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Michael K. Williams and Jonathan Majors have never experienced a relationship quite like the one they shared making Lovecraft Country. The HBO drama series, boasting 18 Emmy nominations, is anchored by legacy and generational trauma, with Williams and Majors at the center of that. The show not only saw characters exorcising demons — those born from racism and the supernatural — within the narrative, but offscreen as well.
Majors, who is up for outstanding lead actor in a drama, and Williams, up for outstanding supporting actor in a drama, reunited over Zoom to talk about their experience on the show and the bond they formed. In an emotional conversation between the two, the actors opened up about allowing themselves to be vulnerable with one another and fulfilling roles in each other’s lives beyond the set.
Lovecraft Country is not the first time you two have worked together. Was When We Rise the first time the two of you met?
JONATHAN MAJORS Yeah, it was. It was wonderful.
MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS We played a real person. His name was Ken Jones. We recently just lost him. He passed earlier this year. I just wanted to let his family know, if they see this, we lift him up and we send our condolences.
What did you learn from each other, playing the same person at different points in his life?
WILLIAMS Well, I was jealous because the young Ken was handsome, young, robust! I got to play the Ken Jones in the part of his life where he was struggling. I would look at Jonathan in the military uniform and I’d be like, “Dang!” (Laughs.)
MAJORS I think the moment that for me was the most beautiful, and where I learned the most, was in San Francisco over dinner. We had a whole night together, with our late brother Ken Jones. It was the three Kens. This was my very first job ever and Mike took care of the whole thing. I was a brother he didn’t even know well. But he took us both under his wing and really walked us through the process of making the film, and telling the story, and brought that same energy to our collaboration. He showed me that the learning and the process of being a great actor is one of servitude and humility. And that’s something I took in. When we met up in Lovecraft, we both brought that same energy.
Did that previous experience make it easier to play off each other once again in Lovecraft Country, this time as father and son?
MAJORS I just want to jump in, if I may, Pop, and say that the process of Montrose Freeman and Atticus Freeman began, I believe, at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association party at TIFF. It was my first kind of outing like that, and I remember being very nervous just to be there. I saw Mike. I was trying to get to his area, and I finally did, and he hugged me. He gave me all of this encouragement and love. And there was a covenant that was made in my ear in the middle of all of this vulgarity. There was this peace and connection between two men of different generations. He made a promise to me. Mike, you said, “I’ve got your back. We’re going to bring it. We’re here for each other.” That was the gist of it. And we both were emotional. I was just like, “Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” Mike also says “Yes, sir” to me, even though he is the elder. It’s odd, but I think that’s just how we were raised. And that plays into our relationship as Atticus and Montrose, where in the scene, spiritually, Atticus and Montrose can switch from being the father to the son.
WILLIAMS I’d never heard of Lovecraft Country or anything about H.P. Lovecraft. All I knew was that I wanted another opportunity to work with Jonathan. Most of our connection in When We Rise was offscreen and off-set as brothers, but we didn’t actually share a frame together until Lovecraft Country. I was eager to get that opportunity, especially after what I’d seen him do with young Ken Jones in When We Rise.
Both Atticus and Montrose are such intense characters. I’m curious if you guys had time to decompress when you weren’t filming? What was the culture like between you two on and off set?
MAJORS Picking up Uncle George [Courtney B. Vance] when he was in town. Just being brothers — that was off set. On set, to me it felt like you’ve got two lions together and the only time shit gets out of hand is when they stop behaving like lions. Two lions just walking down the road together is just two lions. It was when he did something different that I’d stop and go, “Oh, what’s that?” And that’s what the scenes were about. The Freeman men have a certain strength, power and dynamism to them. For me, we were so similar that in the hardest scenes, there was a sense of comfort in it. We trusted each other to a fault.
WILLIAMS Jurnee [Smollett] and I had shot the scene where Atticus comes to Montrose’s apartment and you see Montrose holding his lover’s hand in the hallway. And I had gotten to a place where that shit was painful. I remember they had cut the scene, and I was just trying to decompress from all of that emotion, and you just came in the room, man, and — not one word — just hugged me. He just held me, and he hugged me, and he let me cry. He just let me get that shit out. That was one of the most intimate moments I’d ever had with a fellow thespian. I never felt safer than that moment.
MAJORS Having Michael play Montrose, it was healing. To have another Black man hold the rage of another man is a very bonding experience. Atticus unloaded on Montrose, take after take after take. What is being thrown at someone emotionally by what someone is saying, what someone is doing to them with their words, that is not easy. It’s coming from a place of real hurt, so it stings. And to have to stay in that was very healing for me to exorcise that. The scene where Atticus tells Montrose, “I’m about to have a kid. What do I do?” That was one of the most healing scenes for me because that’s one thing I really wanted to ask my father when my child was coming, and he was not there to do that. And, let’s just say, Mike was more capable, more able to do that for me. And I got to have that moment.
I’m curious if some of your performance choices, and relationships to the material and each other, shifted over the series. Listening to you two talk, I’d say you were not the same people as you were at the beginning of the shoot by the end.
MAJORS Each one of our processes are different, though there are some similarities. There was one time I remember when there was a very real, tangible sharing of process between the two of us, and it was art. It was our brother Prince, and there was a song that Michael was playing between setups. It was called “Father’s Song.” He sent me the song and I think the rest of that day, the rest of that scene at least, we were both listening to the same song. That was a very special thing. And my process is so private, and I know Mike’s is, too. It’s a very independent thing. But I do think about that sometimes now, moving forward with other roles with other actors. Should I share that with them? Something that’s really moving me in a scene that’s connected to them? If it’s a song or a piece of literature. And I haven’t really yet. But I haven’t quite had the same relationship with a scene partner as I’ve had with Michael.
WILLIAMS Lovecraft, it changed me for the better. I understand now the importance of therapy, which I am in. I understand that I have trauma, that we have trauma that affects us that we were not even alive to see — blood trauma. I was clueless to all of that prior to the Lovecraft journey. I came out on the other side more aware and more in contact with our ancestors. The relationship between Jonathan and I, it just expands. Sometimes I’m the father and he’s the son. Sometimes I’m the son and he’s the father. Sometimes we’re brothers. Sometimes we’re just friends. Sometimes we just act mad at each other! (Laughs.) But the spectrum of our connection, of our bond, it mirrored my relationship with one of my children, my middle son. And because of you, Jonathan, I believe I was able to be more present in his life. You helped me to understand him more. Love you, bro.
MAJORS I love you, bro. For real.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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