Monique Candelaria knew an air date was coming.
It still caught her by surprise.
The New Mexican snagged a role on the fourth episode of HBO’s hit series “Lovecraft Country.”
“It has been a very blissful whirlwind of everything,” Candelaria says. “I was excited to finally be able to share this with my community.”
“Lovecraft Country” follows a young Black man who travels across the segregated 1950s United States in search of his missing father, learning of dark secrets plaguing a town on which famous horror writer H.P. Lovecraft supposedly based the location of many of his fictional tales.
In the episode, Candelaria plays Yahima Maraokoti, an Arawakan woman responsible for translating the “language of Adam” for Titus Braithwhite, a slave trader and the founder of an occult secret society of wizards called the Sons of Adam.
Yahima is awakened by main characters, Tic, Leti and Montrose, after being trapped in Braithwhite’s vault for more than a century.
She tells them her name in Arawak – both woman and man, two spirits.
She comes from the land of many waters. Titus came on looking for anyone who could read the Book of Names. She knew the symbols from the cave of Alomun Kundi. When she saw Titus for what he truly was, she refused to decipher another word, but he promised to reunite her with her people. He kept that promise by killing them and imprisoning her in his vault.
“I wanted to play this character very strong,” she says. “You see in the episode that Titus hands me clothing. In indigenous cultures around the world, being nude is not looked at as taboo. It’s just beautiful to be yourself.”
Because Candelaria would be nude, she worked with an intimacy coordinator for weeks before shooting.
She also wanted to make sure she got the language correct.
“When I gave my performance, I was fully aware where the character was at,” she says. “This is the biggest thing that I’ve ever done . I’ve truly resonated with sci-fi and fantasy. Playing a character that was true to culture and honoring stories of those who have come before us.”
Candelaria filmed the episode in August and September 2019. She had to wait to let anyone know that she was in the series.
The casting also came at a time when she was to start production on a feature film called “Driftless,” in Michigan.
“Everything came to me at once and I had to figure out how to get it done,” she says. “Both of these roles are important. They are each strong women, and I wanted to do the best I could with it. It’s an honor to be involved in the projects.”