DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. The heroes of the HBO series "Lovecraft Country" have to confront the horrors of Jim Crow America, such as racist police and lynch mobs, as well as supernatural horrors, like monsters and ghosts. The show's been nominated for a host of awards, including for best ensemble by the Screen Actors Guild. It was adapted from Matt Ruffs novel Lovecraft" "Country by our guest, Misha Green, who's also the series' producer. She spoke with FRESH AIR producer Sam Briger. I'll let Sam take it from here.
SAM BRIGER, BYLINE: The Lovecraft in "Lovecraft Country" refers to H.P. Lovecraft, a mostly unsuccessful pulp fiction writer in the early 20th century who went on to become a big influence in the horror and supernatural fiction genre. He was also incredibly racist. "Lovecraft Country" takes on the terrors of racism in America and injects it with the supernatural. So an episode that deals with restrictive housing covenants and redlining involves a haunted house with the ghosts being the Black people who were experimented on by a white person who previously lived there. And in an episode about passing, a character has a potion that will actually make her white. In the series, it's usually the racism and bigotry the characters face that's a bigger threat to their lives than the monsters they have to deal with.
"Lovecraft Country's" cast includes Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett and Michael K. Williams. Misha Green created the show "Lovecraft Country" and wrote or co-wrote all 10 episodes. We're waiting to hear if there will be a second season. But in the meantime, she's been tapped to write and direct the upcoming "Tomb Raider" sequel. Prior to "Lovecraft Country," Green worked on many shows and co-created the WGN America series "Underground" based on the Underground Railroad.
Let's start with a clip from "Lovecraft Country." Here, Atticus, known as Tic, his friend Leti and his uncle, George, have traveled from Chicago to Massachusetts in search of Tic's missing father. They stopped their car in frustration in the woods where the county sheriff, a known racist, pulls up. The sheriff is played by Jamie Harris, Uncle George by Courtney B. Vance and Jonathan Majors is Atticus.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOVECRAFT COUNTRY")
JAMIE HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) Who are you?
COURTNEY B VANCE: (As George Freeman) George Freeman, sir. This here is my nephew, Atticus, and his friend, Letitia.
HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) Where y'all from?
VANCE: (As George Freeman) Chicago, sir.
HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) You're a long way from home.
VANCE: (As George Freeman) Oh, we're just passing through, taking a little bathroom break, sir, is all.
HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) Any of y'all know what a sundown town is?
VANCE: (As George Freeman) Yes, sir, we do.
HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) Well, this is a sundown county. And if I had found you pissing in my woods like animals after dark, it would have been my sworn duty to hang every single one of you from them trees.
JONATHAN MAJORS: (As Atticus Freeman) It's not sundown yet.
HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) Sunset is at 7:09 today. That's seven minutes from now.
MAJORS: (As Atticus Freeman) Then we'll be out of the county in six.
HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) Now, that's impossible heading south on the road you're currently on unless you were to speed. And if you were to speed, I'd have to pull you over.
MAJORS: (As Atticus Freeman) Then we'll head north.
HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) That might work. Why don't you give it a try?
VANCE: (As George Freeman) We will, sir.
MAJORS: (As Atticus Freeman) Is it legal to make a U-turn here?
HARRIS: (As Sheriff Eunice Hunt) Aren't you a smart one. Now, ordinarily, I would consider a U-turn a violation, but if you ask me real nice, I might just let it go this time.
BRIGER: That's a scene from the first episode of "Lovecraft Country" created by our guest, Misha Green. Misha Green, welcome to FRESH AIR.
MISHA GREEN: Hi, thank you for having me.
BRIGER: "Lovecraft Country" takes the real horrors of the Black experience in 1950s America and adds to it these tropes of the horror genre. For instance, in that scene we just heard, like, the sheriff is a predator, but then very shortly after, we're introduced to these monsters that are also relentless predators. So how did you see those supernatural elements interacting with the real horrific experience Black Americans had to ordeal?
GREEN: Well, I think that it was, for me - horror, which is my favorite genre, works best for me when there's a metaphor. So it's the idea that something real, we then take and make the monster, and the monster is actually almost the relief in it. So feeling like, you know, you're going into the heart of darkness as you travel with this family into the heart of America, which is not the South, it's the North, because Jim Crow was everywhere and to have them encounter the sheriff, we know that scene now. We are now very aware of the violence that happens against Black bodies by the police state in America. So to change that, to flip it on its head and then to have the monsters come out later, to me that's the reason to make it. In a way, defeating the monsters, the witchcraft, that's the thing that allows the racism and the harder subjects of what it means to be a Black family in America with generational trauma more palatable in a way.
