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Although theaters were closed during the summer of 2020, American audiences weren’t completely deprived of a blockbuster. HBO Lovecraft Country – a drama about a black family in 1950s Chicago fighting both monsters and seriously messed up white people – blending action, sex, horror and timely commentary on America’s insidious history of racism for gleeful reviews and a cross-platform audience of 9 million viewers to date. “The [resources] we have on this show – it’s amazing,” writer-producer Misha Green says of the unexpected follow-up to her relatively modest previous series, WGN’s Underground. “It’s the equivalent of going from an independent movie to a Marvel movie.”
With the first season now over, Green, 36, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about subverting all expectations for the second run and its plans to bring more people of color into horror and other genres.
This is your first project as a solo showrunner. How do you think your cast and crew would describe your leadership style?
Oh, it depends who you’re talking to. (Laughs.) I think they would describe it as direct and challenging. I feel like a lot of people come on set and say, ‘It’s been so long since someone asked me what color I like. But you are the customer! What do you mean, no one asks you what color you like? The goal is for you to bring your zhoosh to the moment. If you have something more dope than what I found, let’s use it. Because it’s not just about what I want. If we just do what I want, we’ll be fine. If we build on that, everything will be fine. We will be amazing.
You worked for Kurt Sutter and Tim Kring early in your career. Did you learn anything from those plays that you wanted – or didn’t want – to apply to your own show?
I didn’t even think like that at the beginning of my career. I introduced myself to Sons of Anarchylike, “I’m writing about my favorite new show from last season and I have my own office? This is amazing.” I try to keep that feeling every time because it’s so easy to lose the joy in this business. Forget all the bullshit. Focus on creating that thing that someone’s gonna watch and maybe feel like I did when I was 15 – watch buffy the vampire slayer in my room, thinking, “This is fucking amazing.”
Lovecraft is quite graphic. Which scene sparked the most debate?
All. Nothing was easy in this room of writers. I told all of our writers it was going to be like therapy. I wanted to understand what it means to be a black family in America and all the issues that come with it. And, being such a genre fan, I’m also a gore fan. It’s also a gore show. And it’s premium cable, so we can go.
Along with the gore, there are a lot of great music and dance sequences. Does Jurnee Smollett have a dance clause in her contract?
Yes, there is a contract in my head. I like dance. I like to sing. I like monsters. I happen to love sex too, and I think that’s a great combination for an HBO show.
Episode seven of this season was your first achievement. What have you learned?
I learned that being a showrunner is like being a director. I was like, “Oh, I do a lot of this stuff already.” I just have to make choices and frame things and then whisper in the ear of the actors stuff like, “Just hit that line like that, okay? It was fun, except you have to sit on set for about 12 hours a day. After the rehearsals, I say to myself “great!” And they’re like, “No. Now we have to shoot him, Misha. But we just did the fun part where we figured it all out! So that’s also what I learned: Never tell the team your shot list, because if you’re bored and I want to move on, they’ll be like, “No, we’ve got two more setups. . You said.”
Do you know what attracts you to the genre?
I started thinking about it while doing the show. There are black people in horror, but not as many. Do I like it so much because crazy shit happens to white people and not black people? Am I gonna love her that much once all this crazy shit starts happening to black people? Spoiler: Yes, I will.
How much did you plot for future seasons?
You’re supposed to say that you know seven seasons of the show in your mind and you know exactly how it’s going to end. No. I think we’ve done some things in these last few episodes that are going to lead to a crazy season 2. [The season one finale aired Oct. 18.] What’s on your mind right now is going to go somewhere no one expects. I’m very excited to continue to challenge gender space and for this idea of reclaiming gender space for people of color. There’s season after season you can do on that. There’s so much gender space that goes untouched by people of color — and not just African Americans.
And that’s obviously something that people are talking about a lot more at the moment.
People say, “It’s just such a time right now for that, right?” It was a while ago when we were doing Underground. It was a moment before that and before that and before that. I’m excited because this moment can be a filter for that, because I feel like more people are becoming aware – and, instead of looking away, looking directly at it. You always want your art to speak to the moment, to the era, to what is happening. For this to happen now, I hope it adds more to the conversation and I hope more conversations happen because of it.
You write a Cleopatra Jones update. But, as a horror fan, what other remakes would you like to tackle?
I’m still very excited about doing Cleopatra Jones a black woman Obligation. But I would love to do a Stephen King limited series. This. It’s my favorite novel of all time, but it’s such a thick book that it takes time to sit down with each character and really get into their fear. You could make a two hour movie, but imagine seven seasons This. And something with vampires. We need new vampires.
Dusk kind of vampires killed for a while.
Yeah we need Interview with the Vampire vampires. Imagine a multicultural society Interview with the Vampire. What does it look like from all these different angles spanning centuries of American history?
Have deals like this come in since Lovecraft took off? Notable cold calls?
It doesn’t happen, no. It’s an interesting and strange time for the company. People don’t know when movies and stuff will come back viably. I think that’s part of it. Besides, there’s a lot of bullshit going on in the world.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
A version of this story first appeared in the October 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.