O-T Fagbenle dishes on Hulu debut of ‘Maxxx,’ mysterious ‘Black Widow’ role

The British star is opening up about directing himself, his thoughts on fame and joining the MCU

Premiere Of Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" Season 2 - Red Carpet
O-T Fagbenle attends the premiere of Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" Season 2 at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 19, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images Hulu)

O-T Fagbenle is ready to reintroduce himself.

The 39-year-old English actor has added executive producer, director, writer and showrunner to his resume with the release of Maxxx, Hulu’s newest six-part dramedy series that Fagbenle developed alongside his brother, Luti.

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Fagbenle stars as Maxxx, a washed-up boybander looking to course correct in his career and personal life, in the laugh-out-loud series, which also stars Jourdan Dunn and Christopher Meloni. The Handmaid’s Tale star told theGrio‘s Mariel Turner that directing himself in his latest project was a challenge made easier by his cast and crew.

“I had Luti, my brother, behind the camera,” he explained. “I had Nick Collette, the director who directed a lot of the other episodes, by my side the entire time. So it was a real kind of village atmosphere in the way we made it. Teamwork was the only way that we were going to try and create the kind of value on screen that we wanted to do with our modest budget.”

He continued, “I think it was a real confirmation of the importance of working with people that you love and people that you admire. That’s how I got through the process…our incredible cast, our crew. It was a challenging shoot, and everybody really wanted the best for the show, and they showed up. It just wouldn’t have been possible without them.”

Fagbenle channeled many of his real-life experiences into the role, referencing his background in music and theater. The British-Nigerian star, who lists Boyz II Men as his favorite boy band, performed in African musicals as youth and was an avid saxophone player.

“You know, I grew up in doing African theater and the types of things that I was doing literally didn’t differentiate between the actor, the dancer, the drummer, the singer, the stage manager, the prop maker,” he said before showing off his singing skills with a hilarious rendition of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” “We were all part of creating this theatrical experience. So those kinds of ways of delineating roles is intuitive to me.”

Fagbenle utilized his full creative control of the series—making sure to offer opportunities to Black talent not only on screen, but off screen as well.

“One of the things that I was really happy about with Maxxx is that we managed to get great diversity behind the camera,” he said about hiring practices for the show, which originally premiered on the British network Channel 4 earlier this year. “For us, it wasn’t a tick box exercise where we felt we had to fill the quota. It was an opportunity for us to get some of this untapped talent and give them access, remove some of those boundaries out of the way so they can get access to the television industry.”

26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet
O-T Fagbenle attends the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 19, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. 721313 (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Turner)

He added, “Something a lot of people don’t know is that whatever’s going on in front of the camera, it’s unfortunately so common to have no Black people in power behind the camera. We had an incredible location manager, and producer and executive producer and writer and script editor. So many of the roles filled by people who so often don’t have that access. And so, I would just encourage people to take the plunge because it’s worth it.”

Fagbenle also revealed that he could relate to Maxxx’s uneasiness with fame, one of the most fleeting elements of Hollywood. The actor told theGrio that he struggled with how to approach his rising celebrity status as a lead actor on Handmaids.

“I’ve always been a bit suspicious of fame,” Fagbenle shared. “It’s challenging because to some extent, it’s a useful tool to have as an actor because it gives you options to do different types of work and work with people you admire. But on the other hand, it’s never really been very attractive to me.”

He continued, “The idea of acknowledgement…is something that everybody goes through and experiences. I think it’s more [prevalent] now by the social media phenomena where we’re literally given likes, we are literally given grades on the way that we present ourselves to the world. I think that can be a very distorting influence and damaging on one’s idea of oneself. So that’s the metaphor I think that I’m tackling in this show.”

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Fagbenle drew some similarities between his role as Handmaid’s Luke and his character of Maxxx, although he noted that Maxxx was the more stressful character to play (“He’s like on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”)

Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale has been delayed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, giving Fagbenle more free time for things like volunteer work with his charity, the ABC Foundation. The actor’s other big project, Marvel’s Black Widow, has also been delayed with the release date pushed back to November 2020.

2019 Comic-Con International - Marvel Studios Panel
Florence Pugh, O. T. Fagbenle, Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johanssonn speak at the Marvel Studios Panel during 2019 Comic-Con International at San Diego Convention Center on July 20, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Speculation has begun to mount that Fagbenle may be the movie’s major villain, Taskmaster, although he is billed as Rick Mason, a romantic interest from Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) past. When asked about the juicy rumor, Fagbenle joked that he couldn’t say much without fear of retribution.

“Why are you trying to get me in trouble? I thought we were friends,” he jokingly said with a laugh. “You and I were getting on so swimmingly there. I have three red dots on my chest right now. Three on my chest and one on my head–every lip move that I make.”

“What I can tell you,” Fagbenle concluded, “is that this movie should not be missed. It’s a corker.”

Maxxx debuts on Hulu on Thursday, July 28, and Black Widow hits theaters on November 6.

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