“To have Black actors lead a narrative like this that touches on the racism and the race issues in America and what the Black American family experience really looks like, to have it be acknowledged on this level, it gave me hope,” says actor Michael K. Williams about the 18 Emmy nominations received by HBO’s allegorical horror series “Lovecraft Country,” including one for himself as Best Drama Supporting Actor. Watch our exclusive video interview with Williams above.
This is Williams’ fifth Emmy nomination in seven years. He previously contended for Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actor for “Bessie” (2015), “The Night Of” (2017), and “When They See Us” (2019), and he picked up a Best Informational Program nom in 2018 as a producer of “Vice.” Now he has been recognized for his role as Montrose Freeman, a closeted man who faces not just the intense racism of 1950s America but also the intense homophobia.
The episode Williams submitted to Emmy judges touches on both those themes. In “Rewind 1921,” Montrose, his son Atticus (Jonathan Majors), and Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) travel back in time to the Tulsa race massacre to retrieve the magical Book of Names. This journey forces Montrose to confront that racist violence as well as his father’s abuse and his rejection of the boy he loved so that he could try to live life as a straight man. Those decisions and traumas led him to become Atticus’s father, which hit close to home for Williams because he is a father himself.
“I had to make some hard choices to grow up and to be a man and to be a real father,” he explains. “And so the parallels between that narrative of father and son was something that was very close to my heart. And I can get a little emotional just thinking about it now,” which is why “it didn’t take long” for the actor to get into Montrose’s state of mind for that scene.
That was also true for a speech towards the end of the episode in which Montrose remembers the specific stories of the brutality of Tulsa. “It sent me back to my home, my little projects in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and what that scene represented to me is all the potential lost in my community that I grew up in. That was genocide that happened in 1921, and genocides still exist today in communities that look like mine.” The trauma is inherited, ongoing, and compounds upon itself.
But for all of Montrose’s pain, he also got to experience joy, specifically in the earlier episode “Strange Case” in which he has a rare moment of liberation dancing at a club surrounded by other queer people. That also brought up memories from Williams’s youth: “That scene to me was my homage to the gay community. Anyone that knows me knows that my best friend, the one who taught me how to survive in the streets, was a lesbian named Robin … She took me under her wing and took me to the Village and took me to gay clubs. It was ironically the first time that I wasn’t called a derogatory slur because I was soft, I wasn’t called a derogatory slur because of my dark skin. I was just accepted.”
There’s a lot more Williams would have liked to explore about Montrose if the show had been renewed for a second season, but he feels the series will still have a lasting impact for its depiction of the Tulsa massacre (which was hardly taught in our history before it was portrayed in “Lovecraft” and the 2019 limited series “Watchmen”) and for showing “the Black experience in America in a different light. I think we’ll be talking about ‘Lovecraft Country’ for a long time.”
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