Now headlining (and bombing) "2000s Throwback Nights" in dive-y Essex clubs (offering on-theme "2-4-1 VodBullz and Bomb Shotz at 2008 prices," no less), Maxxx — played by writer and director, O-T Fagbenle — was on top of the world back then. He performed at the aptly-named Boytown and topped the charts with bangers like "Gonna Make U Itch," "Milkshake on Your Breath" and "UR MY XTC." But a deep spiral into drugs, drink and poor behavior led to disgrace and "almost single handedly destroying the biggest boy band of 2006," as reluctant manager Tamzin (Pippa Bennett Warner) deadpans. His bandmates and his supermodel girlfriend Jourdan Dunn (as played by supermodel Jourdan Dunn) rightfully both dumped him, but it's the latter which incentivizes the self-saboteur to try and reunite his group to win her back on the new comedy "Maxxx," which premieres on Hulu on July 28.
"We basically had a mood board of every boyband of that era," says Fagbenle, on a call. The classically-trained British actor is most known Stateside as Luke in "The Handmaid's Tale" and Rick Mason in Marvel's upcoming "Black Widow." In the works since 2017, "Maxxx" is Fagbenle's baby. It's also a family project: His brother Luti, who cameos as ex-Boytown member Rico, produced the series. (The younger Fagbenle's company Luti Media produced hit music videos like, One Direction's "Best Song Ever," Justin Bieber's "Yummy" and Zayn's "Pillowtalk.")
After receiving a full season order, the Fagbenle's fought for fashion and music stylist Joanna Hir — who worked on the pilot — to come on board and apply her industry authenticity to her first TV costume designer gig.
Fagbenle, Hir and co-director Nick Collett packed mood boards (that I'd love to see) with American classics, including *NSYNC, Boyz II Men, H-Town and Backstreet Boys, whose influence is clear in a brief snippet of Maxxx singing Boytown's 2005 bop, "Salty and Sweet," on a beach. (The montage clips of the band's highlights — and Maxxx low-lights — were shot "guerilla style" over the course of two years, including that impromptu "I Want It That Way"-esque bit from Fagbenle's vacation in Mexico. "I called my brother and said, 'Can you send me down an all-white suit?")
Fagbenle also wanted to infuse a bit of early-Kanye West's "sense of contradiction within you; Where you're like, 'Is this cool or is this over the top?'" Collett, meanwhile, wanted nods to the British boyband aesthetic, so Hir referenced '90s group East 17.
"I was trying to find middle ground. Not to make it too American, so the British audience can relate," she says, over the phone. "But on the other hand, I just wanted this to be iconic, so I didn't want the looks to look like copies from an existing boyband." (Appropriately enough, Hir also styles Little Mix's backup dancers.)
Maxxx's overall steez embodies nostalgia for his glory days. "He had a bunch of clothes from that era and he loved them," says Fagbenle. So Hir custom-built, shopped vintage and also aged contemporary pieces to create the character's early-2000s boy band aesthetic.
"I knew exactly where to go, where to source clothes and who to commission to custom-make and so on," she says. After working for Marjan Pejoski's now-shuttered and pop star-beloved streetwear label KTZ for four years, Hir also enjoyed access to the archives for pieces, like Maxxx's oft-worn baseball stitch bomber reading "TWTC" on the back (above).
Within Maxxx's oversized, bedazzled and fairly extra looks, there's a touch of Fagbenle, as well. Case in point: a jacket with "moist" cringingly embellished on the back (above).
"You know what? A lot of the stupidity of Maxxx — I'm embarrassed to say — is partly my stupidity," laughs Fagbenle. "When I turned 16 or 17, I decided that 'moist' was the coolest word. I was gonna reclaim 'moist' as cool." (Definitely sensing a theme here.) The self-professed teenage "geek" did have skills on the basketball court, so guess which word he chose to wear on the back of his jersey for a big tournament? "I played that basketball match with 'moist' on my back and when I look back at stupidness like that in my life, I can't help but make comedy out of it," he adds. So Hir took a '90s-style black jean jacket and crystal-emblazoned it in all-caps.
Speaking of a sartorial lack of self-awareness: For former Boytown-mate's celebrity-studded funeral, Maxxx opts for an appropriately black tuxedo, which is inappropriately covered in sequins and worn with a shiny shirt and velvet bow-tie (below). The outfit also enhances his cringe-inducing Boyz II Men homage, after Maxxx interrupts a eulogy.
