By Chancellor Agard
August 30, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT
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Credit: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

Warning: This article contains spoilers from Sunday's Lovecraft Country, titled "Holy Ghost." 

Lovecraft Country's take on Poltergeist took a toll on Jurnee Smollett.

In Sunday's episode "Holy Ghost," Smollett's Leti was besieged on multiple fronts after buying a big rundown home on the North side of Chicago, a predominantly white neighborhood. First, there were the white neighbors who harassed her and her tenants because they weren't pleased with their presence. Because of this Lovecraft Country, Leti also had to contend with the vengeful spirit of a racist astrophysicist who experimented on Black people and wanted her out of his home. Thus, an exorcism was called for.

Unfortunately, the astrophysicist wouldn't leave his home without a fight and possessed Tic (Jonathan Majors) when the purging ritual went sideways. As the lights flickered and a violent gust of wind picked up, Leti summoned every ounce of strength she has left and joined forces with the trapped spirits of the scientist's victims to cast him out once and for all. The entire sequence left both Leti and her portrayer emotionally drained and breathless.

"It's really an exorcism of Leti," Smollett tells EW. "There's a vibration that happens in your body. I'm Black, my mother's Black, my dad's Jewish, so I have what some refer to as blood memory; this visceral ancestral connection to the oppression of my people. So tapping into these stories vibrates through your body — they vibrate every pore, every molecule, every atom."

She continues: "To go to those dark places of things that have happened throughout our history to my ancestors — but that are also happening now — to tap into those really dark forces, it's quite taxing on your body."

The physical discomfort, though, was no match for how rewarding it felt to shoot such an intense set-piece. "It's what you seek out as an artist. We are that crazy breed of people who get this real visceral stimulation from embodying these sorts of stories," says Smollett. "There was a very humbling awareness that we're part of something that's bigger than us. That this story is not about one part or one person, it's about the collective. Having that awareness makes you want to give your entire being to it in order to do it justice."

Lovecraft Country airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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