The name H.P. Lovecraft is literally synonymous with supernatural horror nowadays (you'll hear the word Lovecraftian used whenever there's an unfathomable cosmic threat involved), though, despite his huge influence, there's no escaping the fact that one of the genre's founding fathers held some deeply troubling views. Sadly, the Rhode Island native was an unashamed white supremacist, and his racism often bled into his work. In a stroke of pure genius, author Matt Ruff decided to write a Lovecraft homage that utilized the pulp novelist's signature themes but was told from the perspective of a Black family living during segregation.
2016's Lovecraft Country scored rave reviews and was soon picked up for adaptation by HBO, with Hollywood big hitters J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele coming on board as executive producers. There weren't that many well-known names on the main cast list when it was announced, but you probably already know most of them by their faces at this point. They've played DC anti-heroes, Disney princesses, Wizarding World witches — it's no wonder the cast of Lovecraft Country looks familiar. Here's where you may have seen them all before.
Jonathan Majors' role is his final entry in a personal trilogy
In a nutshell, Lovecraft Country is about sci-fi fanatic Atticus Freeman trying to locate his missing father. He returns from the Korean War to find his old man missing, and embarks on a journey across Jim Crow-era America looking for him. Atticus encounters Lovecraftian terrors along the way, but racist locals pose just as much threat. To make matters worse, he discovers that he's related to a white family with links to an ancient cult. "That in and of itself, to me, is the most uncomfortable thing to wrestle with as an African American: that you are probably the descendant of the same people who enslaved you," star Jonathan Majors told Looper.
Majors took on a different kind of struggle in his first major screen role. He was still studying at the Yale School of Drama when he landed the part of real-life LGBTQ+ activist Ken Jones in the critically acclaimed miniseries When We Rise (2017). Majors would ply his trade in three feature films over the next two years: Christian Bale-led Western Hostiles, Matthew McConaughey-led crime flick White Boy Rick, and mystery drama Out of the Blue, where he starred alongside James Caan.
The actor shot to prominence in 2019 with his turn in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which he followed with Spike Lee's Netflix film, Da 5 Bloods. They were the first two installments in a personal trilogy on "Black masculinity," Majors said, with Lovecraft Country being the final entry.
Jurnee Smollett has an A-list friendship with Samuel L. Jackson
Her Lovecraft Country co-star Jonathan Majors is set to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (he's been cast as Kang the Conqueror), but Jurnee Smollett has already nailed her colors to the DC mast. Outside of the hit HBO show (in which she plays Letitia "Leti" Lewis, an old friend of Atticus who joins him on his journey), the actress is best known for portraying Black Canary in the 2020 team-up flick Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. While Smollett enjoyed the experience, getting the chance to play a character with real vulnerabilities was a welcome challenge. "I think one thing that was important to Misha and I in the portrayal of Leti is that no one is strong all the time," Smollett told Looper at a roundtable interview.
The Misha she's referring to is Misha Green, who worked with Smollett for a few years before they came together for Lovecraft Country. The actress starred in Green's period drama Underground between 2016 and 2017, and prior to that, she played a vampire in True Blood, another HBO favorite. Her career can be traced back to the early 1990s when she appeared on sitcoms Full House and On Our Own as a child. Her big break was 1997's Eve's Bayou, for which she won a Critics Choice Award for Best Child Actress. Her cheating father was played by Samuel L. Jackson, who recalled having a "great relationship" with Smollett when he talked to her for Interview magazine.
Courtney B. Vance: an 'overnight sensation after 30 years'
Joining Atticus and Leti on their quest is the former's uncle, George Freeman. George, the brother of the missing Montrose Freeman, is portrayed by Courtney B. Vance, a versatile actor who flew under the radar for decades. He made his stage debut while still a student at the Yale School of Drama, appearing in the world premiere of Fences. The show moved from the Yale Repertory Theatre to Broadway in 1987, and Vance wasted no time making the leap to the screen, taking on the role of Spc. Abraham 'Doc' Johnson in the Vietnam War flick Hamburger Hill that same year. He appeared in Jack Ryan movie The Hunt for Red October after that, but his big break was still some way off.