"We were thinking, 'What would be the most ridiculous thing anyone could wear to a funeral?'" says Hir. "Because obviously, he's going to a funeral to be the center of attention."
To accurately outfit the background actors paying their respects, Hir looked to imagery and video from one of the most significant gatherings of luminaries in entertainment, fashion and high society: Alexander McQueen's 2014 memorial.
"The celebrity funerals are more extravagant and there is more is allowed. There are not many things that are inappropriate, as long as it's black. However… " says Hir, trailing off, because Maxxx just doesn't quite get those cues. "It's the kind of thing that only an idiot would do," says Fagbenle.
Maxxx's aptly-named former manager Don Wild (Christopher Meloni) walks the line of dress code etiquette in a funereal version of his, erm, wild and heavily accessorized aesthetic: a burnt velvet snakeskin-print blazer, rose-tinted python frames, chain-link drop earrings and crass one-liners. "He comes from a method background," says Fagbenle of his "The Handsmaid Tale" co-star, who, he notes, discussed the eccentric character down to the utmost details, from his level of faux tan to shade of hair dye and wig to the aggressive amount of jewelry.
"We wanted Don to look like he still thinks he's 25 and he's one of those super macho guys from back in the day," says Hir, who dressed him in leather jackets and tees at the office, instead of power suits. She looked back to the '80s, including Rod Stewart for Don's notable unbuttoned ruffled tuxedo shirt and red kilt ensemble, accessorized by chunky-heeled wing-tips, athletic socks a sharks-tooth necklace, mis-matched earrings and stacks of bracelets (below).
"[Meloni] was actually pushing me further each time in terms of accessories and exaggerating his character," says Hir, who also incorporated quite a bit of the actor's own personal jewelry, especially chunky rings, bracelets and a pair of gold earrings the actor hadn't worn in "10 or 15 years."
"At the end, during shooting, we both looked in the mirror and he said, 'I wanted to look like a rock star and I feel like I look a little bit like Bono,'" Hir adds.
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Don would obviously throw the best underground parties, and Maxxx and his entourage — including a buttoned-up Tamzin and his teenage son, Amit (Alan Asaad), adopted earlier as part of a tabloid photo op — attend in support. "I've been to that party. I know what that party looks like," says Fagbenle.
He and Hir wanted to accurately depict that freeform, escapist and inclusive bacchanal, filled with club kids, the drag community, BDSM enthusiasts and anyone and everyone that's way too cool for most of us. But budgets were tight. So Hir tapped into her own contact list, club connections from her DJ-ing days and friends-of-friends to join the shoot as background players.
"I looked at their Instagram and I asked them to bring three [outfit] options," she explains. "Then on the day, we decided which ones would work best because we wanted a variety of colors, textures and shapes. They were just being themselves, really."
"I almost encourage you to go slow and pause through some of those scenes because there were some really outrageous, brilliant costumes," adds Fagbenle, who, as Maxxx wore a festive liquid gold-paneled denim jacket with a fully-studded back for the occasion, which doesn't quite turn out as expected.
Basically, all of Maxxx's awkward situations result in his flailing attempts to win back Jourdan. Dunn, who also appeared in Margot Robbie's "Terminal" and "Zoolander 2," was Fagbenle's first choice in filling the role of the famous, almost untouchable one who got away.
"She turned out to have a really extraordinary way with improvisation, which is a lot of what we did," says Fagbenle, who estimates that 85% of their scenes were the two riffing off each other. "She and I had a real easy chemistry. Whenever we had to pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend that play came very naturally and she was a perfect fit. Obviously, she looks amazing and has got millions of followers, but it was really her ability to improvise which was a coup."
Dunn also shows some deft physical comedy skills thanks to a close call with an overzealous Rose (Helen Monks), Maxxx's cousin who harbors some Lannister-leaning feelings about her famous relative. (Also, try not to scream when you find out who Jourdan's new boyfriend is, because I totally did.)
"Now talking about this, I just remembered how much fun we had shooting this," says Hir. "Sometimes it was hard to keep quiet on set, because it was just so funny: the whole visual, the whole costume, the script, everything."
The full season of 'Maxxx' premieres on Tuesday, July 28 on Hulu.