The first thing Max Minghella does when he joins our Zoom call is ask me about the weather. It wasn't just a conversational cliché though, he really wanted to know what it was like where I was. I tell him I'm in New York City, where spring can surprise you with a day that's colder or warmer than it looks. This particular day was chilly. "I'm always cold," he interjects, "I'm reptilian. My body finds a way to keep me cool." He shivered as he spoke, sitting in his sunny backyard in Los Angeles wearing a T-shirt. I checked the temperature right after our call. It was 80 degrees in L.A.
Despite any discomfort, Minghella is just really happy to be at home. Unlike the millions of people who spent 2020 in quarantine, he was working on season four of The Handmaids Tale throughout the spring and summer."I'm sort of jealous of people who have this moment to pause and reflect," he says soberly. "Even with all of the trauma it's caused and all the things that obviously were detrimental, I know a lot of people who've had big life changes in the past year."
He acknowledged, however, that creating something in a time when everyone wished they could escape was ultimately a lucky thing. "There was a ubiquitous sense of gratitude," he adds.
Outside of the global pandemic, the dynamics on set had shifted — this season, his co-star Elisabeth Moss (or "Lizzie" as he affectionately calls her), was a director. "She was amazing on set," he explained. "Just very in control and it ran super smoothly. When I saw the episodes she directed, it just kind of blew me away. Her style — it's very cinematic and it really underlines the sci-fi elements of the show. It has a real kind of scope and confidence to it. I think she's a real filmmaker."
Minghella's character Nick has an interesting arc this season too – he's realizing his role as a senior member of the Gilead ruling class, but also still in love with June [Moss]. It's a complex character that challenges you as an audience member. He is the brooding love interest, and while you may root for him and June to be together, you also have to see him for what he is: an architect of a world that kidnaps women and uses them for childbearing.
What made the previous three seasons of the show even harder for viewers to digest was the fact that people so badly wanted to believe there could be a good guy defector — maybe even Nick — in a room full of bad guys. During those years, many people felt that the dystopian elements of the show were reflective of the nationalist agenda being put forth in the United States by the Trump Administration. So much so that a group of protesters famously wore Handmaid costumes to protest anti-abortion bills and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. Without saying much about the parallels in the show —other than chalking them up to "pure coincidence," Minghella felt the Handmaids Tale, whose protagonists are anti-Gilead, are "on the right side of history." He added diplomatically, "Ultimately, I'm most proud because I think it's really great fiction."
I get the sense that the pursuit of "great fiction" is something that consumes Minghella. He's someone who appreciates art (he got his big break in 2006's Art School Confidential), and his parents are Anthony Minghella, the late award-winning director of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and actress Carolyn Choa. He loves details (see our earlier weather conversation). Even the way he talks about Los Angeles has a story-like quality. He tells me about how he knew when the city became his home after a feeling he got driving past the Silver Lake 7-Eleven. As he told it, I pictured it like a scene in an indie movie starring Zach Braff.
"I had this sort of pathological obsession with movies from birth. [My mother] worked for the British equivalent of the Motion Picture Association, so she would watch three films a day. By three or four years old, I was just kind of an obsessed movie person." It's his favorite movie, Beverly Hills Cop ("I think I saw 100 times by the time I was eight years old," he says) that inspired another big role he was working on during quarantine: Minghella stars as a detective opposite Chris Rock in the Saw franchise spin-off Spiral: From the Book of Saw.
"The movie was so serendipitous for me. I feel like I almost manifested it in my life," Minghella muses. "There's a line very early in the movie where we're investigating these crime scenes and we come to a grizzly one. My character looks nauseous. Chris's [character] says to me, 'Are you okay?' And my character says, 'Yeah. I mean I'd been dreaming about this since I was 12-years-old.' And that was a very kind of weird line because it's just true."
Now at 35 years old, Minghella is feeling settled. He is still a "film nerd" that gets giddy with each new opportunity, but he's less anxious about the results. Next thing on his list? Vacation.
"I'm hoping in May once the movie comes out I can run away somewhere."
Read on for his cheesy would-be campaign slogan, his fast-food weakness, and the time he escaped a tornado while working on a film with Blake Lively.
Who is your celebrity crush?
Mary Tyler Moore.
What's the last thing you do before you fall asleep?
I listen to1950s radio shows. Usually Dragnet. I was researching a project in that period briefly and got sort of into the radio culture of that time. And now I find it incredibly soothing.
Describe a memorable dream.
I had a recurring nightmare as a child in which my grandmother turned into a cat. So Tom Hooper's Cats was very traumatizing to me.
First album you ever owned?
My mother bought me the Top Gun soundtrack on audio cassette.
If you were required to spend $1,000 today, what would you buy and why?
I would do anything to help a distressed dog.
If you ran for office, what would your slogan be?
Some kind of tacky pun using my first name. "Take it to the Max," or maybe "Max on, Max off."
Name one place you've never been but have always wanted to go.
Easy. Japan. I went when I was one, but I don't think that counts.
What's the most uncomfortable outfit you've ever worn?
I did a film called Art School Confidential and I had to wear a beret and I found every moment of it truly humiliating. I remember being completely traumatized by it.
Describe your first kiss.
My first kiss was at a bus stop. I was 14 and I lied and told the girl that it wasn't my first kiss, but I think it was probably immediately evident that it was.
What's one dish you're always tempted to order if you see it on a menu?
There are so many things. That's the sad answer. French fries is the truth.
Favorite on-set memory?
I did a movie called Elvis and Anabelle with Blake Lively like 100 years ago and we shot in Texas. There was a tornado one night that forced us to evacuate the set and we had to sort of drive off in a hurry. I put on this song by The Knife called "Pass This On" in the car which is very dramatic and cinematic. The tornado was sort of in pursuit of the vehicle while we were speeding away. And it was just far enough that it wasn't life-threatening, but also a radical visual. That's one of my favorite life memories.
The Handmaids Tale season 4 premieres on Hulu April 28, and Spiral: From the Book of Saw hits theaters on May 11.
Photographs by Emily Malan. Grooming by Sonia Lee for Exclusive Artists using La Mer. Polaroid Photos by Max Minghella. Special thanks to Polaroid. Production by Kelly Chiello.
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