Lennon Parham has done it all, from bit parts in sitcoms to creating her own series, but Minx is an exciting new experience for the multitalented actress. The series takes place in the 1970s and follows a staunch feminist as takes an unorthodox approach to spreading her message: developing the first erotic magazine for women. Parham plays the protagonist’s sister, Shelly, whose housewife facade hides a woman eager to explore her sexuality. With Season 2 premiering on Starz on Friday, July 21st, Parham decided to chat with Observer about all things Minx and the current state of streaming.
The following interview was conducted ahead of the SAG strike declaration and has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You’ve had smaller roles in a massive amount of really beloved sitcoms and comedies like New Girl, Veep, Parks and Rec, and then you’ve had major roles on shows that you created. How has that contrast informed your career choices?
Parks and Rec was my first job. Like ever. And I don’t know if I got it because of Amy Poehler or because I had begun to develop a relationship with a casting director—I really was just trying to get work as a comedic actor after having some success in commercials and obviously improv. But the writing of my own stuff kind of came out of a necessity. The first three things I created myself were with Jessica St. Clair. The first one was a pilot that we wrote for HBO that never saw the light of day, but we were writing it at the same time that we were both on other people’s sitcoms.
We were both auditioning for parts that were narrow. It felt like women were being written in a very straightforward, narrow way. Not complicated, not holding more than one type of woman inside, and I feel like as women we were like, “Oh, we know how to showcase our own funny, we know how to tell these stories, why don’t we do it?” So writing that pilot, and then Best Friends Forever, and then Playing House, that all came out of a necessity for us to do that, to be able to play women that were more than one thing and also showcase a relationship that wasn’t a romantic relationship. Because I think, as we all know, a lot of women have very intense relationships with their own women friends, or they have relationships in their life, I should say, that are non-romantic, that take up a big place in our lives, and we felt like that wasn’t really out there.
Now, Minx focuses a ton on women’s sexuality and women’s liberation, and your character Shelly has a very unique experience with her own understanding of herself. How did that factor into your interest in the role and the series as a whole?
I didn’t know any of that good, juicy stuff before I said yes. But it was literally the funniest pilot that I had read in years, and I knew pretty quickly who Shelly was, sort of this Pasadena housewife that is subverting expectation in that she’s encouraging her sister to go for it and is saying “Get your head out of your ass. This is an incredible opportunity. So what if there’s like a little wenis here and there?” But I didn’t know until I talked to Ellen [Rapoport, the series creator], because she said, “Just before you have your fitting tomorrow, I just want to take you through why we’re making Shelly a little more like, sexy and a little younger,” and I was like, “Okay, what’s happening?” And then she pitched me through the Season 1 story.
I was thrilled, I mean, what a great arc. I feel like sort of what the magazine is preaching, Shelly is living, which is the freedom to make your own choices, the freedom to step outside of a box that might have been created for you or that you created for yourself. For a long time, I don’t think Shelly probably truly thought any of that stuff applied to her, and then Season 2 takes it to another level.
You alluded to it a little bit, but Minx includes plenty of male nudity, which is pretty rare in the industry. How has that made the experience different?
My character is involved in many sex scenes as well. So I’m paralleling the two. Because at first, it’s terrifying, you’re gonna have to make out with someone or see a penis or whatever the scary thing is, and then after about thirty minutes, an hour, everybody just gets super comfortable. It feels silly and like, “This is my job?” We keep saying that, like, “What are we doing? This is our job?”
In Season 1, we had the scene with the character that was supposed to be resembling the David. He had a prosthetic on so that makes it a little bit easier, because it’s not really his business. His man business. The first several setups that we did, there was not acting happening. That was truly like, “Oh my God,” it was really pearl clutching. Then by the end, we’re winking at each other, we’re all comfortable, and it was more playful and easier, obviously. My mom said, “We’re probably not going to tell our friends from the church choir about this one.” And I said, “You know what, good move.” But then it turns out they’re all watching it anyway, because they come and they’re like, “We saw Minx. We loved it.”
Does Minx have an intimacy coordinator? That’s been a bit of a hot button issue for some actors.
Yeah, for sure they do. We’ve had several. I like it. I think sometimes it feels like, “Oh, we’re just kissing or whatever, so do we really need this person there?” But for me, it’s just a liaison, an opportunity in the same way that a stunt coordinator just really makes sure we know what the beats are and that nobody’s going to get injured. I think intimacy is a hot button issue for each person, right? So something could be triggered. I think it just helps, because then if there’s any discomfort at all, or if you don’t want to do something, you can talk to them and they can sort of liaise their way through it. They’re on your side, and it feels like you have kind of a personal protector.