BRIGER: So you've always been a fan of horror movies...
GREEN: I have.
BRIGER: ...And horror fiction. What did you like about it?
GREEN: I just like to be scared. You know, I think it's also one of the reasons I feel like we go to drama in the first place, to live vicariously through something. And so you get to live your fears on screen and then you go, OK, I can tackle that maybe. You get a little braver in life. And I feel like that's always - when I was a kid, it was like watching "IT," watching "Alien," watching those kind of movies, I was like, OK, I'm terrified, but now I feel a little braver afterwards. I feel like I can go and tackle the real horrors a little bit more.
BRIGER: You know, in the sort of late 20th century, horror movies did not have a very good track record when it came to representation. There's a lot of stereotypes, and Black characters rarely make it to the end of the movie. How did you sort of take that in?
GREEN: Well, what's also strange because I feel like - one of my absolute favorites is the original "Night Of The Living Dead" and then "The People Under The Stairs," "Candyman." So it was like there was spaces for Black horror. They just weren't rampant. And I felt like that's all kind of Black art right now. It's like we're - people are like we're in this huge renaissance. And I'm like, well, I remember in the '90s I could go on TV and see more all-Black casts than I can see now. So I feel like it's always been there, but you have to seek it out. And the mainstream definitely when it comes to horror, sci fi and all of these genre, fantasy spaces are all white in a way. And so that was exciting to me to have this kind of show that could go jump to all the places and be like, yeah, we can be here and we don't have to die first, guys.
BRIGER: One episode of your show, the third one, which is about a haunted house, has a scene in it that still gives me trouble at night. So thanks very much for that. Leti's asleep in bed, and there's a ghost that's peering over the side of her bed, and the ghost just keeps pulling the sheets off of her. It's not, like, a super scary moment, but it's really creepy. Like, just technically, could you talk about how when you're working in horror, how you make something that seems scary to the audience?
GREEN: Oh, how do I make something seem scary? I start with this - is it scary to me? You know, I think that it's the anticipation and the tension is when that - the reason is you're just sleep (ph). That's so innocent. Everybody does that. We all do that. And we're all at our most vulnerable. That's why "Nightmare On Elm Street" is so great because you're like, what can you - I'm sleep? How can I fight back when I'm sleep? They find out in "Dream Warriors." But so that - just that pulling of the sheet, it's just that slowness where you're just waiting. What's going to happen next? She has no idea what's going to happen next. And I think that to me is - the most exciting of horror is when you're just - the anticipation I love to feel when I'm watching something. And I feel like anticipation and being like, ahh, is such a great feeling. It's the rollercoaster feeling.
BRIGER: Do you - have you ever written something that scared yourself?
GREEN: No, all this stuff that I write that scares myself is the dramatic stuff. It's the true stuff. It's the interpersonal stuff between characters and what people - you know, one of my themes I keep coming back to is, what are people willing to do for metaphorical and physical survival? And that's always the stuff that scares me.
BRIGER: Can you give an example of that?
GREEN: The Ruby and Christina conversation in episode eight is a conversation that scares me, the idea of Ruby going. And after Emmett Till's funeral and the idea that does - Christina challenges her and asks her, does she really care? She's here. She's in this. She came to the safe place to do something she wanted to do. So can she say she really cares about Emmett Till? And those kind of things are the things I go, oh, do we care? We say we do. But do we? At the end of the day, do we actually care about all of this stuff that's happening? And that that makes me go, oh, my gosh, I don't know. I'm scared.
BRIGER: Let's just take a short break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Misha Green, showrunner for the HBO series "Lovecraft Country." We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF 070 SHAKE'S "THE PINES")
BRIGER: This is FRESH AIR. If you're just joining me, my guest is Misha Green, who created the HBO show "Lovecraft Country," which is adapted from a book of the same name.
You know, a lot of elements of horror and supernatural can get kind of campy. One way I think that maybe you did sort of avoid, like, what might have been a campy moment was just by the way that you choose soundtrack. Like, it's really amazing the way that the sound elements that you use blend or juxtapose with some of the images that you have. So you're using speeches that are anachronistic. Like, you have speeches from James Baldwin or Sun Ra. And you have excerpts of plays and poems. There's even a Nike ad that you use. And they're kind of like - they're rather butting up against or commenting on what's on the screen.
