If you’re watching “The Handmaid’s Tale,” you probably have a thing for Max Minghella. The 31-year-old actor has a starring role as Nick, the stone-faced, ever-brooding driver for Commander Waterford and his wife. Heading into the penultimate episode of season one, we’re still not totally sure we can trust him, but we’re OK with turning our female gaze on his Eye. His clandestine affair with handmaid Offred [Elisabeth Moss] offers a temporary relief from her daily hell as a prisoner of Gilead, at least, and the steamy scenes between the two provide “a nice reprieve,” as Minghella puts it, from the show’s otherwise traumatic subject matter — for both the viewers and the actors.
“It could almost be in a romance novel, those scenes,” Minghella says on the phone from L.A. He’s driving — just like Nick! — en route to a meeting for his next project: his directorial debut, “Teen Spirit,” a movie-musical from the musical producers of “La La Land” starring Elle Fanning, which is due out in 2018. “So much of what [Elisabeth Moss] has to do is so uncomfortable and disturbing. To then be able go into a scene where she’s flirting with the lawn boy, I think is nice, you know?” he says.
In his dry British accent, he describes the enigmatic Nick as “vulnerable” deep down, says he’s been a hopeless romantic since he was a teenager and that he’s endlessly fascinated with the female gender. Swoon.
The sexual tension between Nick and Offred is intense! How did you and Elisabeth Moss prepare for the scenes?
Well, that’s very nice of you to say. Lizzie and I had never met before we showed up to work, so we were both relieved there was a natural chemistry, which hopefully comes across on the screen. We’re both kind of connected to those sides of ourselves in our own lives. I love doing romantic things. I’m a very romantic person in my own life, so it’s one of the easier things to tap into.
I read that you’re not a very political person. Yet you’re starring in a show with such political heft. How does that work?
I’m just not a political person. I’m not informed enough to talk about it. I always feel like I’m the wrong person to ask, because I’m so aware of my lack of education, which is not a good thing. When I read the script, it was in a very different political context, in terms of the world we live in. It was far ahead of this administration. I really was drawn to the plot of it. I was so excited about the show because I wanted to find out about what happened next. When I watched the show, which I’m incredibly proud to be a part of, the elements I responded to most and kept me engaged were much more to do with the emotional narrative, than anything else. Also, I play a character, who I always felt was slightly less intellectual than the rest of the story. In a nice way, my stuff is lighter in tone that the other stuff we’re looking at.
In Episode 8, “Jezebels,” we finally get some of Nick’s back story, pre-Gilead. Can you talk a bit about who you think he was before?
That was really fun for me to do. I feel like the Nick you see in the past, hopefully feels like a completely different person from the one you finish that episode with. What was useful about it was to see Nick is not the person he presents himself to be in Gilead. I think he’s a much more vulnerable person. He’s forced to shield and disguise so much of his emotionality in order to survive. I hope that getting a quick peek at where he came from helps the audience see the humanity.
At the same time, I’m still not sure if we can trust him. I guess that’s part of what’s so compelling about the character.
That’s probably a Max Minghella fault more than a Nick Blaine fault.
Why is that?
[Laughs] I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, the trust thing. We’re always in defense of our characters. If you talk to Ann Dowd [who plays the sadistic Aunt Lydia], about the role she plays, she would say that she’s a loving person. In my mind, Nick is very pure-hearted. Whether that’s the reality or not, I don’t know.
Do you think that you give off a shifty vibe?
I think maybe. I have a face that makes me look grumpier than I feel.
Watching “Jezebels,” I wondered, maybe Nick is just a fuckboi? We learn that he slept with a cook at Jezebel’s. When he breaks it off with Offred, under the guise of, “Oh, it’s too dangerous,” it felt to me like, maybe his ego was wounded after seeing her cavorting with the commander.
[Laughs] He’s not a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination. That last scene, that exchange between June [aka, Offred] and Nick in the kitchen, when he says, “My name’s Nick Blaine, I’m from Michigan,” and she’s like…“Whatever.” [Laughs] I thought that was very funny. It’s a very male mistake to think that giving such a small nugget of information about yourself is somehow a gift. I thought it revealed some kind of naivete about male and female dynamics. Made me laugh, that scene, especially when I watched it back.
What’s it like being the bro in this female-driven show?
Tell me more! It seems like you have a lot of opinions about Nick. The truth is, I’m so much more interested in women than men in fiction. That’s not hyperbolic. If you looked at my bookshelf, it’s almost entirely stories about women. If you look in my Netflix queue, it’s almost entirely shows about women. I’m in pre-production on a film about a woman. I’m endlessly fascinated by the gender. I was so thrilled to be part of a story that wasn’t driven by men. This is a show that I would watch for that reason alone. And I like being in that environment; in a work environment where I’m outnumbered.
Any favorite female-driven shows or films to shout out?
I am religious about the recent TV adaptation of “The Girlfriend Experience.” I think it’s a masterpiece, and nobody I know has seen it, and I find it very difficult to get people to watch it. I’m also a big “Blue is the Warmest Color” nerd. I love that movie.
Going back to what you said before, about being drawn to romantic parts. Any favorite past roles that come to mind?
[Laughs] I feel like I’m often playing a similar part to Nick. Nick is one of the best written roles I’ve gotten to play, so that’s unique about it. Again, it really just comes from my own life. I’m definitely a lover, not a fighter. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic since I was a teenager, and detrimentally so. All actors are probably better at playing things that they connect to in their own lives. Out of all the things I’ve had to tackle in a fictional realm, I would say that’s the one that feels like the least of a stretch to me.
I read that you’ve always wanted to be a music video director. Anybody you’d love to direct? Anybody you’re listening to right now that you’re really into?
I’m obsessed with music videos and nobody will let me make them so I’m making this film now, which is a pop musical. It’s a way of cheating my way into it. I have very poppy taste in music. Im listening right now to Dua Lipa, a British pop singer who’s really special and will take over the world imminently. Obviously, I’m a huge Harry Styles fan, you have to be as a British person. I like teenage girl music. I don’t have highbrow taste. There’s not a lot of Leonard Cohen on my iPhone. I don’t listen to man music.