Welcome to My Favorite Moment! In this series, IndieWire speaks to actors behind a few of our favorite television performances about their personal-best onscreen moment and how it came together.
If Lennon Parham is on TV fans are going to be laughing.
The actress has been a scene stealer for years on everything from “Veep” to “Playing House.” On HBO Max’s “Minx,” which premiered in March, Parham is as hilarious as ever, but also unexpectedly moving in her role as Shelly, a stay-at-home mom turned porn magazine editor/focus group/all-around supporter. Season 1 centered on Shelly’s sister, Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond), and her decision to partner with a publisher (Jake Johnson) to print her feminist manifesto/pornography magazine, Minx.
Parham’s arc was a real high point for the series, allowing the actress to be vulnerable and tentative while also showcasing Shelly’s growing confidence all season long as she explored a sometimes-scandalous new world. In a comedy full of shock cutaways and big gags, it was often Parham’s truthful performance that kept everything grounded in reality. That reality could go in very fun directions, though — including Parham’s favorite Season 1 moment, when the mom-out-of-water story took a turn in Episode 9, and Shelly falls into a tryst with fellow Bottom Dollar worker Bambi (Jessica Lowe).
“Bambi is trying to help Shelly feel her sexiness and dresses her up for a boudoir photoshoot in Bambi’s little cottage,” Parham said about the scene. “Shelly is feeling so into herself that she ends up having a weekend affair with Bambi. It leads to some sweet, sweet, sweet making out, et cetera.”
Parham spoke to IndieWire about how that scene was the perfect culmination for Shelly’s Season 1 arc, as well as where exactly one looks for 1970s lingerie inspiration. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
IndieWire: Tell me about what you thought when you first read the script for that moment.
Lennon Parham: So I had some prep going into it because [creator] Ellen [Rapoport]…to make that kind of leap it needs to be laid in throughout the season. So we found it early on and I was so excited. I think the writers and I wanted to really track Shelly’s transformation and opening up from the person that we meet in the pilot to the person that we see in Episode 9. I think there needs to be quite a deep shift even if it’s happening on the inside.
What was the rehearsal process like for this scene?
I requested to have a meeting with Jessica Lowe who plays Bambi, and the director and the intimacy coordinator. I just wanted to know what [director] Natalia [Leite] had in mind, what they were going to see, how it was gonna go. And so we did the table read, right, which was always on Zoom. And I guess I just really wanted to do it justice. Like, I think I’m a little in love with Shelly. [laughs] I’m very fond of her and I wanted to make sure that it felt really grounded and beautiful. Natalia also spoke [about] the fact that she wanted it to feel passionate and not too soft. She wanted it to come through the lens of a woman and what it would really be like in this moment for Shelly to make this leap.
Is there anything on set that helps you get into the right headspace? Is there a prop or costume or co-star?
Oh, yeah. Honestly, we spend two hours getting in hair and makeup which really helps. Also the costume for this scene was very particular and I think Ellen really wanted me to feel beautiful and kind of left it to Beth [Morgan, costume designer] and I to decide what that would mean.
It was described in the script, but ultimately, I think we both kind of had something in mind and then we started doing Pinterest searches for like, ’70s boudoir and teddies and stuff. We found some great images. I texted [Beth] all these photos — screengrabs from Etsy and from eBay of actual vintage [clothing], because all this stuff was vintage. And so she based the costume [off that] and they built a teddy around what I felt were my strengths, physically! So that I would feel really beautiful and sexy, to be able to shift from being so in her head to just really being in the moment and really going for it.
Your character and Jessica’s character together is such a fun, unexpected pleasure because the characters are clearly opposites.
I think Shelly is just totally smitten with [her] from the get go. [Bambi is] just so in her own body and just totally 100 percent herself all the time. And I think that’s probably hard to be when you’re a Pasadena housewife in the country club circuit. You kind of have to fit into a mold. And Bambi just does her. Like you do you, you know?