And so one example which I thought was really amazing was there's this climactic scene in the second episode where your main character, Tic, is being sacrificed in this magical ceremony, like, as - the audience doesn't need to understand all of this, but, like, as a conduit to this mythical time. And, you know, a lot of ways, that scene could have been played with, like, a lot of heavy chanting and sort of doom kind of music and - but you didn't do that. What you did instead was you took Gil Scott-Heron's poem "Whitey On The Moon" from 1970, and you played that. And that's kind of the main sound that we're hearing. And I'd just like to play a little bit of this now for people to hear.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GIL SCOTT-HERON: A rat done bit my sister Nell with whitey on the moon. Her face and arms began to swell, and whitey's on the moon. I can't pay no doctor bills, but whitey's on the moon. Ten years from now, I'll be paying still while whitey's on the moon. You know, the man just upped my rent last night 'cause whitey's on the moon. No hot water, no toilets, no lights, but whitey's on the moon. I wonder why he's upping me? 'Cause whitey's on the moon? Well, I was already giving him 50 a week, and now whitey's on the moon. Taxes taking my whole damn check. The junkies make me a nervous wreck. The price of food is going up. And as if all that crap wasn't enough, a rat done bit my sister Nell with whitey on the moon. Her face and arms began to swell, and whitey's on the moon. Was all that money I made last year for whitey on the moon? How come I ain't got no money here? Hmm, whitey's on the moon.
BRIGER: So that's the poem "Whitey On The Moon" by Gil Scott-Heron, which my guest Misha Green uses as the soundtrack for the sort of climactic scene of episode two. So in one sense, that poem doesn't really have anything to do with what the scene is about. But the juxtaposition, I said, like, added a lot to my viewing. Can you talk about the choice you made for that scene?
GREEN: Yeah. For me, here we are with a group of witches, white men witches who are trying to open a portal back to the Garden of Eden, so they can be like Adam and be immortal. And Gil Scott is talking about whiteys on the moon, all the stuff we've got going on down here for everyone else. And whitey's on the moon. And I think that's the same aspect. It's like Atticus and his family are struggling to survive. And here is this cult that is just deciding to open a door to the Garden of Eden. It's kind of the same thing. It's that idea of, you know, people are talking about going to Mars. And it's like, but can we fix the problems on Earth?
BRIGER: Right. So this this comes up at various ways throughout the show. How did you decide to use sound like that?
GREEN: You know, we - I knew that I wanted to come into the show, and I wanted to do something different that I had done on "Underground" with sounds. We used contemporary music on "Underground." It was very successful in kind of bringing the past into the present. And I wanted to build on that. I wanted to come in with an audio viewpoint on this show. And one of the things that we were talking a lot about with the show was this idea of it being out of time, that they're going and doing things. They're going to space, they're going, you know, back in the past. So how do we break that up? And then that idea of scourse, as we called it, which is source and score, came to me of using these pieces.
You know, I had been soaking in things like Beyonce's "Lemonade" and "I Am Not Your Negro." And it was hearing those voices in those those poems and Baldwin's voice. And I was going, oh, can we do that in "Lovecraft Country?" And so that was kind of our big audio swing - was this idea of taking found footage, audio and placing it wholesale over scenes and using it as score.
BRIGER: Yeah. Well, you also - you start Episode 2 with "The Jeffersons" song "Movin' On Up." How did you think of that?
GREEN: You know, one of the things we had Liza, our music supervisor, do was just make whole compilations for us of audio albums, different things. I was just like, throw the wall at us because something is going to stick. Something's going to make us go, ooh, you know? That's how we found the Sonia Sanchez poem for that moment in nine when she's - you know, this family is sacrificing in the past for their future generations. And the idea of catching the fire, and you go, you hear that? And I go, could it work? And then you lay it over it. And you go, oh, my God. It works. Oh, my God. It makes everything so much more powerful because we're bringing the subtext to text. But we're not doing it in a way that's going to make you say, oh, they're just saying everything they're trying to give you right now.
BRIGER: Right. That's an interesting scene and choice of soundtrack because in that poem, Sanchez is at the end. She's saying live, live, live. She's sort of just repeating live while, on the screen - I don't think we're giving too much away - like, one of the characters is sacrificing herself. So that's a very powerful moment.
