have all these different colors and hues inside of us, just like anybody else.” That kind of representation doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for, but “in this day and age, normalizing our stories is still radical.”

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