Lovecraft Country’s Wunmi Mosaku Explores Ruby’s Rage, and Her Own

Spoilers for Lovecraft Country Episode 5 ahead.

Wunmi Mosaku’s Ruby Baptiste takes center stage in the fifth episode of Lovecraft Country, HBO’s bewitching new series from Misha Green that mashes monsters, witchcraft, and white supremacists into one striking social commentary. While the episodes up until now have carried poignant political messaging—decrying racist cults and bigoted policemen—“Strange Case” seems to have the most startling so far, as Ruby, a Black woman, transforms into a white woman after taking a magic potion.

Under her temporary guise as Hillary Davenport (played by Jamie Neumann), Ruby experiences privileges she never had before, like landing her dream retail job or being protected by cops. While blending in with white folks, she witnesses the ugliness of racism up close from her peers, like the coworkers who hope no other Black women are hired at the store and exoticize the south side of town like it’s an amusement park. When the spell wears off, the real Ruby breaks out of her skin like a butterfly ripping out of a bloody cocoon.

Ruby acquired the potion from her new lover, William (Jordan Patrick Smith), the blond-haired, blue-eyed associate of the Braithwhite household, who allows Ruby to use the substance in exchange for a dangerous favor. His companion Christina (Abbey Lee) convinces her to use the magic, and the privileges that come with it, to do “whatever the fuck you want.” She does just that in the end, when she violently attacks her racist, misogynist boss with her high heel.

“It was frightening,” Mosaku says of Ruby’s rage, noting the gory attack.

When Christina—who Lee calls “the ultimate Karen,” per Mosaku—tries to empathize with Ruby’s plight, Ruby shuts her down, frustrated. “I’ve spent enough time on your side of the color line to know that the only thing that you white women are disillusioned with is yourselves.” In real life, Mosaku and Lee became close and discussed their characters’ differing life experiences.

“There were some things that were shared, and there were some things that were completely mine to bear,” Mosaku recalls. “I don’t just have the patriarchy to compete with. I have systemic racism and white supremacy and inequality to compete with.

“The problem isn’t being a woman, and the problem isn’t being Black; the problem is the people out there making it difficult for us—the patriarchy, the racism. … Some people think that gender equality is the biggest issue on the table, and to me, that’s a privilege to even think that that’s the biggest issue, because I am subject to much more inequality.”

Here, Mosaku breaks down her chilling episode to

Episode 5 was a huge one for you. What was your first reaction was reading the episode or those scenes?

I mean, from the first scene, it was like, “Oh, yeah, okay. We’re going there.” And obviously, I had read the book by then, so I knew what was going to happen. But I guess I didn’t know how far it was going to go.

I was quite shocked by the end, because it is different from the book. Just the depth of the exploration of Ruby’s rage. That’s something that Ruby herself hasn’t really explored. I haven’t explored the given magic and the freedom that magic affords you. I was really quite shocked. Honestly, I was like, “I don’t really know how people are going to take this. This is so violent.”

I just don’t agree personally with what Ruby does, because violence is not the answer, right? Even if it is in revenge, because you’ve been wronged, that amount of violence is just really disturbing to read and play. I mean, the depth of rage one has to access is quite frightening, because first of all, you realize that the rage is there, and then just taking it to that level was just … it was frightening. It was frightening for me and for Jamie [Neumann], really frightening.

Was there any kind of preparation you had to go through to be able to approach a scene that may be frightening or disturbing like that?

It was personal. Like I said, the depth of rage is quite new to me. I’ve always been taught, when someone upsets me or if I’m ever wrong, my mom’s always like, “Kill them with kindness.” Our motto in the house was, “Kill them with kindness.” We don’t do revenge. I don’t think I’ve ever sought revenge, actually. And so this is what I wouldn’t actually do. It’s the complete opposite. It just means exploring my own rage and justifying it, and going, “You know what? I am angry.” I’ve buried it deep down.

You know what? I am angry. I’ve buried it deep down.

And I guess this is an action from someone who’s very, very, very angry, and very, very, very oppressed, very, very subjugated, and someone who’s not able, ever, to fulfill their greatest potential because of society, because of patriarchy, because of the racism, white supremacy, systemic racism. This was a choice that this person is going to make. It feels wrong, but that feeling of rage is still justified. So it was just really exploring that, and it was absolutely painful.

Storing that kind of rage isn’t actually … it isn’t safe. It doesn’t feel helpful to me because I don’t have magic, and I don’t have a world where I have no repercussions. So it was painful.

The character of Ruby was switching between you and Jamie Neumann throughout the episode. How did you two work together with understanding the story and the physicality and mannerisms of your characters?

