Misha Green finds new ways to terrify viewers with each episode of Lovecraft Country—from a haunted house to demonic twins—but the creator herself doesn’t frighten easily. “I very rarely get scared,” says Green. Well, except for one thing: “I guess stasis scares me: the idea of not growing, not challenging yourself, not being surprised.”
Certainly no one who has seen Lovecraft Country will ever accuse Green, Adweek’s Game Changer of the Year, of not challenging herself. Every episode of her HBO series, which is based on the 2016 Matt Ruff novel about two intertwined Black families in 1950s Jim Crow America struggling against racism while also facing off against untold supernatural horrors, swings for the fences. One episode takes the audience on a lavish journey through space and time, another follows the story of a South Korean nurse possessed by a “kumiho” and several of them feature some of the creepiest creatures you’ve ever encountered.
In short, it’s exactly the kind of incredibly ambitious show Green pitched HBO from the start. “I said, ‘I want to go big, I want to go epic, I want to take what Matt Ruff had done in the novel, which is try to reclaim space for people of color who have typically been left out,’” says Green. “It’s one of the reasons we brought it to HBO, because we wanted it to feel like a movie every episode.”
A lifelong horror fan, Green immediately sparked to Ruff’s novel. “As a huge fan of the genre, that stuff was the easy part for me. I literally can go ‘here’s 20 different things we could do with our ghost story,’ because the genre is my favorite,” she explains.
She used the book as an inspiration for the season—“every chapter has its own feel,” she says—packing each episode with enough plot twists and character development to fill entire seasons of other shows. “I watch TV and enjoy it, because then sometimes I’m like, wow, we’re watching the same scene happen 20 times in one episode. What are you waiting for?” Green says.
Lovecraft Country is Green’s second show as creator, following Underground, WGN America’s critically acclaimed drama about the Underground Railroad that she co-created and which debuted in 2016 and ran for two seasons. That series gave her “the confidence in melding genres, using historical period pieces with genre elements,” says Green, who had previously written for Sons of Anarchy and Heroes. “Underground was basically a heist thriller.”
As she did with Underground, Green incorporated modern music into Lovecraft Country’s soundtrack, using songs from Marilyn Manson, Rihanna and Cardi B, because “what we’re dealing with in Lovecraft Country is very much in the now,” she says. But she upped her game by also featuring spoken-word tracks, after being inspired by their use in Beyoncé’s Lemonade and the 2016 James Baldwin documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. The show’s third episode opens with the audio from a 2017 Nike ad for its equality campaign celebrating Vogue legend Leiomy Maldonado, an icon of New York’s ballroom scene, with narration from Precious Angel Ramirez. “When I watched that Nike commercial, I felt something,” says Green, who credited the spot for breaking down ballroom culture and “bringing it to the mainstream, with heart”—a feeling she wanted to replicate in her own show.
As production on the season progressed, even HBO started to become daunted by Lovecraft’s immense scale. “They were like, ‘We’re so excited about a really big show,’ and then about halfway through, they’re like, ‘This is a really big show!’” recalls Green. “I was like, ‘Yeah, and we’re halfway though, so we might as well keep moving!’”