Vance continued to chip away during the 1990s, working with a young Elijah Wood in The Adventures of Huck Finn, a bearded Charlie Sheen in bland actioner Beyond the Law, and a sanguine Michelle Pfieffer in Dangerous Minds. He recurred on both Law & Order: Criminal Intent and ER during the 00s, but it wasn't until he played O.J. Simpson's charismatic lawyer Johnnie Cochran in 2016's American Crime Story that he got the recognition an actor of his caliber deserves. "I think if you just hang in there long enough, and keep doing what you know is your sweet spot, I think the world eventually catches up to you," he told Vanity Fair, adding that he became "an overnight sensation after 30 years."
You may recognize Aunjanue Ellis from The Help or Ray
The actress who plays Atticus' adventurous aunt Hippolyta Freeman in Lovecraft Country is a veteran of both TV and film. Aunjanue Ellis began performing in choirs at a young age (her grandfather, who raised her alongside her grandmother, preached at Baptist churches around the Mississippi area), but she didn't grow up dreaming about acting. "Where I was from, I didn't have permission to imagine something like that," she told The Hollywood Reporter. It was only after much encouragement from her teachers that she decided to apply for the Tisch School of the Arts, where she had a "surreal" experience with Patrick Stewart — she was chosen to make her stage debut opposite the industry veteran in a production of The Tempest after beating out classmates in an audition.
Ellis started landing screen roles fresh out of school, though she wouldn't gain any recognition until 2004 when she appeared alongside Jamie Foxx in movie biopic Ray. Ellis played vocalist Mary Ann Fisher, who reportedly inspired several Ray Charles songs. That film was "the birth of something," according to Ellis, who would go on to land roles in big pictures like The Help and The Birth of a Nation, in which she played Nat Turner's mother. Nowadays she's best known for her TV work. Prior to Lovecraft Country, she was nominated for an Emmy for her turn in When They See Us, Netflix's critically acclaimed miniseries about the Central Park Five case.
Jada Harris made her acting debut on Glee
If you recognized the actress who plays George and Hippolyta's daughter Diana Freeman when you first sat down to watch Lovecraft Country, you're probably a huge Glee fan. Jada Harris made her acting debut on an episode of the beloved musical dramedy way back in 2010, playing the toddler version of Amber Riley's character, Mercedes Jones. She wouldn't earn her next acting credit until 2013, when she made a one-off appearance in an episode of Nick@Nite's first original scripted comedy, See Dad Run. The Scott Baio-led sit-com was canceled the following year.
Harris took another lengthy break after her See Dad Run episode, but she would return to TV a little older and a little wiser in 2019. She landed the part of Eva Garcia in Fox medical drama The Resident, based on surgeon turned author Marty Makary's book, Unaccountable. It was another one-off part, though a better job was just around the corner — Harris landed her Lovecraft Country role the following year. The youngster had a blast on the HBO show, and she made sure to thank the fans and everyone involved in the making of it after her final day on set. "Thank you all for watching and supporting Lovecraft Country," Harris said in an Instagram post. "This is definitely bittersweet but I feel so blessed to be a part of this wonderful world Misha [Green] created ... I love all of you and I appreciate all of you who helped build this project."
Wunmi Mosaku is a horror flick pro
The part of Leti's older half-sister Ruby Baptise went to British Nigerian actress Wunmi Mosaku, who told Who What Wear that she was "totally stunned and in shock" when she got her callback. Anyone who has followed her career won't have been the slightest bit surprised to see her name pop up on the cast list, however. After cutting her teeth in a number of British TV shows (including long-running police procedural The Bill and Law & Order: UK), Mosaku made the leap to the big screen. You might have caught her as a young nun in 2013 Best Picture nominee Philomena, but if not, you've probably seen her since.
Mosaku appeared in two major Hollywood blockbusters in 2016: she played Kahina Ziri in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (she's the Nairomian woman that Lex Luthor coerces into testifying against the Man of Steel) and American witch Beryl in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She also popped up in an episode of Black Mirror that year, and she would ply her trade on another hit Netflix show in 2017, playing Detective Constable Teri Darego in The End of the F****** World. She portrayed yet another detective in Idris Elba's hit cop show Luther in 2019, but she switched it up in 2020, a year of horror for the actress. Wosaku received critical acclaim both for her role in Lovecraft Country and her turn as haunted immigrant Rial in Netflix hit, His House.
