Lovecraft Country is an ensemble show about multiple members of the interconnected Freeman, Baptiste, and Braithwaite families, which made it important for certain characters to be expanded upon from their counterparts in the books. In particular, Wunmi Mosaku’s Ruby and Abbey Lee’s Christina have been given more fascinating arcs in the larger story of magic, monsters, and American racism in HBO’s series.
This week’s most recent episode, “Strange Case,” made short work of demonstrating just how significantly this adaptation has taken Christina and Ruby in new and somewhat unexpected directions. When we sat down with the actresses to discuss this week’s revelations and what they portent for the characters, the pair made a point of emphasizing that while things are beginning to come to light, there are still more secrets working in the background to shape Lovecraft Country’s future.
After Ruby becomes sexually entangled with William (Jordan Patrick Smith), Christina Braithwhite’s eerily blonde manservant, she becomes a woman transformed in a very literal sense as she wakes up in her bed shocked to discover that she’s now a white woman (Jamie Neumann). Unbeknownst to Ruby, her new physical form is actually that of one of the village people living near the Braithwhites’ estate back in Ardham, Massachusetts. To her, the new body (and Williams’ promise of more of the potion that changed her) represents a chance for a new kind of freedom.
As Hillary Davenport—the name Ruby gives her white identity—she’s able to move through Chicago with an ease and access she was never allowed to enjoy as a Black woman. The feeling of freedom is so intoxicating that Ruby’s willing to overlook how horrific the actual transformation process is. Mosaku explained to us that, not being an African-American woman herself, she felt the need to develop a robust inner life for Ruby in order to compensate for her not having experienced just what it means to grow up Black in America personally. Even though “Strange Case” focuses so much on Ruby pretending to be someone she isn’t, Mosaku was confident that much of the inner work she was doing does, in fact, make its way into this episode in particular.
“The history from 1619 to, you know, the ‘50s and how Ruby got to where she is was something that I felt like I needed to research myself, being aware of how the education system isn’t always honest,” Mosaku said. “You know, you don’t always get the truth. So I did a lot of research into how she became who she was, is, and how she got there and all the people who would have influenced her musically.”
Ruby’s backstory—specifically, the number of professional development courses she took as part of her dream of working in a department store—actually comes up while Hillary is applying for a job that Ruby didn’t feel confident enough to go out for in her own skin. The brief flash of Ruby’s story throws the white man interviewing Hillary off for a moment because it’s difficult for him to wrap his mind around the idea of a woman with Ruby/Hillary’s professional ambitions. Ruby comes to understand that her Black womanhood is something that’s still so much a part of her that it can’t really be blocked out no matter how powerful William’s magicks are. William repeatedly tries to spell this out for Ruby himself, but it’s only when the same message is coming from Christina that Ruby seems to snap out of her white woman fantasy and butts up against the realities of her situation.
Because things between Ruby and her sister Leti are so strained, though, it’s easy for her to find a twisted sort of comfort in Christina and William’s presence even though she knows deep down that they shouldn’t really be trusted. What Ruby doesn’t know, Lee pointed out, is just how much of her own truths Christina’s been keeping to herself throughout this whole season, or the things about Christina’s inner life that Lee’s kept entirely to herself.
“I think if I were going to make a choice that needs clarification, then I would go to Misha [Green],” Lee said. “I would make sure that I wasn’t batting completely left of field. But everybody, every human being that you meet has a backstory that you don’t know about, that there’s details to somebody’s life, very intimate details that nobody sometimes knows.”
Lee elaborated that at least some of Christina’s secrets are things that you can spot in the performances she, Moaku, Neuman, and Smith all deliver throughout the episode leading up to the moment a distressed William barges back into his home and collapses on the floor in front of Ruby. In retrospect, Christina and William being the same person seems alarmingly obvious, if only because of their similar temperaments and the way they’ve stalked around Lovecraft Country, never really interacting with one another. In order to achieve a believable level of on-screen chemistry as lovers, the four actors spent time together to better understand one another’s energies and approaches to the scene, but Lee pointed out that even then, they all took care to only be but so forthcoming with their exact headspaces even though they’re meant to be intimate.
“There’s a fine line of like of giving too much away,” Lee said. “I don’t necessarily want Ruby to know how I feel about her at every given moment. I want Wunmi, the actress, to respond to me. Or in the scene. I want her to be on her toes about how I feel about her because that’s how we are as human beings.”
Learning the truth about William alarms Ruby, but “Strange Case” takes care to make you feel as if she doesn’t intend on going anywhere anytime soon because of how living as Hillary has made her feel since she began taking the potions. Looking forward, Mosaku shared that the future does hold more for Ruby and that she’s only just starting to come into a new power for herself that’s going to grow as the season continues.
“I think for Ruby it’s that she is able to occupy more space and she’s able to exercise a little more freedom and she’s allowed to be selfish,” Mosaku said. “With magic, there’s kind of...not no repercussions, but [they’re] just not the same. It’s not one plus one equals two. It’s like one plus one equals whatever the hell I want it to equal when there’s magic involved.”
Lovecraft Country has a similar arc in store Christina, but Lee pointed out that Christina’s ideas about coming into power are far more self-serving and potentially dangerous for those around her. Interesting as the prospect of a partnership with Ruby might sound, Lee warned that the important thing to bear in mind about her character is that she’ll always put herself first no matter who she ends up hurting in the process.
“It’s more about like, she’s going to get what she wants and she’s going on this journey of like, fuck the system,” Lee said. “Fuck men. Tear them down. Is she that interested in taking a bunch of women with her and starting like a female vigilante group? No, she’ll step on top of them as well.”
Lovecraft Country airs on Sundays on HBO.
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