Last month, Michael K. Williams picked up a Critics Choice Award for his role in HBO‘s Lovecraft Country. Speaking in the virtual press room backstage, Williams took the opportunity to talk about the need to open up more Black stories.
“What I mostly hope is that youth, particularly youth from my community who watch this, get a sense of the legacy which we come from,” said Williams as he wished the show would inspire young people. “The greatness and all the obstacles that we’ve overcome to be alive today. People fought and died and gave their last just so we could be and live and walk, and have the experience to be and live, and there’s a greatness that comes along with that.”
To celebrate his incredible win, we at The Cultured take a trip down memory lane, as we reminisce about our interview with the renowned actor prior to the release of Lovecraft Country. In this entry of Cultured Conversations, Kenneth talks about what drew him to the HBO original, his favourite element of the show, as well as how it relates to current times.
What drew you to this project? And how did you feel when you were reading the script?
What drew me to the project was the script, I loved the writing immediately and having JJ Abrams and Jordan Peele attached, didn’t hurt, you know, and it was always a good opportunity to go back to HBO, I love the relationship that I have there. I must say I was really excited to be working again with Jonathan Majors.
You’ve worked with HBO many times before and what is different between this particular project and others?
The level of science fiction, I don’t remember ever seeing this level of science fiction being told through the eyes of a Black family, a Black cast. And what the experience of being Black, what that does to this world on a television show I think it’s brilliant. I’ve never seen anything like it, that’s for sure.
What was it like working with this cast?
You know, I’m a huge fan of Jonathan Majors. I mean, come on Jonathan Majors, Aunjanue Ellis, Jurnee Smollett, Courtney B Vance. The list goes on, Tony Goldwyn, I mean it’s amazing.
A lot of my dark and emotional scenes with Jonathan and Jurnee and to have them there as human beings to hold hands, you know, after the camera cut was very monumental for me. These stories were often dark and, and yes, we’re telling stories of Jim Crow America and sometimes, at least for me, I overlook the possibility that a lot of this horror is in my DNA, I have this trauma in me from ancestors. How does telling these storylines wake up in that trauma in my DNA? What gets awoken? How do I deal with it? And having Jurnee and Jonathan there, I would look across the room and look at their eyes and I can tell that they were in the same room as I was, you know, metaphorically speaking, and that was brilliant to have for me.
This show is set in the 1950s segregated America, yet moments of the show feel quite current. Did you feel that way at all?
Absolutely. There’s a bit of a mash-up where the writers did that beautifully, where basically we time travel in the story and it goes in and out. It comes back and forth. And it’s not hitting nails on heads, it’s there though, it’s just dropped in the room and if you know it, you know it, I don’t want to give any of those little gems away, but there’s a lot of current things that happen. They wove the stories into it, it was brilliant what they did in the writer’s room, but I thought that was definitely remnants of things that happened as recent as like three years ago.
The premise of the show revolves around Atticus’ search for his father — not only is Montrose lost, he is at loss with his identity, is that something you recognised?
Yeah, that is correct. Basically, the whole foundation of this show was his family trying to find who they are, what is their legacy? That’s in every family around the world. And just like every other family, there are dark secrets and issues and things that we don’t want to talk about. And what do we do? We put them in the upper room, and no one discussed it, that dreadful act, you know, and we leave it there.
And Montrose was the main gatekeeper of those dark secrets, and then all of a sudden he wants to go into that room and to find out who they are.
Even though the show can get very dark, there’s also a glimpse of Black joy, and Black love — How did that make you feel seeing those moments?
I loved it. You know? I mean? The scenes between Aunjanue Ellis and Courtney B. Vance, can we talk about grown Black love for a minute? Seeing that Black love… I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
Yeah, there’s a lot of beautiful moments in it. There’s a lot of beautiful moments of strength, beautiful moments of overcoming and beautiful moments of love.
The monsters on this show are terrifying, but one could say that racism is a metaphoric monster on Lovecraft Country — What did the monsters on the show represent to you?
The monsters represented everything that is messed up with our society. At least that was my first response to it. When I read the pilot, I said oh, these monsters are dark and they are everything that’s systemically wrong. I’m not just talking about racism. I’m talking about sexism. You know, the phobias, the way we treat people or just everything, you name it, to me the monsters represent that.
What was your favourite element of the show?
This whole show is my favourite part of the show. I just love the family aspect of it. Just the way that, we’re watching this African American family. This story is told through the eyes of an African American family. I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before. And I think that’s my most favorite part of the show. It’s not a Black story, it’s a story that’s being told by a Black family. That’s the brilliance of this show.
Let’s talk about Atticus and Montrose’s relationship which is a bit distant.
Well their relationship is definitely broken. However, they love each other, they love each other to the moon and back. There are some secrets that come out, as they start to go on this journey to find out what their legacy is. They have a little a lot of pain, a lot of trauma. We pass on our generational curses as humans, that’s something that I believe happens a lot and Montrose is no different. He came with a bag of trauma by the time Atticus was born. He did the best he could with his son and he tried to beat the ability to dream out of Atticus’ head, ‘stay out of the clouds boy, don’t be a weak boy, don’t be a soft boy’. And he was doing that because in his mind he was protecting Atticus.These are the things that got Montrose in trouble.
How do you think people are going to react while watching it?
People are either going to love it or hate it. I don’t think there will be any in-between for Lovecraft Country watchers. For Black men, in particular, I hope that watching Lovecraft will be some sort of freedom, some sort of release for a multitude of levels from sexuality, to what it means to be a father, to what it means to be a friend, to what it means to be a brother. I think all of those I hope that especially men of colour, when they watch this, that they will be inspired to redefine what those things mean.
Are you hoping to see more Black people in the sci-fi and horror genre?
I’m hoping to see more people of colour in the boardrooms. I would like to see more freedom for us to tell all of our stories, through horror, through love, through Black love, through drama, through comedy. We know that there are many phases and many levels of the Black experience and I think that we should feel free to tell them all and we should have the ability and the resources to tell them all.
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Read more: Jurnee Smollett Talks Lovecraft Country