Minx did fall victim to an increasingly turbulent streaming landscape, getting canceled by HBO Max during the production of Season 2 before getting saved by Starz. How did that shake up affect things on set?
We got a call the weekend before our last week of filming from Ellen. And she was like, “So this is not a good call.” I have to give props to Ellen because I thought she handled it with such grace, and she’s an incredible leader, obviously. But I think we all felt very taken care of and included in a process that could feel really super scary. I mean, I’ve had shows canceled before, but never while we were filming. So we went back to work, and we finished filming because as I understood it, they had all been paid for already. So Lionsgate was like, “Let’s finish this, we’ll sell it somewhere else. It’s an incredible show. There’s a lot of a lot of appetite for it.”
It was just so bizarrely timed because we were on all of these year end best lists, like best streaming shows, best comedies, best pilot, best dick montage. I think we were all so surprised to find ourselves in this position. So Christmas was weird, and then January rolled around and we found out that Starz had picked us up, and that they were going to take over and put Season 1 on their platform and then also stream Season 2. So we didn’t know when that was going to happen, but we were all elated because for a hot second there we thought all the work that we had done was never going to be seen. It’s just such a weird time right now to make television, but specifically comedy. There’s so much fear in the market and if you’re fearful, it’s really hard to be funny.
Do you have any inkling as to how the move to Starz will impact the show going forward?
My feeling is that it’s a really good fit there because of all the sexy and edgy stuff Starz is already doing. I haven’t obviously had a roundtable with the Starz executives, but it looks to me like they’re leaning more into the comedy direction. So it kind of bridges both of those worlds. So far, the experience has been really wonderful. I feel like they’re promoting the shit out of it, and they’re marketing it really smartly and sexily. It feels really smart and savvy, the way it’s being handled, and we all feel taken care of in that way, which is not always the case.
In addition to being an actress, you’re also a writer and director. Do you have any interest in applying these skill sets to Minx going forward?
I directed last summer, this beautiful show called Somebody Somewhere. That was a literal dream come true. I’ve directed in the past—I’ve directed some of my own show, but just because we were there making all the decisions. But then I got to do two of Bless this Mess, which I was also on, which was just a delight and a perfect scenario of working with a crew that already knew me and thought I was funny and trusted me and also wanted me to succeed. So every time I feel like I’ve gotten better and learned a lot, and so the answer is yes, of course. If the powers that be invited me to do that, I would certainly do it.
We have a lot of amazing female directors in Season 2 as well. Ellen directed the finale and Anna Ramey Borden, who was one of our first ADs, stepped into the directing arena. She did the “Chippendales” episode, and it is next level. And of course, Rachel Lee Goldenberg, who’s also an EP on the show, and directed the pilot and several episodes of Season 1. And Shiri Appleby. I think those are all the ladies. It’s a great show for a lady’s view point, as it were. If they would have me, I would love to do that. I feel like directing uses—I use the phrase, “all the parts of my buffalo”—my mom energy, my problem solving, my wanting everybody to do their best work, and having also been an actor, and knowing what that feels like and being given the space to do your best before anybody tells you what to do. All that jazz.
So with that multifaceted experience in what you called a “weird time” for television, how do you feel about the current WGA strike?
I’ll just say #WGAstrong. I’ve been picketing every week, I went to the rally last week. I feel like the movement is bigger than just the writers; it’s all the mergers and all of the giant corporations becoming even more giant and having more monopoly and making decisions based solely on money and investors. I understand there is a business component to it, obviously, but the reason people come to these programs is for storytelling and for escape. There is no better way to have a story told than by someone who is personally connected to it, and there’s just nobody that does it better than the writers of the WGA. I’m really hoping that they return to the bargaining table with the WGA and make a deal ASAP because I think we’re all eager to get back to work, but we want to be compensated in a respectful and correct way.
To end on a lighter note, what can fans and new viewers look forward to in Minx Season 2?
Okay, so as we were shooting it, and I’ve seen the whole season now, so I feel I can speak to it as well, it feels like everything has gone up a level. Things are bigger, faster, shinier. In Season 2, they get an investor that flushes them with cash and it really shines a light on how people deal with success, different levels of winning. And my character goes on another intense roller coaster journey. You’re gonna see more of my lovely husband Lenny, who’s played wonderfully by Rich Sommer. There’s a “will they or won’t they” with Bambi of course, and every episode feels finale level. It’s infinitely bingeable and such a fun summer romp. I think people are really gonna like it, and it looks better than ever too, our DP just knocked it out of the park.