GREEN: And I guess, to me, it's like, you interpret it different ways. But I also am like, live, live, live. That's why she's sacrificing herself.
GREEN: She's saying that's - I'm sacrificing myself so - because it's so important that we live, live, live. And to me, I get - I go, ooh, I love it.
BRIGER: (Laughter). The casting for the show is really great. One of the actors you worked with extensively in your last show, "Underground," Jurnee Smollett. And she's really terrific in "Lovecraft Country" as Leti. You've said that, actually, when you and Jurnee Smollett first started working together, you didn't get along very well. Why was that?
GREEN: Because we both really cared, you know? I think that it was my first show. It was her first big role. And we really were like, we have to get this right. And we are both sticklers for that exact thing I was talking about, which is pushing, pushing until we can't push anymore. So we would be on set being like - arguing over what the scene is. And everyone else would be standing around going, we need to shoot the scene, though. So like, what are y'all doing? And so that was always - that changed and molded when we started to trust each other and when we realized, oh, we're doing the same thing. We're, like, literally the same person. And that's why this is coming as conflict right now. And then we're like, oh, now we can just trust each other. And this happens quickly. And now it's like, we go on set. And she's like, I know exactly what it is you're going for here. I'm adding this to it. And then it's synchronicity.
BRIGER: Did you have to have a conversation? Or do you just realize that in each other and just moved on from there?
GREEN: I think it just kind of organically started to happen where we're like, oh, wait. We are moving in the same direction, we've been this whole time.
GREEN: And we've been moving - like, our conversation and our push back in our back and forth has been making the character better. And we - it has been making us understand how to communicate with each other better. And I think that that just organically came. And then one day, we were like, wait a minute. And we both looked at each other and was like, yeah, it happened. The artistic melding happened.
BRIGER: Many of the scenes between the Black and white actors and "Lovecraft Country" are racially charged and can be pretty ugly and hard to watch. Were they hard for the actors or your crew?
GREEN: Yeah. I think the whole process was a hard process. There was beautiful moments because there's a lot of fun in the show as well. But there's a lot of hard, dark places that we go to. And I think that that is also the joy of, you know, I don't - when we cast, I also want to cast people that are up for that challenge because it's not easy. And so I think we became a little bit of a family that came together so that we could support everybody in that moment, knowing we were about to go into this eight-month shoot that was going to be very difficult.
BRIGER: Did you have to work on creating a safe space for those scenes to happen?
GREEN: Yes. You always have to do it. You have to be cognitive of, like - because, again, I think that it's - we also have to think of the art of acting. It's like I'm asking you to come and explode yourself on screen. You know what I mean? It's like, when Uncle George dies, like, that is a - that's a big moment for everyone in which there's just grief and sorrow. And it's like, you have to leave room to understand that you can't just shut that off the second that you say cut. And I think that that's part of the thing of leaving space and being like, OK, let's give Jonathan the time he needs to recover from this big moment he just did. Let's give Jurnee the time. Let's give Michael the time. Let's give Courtney the time and not miss the human beings doing the thing for the fact that we have to finish our day.
BRIGER: Well, let's take another short break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Misha Green, who created the HBO series "Lovecraft Country." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY")
LOUIS JORDAN: I got a girl who's always late anytime we have a date. But I love her. Yes, I love her. I'm going to walk right up to her gate and see if I can get it straight because I want her. I'm going to ask her, is you is or is you ain't my baby? The way you're acting lately makes me doubt. Yous is still my baby, baby...
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTOPHER NORTON'S "SWING OUT SISTER")
BRIGER: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Sam Briger, sitting in for Terry Gross. Our guest today is Misha Green, who created the HBO series "Lovecraft Country" based on a book of the same name. It deals with the racial violence of 1950s America, also adding elements of the supernatural. The series ended in October but is up for many awards this season. And we're still waiting to hear if there will be a Season 2.
Misha, I wanted to talk about a couple of the episodes from the show. The first one is called "Strange Case," which I think is an allusion to Robert Louis Stevens' (ph) book, "The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde." And a lot of this episode has to do with the idea of passing. In your show, the character Ruby, played by Wunmi Mosaku, is given a magic potion by the sort of main villain of the show that allows her to actually transform into a white woman and enjoy some of the privileges of whiteness. So what were you interested in exploring in this episode?