Jamie Chung made her debut on MTV
Those old enough to remember The Real World: San Diego will need no introduction to Jamie Chung, who plays Korean nursing student Ji-Ah in Lovecraft Country. Chung debuted on the MTV staple in 2004 and would successfully transition to a career in acting over the next few years. One of her first on-screen gigs was the music video for Rihanna's "Umbrella" (she's the "first girl on Jay Z's right," she confirmed to Us Weekly), which dropped in 2007. This turned into a springboard year for Chung — in the space of 12 months, she appeared in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, ER, Days of Our Lives, CSI: NY, and Greek.
Chung spent the next decade quietly establishing herself as a reliable pro. She reunited with Adam Sandler for Grown Ups; co-starred in Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch; took on the role of Mulan in Once Upon a Time, played the wife of Ed Helms' dentist in The Hangover Part II and Part III; and appeared in Sin City sequel A Dame to Kill For. She landed the voice role of Go Go in Disney's Big Hero 6 (a role she would reprise in Big Hero 6: The Series), and would also appear in DC show Gotham prior to Lovecraft Country, which has been a real gift for the actress. "It's so rare that Asian American women get these kinds of roles to play," she told Looper at a roundtable interview. "I've never had an opportunity like this."
Abbey Lee went from fashion to film
Supermodel turned actress Abbey Lee plays Lovecraft Country's bigoted sorceress Christina Braithwhite, daughter of the Order of the Ancient Dawn's leader. If you're into fashion, you'll no doubt recognize the Australian stunner from her runway years. She began modeling at the age of 14 and went on to become one of the industry's biggest names, but it wasn't scratching her creative itch. "Then out of the f****** blue, I go off to audition for Mad Max: Fury Road," she told Harper's Bazaar. Lee won the part of The Dag (one of Immortan Joe's five wives) in George Miller's post-apocalyptic thriller, and she knew right away that she'd found her calling.
Mad Max: Fury Road was near-unanimously adored by the critics, but Lee has made some unfortunate role choices since. In 2016, she portrayed ancient deity Anat in box office bomb Gods of Egypt and jealous model Sarah in The Neon Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn's disappointing follow-up to his 2011 Hollywood breakthrough, Drive. She wrapped the year up with a small role in Office Christmas Party (Lovecraft Country co-stars Courtney B. Vance and Jamie Chung also popped up in the forgettable comedy), but 2017 wasn't exactly a fresh start. The Aussie scored the part of Tirana in ill-fated Stephen King adaptation The Dark Tower, and after that, she took on the title role in drab sci-fi thriller Elizabeth Harvest. Luckily, she made a good choice when she chose Lovecraft Country as her first foray into TV.
Michael K. Williams has over 100 acting credits
The part of secret-bearing patriarch Montrose Freeman — the man everyone's looking for — is played by Michael K. Williams, an experienced actor with an impressive resume. He got his start dancing in music videos shot in and around New York, but after a bar fight in Queens left him with a facial scar, everything changed. "Directors didn't want me just to dance in the videos any more. They wanted me to act out these thug roles," he told NPR. It ultimately worked in his favor — when Tupac Shakur saw a photo of Williams, he cast him in his gangster movie, Bullet. "He happened to see a Polaroid picture of me and was like, yo, this dude looks thugged out enough that he could play my little brother."
Williams has notched over 100 credits and picked up four Emmy nominations since then. You may recognize him from films like 12 Years A Slave, The Purge: Anarchy, Inherent Vice, or Assassin's Creed, but he's best known for his TV work. Williams was Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire and, prior to that, Omar Little in The Wire, which has a lot in common with his latest HBO hit. "When we look at shows like The Wire and now Lovecraft Country, and we get a chance to show what is wrong with us as a society and as a community," he told Looper at a roundtable interview. "I think it's always a good time to tell stories like that."