Lovecraft Country Star Jonathan Majors Explains The Sci-Fi-Horror Series' Southeast Asian Connection
The 30-year-old actor spent a few weeks on a nearby island to prepare for his role in the Jordan Peele-JJ Abrams-produced HBO series.
Actor Jonathan Majors devised an unusual way to help him get into the character of Atticus Freeman, the embattled hero in HBO’s sci-fi horror series Lovecraft Country: He uses a mask. And it was no ordinary mask.
Majors’ prep work began in, of all places, Singapadu, Bali, where he has a theatre company. As he was developing Atticus, Majors sent notes about his character to his local friends who then engaged a topeng handicraftsman to build masks to represent Atticus. He then “infused” these masks with taksu, a Balinese notion of divine inspiration.
“I began to put the mask on and let the energies kind of come in and feel me. And then the body remembers those energies,” says the 30-year-old Texas-raised actor who is also in Spike Lee's Vietnam War drama Da 5 Bloods. “And then when I got to set, I just played them out that way.” All in all, it sounds like a very cheem creative process.
Clearly, Majors needs more time to expound on this somewhat ethereal topic. “Do you have a week?” he cheekily asks a group of a journos via Zoom from Santa Fe, New Mexico. He's been staying there (where his daily rituals include hitting the gym, meditation, walking his two dogs, and sipping tea) since February to film the Jay Z-produced Western The Harder They Fall along Idris Elba. While he waits for production to resume, he’s focused on spreading the gospel of Lovecraft Country.
Break out: Jonathan Majors in a scene from 2017’s 'When We Rise', the award-winning four-part mini-series about the gay rights movement in 1970s San Francisco. Majors starred as activist Ken Jones. At the time he was cast, Majors, the son of a Pastor mother, was still getting his MFA from Yale School of Drama. Two years later, Majors’ performance in 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Produced by Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams (“the truth of the matter, we did not meet — I didn’t see them”) and created by Misha Green, slavery-era series Underground, Lovecraft Country is based on the novel of the same title by Matt Ruff.
Majors stars as Korean War vet Atticus who takes on racist monsters and otherworldly nasty ogres (inspired by the works of horror novelist HP Lovercraft) as he searches for his missing father (The Wire’s Michael K Williams) in 1950s Jim Crow America.
Rebels with a cause: Majors in 2019’s dystopian sci-fi drama 'Captive State', where he plays a dissident planning an uprising against alien invaders. In terms of literature, Majors is a fan of George Orwell, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. “'Captive State' is very, very Orwellian, that’s the kind of the world we’re in,” says the actor. “And with that Orwellian idea, 'Lovecraft Country' kind of borrows from that a kind of mental psychological horror.”
“When I look at scripts, I try to find what is special about it,” says Majors. And made Lovecraft Country special is that it’s a genre piece that features African-American protagonists. Most of the time, “the black guys always die,” he says. “They’re more of a martyr than a hero in many ways. So I think it’s extremely important to bring black bodies and African-American men to the genre of sci-fi, not to have them die, and to see them strive and win and succeed.”
Something evil is coming: In 'Lovecraft Country', Majors (seen here with Courtney B Vance and Jurnee Smollett) had to act opposite a lot of digital special effects, a first for him. “You just had to let your imagination go,” says Majors. “I have a seven-year-old child and I watch her move and I use that. I took all my drama school [training] and my kid’s imagination with the frame and voice of a grown man.”
And in the sci-fi/horror realm, it isn’t enough to rely just on muscles. “You have to, in some ways, have a scientific brain in order to survive sci-fi and horror." Majors got to combine brain and brawn in an upcoming episode that pays homage to Indiana Jones.
“It felt great to have an example of an African-American man or African-American in general stepping into that role and fulfill it and expand the genre,” says Majors, who’s seen all of indomitable archaeologist’s adventures. “For a moment, I was going to wear a hat…And we’re like, that’s probably too much. It’s too on the nose.”
Majors is also drawn to Lovecraft Country as a family drama, which he hopes will appeal to audiences everywhere. “The dope part is we all come from families, you know, and those families are rough,” he explains.
“Sometimes things are easy, but we all come from families. And for me, that's the core of the story. You have a core group of people who you move through the world with, and the way I view my father and the way you all view your fathers and mothers, it's universal.
"You know, the struggle to move a family forward is universal and at the core of Lovecraft Country, that’s what we’re talking about. And so, I think every race, creed, country can grab on to that. And I hope they do.”
Elsewhere, Majors believes Lovecraft Country’s unflinching examination of America’s racist legacy can make audiences more cognizant about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The beauty of the show coming out now is that people are already looking at that direction, people are already questioning and wanting information, wanting to educate themselves on that,” says Majors.
“To do so, and not just in a literal way, but in a spiritual and emotional way, and that’s what we give them in Lovecraft Country. I also want to be clear that we’re also here to entertain, but that said, it’s good to have some honey with your lemon.”