GREEN: I was interested in exploring, you know, what it would be like if you were a woman in the 1950s and you took a potion to become a white woman. I think that we talked a lot about in the room, you know, as the initial pitches, the initial stuff was happening was this idea of like, oh, she goes on this Julia Roberts, "Pretty Woman" shopping spree. And it's easier now. And I was like, is that true, though? Like, let's get down to something that makes us uncomfortable. And we found our way to this idea of like, what would she do? She wouldn't go on a shopping spree. She would just have some ice cream, sit in the park and read a paper. And that would be uninterrupted.
And that is really what part of the privilege of being white is, is you get to live your life uninterrupted. A person of color in America has so many moments daily where they are interrupted because of their skin color. And so that really was exciting for me, to move into that idea that it's not even that grand what Ruby wants to be, why Ruby wants to be white. It's the small thing of being uninterrupted in her day. And that's where this idea of where does - who is Ruby uninterrupted? Where did you - what are you at your full potential when no one's stopping you every day from being that?
BRIGER: When your characters transform back into their real bodies, the process is really disgusting. Like, they have to tear through layers of skin that they're wearing. And it's not just, like, one paper-thin layer of skin. It's, like, the layers of flesh. And it's sliding off their bodies...
BRIGER: ...In sheets. And they're covered in blood. It's really gross.
GREEN: And I like - as you describe it, I'm like, oh, it's so great, right?
BRIGER: Well, why did you want to depict the transformation in that way?
GREEN: Because I wanted - that's transformation, right? It's a metaphor for transformation. It's not growth transformation. It's not easy. It's really difficult. It's really hard. It's really painful. And it's worth it, you know? And I think that, for me, I wanted to see Ruby coming back to herself, which is what she's doing over the course of the season. Her arch is she's finding herself more and more and who she is uninterrupted. And I wanted to see that that was a painful process, as opposed to becoming white. It's just a nice, smooth ease over her body. And that juxtaposition, I feel like, you know, mirrors what it means to be fake as opposed to being your real self. It's much harder to be your real self.
BRIGER: There's another episode I wanted to talk to you about. And this one's called "I Am." And this episode is focused on the character Hippolyta Freeman, played by Aunjanue Ellis. Can you talk about the character and what transformation she goes through here?
GREEN: Yeah. You know, we knew from the start we wanted to have this kind of Episode 7 and that we wanted it to be different from the chapter in the book with the Hippolyta character. And we kind of wanted her to go - as we said, what would be therapy for this older Black woman through the cosmos? That was the idea of it. And so to see her finding herself and being able to name herself over the course of one episode - and it was incredibly ambitious but exciting and a challenge to undertake.
And then Aunjanue Ellis came and just did every layer, you know? You can jump that many scenes with her because every time, you feel her transformation. You - you know, we set her in Paris with Josephine Baker. You feel a different Hippolyta there than you feel in the Dahomey village where she's learning to fight. And you see her get her strength and then have the ability to tell her husband, the love of her life, how he helped her shrink when she was shrinking herself as well. And to me, watching - it's, I think, 17 minutes in total of her journey once she goes through the portal. And it's just - it's amazing to watch Aunjanue just take you on that journey of a lifetime.
BRIGER: Yeah. I actually wanted to play that clip between her and her husband, George, played by Courtney Vance. But, yeah, she's very smart and, growing up, was very into math and astronomy. And she - as a child, she entered an astronomy contest to name a comet. She won the contest. But the society didn't want a Black girl to be the face of the competition. So the credit went to a white girl. And as you said, like, since then, she feels like she's been shrinking and her options have been limited and even feels that way with her husband, George. So I just wanted to play this scene between the two of them here.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOVECRAFT COUNTRY")
AUNJANUE ELLIS: (As Hippolyta) I think now I can name this thing that's been eating at me quietly - so quiet. Sometimes I thought I was tired, sad or missing you when you were out on the road. But really, I was angry, so angry because for so much of my life, I've been shrinking. When I was a kid, I thought I was big enough to have every right to name something out of this world. And then I just started shrinking myself. By the time I met you, I had already gotten so small. And I thought you knew how big I wanted to be. I thought you saw me. But you just stood by and let me shrink myself more for you.
VANCE: (As George) Hippolyta, why didn't you tell me you felt this way?
ELLIS: (As Hippolyta) I tried. I tried so many times. I tried. You had to see that.
