This interview discusses plot points from the latest episode of Lovecraft Country, “Holy Ghost.”
Sunday night’s Lovecraft Country took the show into a more traditional “ghosts in the basement” territory, albeit with a biting twist rooted in years of oppression. As Jurnee Smollett’s Leti Lewis suddenly came into money, she was able to kickstart her plan of buying a big old house on Chicago’s mostly white North Side for some of her mostly Black creative friends. Sister Ruby moves in too, and things go about as well as can be expected on a show that’s been filled with nocturnal eyeball monsters and racists of both the small-town and ancient-world variety.
The A.V. Club sat down with Smollett to talk about “Holy Ghost,” Leti’s relationship with her sister, and how the character uses her appearance as almost a suit of armor. Portions of that conversation are in the video above, but a full transcript is below.
The A.V. Club: Episode three takes Lovecraft Country in sort of a more traditional horror direction, though the whole show has been terrifying on a number of different levels. How was “Holy Ghost” explained to you when you got the script?
Jurnee Smollett: Initially we spoke about this feeling of displacement that Leti suffers from. James Baldwin talks about the great shock that as a black American, you come to when you realize that your birthplace, this place that you owe your identity to, hasn’t actually evolved space for you. And so having come from this death and this desire to be reborn, Leti is trying to create a space for herself. She so desperately wants the people in her life to see her as a new person. I think she’s in this pattern of sabotaging relationships in her life because she’s such a wanderer, she’s such a drifter. She was a parental child and she inherited this lineage of trauma, and when you are habitually abandoned, like she was by her mother, you seek this healing, and you seek to rectify the situation. You seek security. In wanting to pioneer into an all white neighborhood, she wants to create a space of her own and she wants to build her tribe. That’s why she moves her artist friends in, and her sister. It’s like, “This is the family I’m trying to create.”
We see that through the exorcism, too. It’s really what [showrunner] Misha [Green] and I realized after shooting it. She walked up to me after we did the scene, and she said, “This is really Leti needing to exorcise herself, actually.” That’s the rebirth that she so desperately needs.
AVC: We know that there’s some shit going on with Leti and Ruby. We’ve seen the money issues, but what are the other subtexts of their relationship? Where’s the disconnect happening with them? Is it because Leti abuses her trust?
JS: A lot of the issues stem from that mother/daughter split that they share. Leti has chosen to reject everything that their mother did, and she so desperately does not want to be at all like her mother. And yet she’s so much like her mother.
Ruby has been left with the burden of being responsible and of holding it down. She was taking care of her mother when she was sick, and Ruby was there.
So there’s resentment that they have towards each other. Leti resents Ruby because she actually had a relationship with their mother, as flawed as it was. She resents Leti because she was left to deal with the shit from Eloise.
As siblings, you’re soulmates with each other, but that person can also represent and trigger the very thing that you hate most about your life. And so that’s why they clash with each other. It’s the battle of the love and the hate that all stems from them trying to heal the split.
AVC: I have a brother, and I’ve always said that siblings are the person that can make you laugh the hardest just with a look, but they’re also the person that can hurt you the most with one word. They can make you the most angry the quickest.
JS: Right. It’s because they know you the most.
With Leti, she just so desperately wants to be seen as a new version of herself. “I am not fucking up anymore. I joined this budding movement. I am making all these choices to improve, and to actually help out our community. Can you see me for who I am now?” But we know family will always think of you as the 5-year-old that you were, or as the 14-year-old who fucked up, or even the young 20-year-old who screwed up. That is so frustrating for Leti because her sister won’t see her, and she won’t see the efforts to change and to become a better person or to become less selfish. She won’t see it, and it’s just maddening.
AVC: Leti’s putting on a good front, through. She looks great all the time, and she has cool friends. But that’s not real, right?
JS: She’s wounded and she’s quite broken. Really that’s just her armor, you know?
When Misha and I were first talking about Leti one of the things we were talking about was this idea of dignity. In an era when racism was so prevalent, Leti is going to try her damnedest to look good because it’s the dignity that she is trying to not be robbed of. “You won’t erase me. You will see me.”
It reminds me of my grandmother. I never met my grandmother, but I grew up hearing stories from my mom [and her family] about this woman. She was the first Black Miss Galveston, and she raised four children as a single woman cleaning homes for white folks. She would go to work every single morning, regardless of how they mistreated her, neglected her, underpaid her, abused her. She would go to work with her dress pressed and her hair and makeup done because dammit, she was going to look good cleaning their homes because she didn’t want them to rob her of her dignity. It was a very radical act.
That’s where the rebellion of Leti is expressed outwardly. “You’re going to see me. You won’t erase me.”