Misha Green Will Scare You Now

The creator of HBO's Lovecraft Country on making a show about the monsters who walk amongst us.

jurnee smollett in lovecraft country
Jurnee Smollett as Leti Lewis in Misha Green’s new Lovecraft Country.
Elizabeth MorrisHBO

It would be easy to call Misha Green the Black J.J. Abrams or the female Jordan Peele. But HBO’s new “big fucking show” Lovecraft Country—created, directed, written, and executive produced by Green—proves shes broken the mold. Inspired by Matt Ruff’s 2016 book by the same name about 1950s Jim Crow America and the supernatural lurking just below the surface, the show elevates the horror genre in remarkable ways, draws poignant conclusions about the power of perception, and flips the script on H.P. Lovecraft’s prolific, racist-themed books. Here, Green discusses creating real-life monsters scarier than any sci-fi creatures and redefining the center of the universe.

Marie Claire: Where did your love of sci-fi and horror begin?

Misha Green: I saw the first Aliens when I was a kid, and I was like, Oh my God, this is crazy. It can feel intense; you can be emotionally attached and cool shit can happen. How do you do better than that?

MC: Were you a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s work before this project was brought to you?

MG: I was very familiar with H.P. It’s not technically my favorite subgenre of horror, but I understand why people love it so much. The idea that his mind created all these monstrous, horror-like monsters was great. [But] for me, I was familiar with his past—his being a racist—which soured it a bit for me. I've always been like, This was not for me. It was never written for me.

MC: The book the show is based on is set in the 1950s, but it seems so relevant in 2020. Did it feel that way to you?

MG: Matt [Ruff]’s book is beautiful. It’s the idea of reclaiming the genre for people who the genre typically hasn’t been for. I watch all these sci-fi movies, and they’re set in the future, and there are no people of color in [them]. It’s all white people being oppressed by robots. And I’m like, Is this really a story of white people being oppressed? Any time I’m adapting anything, it’s always the beautiful first jumping-off point that you have to take to a new place. When you’re making art, you have to be making art of the times. And so it was just a natural thing to take the elements from his book that were still so relevant, because history keeps repeating itself.

MC: Recently, especially because of [co-executive producer] Jordan Peele, a lot of horror movies have become allegories for racism and social issues. Why do you think that sci-fi and horror have become such popular vehicles to tell those stories?

MG: I think the genre’s at its best when it’s doing that; when it’s a metaphor on top of a real-life thing that’s universal. It’s happening all the time to women. It’s happening all the time to people of color. It’s experiencing it in a safe space where you feel like, at the end of the day, the protagonist can win.

misha green lovecraft country
Misha Green (left) with Wunmi Mosaku and Smollett filming Lovecraft Country.
Elizabeth MorrisHBO

MC: The scariest part of the show’s plot is the racism, not the monsters. Was that always your intention?

MG: One of the things we wanted to pull into the series [from the book] was, in that first episode, you’re relieved when the actual monsters show up. Like the idea of “sundown towns”—which I first learned about from reading this book—the monsters are the people. And the people and the history is real.

MC: Tell me more about creating the soundtrack and integrating the spoken word elements.

MG: I feel like people expect period pieces to be so sacred. That it has to be exactly the music of the period or it’s bad. And I go, Ah, that's boring. How do we take that to another level? And, at the time, I [listened], back to back, to Beyonce’s Lemonade and I Am Not Your Negro. Both of those used voiceovers in a way that I was like, This hasn't been done on a TV show yet! I think that was our big—I like to do a big swing with every project, audio-wise, visually, in all the different categories—audio swing. It’s the part [when] you’re going, “Is this gonna work?”

MC: It absolutely does. It elevates some moments and, other times, adds a sense of levity, like the scene with the Cardi B song “Bodak Yellow.”

MG: I was like, “Oh my god. She says bloody shoes in this song!” It was made for this moment. Or did the moment come from me listening to that Cardi B song all summer? I don't know.

The monsters are the people. And the people and the history is real.

MC: There are a lot of literary influences in the show too. Are there any authors who had a big impact on you as a writer?

MG: My favorite book of all time is Stephen King’s It. That book influences my whole thought process.

lovecraft country
Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) and Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Smollett) encounter racism during a roadtrip in the first episode of Lovecraft Country.
Elizabeth MorrisHBO

MC: You wore all the hats on this show. Did you feel more pressure having so much creative control?

MG: Having all of the creative control takes all the pressure away from me because I know what it is. In my head, it’s amazing, and all I have to do then is communicate that to everybody. I say in our writers’ room and to our production people, “If we do exactly what I have envisioned, it’s gonna be dope as fuck. We can do better, though, with all of our minds together. … Let’s go to the moon and back.” Knowing that someone’s not going to come step on that afterward, that’s where you can really empower people to bring their voice to it.

MC: That’s an amazing way to think about it.

MG: My imagination is wild, so we can make it wild. I went to HBO and I said, “I wanna make a big fucking show, guys.” And they were like, “We want a big fucking show!” And then halfway into it, they were like, “This is a big fucking show. …” It’s being able to have that platform to really say, “We’re going to make our Goonies. We’re gonna make our Indiana Jones adventure episode. We’re gonna build worlds.”

MC: Speaking of going big or going home, that describes, I would say, J.J. Abrams. Were you a fan of Lost [which Abrams co-created]?

MG: I can think back to when I was first coming into screenwriting, I was reading all the Lost scripts. I think Lost gets a bit of a bad rap these days because, you know how they say, “If you end poorly then that’s all anybody remembers.” But Lost changed television. We did not do flashbacks before Lost came. I still distinctly remember when John Locke rolled out in that wheelchair. So I feel like that definitely is a big influence [on me]. And, listen, if it didn’t pan out in the end, think about how amazing that ride was when it was happening.

misha green lovecraft country
Green directs Smollett.
Steve DietlHBO

MC: Did you start in this industry thinking, I want to tell stories that are important to Black people and people of color?

MG: I fall in the place that a lot of white men probably fall in, which is: I just wanna tell stories that I’m interested in, about people who look like me. It’s not specifically being, like, “I wanna tell stories about people of color.” But I also go, “Why wouldn’t I cast people of color in the story I’m writing?”

MC: It comes second nature because of who you are.

MG: Yes. The thing is, in all the contexts we’re in, we’re speaking from “the center of the universe is a white man.” And I think the center of the universe is only a white man because those are the stories we’ve allowed to become our story. I don’t think that’s the story of the world at all. I think that the story of the world is diverse and has many voices in it, including white men’s. I just don’t think Hollywood has allowed that to be the case.

A version of this story appears in the Fall 2020 issue of Marie Claire, on sale September 15.

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