Jamie definitely sat in with my scenes a lot, and I sat in with hers, but it was really for Jamie to kind of follow what I had already established, in a way. So what she did was quite extraordinary, because she really found my physical vocabulary, and then she had to find Hillary, as well. So it was quite interesting. We spent a lot of time together. We spent a lot of time talking about the differences in our lives as a Black woman, a white woman, and what we’ve experienced. I would do her lines, and I would record her lines for her, but she’s also playing Hillary as well. It’s a person playing a person, playing a person. And we sat in each of the scenes. I kind of explained what I knew of Ruby and what I thought of her, and that was kind of the way we did it. But it was all Jamie Neumann’s extraordinary abilities, physical vocabulary, heart. She has a very empathetic heart.

What were those transformation scenes like? There’s a lot of prosthetics and blood and goo involved.

It was sticky and gross and uncomfortable. The actual technical stuff was quite gross and uncomfortable. And then you also have to do the technical stuff of matching what Jamie had done, exactly being in the right position. It was interesting, but it wasn’t pleasant, I must say. It probably was my least favorite thing about filming this show. Some days, we would be gunked up, bloodied up, and have to get clean, do another scene, and then get gunked up and bloodied up again later on. And if you miss one patch of blood in the shower, you can just start again. You could ruin your costume, or if you get any in your hair with any drip or anything. So, yeah, it wasn’t nice. It wasn’t nice.

What was your audition process like for Lovecraft Country?

I just happened to be in L.A. for my anniversary, and it was my last day. The night before, I got the audition. I managed to squeeze in the audition before my flight.

Then I had a re-call when I was back in the U.K. Yann [Demange, one of the directors] and Misha told me about the character’s journey and the race switching. I was like, “Huh? I’m so confused.” I didn’t realize until then it was a book. So then, I read the book between the second audition and my final round, which I was back in L.A. for. And I came in and I auditioned with Jurnee, Misha, Yann, and [casting director] Kim Coleman. Honestly, it was probably one of the best auditions I’ve ever had.

It’s not very often that you come in, for me anyway, that you read with someone else, and someone who’s got the part and knows their character much better than you do. It all started up quite politely, after we did the scene from Episode 3, then I realized that Leti’s money came from our mom. It was polite, and then Yann riled us both up, and we get to this point where I’m just having this huge fight with this girl that I just met. I’m feeling like my sister has betrayed me and it was really electrifying.

I left the audition not knowing whether I got the role or not, but I really left thinking, Well, I really do think I did my best. And I’ve never felt so invigorated on an audition before. Working with Jurnee was just like, “Whoa, what did we just do? We just did something!”

You and Jurnee have some great scenes together. What did you make of the relationship between your characters, who are sisters, and what was it like just working with her on-screen?

Jurnee and I both have sisters, and we spent a lot of time talking about the sister dynamics, from fighting as kids to being women together, and being friends, actually friends. Leti and Ruby seem to have missed a bit of that journey where you become friends, and we figured out and plotted out why and how. It really is down to distance and their relationship with their mother. Their relationship to the world.

Leti and Ruby, they see the world differently. Ruby thinks that if she works really hard, that if other people thought like her, [she] would be further along. And Leti is pioneering and breaking the rules in a way that Ruby isn’t. They just have a very opposite way of dealing with things. Ruby is hopeful, but she hasn’t pushed the boundaries. And Leti just doesn’t play by the rules. They’re both artists in their own way, but Ruby, she’s a singer but she’s doing all of her qualifications in order to get the job at Marshall Fields, and excel, excel, excel. And Leti uses her artistry for art’s sake and culture’s sake. They’re just very different.

What do you hope viewers take away from Episode 5? And what did you take away from it?

Empathy. I guess that’s what I want everyone to take away from everything all the time. It’s the understanding of someone else’s story and someone else’s struggles, and plight, and how we all play into it and how it’s our responsibility as humans to look after humanity. All aspects of it, every single part of it, every single marginalized part of it. To understand that there are people walking around with such rage because of the way that they’re treated. And that it’s not okay to just be like, “Oh, I understand,” or, “I empathize,” or, “I sympathize.” It’s our responsibility that if you want the world to be better, then we, the people of the world, have to be better all over, and that requires understanding and effort.

It’s just not up to those who are being oppressed to fight. It’s up to everyone to walk the walk and talk the talk.

It’s just not up to those who are being oppressed to fight. It’s up to everyone to walk the walk and talk the talk. So I guess that’s the thing, it’s being active. Because there are people walking around with such rage and pain, and you can help take that pain away from someone by just standing by their side and really acknowledging it, acknowledging the pain, and fighting the oppressor. Together.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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