O-T Fagbenle’s ‘Maxxx’ is ‘Veep’ for boy bands. Backstreet Boy included
O-T Fagbenle was standing outside a train station when he was first mistaken for singer-songwriter Craig David.
“We really did look like the spitting image of each other — the first time I saw him on television, I literally thought for a split second, ‘Oh, my God, am I on television? That’s weird!’ ” said the British actor of that moment in his early 20s.
“But it was a lot, and I was relatively nonplussed about it. I found it such an assault on my individuality that, for some people, the most interesting thing about me was that I looked like someone else.”
Fagbenle can now take the compliment, so much so that it’s a recurring bit in “Maxxx.” Written, created, co-directed and starring Fagbenle, the comedy series — which first aired in the U.K. and is now streaming on Hulu in the U.S. — centers on a brokenhearted boy band has-been as he attempts a comeback as a solo act.
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The six-episode satire — which Fagbenle created while shooting Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Marvel’s upcoming “Black Widow” — is a ruthless roast of celebrity culture and the effect that fame can have on a megastar who may have started out as an artist.
“I became fascinated with this society which often mistakes likes for love, and followers for friends, and being famous for being respected,” he said of writing the show. “It’s such a double-edged sword, because on the one hand it’s a tool for your career, and you get more opportunities with people you’ve dreamed of working with.
“On the other hand, it’s a tool for your ego, it’s moreish and distorting and it’s no good for you,” he continued. “I have friends who have gotten famous but struggled to keep their sanity, and I can see why.”
As “Veep” did with Washington politics and “BoJack Horseman” with Hollywood, “Maxxx” takes sharp jabs at cultural appropriation, police brutality and the capitalist-driven mechanics of the music industry. (His brother Luti Fagbenle, who makes music videos for the likes of Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj, is an executive producer).
Some punches had to be pulled, to his chagrin. “We had to go through quite a procedure with legal, but we walked right up to the line and they were flexible with us because we were persistent and annoying,” said Fagbenle.
A joke about Wes Anderson not casting Black people in his projects, for example, made the cut. “Look, I love that guy, I want to be in his movies — why won’t he cast me in them?” he said of that quip. “I wanted things to be edgy because they were meaningful, not just because we could take a top shot at someone.”
Fagbenle gladly played the series’ self-involved pop star, who echoes the frustratingly funny antiheroes of British classics like John Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers,” Rowan Atkinson’s “Blackadder” and Ricky Gervais’ original “The Office.” The classically trained actor wrote the role for himself because “in television, I don’t get to play the crazy very often, and I love playing the crazy.”
The cast also includes Alan Asaad as Maxxx’s adopted son, Helen Monks as his social media specialist, Pippa Bennett-Warner as his new manager and Jourdan Dunn as his estranged ex. A nearly unrecognizable Christopher Meloni — with eccentric sunglasses and the most foul mouth — plays Don Wild, Maxxx’s former manager.
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“We got into the minutiae of this character and had conversations about how many earrings he should wear, what kind of hair gel he should use,” said Fagbenle of Meloni, whose casting was finalized just before filming was set to begin. “I love that kind of professional, which comes not out of anxiety but out of love for the role.”
But the series wasn’t complete without an appearance from a real-life boy bander. Fagbenle soon found himself at the same event as Backstreet Boys member Kevin Richardson, and thanks to a spontaneous pitch, the two filmed the moment on the spot using Fagbenle’s iPhone.
When they found the quality to be subpar, Richardson graciously invited Fagbenle and a crew to his home to reshoot it.
“I got him to smash a bottle over my face,” Fagbenle recalled. “It was amazing.”
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