From creator/executive producer/writer/co-director/lead actor O-T Fagbenle, the wild and crazy comedy series Maxxx (streaming at Hulu) centers around formerly famous boyband star Maxxx, who’s looking to turn his life of tabloid fodder around to make a comeback, with the goal of winning back his famous supermodel ex-girlfriend. But the road back to stardom is never easy, especially when you throw in the distractions of drugs, sex, insecurity and a need for validation that’s stronger than the desire to put in the work necessary to return to the top.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Christopher Meloni — who plays debauched record executive Don Wild — talked about wondering why O-T Fagbenle wanted him for this role, how this character evolved, putting together his wardrobe and style, the experience of working with a co-star who’s also wearing multiple hats behind the scenes, that the more wild characters he’s been playing are a reflection of the crazy world we live in, and how the current social climate will likely be reflected in his return to the role of Elliot Stabler for Law & Order: Organized Crime.
Collider: This show is just the right amount of delightful crazy to make it highly entertaining. When this came your way, what was the pitch for the show and the character?
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: When I got offered this, I remember asking O-T, “Why? Why me? Why did you pick me?” I just felt so blessed. I still don’t know the answer. I loved the tone of this, and I loved how specific the characters were. And then, when I got on set and I saw the actors that they had been able to cobble together, they fit so well. Every actor fit their role, in my opinion, so perfectly. I felt like I was playing in a jazz band, where everyone’s in it together. Everyone knew when their moment was to add a little flavor and when to take control. It was an honor to be working with them. I really had the best time.
How much of this character was in the description of him, and how much were you able to add, as it evolved?
MELONI: I came with a lot. I came with very clear ideas. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was that I toyed with a British accent for a while. I fully admit that I’m no expert on that. I’m no Meryl Streep. I just thought that it would be funny, if I had a British accent and it just came out the way it came out, where if someone knew what a British accent should sound like, they’d be going, “This guy is cockney one minute and he’s posh the next. What is he doing?” I just thought Don Wild is an American who just puts on his concept of an English accent, but they thought that would be a little confusing. I think that was the only thing they nixed. Then, I felt a Chicago accent coming to the fore for Don, so I went with that. The character, on the page, was in his 70s. That was another reason why I was like, “Why do you have me in mind?” I thought that was rude, but they said, “Your name came up, and we realized that was a better way to go.” At least that’s what they told me. Also, them telling me not to do a British accent, I thought there was something inherently funny about me being an American in London, so he shouldn’t be hiding it. He’s just brashly and boldly the American.
Did you also get a say in his wardrobe and his style?
MELONI: No, the only thing was that I came to them and said, “Let’s try a really bleached blonde type wig.” We looked at that, and it was just too much. We were dipping into caricature. Then, I said, “He should have dyed black hair,” and I gave him Las Vegas make-up, like the Las Vegas entertainers that are 79 years old, they have a perpetual tan, really white teeth, really black hair, and a goatee. The director and O-T really had their eyes on a goatee for Don, but I was like, “It needs to be dyed really black, too black, with a little pinch of it not dyed, like he missed a spot.” There’s a little hint of gray on the corner of his dye job, and I thought that was funny.
Beyond that, I thought of him as a 26-year-old trapped in a 65-year-old body. I had my ears pierced, from a thousand years ago, that actually stayed open, so I went out and bought all of these earrings. The costumer [Joanna Hir] actually jumped into that game and she helped mix and match stuff. I suggested a lot of rings, but it was the costumer who came up with all of his bangles, whether it was the rings or the chains or the kilt. She killed it. I was very happy. She made me very happy. I really think she gave Don his vibe. With a good costumer, if you slip into their clothes, it’s like someone is grabbing from all the thoughts in your head and stuffing you into the character, and that’s what she did for me.
What was the experience of doing something like Maxxx, where your main co-star is also writer, director and executive producer on this series? What’s it like to work alongside somebody wearing all of those hats, and collaborate with him, in all of those aspects of it?
MELONI: Well, it was very difficult for me because I was so fucking envious of his talent. I had to get a handle on myself and my own insecurities. No. I must say it was a complete joy and a great experience. I really watched him closely, in how he handled the multitude of hats that he kept having to switch on his head, and he always kept a positive, upbeat attitude and forged forward, constantly. I really spent the whole I’d day marveling at how he was able to do all of the things he did and multi-task the way he did, and also stay open. We did a lot of improv. When it was time to roll and be the character that he was, he would constantly say, “The script is there as a touchstone.” You would know what each scene was about, and that’s all he needed to get to. You just needed to get the point of the scene out. However that came out, whatever words we used, and whatever circumstances we found ourselves in was okay. We just need to make sure that the point of the scene was satisfied.
Do you think that this character, Don Wild, is a guy that genuinely likes or has feelings for anyone, or is it always about what they can do for him and how he can benefit from them?
MELONI: I think Don is just a shapeshifter. Your outside view of him, being a user, I think he makes no bones about it. He’s just like, “This is the music business, and I want a moneymaker. That’s it. That’s how we’re friends.” I think he would be puzzled by someone wanting more or thinking with sincerity. I think he’d be like, “What’s sincerity? Give me the definition of that. Is that a new band?” He would know, and it wouldn’t matter. Don knows who Don is.
Is that the kind of character that’s the easiest to walk away from, when you’re done playing him?
MELONI: No, because I have no morals either, so I brought him home with me. No. Comedic characters are easy to leave behind. I don’t know why that is. Comedy is harder to do, but it’s easier to leave behind. Drama is difficult because it stays in the tissue.
You’ve been going back and forth between straightforward, grounded roles, like your character on Law & Order, with this more wild fare, like Maxxx and Happy! Is that something that you consciously set out to do, to shake things up, or have you just found yourself in this position and are just thoroughly enjoying it because it’s so much fun?
MELONI: Let’s just call it unconscious, but I’m beginning to think that whatever success I have had, in whatever it is I do, as an actor, whether it’s comedic or dramatic, is whatever thing I need to get out and exorcise out of me. It’s unintentionally intentional. I think it’s a response to the circumstances of where I’m at and where the world is at. We carry with us everything that we’re inhabiting and what’s happening in the world. You can’t say, “Oh, that doesn’t bother me.” You carry all of it in your tissue. I think it’s a reflection of how crazy this world is.
How are you feel about returning to the Law & Order franchise, in this current climate? With everything going on, has it changed the way you’ve thought about the show and the way that police are portrayed on television?
MELONI: It’s obviously a more challenging environment. I think my character will reflect these times. Reality-wise, it’s obviously very difficult times and I think, if we do the show correctly, it should reflect that. That’s all I have to say. I feel as though, stepping into this, there are few satisfying or “correct” answers. It’s difficult times.
Maxxx is available to stream at Hulu.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.