VANCE: (As George) Maybe I did. But I fell in love with you because you were so curious. I knew deep down inside, there was a discoverer in you. But - you're right.
BRIGER: That's a scene between the characters Hippolyta and George Freeman played by Aunjanue Ellis and Courtney B. Vance. So Misha, can you talk about writing that scene and also shooting it?
GREEN: This is the kind of scene where you have two amazing actors, and you just let them go. You just put the cameras in, and you let them go. And I think that, you know, Aunjanue and Courtney broke everybody's heart on that set. And you just have to make sure you capture that and bring it to the editing room, you know. And I think that this was maybe one of the easiest scenes because the rest of the episode is very CGI-heavy and all that stuff. I think this was one of the easiest because it was just two actors finding the truth of something very truthful that I don't think we've ever seen a Black woman say on screen.
BRIGER: In another episode - I guess this is the episode that you directed - there are these two monsters in the credits. They're called Topsy and Bopsy. Can you describe them?
GREEN: Topsy and Bopsy are characters based - caricatures based on Topsy from "Uncle Tom's Cabin." And they are our version of Freddy Krueger, and they haunt Dee once she's been cursed by the police captain. And they kind of do these little jigs after her, these dances that are evocative of minstrel shows. And yeah, they just keep coming, you know. They're like death. They keep coming after you.
BRIGER: Yeah, that's one of the scary parts about them. They're kind of the monster that slowly pursues you over time. And as much as you run away, they - they're going to be there in the end. They look a lot like silhouettes of - from Kara Walker's art come alive. And I think part of their power is they infect their victim, Dee, so that then she starts to look like them - like, this terrible stereotype of a Black girl. Like, the stereotype is actually infecting her. Could you talk about that idea?
GREEN: Yeah. I mean, that's what we talked about a lot in the room is this idea of, one, what does it mean to be Black in America? It means, slowly, death is finding you at all times. And that's the thing that makes you go eek. That's the thing that's, like, oh, no, you're making me upset when I have to face that. And we put Topsy and Bopsy as the face of that. And the idea that these - this perception, these caricatures, these stereotypes of Black girls follow them everywhere, that's why they're more likely to be sent to the principal's office than their white counterparts. It's because you're seeing Topsy and Bopsy when it's really just Dee in an innocent white dress. And she's being haunted by that. And she can't escape that caricature that America has created for her.
BRIGER: If you're just joining us, our guest is Misha Green, who's the creator of the HBO series "Lovecraft Country." We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MISSISSIPPI FRED MCDOWELL'S "KEEP YOUR LAMPS TRIMMED AND BURNING")
BRIGER: This is FRESH AIR. If you're just joining us, our guest is Misha Green, who created and is the showrunner for the HBO series "Lovecraft Country."
Misha, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your life and career. You grew up in Sacramento, so California, but far from Hollywood. Were you a big TV and movie kid?
GREEN: I wasn't a big TV and movie kid. I was a big story kid. I read a lot of books. I did watch things, but it was more so in the context of storytelling. I just loved to consume story.
BRIGER: Were you a reader, like a consumer, or did you also create them?
GREEN: I was writing, but it wasn't like - it was not like, oh, my gosh, I'm going to be a writer when I grow up. I feel like I was reading a lot, consuming a lot and daydreaming a lot. But it didn't compute into I want to do this as a career when I got older until I got older.
BRIGER: Was there a moment where you sort of realized that there were actually people making shows and movies, like, that that was an actual job and that might be something that you wanted to do?
GREEN: Yeah, I think it was at the - I'm dating myself now - the start of the Internet. I remember that's when I started to understand that, oh, there were screenwriters, and they have scripts. You know, when I start to look at scripts on the Internet, I'd be like, oh, there are people that are, like, writing this stuff. That's a thing. Like, you know it, but you don't really - it doesn't become concrete until I was like, oh, now I'm looking at a script.
BRIGER: Did you imagine, like, particular stories you wanted to tell in those early days? Like, do you remember what you were hoping to write?
GREEN: I think - you know, I was always kind of into genre. I think when I was 10, I was like - my mom was like, what do you want to do for your birthday? And I was like, I want to go to Alcatraz Island. And I still have - I was like home for four months this past year in the pandemic. And I found this, like, old story I wrote about this kid who visited Alcatraz Island, and the ghost of his father was there. And I was just like, what was I thinking at 10? What was happening in this head? But it was always going into that genre space, I think.
