Actresses Talk Lovecraft Country, For All Mankind, Star Trek Discovery at Virtual Conference
For the first time in its fifty-year history, San Diego Comic Con- the granddaddy of them all, was canceled! Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the convention wisely decided not to have thousands of people packed closely together in the halls of the San Diego Convention Center. However, they did hold a convention of sorts live online at Youtube.
Since there’s basically been no TV or film production since March some of our favorite, and usually widely anticipated Comic Con panels, such as Marvel’s new projects and the shows from the CW; The Flash, Supergirl etc. weren’t held this year.
Still, Comic Con came through with some great content. Panels for the second season of For All Mankind starring Krys Marshall (Supergirl), Joel Kinnaman (The Killing), Michael Dorman (Daybreakers), and Shantel Van Santen (Shooter), the third season of Star Trek Discovery starring Sonequa Martin Green (The Walking Dead), and HBO’s Lovecraft Country premiering August 16th, starring Jurnee Smollett (Underground), Aunjanue Ellis (If Beale Street Could Talk), Wunmi Mosaku (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), Abbey Lee (The Dark Tower), Michael Kenneth Simmons (The Wire), and Courtney B. Vance (Uncorked) gave us the inside scoop and some behind the scenes stories.
The Lovecraft Country panel was moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s TV and Film Executive Editor Sarah Rodman. One thing that was really interesting is that Abby Lee plays a character called Christine Braithwaite, who does not appear in the book at all. However, the book centers around Caleb Braithwaite, a wealthy white man with supernatural powers who plays puppet master with so many people’s lives. Has the series gender-bended Caleb? It really sounds like it but it wasn’t addressed during the panel but it would be great to find out. Lee described her character as, “The only daughter of the leader of a secret order called the Order of Adam. They’re natural philosophers, or alchemists. She’s the, the ultimate provocateur. She’s the agent of chaos and the white antagonist. I think that she represents on the larger scale sort of the oppressed 1950s woman sort of liberating herself from the patriarchal society and family that she’s been brought up in.”
Lovecraft Country the book is set against the backdrop of omnipresent danger for Black Americans during the Jim Crow era and the main characters form a group of extremely forward thinking and intellectual working class Blacks. It has a plethora of strong characters among which are a number of women. Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) are sisters who see the world very differently and Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), their friend is a Black woman who loved science and science fiction from childhood. Hippolyta would have been an astronomer but for her circumstances but never lost any of her love and passion for it.
Each character has their own wild personal adventure to share with the reader in addition to the wild adventure that they go on with each other. It would be wonderful to see how that plays out in the HBO version. During the panel, Courtney Vance, who plays George Black (Berry in the book version) half-jokingly likened the show to Game of Thrones. To the degree that Game of Thrones was an action-packed fantasy period piece, he just may actually be right. Misha Green, who is showrunner for Lovecraft Country was also a writer and showrunner for Underground, another period drama series about Black American life that starred Jurnee Smollett. I would argue that Underground rivaled Game of Thrones in terms of having as much of an action-adventure feel as Game of Thrones and there are more than enough situations in Lovecraft Country source material with which to recreate on screen.
Said Smollett about working on such dark themes as are present throughout Lovecraft Country, “It was a dark place to go to but it’s necessary. It’s something that reverberates in our DNA. This visceral connection to the oppression of our people. That’s why we’re still telling these stories. I don’t know how we could have done those scenes if we weren’t like a family on the set.”
Produced by Jordan Peele, Lovecraft Country uses horror to comment on society so there are physical monsters that the characters have to interact with in addition to all the metaphorical monsters conjured by racism and the system of white supremacy under Jim Crow. Still, there are apparently moments of levity. Ellis discussed acting with green screen monsters as one of the more light-hearted aspects of working on the series. “It’s a different muscle to exercise,” she said. “Because it just requires you to really just play. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It was definitely a different experience because there’s the technical stuff and the technical side is freaking insane.”
Star Trek Discovery (CBS All Access)
The bulk of this panel, moderated by Star Trek Discovery Exec Producer and Writer Michelle Paradise, was devoted to a live table read of the final episode of season 2, called “Such Sweet Sorrow”. Actually, the episode was a two-parter so the table read was the second of the two parts. As a sweet (no pun intended) bonus, the table read was fitted out with not just the dialogue of the actors but with all the diegetic sound, score, and some of the episode’s storyboard illustrations.
Star of the series, Sonequa Martin-Green (Cmdr. Michael Burnham) informed viewers that the actors were dedicating the panel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and encouraged everyone to donate to the fund which in its eighty years has always fought for justice in education, voting, and the criminal justice system.
Martin-Green who is currently pregnant with her second child, discussed her character moving into season three. “It will be a salvation of sorts. We the crew of Star Trek Discovery in the finale are deciding to sacrifice everything for the future and so there’s the hope that that plan works. We hope we land where we’re supposed to, that we defeat Control, that we save the world, and save the universe.” There’s also the hope of continuing to discover myself as Michael Burnham and finding that sweet balance between all the forces that wage within me.”
Shortly after the panel, it was announced that the third season of Star Trek Discovery will premiere October 15th.
For All Mankind (Apple TV)
The For All Mankind panel was divided into two parts with some talent staying for one and not the other with Executive Producer and Co-Creator Matt Wolpert moderating the first and Ben Nedivi moderating the second. Krys Marshall, who plays astronaut Danielle (Dani) Poole, appeared on both panels. Season one of For All Mankind which explores the lives of men and women in the United States space program, takes place on an alternate timeline of America in the nineteen-sixties where the USSR reaches the moon first. Much of the events coincide with reality though so the viewer has to stay on her toes to catch when they play with historical facts (One imagined event is the tension-filled rendezvous between US astronomers and USSR astronomers on a space station on the moon) sometimes. Panel discussion indicates season 2 will speed up ten years into the future to the Reagan era.
So in season one, Nixon is president and the country is experiencing radical changes in the racial and gender makeup of the workplace, which of course has reverberations on the homefront. Despite the exciting historical period on which it takes place, the show is rooted in the characters’ personal and professional lives and the show is driven by their personal stories.
In this alternate version of events, Danielle Poole (Marshall) is the first and only Black woman in the space program although there are a number of other women there as well including a closeted lesbian named… Ellen 😉 (played by Jodi Balfour) with a fake public heterosexual relationship. Danielle’s husband is soldier Clayton Poole (Edwin Hodge) with baggage from his time in combat among other things.
Said Marshall during the panel, “I think so often as women there is the inherent competition that’s like, ‘How can a woman be better than a man and how can she prove herself in comparison to a man’. I personally believe the more ideal way to see it is, ‘women’s existence is in addition to men and what they’re doing, rather than be in competition. Women don’t have to be pitted against men in order to have a place in society. We can just be there in addition.”
Marshall says that she didn’t have to stretch much in terms of her character being the only Black woman in the room. It’s something that she has experienced in real life.
She also discussed an arc that was pretty controversial where her character performs an act of extraordinary self-sacrifice to help her white male colleague when he has an interpersonal crisis while she is with him and Ed (Kinnamon) at the space station on the moon. Marshall commented, “Dani is aware of what will happen when she reaches back to Earth. I think that’s what makes it a choice not made in naivete but in full knowledge and acceptance of what it will be seen as… She knows she’s not just Danielle Poole but a representative of an entire culture and race of people… She wants to be her best and work her ass off to earn her position.” Still, Dani dashes her own dreams to help her white male colleague hang onto his own. “To put her in that place where she throws it all away, I think is emblematic of how much she cares about this team.”