Watch where you step, fans of Lovecraft Country: There just might be a pile of discarded skin in your way.
This week’s episode of Lovecraft Country, “Strange Case,” focuses on Wunmi Mosaku’s Ruby, who wakes up after being wooed by William (Jordan Patrick Smith) and isn’t feeling or looking entirely herself. The change, William later explains, is due to a serum he’s developed that can give people the ability to change into who they’d rather be, offering them the fluidity to move between lives and appearances—albeit with some degree of body horror-infused bone cracking and skin shedding. William offers it to Ruby in exchange for a favor later, and Ruby hesitantly takes him up on it, becoming a white woman named Hillary Davenport. She uses the whiteness to what she thinks is her advantage, getting a managerial role at Marshall Field’s and diving into a world of loafing and privilege she’s only ever viewed from afar. Ultimately, though, the privilege wears on Ruby, and she ends up lashing out at her Marshall Field’s manager in a gruesome, goopy fashion. Upon returning home, she comes face-to-face with William, who reveals a big shape-shifting secret of his own—namely that he’s been Abbey Lee’s Christina the whole time.
The A.V. Club sat down with Mosaku and Lee to talk through the twists, turns, and bone breaks of “Strange Case,” including how Mosaku worked side by side with Jamie Neumann, the actor who plays Hillary, to really put all that pain on screen. Portions of that interview are in the video above, but a full transcript is below.
The A.V. Club: There’s a lot going on in “Strange Case.” Wunmi, how did you get into Ruby’s mindset, and how did you work with the actor playing Hillary Davenport?
Wunmi Mosaku: To access Ruby’s psyche and the mental space that she’s occupying in that episode, I really had to dig deep into my feelings of rage and injustice. There are a lot of things that I kind of pushed to the side. You bury them deep in order to just survive and step outside of your front door, so this role required a lot of exploration and questioning and answering very difficult questions about myself and society and how I respond to the world. Ruby chooses to do things differently once magic is in her grasp.
There was a lot of talking with Misha about rage. The rage one feels when one can’t walk around freely and be honest. I have truly never been honest outside of the home in regards to racism and inequality and what I’ve been subject to. Talking about that and bringing up these things that have happened to me in the past, I was able to access Ruby’s rage again.
I was surprised to know that it was all still very much there, even though I have a big old smile on my face most of the time. A lot of things started to come back up that I had completely forgotten about. We have to create a safe space on set so that I could explore those feelings freely and honestly.
I also had to talk about those feelings with Jamie and with Abbey—especially Jamie, because she’s playing me. She needs to understand where Ruby is coming from and what Ruby has experienced. It was a lot of spending time together creating that safe space in order to explore Ruby with Jamie and painting the picture of Ruby’s history. So, you know, Jamie and I spent a lot of time together. We would run lines together. I showed her the little dance Leti [Jurnee Smollett] and I do. When she was shooting, I’d be on set, and when I was shooting, she’d be on set a lot of the time.
That’s what we did. It was a lot of digging and it wasn’t comfortable, but it was honest.
AVC: Ruby essentially gets what she thinks she wants, but quickly finds out that what you want isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Abbey, is that something Christina will have to reckon with as well? She wants something very specific, but will anything truly satisfy her?
Abbey Lee: I think that Christina has been completely ravaged by this idea of power and the glass ceiling. When you have needs like hers that are rooted in such vicious desires, I don’t think that can ever be fed. It’s hunger and gluttony when you know that they can’t ever be satiated really. Once somebody’s willing to do the things that Christina is willing to do, which are quite awful at times, then you are going to keep wanting more. She’s clearly someone who is going to keep wanting more.
That was really why I wanted to tackle Christina. We’re trying to understand that aspect of a human, because we live in a society where we are under the thumb of these men whose thirst and desire for power is so insane that we’re not taking care of ourselves. So it’s an interesting question. I don’t think that Christina can ever be satisfied.
AVC: What was the metamorphosis process like, Wunmi? And are we supposed to just expect that there are just piles of skin laying in back alleys in Chicago?
WM: Right, exactly. That’s exactly it there.
In regards to the metamorphosis, Jamie does a lot of the actual physical vocabulary of the metamorphosis. I generally turn up at the end during the aftermath. It’s a lot of blood and gunk and being soaked from head to toe. It’s cold, it’s sticky, it’s uncomfortable and you’re naked. You just have to be okay with it. It’s just a matter of mind over matter.
Jamie and I actually workshopped the physical vocabulary of the transformation. I really think she does such an incredible job. I know that she used to be a dancer, and she can really manipulate her body in a way that it really feels like someone’s trying to break out.
For me, though, it was lots of standing with a wall of towels around me while people drenched me in blood and gunk that felt like Jell-O.