Leeman Kessler – Ask Lovecraft – -English version

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Cotter Blackstone: First of all, I'd like you to introduce yourself. Who are you, and what do you represent?

Lemman Kessler: My name is Leeman Kessler. I am a Nigeria-born American actor who, since 2010, has been portraying HP Lovecraft on stage and online, most famously with my web-series Ask Lovecraft.

C.T.: How did you got contact with H.P. Lovecraft and his works? When was the first time, when you met them? 

L.K.: I came to Lovecraft fairly late although I was familiar with the Mythos and Yog-Sothothery through the games and general geek sources in high school. In college I played Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green but I didn't read any of his stories until my mid-20s and really didn't binge on his works until I started portraying him.

C.T.: The performance you give to the audience is impersonating H.P. Lovecraft, and answering questions. This is funny and interesting in the same time, given that you revived your role in our times, not his. Where did this idea come from? 

L.K.:I had been flirting with the idea of trying to create a web-series and around that time, a friend asked me if I would guest star on his web-series, Chasing the Muse as HP Lovecraft. He had seen me play Lovecraft in Stephen Near's play, Monstrous Invisible and thought it would be fun to have me reprise the role on his show. That put the bug in my ear and given that I am also a huge fan of the comedy advice show My Brother My Brother & Me, I decided to use the format of the advice column for my show.

C.T.: In your opinion, your show is primarily a Q&A-type videoblog, which happens to be hosted by Lovecraft, or is it the modern personalization of the late author, who, by the lack of better things to do, is answering the questions of the common people? Should I ask, which one was first: you as Lovecraft or the show? 

L.K.:My portrayal of Lovecraft came first when I played Lovecraft in Monstrous Invisible. It was about Lovecraft's brief marriage to Sonia Greene and really did an amazing job of humanizing the character and making him come alive.

C.T.: What tools do you use to build up your performance? What was your main aspect and your primal source for impersonating Lovecraft? 

L.K.:At first, I was basing a lot of it on the work I had done in the play but I soon discovered his collected and annotated letters which proved an invaluable resource for hearing his voice and seeing the man behind the fiction. Too many see Lovecraft as this anti-social and neurotic misanthrope but when you read his letters, you find a complex man. He was charming, self-effacing, witty, brutally racist, and generous with his time. The sheer volume of his letters and the amount he corresponded is mind-blowing to fathom but they speak to a man who truly enjoyed people and not this paranoid shut-in he often is portrayed as.

C.T.: How close your role is to the real H.P. Lovecraft as a percentage? Let's say 100% is the perfect match. 

L.K.:It's hard to say, especially as I am portraying him not as he was but as he is, reanimated in the 21st century and trying to make sense of everything. I need him to be enjoyable to watch and not so in keeping with some his more extreme opinions. There is also the issue that from all accounts he had a high pitched voice which I have no interest in recreating nor do I plan on getting chin extensions. My personal vocabulary is also about a tenth of what his is. I'll say 50 percent but as I always tell folks, you never want to go full Lovecraft.

C.T.: What do you think, how would you have to play him, if you were relying solely on the assumptions of fans? 

L.K.:I think fans expect more dwelling on existential dread and neurotic ramblings than I tend to play with. I am not above poking fun at Lovecraft's idiosyncrasies but really, the tone of my show is fairly light and if it were all doom and gloom and racism, it would get old fast.

C.T.: Have you ever felt that your are getting lost in your role? 

L.K.:Not yet but give it time!

C.T.: As we see it, you do a lot for the Master's legacy. For example, you opened the Lovecraft Filmfestival and CthulhuCon, and you were present throughout the whole event. What do you think about that? 

L.K.:I am always honoured to be invited to perform and speak at conventions and festivals. When I started Ask Lovecraft, I certainly had no idea where all it would lead and did not expect to find myself flown out across the country to attend these gatherings. They are wonderful opportunities for the community of artists and fans and folks who fall somewhere in the middle to forge friendships and to celebrate not just Lovecraft or film or the idea of horror but really to celebrate those relationships and that very same community that has produced some truly remarkable art and writing. It's been an absolute pleasure and I look forward to doing more.

C.T.: Do you like to take hard questions as challenges? I think about that type of questions, which specifically put to test you? 

L.K.:I have received some hard questions in the past and expect to receive them as I go forward. Perhaps the hardest came from a young woman whose boyfriend was suffering from cancer and, knowing that Lovecraft died from his cancer, was curious what words of comfort i could give. While I can't say that I enjoy getting questions like that, I do think it's important to answer them honestly and in the spirit of the show and I hope I have done that every time I've been faced with one.

C.T.: We're "obliged" to ask you, which one is your favourite Lovecraft story, and who is your favourite charachter (old ones included)? 

L.K.:My joke answer is always Sweet Ermengarde but in truth it is probably At the Mountains of Madness with my favourite character being the decadent narrator from The Hound.

Cotter Blackstone