Lovecraft Country's Jonathan Majors Discusses How Fear Is the Key to Atticus' Evolution

Jonathan Majors as Atticus Freeman.
Jonathan Majors as Atticus Freeman.
Image: HBO

Lovecraft Country’s veteran hero, Atticus Freeman, barely has time to become re-acclimated to his surroundings after a tour in the Korean War before he’s thrust on a quest into the magical wilds of New England, where his father has been captured by a cult of white supremacists.

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While the demons and sorcerers Atticus (played by Jonathan Majors) and his traveling companion, Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett), encounter in Lovecraft Country are objectively terrifying, Atticus has demonstrated time and again that he’s not the type to flinch or turn away easily, even in moments where his life’s in danger. After years of filling his head with stories about fantastical creatures and aliens borne from the pages of sci-fi and fantasy novels—and then eventually experiencing warfare first hand—Atticus has a perspective on the world uniquely positioned to help him adjust to his new, decidedly more mystical reality with ease.

But when we caught up with Majors recently to talk about where Lovecraft Country is going, he explained that from his perspective, the important thing to understand about Atticus’ growth is how deeply it is tied to his sense of fear. Despite the strong facade Atticus puts up for his friends and family, he’s plenty scared of the monstrous things that are increasingly becoming a part of his life. Rather than letting the fear paralyze him, though, Majors says Atticus turns it into one of his bigger sources of strength.

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“He feels it, but it doesn’t fuck with him because he can move through it,” Majors said of Atticus’ relationship to fear. “Atticus has so much emotion inside. He has so much hurt inside of him. That’s man versus self. That’s what his story is. His story is Atticus versus Atticus.”

For Majors, Atticus is the third in his series of performances following his roles as Montgomery Allen in The Last Black Man in San Francisco and David in Da 5 Bloods that are different ruminations on Black masculinity. Majors explained how he sees the three different roles as being very different in that while their their missions and approaches are distinct from one another, they’re all fighting the same war.

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“It is a corrective and an antidote (sic.) to the toxic masculinity,” Majors said. “Particularly of Black masculinity that society has put on, in many cases, Black men.

With the sudden death of his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) in Lovecraft Country’s second episode, Atticus is left without the only real stable and supportive father figure he ever had. The pain is further complicated by the fact that George’s death came while he was attempting to save the life of Atticus’ emotionally distant biological father, Montrose (Michael K. Williams). Difficult as it is for Atticus to accept that Montrose is a part of him, Majors explained that what Atticus is going through is an important process leading to him better understanding the full story of his family’s legacy, in all of its glory and ugliness.

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“Particularly to the Freeman bloodline, there is the fact that Atticus is made up of half slave and half free man,” Majors said. “He’s a part of the Braithwhite family, and that in and of itself is the most uncomfortable thing to wrestle with as an African-American—that you are probably the great, great, great, great, great, great descendant of the same people who enslaved you, and you can’t deny that.”

By keeping an open mind about just what sorts of things are possible—something Majors attributes to Atticus, like Leti and George, having a deep and abiding love for fiction—navigating the Braithwhites’ world of treachery comes to him with a naturalness that has little to do with his magical heritage. Even before Atticus becomes entangled with the Braithwhites and the Sons of Adam, Majors suggested that Lovecraft Country already made clear that what’s in store for Atticus down the line is bigger and even more spectacular.

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“He hadn’t seen [a shoggoth] in the flesh, but he’d seen one in his brain,” Majors said. “He dreams about these things. The question is whether the sequence at the top of the series—this is a recurring dream that Atticus has? Does he see these things all the time? Is it the dream, or is he remembering?”


Lovecraft Country airs on Sundays on HBO.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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