BRIGER: When you were at Alcatraz, did they do the thing where they shut you in the prison for a few minutes?
GREEN: Yes, but I didn't get to do it. They did it to someone else in our tour group.
BRIGER: OK. Are you sad about that? Or...
GREEN: I am. You could hear it, can't you? I was like, I needed to be in there. That was research.
BRIGER: So after NYU, you went to Hollywood, and you started working on TV shows. And I was just wondering about what that transition was like. Like in a college, you're in this usually cloistered environment and where hopefully you have supportive classmates and inspiring teachers. Like, how did that compare to working on a show with a team of writers and with a lot of deadlines?
GREEN: Well, I had - while I was in college, I had gone abroad a lot. So I was always - and, you know, coming from California to New York, it's like it was an adventure in itself. So I loved going into new environments and kind of being like, what's the lay of the land and what's going on here? So that's how it felt going into writers rooms. I'd just be like, oh, OK, what is this? I get an office? Wonderful. What else happens? Oh, this dynamic's interesting. And so I feel like I was approaching everything that way. So it was never scary as opposed to very exciting, you know, because I also have an attention span that lasts maybe four seconds. So I was just like, oh, new things. New stuff's happening.
BRIGER: Were there practical lessons, though, that you had to learn right away?
GREEN: Yeah, but, you know, I didn't learn them. I think that I was very - I was - there's all this stuff in the industry that people tell you that it has to be this way or this is how it works. And, like, I distinctly remember someone being like, you're a staff writer, you're talking too much in the room. And I was like, what? Aren't I getting paid to talk? Aren't I getting paid to give you ideas for your show? That seems weird. And, you know, that's the thing. I feel like it's - Hollywood's the Wild West in a way. You just got to go in and drink some drinks and shoot them up and see what happens.
BRIGER: What does that mean? You're a staff writer. You talk too much. Like, who's supposed to talk?
GREEN: The upper-level writers. Like, that's my point. You're like, what? Like, is this about you being afraid that I'm giving too many good ideas and the showrunner likes me more than you? Like, what's happening right now? Like...
BRIGER: Were those writing rooms that you found yourself in diverse?
BRIGER: Were you often the only woman or Black person or Black woman there?
GREEN: In my rooms, I was the only Black woman, only Black person. I think - I wasn't the only woman, though. There was always another woman in all the rooms that I was in.
BRIGER: When you got to run your own show and create the atmosphere that you wanted, what were the priorities for you?
GREEN: Diversity and younger writers. I think that it was important to me. It's one of the things that I said to HBO is that I don't want upper-level writers. They were really pushing upper-level writers, which was understandable because it's a very big, ambitious show and intricate show. But for me, I was like, I want new voices. I think that it's very important to - Hollywood is the biggest storytelling machine there is. And we all live our lives through stories. So it is giving us a story on how to live our lives. And right now, it's a monolith of white men. And I think it's very important to change that.
So when I had my own room, I knew that it was not going to look like the rooms I had been in before and that it was going to be a struggle, too, because I think in a lot of rooms, the minority voices are not there to actually be heard. And I think that that's - so figuring out how to encourage everybody to be like, you have a platform here, speak up, speak up, let's talk, let's figure it out was also an interesting new turn for me.
BRIGER: We don't know - well, you probably know, but we don't know if there's going to be a second season of "Lovecraft Country." And I'm not going to ask you to tell us that. But the next season would be beyond the original source material. Like, you pretty much did the whole book that the show is based on. So I'm just wondering if you could tell us a little bit - about have you been thinking about where you might want to take the show if there is a next season?
GREEN: (Laughter) That's such a - don't tell us. We don't - tell us if there's a second season, but tell us where it would go...
BRIGER: If there was a hypothetical second season, what would you do?
GREEN: If there was a hypothetical second season, I would tell you that this would be the title of it - "Lovecraft Country: Supremacy."
BRIGER: Interesting. OK. I guess we'll just accept that as what you tell us.
BRIGER: Misha Green, thanks so much for being here today.
GREEN: Thank you.
DAVIES: Misha Green is the writer and producer of the HBO series "Lovecraft Country." She spoke with FRESH AIR producer Sam Briger. Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli reviews the new three-part PBS documentary series about Ernest Hemingway. This is FRESH AIR.
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