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‘Lovecraft Country’ Star Jurnee Smollett on Leti’s ‘Lineage of Trauma,’ Becoming ‘Soul-Tied’ to Atticus

”How can a relationship really thrive when, at its core, it’s built in secrecy?“ HBO star tells TheWrap

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Episode 103 of “Lovecraft Country.”)

After three episodes, HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” finally started to get to the root of Jurnee Smollet’s Leti, a character whose backstory and motives have been as much a mystery to fans as the supernatural secrets buried within the Misha Green-created series.

And the plot device the genre-bending show used to explore the puzzle that is Leti was a haunted house she bought without, you know, knowing it was haunted and the darkness she must fight within herself and her new residence throughout the hour.

Smollett broke down Leti’s breakdown, and subsequent self rebuilding, in Sunday’s “Lovecraft Country,” titled “Holy Ghost,” for TheWrap, which she says explores Leti’s “lineage of trauma” and the complications of her growing connection to Atticus (Jonathan Majors), which are built on the secrets about his family that the two have shared since the series premiere.

“She’s a parentified child,” Smollett told TheWrap. “She’s inherited this lineage of trauma. She was habitually abandoned by her mother at such a young age. And when that happens to someone, you seek healing, you seek to rectify the situation, you see security, right? And that is one of the reasons she does suffer from this feeling of displacement. And in trying to find her tribe, trying to find her people, she’s rejected, interestingly enough — which people with abandonment issues often do — she has rejected her people. She’s kind of in this pattern of sabotaging a lot of relationships in her life, pushing people away. Like her sister, like her mother, like her brother. And then Atticus comes along and this trauma they experience kind of makes them soul-tied to each other.”

“For the first time, she actually wants to lean into a home and lean into a place. And this wandering spirit, this drifter spirit takes a backseat to her need to plant some roots. But it’s all built in a secret that she shares with Atticus and that’s dysfunctional. How can a relationship really thrive when at its core, it’s built-in secrecy? When it’s built on a secret that they share together?”

Smollett told TheWrap that she used her own grandmother as “one of the biggest influences” for constructing the character of Leti, who exists within the show’s fictional version of 1950s Jim Crow America.

“She was this woman in the ’50s from Galveston, Texas. She was the first Miss Galveston Beauty Queen. And she raised four children as a single mom,” she said. “Every single day, she’d go to work cleaning white folks homes and they would mistreat her and neglect her and underpay her. But she would go to work every single day with her dress pressed and her hair done because she would not allow it to rob her of her dignity. And to me that’s a very radical act. In an era when the erasure of Black folks was so prevalent — it’s one of the reasons why Leti picks up her camera, she wants to document us, our everyday lives. She’s hungry to feel, to see, to be seen, to not be erased.”

The “Birds of Prey” star says that the importance of this episode for Leti was in inspecting “her contradictions.”

“Outwardly she’s very confident, she’s very buoyant, but it’s not always that way with anyone. What is she actually hiding? What is she overcompensating for? Those are the questions that Misha and I really wanted to inspect.”

“Lovecraft Country” airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.