I think it feels really exciting to be around a woman like that and also having never been around a woman like that, I think she’s breaking all [these] stereotypes that maybe Shelly might have held about the kind of woman that would do this work. And Jessica Lowe, it’s not hard to fall in love with her. She’s incredibly, incredibly talented. And stunningly gorgeous and also just radiates this beautiful light from within and everybody wants to be in her orbit. She’s always making it lighter on the set and making a silly joke. We all went to her wedding after we wrapped. She’s very welcoming. She’s a lot like Bambi; she is just open arms.
How do you think this moment fit into Shelly’s bigger journey this season?
I think from the get go, we’re seeing Shelly dipping her toe into this world that she wouldn’t otherwise have access to if it weren’t for her sister. And I think it kind of exposes some things that are missing in her life. [What is she getting from] relationships with these people at Bottom Dollar that she’s not getting in her mom life?
I thought it was such a beautiful arc the way that they fold it in like, Oh, she’s just showing up with her son because her son lit someone’s ass on fire. He got kicked out of summer school and she was already bringing these files to her sister, but now that she’s here, oh, maybe she’ll stay and help out. It feels good to be around these people and titillating to be in this world. We then see her at home, and how hard it is to have teenagers and a toddler. Pretty unfulfilled, I think, and angry about it. So it’s this secret little thing that’s just for her, which I think for a mom can feel really decadent and exciting. And then she’s just a part of the team and she’s also the Minx reader. She’s exactly the target audience for the magazine. And so I think from that perspective, she brings some great eyes about what women want.
Her confession that she used a vibrator is great. I loved when she’s talking at the Minx offices about relatable magazine headlines and things like that and viewers just see, “Oh, this is exactly how she fits into this world.”
Yeah. And that scene, that was another one of my favorite scenes, because it’s clear that the culture set up at home was not to talk about this stuff. Like this is your private business. We don’t talk about sex. We don’t talk about pleasure. You get married, you have a family. That’s your job. I remember we were rehearsing it before we started filming and Ellen was like, “It should be really hard for her to share this.” And then when she shared it, she’s all in! [Her sister is] the one that has the discomfort with it. It also subverts what we’re expecting from this path of being a housewife.
Do you have any thoughts about why, what audiences are finding appealing about the 1970s on TV right now?
I’ll speak specifically for “Minx.” …I find it’s just a great, beautiful escapist era. I mean, maybe we’re getting the same thing from Minx that we’re getting from like a “Bridgerton” or “Gilded Age” — we don’t want to be where we are in this real world right now because there’s a lot of backlash and darkness and scary things happening in the world. And so for half an hour to leave to the early ’70s when literally, people had shirts open down to their belly buttons. It’s not just the ’70s but it’s this world of porn production. [It’s] totally so exciting to be able to see behind the curtain. And to see, you know, full bushes.
Did it feel different being on set with so much male nudity? Because male nudity on TV is still very rare.
Yeah, I mean, it feels like we’re introducing it… I’m a comedic actor, so I have not been on a lot of shows with nudity, period. I wasn’t on “Game of Thrones,” so I haven’t really ever been on a show with nudity. It was shocking at first and exciting and then we all got really used to it. I think everybody was there for the love of the game, and everybody was really committed to delivering the comedy but also the reality of the situation.
Everybody was really professional from the top down about how it was all treated and everyone felt really respected. And, I mean, even the initial montage in the script said, “Yes, it’s a dick montage,” and I laughed out loud. But I had no idea that when Rachel [Lee Goldenberg, director] shot it she was going to shoot such a beautiful [moment]; the way they shot that montage with the light-colored glass behind and the close ups and the way that they all pop on screen and they’re all doing tricks and everybody feels like they’re respected…It also felt very educational to me.
I read that the makeup trailer had some Playgirl magazines. True?
Totally Carleigh [Herbert, makeup department head]. Carleigh ordered, I think, off of eBay a bunch of Playgirl magazines and they weren’t like out [on display]. But yeah, they were Playgirl magazines. They were underneath the makeup station. So if you wanted to peruse before you shoot your scene you could get in the space. I thought that was a really nice touch.
“Minx” Season 1 is available to stream on HBO Max.