TBB Talks to … wunmi mosaku about lovecraft country

Wunmi Mosaku is currently starring in Misha Green’s mind bending series, Lovecraft Country.

Playing ‘Ruby Baptiste‘ half-sister to Jurnee Smollett’s ‘Letitia ‘Leti’ Lewis‘ Mosaku who we know best for the BAFTA award-winning performance as Damilola Taylor’s mother in Damilola: Our Loved Boy (2016); as ‘Carla‘ in the Chiwetel Ejiofor lead series Dancing on the Edge (2013), and of course as ‘Detective Sgt. Catherine Halliday‘ in Luther (2019). Along with film roles in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and her breakout role in I Am Slave (2010).

However, (personal opinion) there’s something about Mosaku’s role in HBO’s Lovecraft Country, that shows off a freedom and celebration of her talents not necessarily appreciated in UK productions thus far. Call me protective of our black actresses…

It was a pleasure to fangirl over Mosaku and get into the nitty-gritty of her role in Lovecraft

Please introduce yourself …

Wunmi Mosaku. An actor.

What word or sentence best describes you right now …

A home bird.

Please tell us about your character and what their goal is in Lovecraft Country

I play Ruby Baptiste. Sister to Letitia-fucking-Lewis! Ruby is driven but teeters between hopeful aspiration and hopeless pessimism. She just wants what she deserves, she knows she’s exceptional, she knows her worth but society, racism, the patriarchy, get in the way of her actualising her brilliance.

Ruby has an interesting journey what was your reaction to reading her story arc?

I was torn between the boldness of the journey and what felt like a betrayal of all things wonderfully us. It wasn’t a matter of coming to peace with her decision but embracing her pain fully. Respecting and loving her through it.

(l-r) Misha Green (showrunner); Wunmi Mosaku (Ruby); Jurnee Smollett (Letitia) – Lovecraft Country

How did you reconcile any issues of conflict that you had with where the writers were taking her?

I had to dig deep to many moments in my own life where I chose to love and embrace myself fully and explore the ‘what if I didn’t?’. I had to confront a lot of wrongs that had been done to me because of white supremacy/racism /inequality/injustice, things I’d buried deep away, and tried to forget. I had to embrace the rage and the fatigue to understand why she might take the potion. 

From my perspective, there’s an imposition of the narrative that educated dark-skinned women can only find love and hope in the arms of white men especially when it comes to storylines on screen and stage – so when I realised Ruby would have a tryst with William my shoulders slumped a teeny bit, however … the introspection of the ‘freedom’ of being a white woman and subsequently coming full circle to then get revenge … I guess my preamble is to wonder about how you felt playing with the notion that being a white woman is freedom and possibly what all black women desire… and the desire of someone like William is maybe a form of escapism from being Black?

The problem isn’t her/my blackness, the problem is society. She doesn’t desire to be white she desires whiteness/society/evil/inequality – to step out of her path so she can be and live the life she deserves and is owed. He promised her the world, and she took it. I don’t think it’s his whiteness that is her escapism, it’s ‘magic‘.

Wunmi Mosaku & Jordan Patrick Smith – Lovecraft Country

Saying yes to this project, and being a part of it – how does that tie in with where you are personally and in your career?

I learned a lot and have been changed by playing Ruby. Because of the research, by being black in America. Sharing these stories and pushing the boundaries, imagining something totally different … I am changed. I’d never spoken out about racism outside of my home before this show, not really, it’s hard to not feel gaslit in the UK when talking about race.

Having a room full of people who experience the world in a similar way to oneself and being able to discuss it openly changed me. Having a black woman as my showrunner for the first time meant I was free to talk, uncensored, and unashamed. I didn’t have to put on a show. Being on Lovecraft Country, it being as bold as it is on HBO, is a huge moment for me. It’s thrilling to see a piece like this; Misha doesn’t pull any punches, and consequently what the show requires of us emotionally, physically, and spiritually… It does something to you.

Your portrayal of ‘Ruby’ really showcases your talents and [I think] celebrates your skills as an actress … what stands out about being in Lovecraft; and playing Ruby in comparison to other roles in your career to date?

I love that this show explores the peaks of black joy and excellence and depths of our sorrow. It’s affirming to ascend the heights of black love, music, family, unity, community, brilliance, and everything that juxtaposes that, the darkest parts of humanity.

I’ve often thought that you should be a lot more ‘renowned’ for the work you do… I’m not going to ask if you think you should be more famous, but how do you assess your career path so far, and do you feel that you’ve had your ‘fair’ moment? [coming from, in my opinion, the UK’s underestimation of British Black actresses and their capabilities – and again the lack of freedom a lot of projects in the UK have for black women characters]

I feel very grateful for the work I’ve had and the trust I’ve been given. I don’t want to undermine the opportunities I’ve been given but I can’t say that it’s an equal playing field- it’s not equal in opportunity, in representation, in range, in respect, in trajectory. But that isn’t unique to the UK, that’s the system that needs to be fixed, globally.

Wunmi Mosaku & Jurnee Smollett – Lovecraft Country

Biggest revelation being on set with the fellow cast members and creatives and working on a project such as this?

Some days at work, I was able to experience freedom from double consciousness and it was magical.

Getting to know you …

A book you have to have in your collection: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi 

A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date: Baduizm, Erykah Badu, and Californication, Red Hot Chili Peppers are two albums that helped me define me and epitomise my style inside and out. 

A film/tv show that reminds you why you’re in this business: This would be theatre for me. That’s my first love. Its therapy for me. I go alone and marvel at the stamina the electricity, the fact they can move people night after night, the fourth wall-I’m here but I’m not but I am. Nothing makes my heart thump or makes me fall in love all over again with acting like a powerful performance on stage. 

The first play you saw and what it meant to you: The Seagull at Manchester Royal Exchange 2001/2. I fell in love with the theatre. I fell in love with Checkov. “if you want my life, come and take it“.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, and Glad this week?: Glad – My niece and nephew showing me their “creations” on face time. I mean the kids don’t say drawings,  it’s CREATIONS! I love it!; Mad – Politics. Hate speech. Inequality. Injustice. The system; Sad – Missing my family in the UK. 

Words you live by: Be kind.

Developed by Misha Green (Underground) Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Black (Jonathan Majors), a black man, who sets out on a road trip across a racially segregated America, to look for his missing father. However, he faces lethal challenges in his quest. (Also stars Michael Kenneth Williams, Aunjanue Ellis, Courtney B. Vance).

Catch the series via Sky Atlantic & Now TV


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