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Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan Majors on loss, survival, and the forgotten war

Lovecraft Country's Jonathan Majors on loss and the forgotten war
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As Lovecraft Country’s Atticus “Tic” Freeman, Jonathan Majors is diving headfirst into a world of monsters, myth, and family drama. Majors, who previously starred in The Last Black Man In San Francisco and this summer’s Da 5 Bloods, brings a level of righteous intensity to the role of Tic that’s downright intimidating. The A.V. Club talked to Majors about Lovecraft Country’s second episode, “Whitey’s On The Moon,” which just aired. If you haven’t watched yet, please note: There will be spoilers ahead.

Portions of our interview with Majors are in the interview above, but if you’d rather read a transcript of the whole chat, look no further.

The A.V. Club: How was this week’s episode, “Whitey’s On The Moon,” explained to you? Both in terms of what you’d be doing, and in what was going on with Tic?  

Jonathan Majors: Well, that particular episode is interesting because it’s one of the episodes that I spoke about with [showrunner] Misha [Green] before we even shot the pilot. She said in this episode, we’re going to be exploring post traumatic stress disorder and what that is and what that looks like. And so as you know, with Atticus, that’s twofold, right? There’s the monsters, and his service in the Korean War. So that was the exploration.

He’s a Korean War veteran, which is known as the forgotten war, so he has that inside of him. And on top of that, he has now been in a battle with the shoggoths and these police officers and sheriffs in the woods with guns and monsters, etc. And no one remembers it! So it’s almost like he’s being gaslit again, and this time not by a society that just doesn’t want to talk about the Korean War, but by his blood relative Uncle George and his best childhood friend Leti Lewis. So that’s how it was explained.

As for the “Whitey’s On The Moon” part of it, that was kind of on the day. I just thought, “Okay, let’s see how this is going to go.” I knew that there was going to be a ceremony, because that was in the script. And in the script, she wrote “‘Whitey On The Moon’ by Gil Scott Heron plays.” That is pretty much all we had and we kinda went from there.

The other thing about that episode is that it’s so much The Shining, in many ways. What is it, Room 237? The idea that each one of these rooms represents this different thing. It’s the first time we really dig a psychological horror. You have the PTSD, which is almost a social horror, where it’s not really making sense. And then, then on top of that, we have a third element with each one of these guys in their rooms experiencing that fuckery. And then Atticus has the revelation that he is of these people in a way, and Uncle George brings up the Freemasons. That my actual family was Freemasons… So, yeah.

AVC: There was a lot going on in this episode. There’d be points where I’d think, “Am I still on episode two?” In some sense I was wondering if I should go back and watch from episode one to pick everything up.

JM: Right. It’s interesting because Misha did such a great job at allowing the audience to be as smart as they possibly could. You have to be as smart as you can be, not smarter. You don’t need to be smarter than you are. You have to trust the journey.

There are certain things that happen literally in the dream overture that you’ll see later on. In episode two, there’s something that happens that’s connected that you may not realize. When you get to [episode] six, a lot of things are really cleared up.

AVC: Let’s talk about the different rooms that you mentioned. It’s interesting, because Leti and George are going through these dream fulfillment scenarios in some sense where they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is what I secretly wanted to happen,” but ultimately they realize that a dream isn’t always great. On the other hand, what Tic is going through seems to be just pure terror from the get-go. Are we supposed to know what’s really going on there? Is that what happened in Korea, or is that a manifestation of feelings? 

JM: Mind you, I have a cheat sheet because I got the script and I’ve got all nine episodes, but no, I think you’re getting exactly what you need in that moment, because it all comes together later.

AVC: Without being too explicit, there’s a massive loss at the end of episode two that fans may not have seen coming. How did you guys deal with all that?

JM: That was an interesting day because it was the first time you had Courtney B. Vance’s character, Michael K. Williams’ character, Jurnee Smollett’s character, and my character really all together. That was the first time you had those actors together, and the moment that we were having to deal with was a very ancestral moment. It’s something we all understand. And during the brunt of [shooting] it, we kind of split up. I could feel that we were all kind of carrying it, because the event hit everybody differently in a different time.

That was the day when I realized, okay, we are a family, and when you’re with your family, you can go through tremendous emotions and tremendous events. And only because you’re a family, do you make it through.

When we called cut on that particular scene we were a wreck, because the emotion was still there, and the emotion was real and then it just kinda faded away, just like real emotions do.

AVC: In some interviews, Misha Green has said that for her, the big questions of the show are “What are we willing to do for our freedom? And what does freedom actually mean?” As we get deeper into the show, there is a question of even if the good guys “win” here, will they really fully win? They can’t turn back time, and they have gone through some shit. You could argue that they could erase their memories, but is that something they’d really want to do? Do you think there’s ultimately a win available for these characters?

JM: I think the win is survival, but what does that mean? Not just physically survive, but to emotionally survive, and to not let the experiences of war, of hardship, of familial trauma deaden your emotional life. It’s surviving spiritually, and to still aspire for greater things in spite of a system and in a society that is dampening your humanity and threatening at every turn to take your liberty. It’s keeping that alive. So the survival of the spirit, the body and the emotions? That’s the way to win in Lovecraft Country.