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The Power of the Written Word - An Interview with 'Minx' Writer and Creator Ellen Rapoport

'Minx' writer and creator Ellen Rapoport shares with Script about what initially drew her to this specific world of erotic magazines, the character development between the lead characters through the season one arc, and how her brief career as a lawyer made her the writer she is today.

In 1970s Los Angeles, an earnest young feminist joins forces with a low-rent publisher to create the first erotic magazine for women.

Minx fully delivers on a retro scale with humor, political and social commentary of its time, present-day not excluded, and what it's like to be a writer. Opportunity happens and is presented in the most unapologetically way of distribution for Joyce in this series - and I'm 100% here for the ride. I had the great fortune of speaking with the show's writer and creator, Ellen Rapoport, about what drew her to this specific world of erotic magazines, the character development between Joyce and Doug through the season one arc, and how her brief career as a lawyer made her the writer she is today.

[L-R] Ophelia Lovibond, Lennon Parham, Jessica Lowe, Oscar Montoya, Idara Victor, Jake Johnson in Minx. Photograph by Katrina Marcinowski.

[L-R] Ophelia Lovibond, Lennon Parham, Jessica Lowe, Oscar Montoya, Idara Victor, Jake Johnson in Minx. Photograph by Katrina Marcinowski.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: What drew you to this world and this story specifically?

Ellen Rapoport: I happened upon an article about erotic magazines in the 70s. And it was so fascinating to me, it seemed like this really fertile area. My first exposure to a naked man was in Playgirl magazine that I had found while snooping through my neighbor's stuff while cat sitting. So that's on me. [laughs] I knew that the magazines existed, I kind of just thought all of these things were this weird cultural relic and a bit of a joke. And reading the articles, what they talked about is that these were attempts to be feminist magazines and it was a workplace populated largely by feminists and pornographers. And I thought it just seemed like an insane idea for a magazine in the first place. And I thought it was so fertile, so interesting.

Ellen Rapoport

Ellen Rapoport

I started researching and bought out eBay's collection of vintage erotic magazines. And it struck me as interesting on a number of levels; first of all, it felt like you would have these really well-researched stories for people who had attention spans back in the day, 10,000-word stories about abortion and rape, and sexual harassment at work, though they wouldn't have called it that yet. And then later in the 70s, abortion is legal, but here's how your doctors are still going to try to screw you over - like really weighty topics. And then you would turn the page and it was just a naked man on a horse. [laughs] And I think part of me, I was just confused. And I really wanted to understand how this would be considered feminist. And I think what I ultimately realized, which is kind of Joyce's realization in the pilot is these magazines really were the first to acknowledge women's sexuality as part of the whole rubric of feminism. And also, it seems like this very tit for tat way of being like, men can see us naked, so we can see men naked, but you kind of have to start with that and move on to other things.

It felt like the first stepping stone in this longer conversation that I think led to this acknowledgment of women's sexuality and attempted to level the playing field. I think those magazines are the precursor to third-wave feminism, or even what Sex in the City was in the 90s when it was the first time that we'd heard women talking that way on television; I think all these things are kind of stepping stones to where we are, hopefully slightly more evolved today in terms of sexuality.

I think that what else struck me as I read the magazines is that nothing seemed to have changed really for women. It feels like we've come so far, and yet not far at all. Like, the titles are the same. It's like, Should you have kids? What to do if your boss is harassing you? The advice is very different, because women didn't have a voice really, or protections or laws. So, the advice for your boss is hitting on you is like, use that [laughs] try to get a promotion. But the truth is, that is what probably was the best course of action at the time just given the way that society was designed back then. And it just felt like this great way to do a show where you can touch upon the stuff that is happening now, but with a light and a fun touch. I think it's so interesting now that people are having these conversations about male sexuality on TV. It kind of feels like in that way, we're just back to where we started too, where it was like I do feel like things are just dropped in arbitrarily. I don't have a problem with it because I feel like that's what Playgirl was doing. It feels interesting to me that we're just back here again. [laughs]

[Curating a Mood and Tone Utilizing Music and Character with 'Yellowjackets' Creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson]

Sadie: Yeah, it's cyclical. But also, why are we still having this conversation? Have we not progressed? No, not at all.

Ellen: Right. [laughs]

Sadie: I really enjoyed watching the character development from episode to episode and we get to see both teaching moments and revelations from both of their sides, notably from Joyce and Doug. Why was that important for you as the storyteller to give both sides that equal opportunity to share their points of view?

Ellen: Yeah, I think in a way, it's a weird way to look at it, but in a way, they're kind of two halves of the same whole. They both have the thing that you need to be a successful human I think, in the world of commerce. I think that she has passion and ideals and a real drive to change things. And I think he is just relentlessly practical. I never wanted him to be too sleazy, because I felt like at his core, he's a businessman, and his business is bodies, and he could have been doing anything else and would have been as good at it. So, I think he has that thing where it's almost like the marriage of art and commerce, where it's like, she's all art, he's all commerce and it reflects in their personal lives as well. We kind of envisioned the seed of this first season is like he becomes a little more of a feminist and she becomes a little more of a pornographer. And the two of them kind of influencing each other to arc that way.

Sadie: Speaking of character development, their voices are so very specific and distinct. What was that process like for you getting their voices on the page?

Ellen: I don't know, it just kind of came to me. Honestly, I think I've been both Joyce and Doug at various points in my life. And that scene with them at the convention - it was in the first pitch, I pitched that whole thing out - they kind of came to me fully formed in this weird way, and then obviously once we got this great cast, I was able to see other sides of that, and then that helped inform how they developed and grew. I think we all have a little Joyce and a little Doug inside of us, so they were both equally fun to write for. I've been that pretentious, naive person; and I've been the overly businesslike person.

[L-R] Jake Johnson as Doug and Ophelia Lovibond as Joyce in Minx. Photograph by Katrina Marcinowski.

[L-R] Jake Johnson as Doug and Ophelia Lovibond as Joyce in Minx. Photograph by Katrina Marcinowski.

Sadie: In terms of casting, having that talent from someone like Jake Johnson and Ophelia Lovibond, once they were cast and you saw them as these characters, how much were they individually contributing to the character voices and dynamics?

Ellen: There's not a lot of improv on this show from those two; the characters came to them as written. I think what they added was not necessarily changing the characters but expanding on them. What was really important to me is that we cast people who are inherently warm and likable and knowable in those roles. I mean, first of all, Ophelia is literally the only person who could do this; we read every young woman in Los Angeles, New York, the UK, and Australia, and it made me realize that this character really had potential to be difficult and not likable. Which is obviously not what I wanted to do. She just captured this warmth and this vulnerability, and really, they both did. And they just brought that to the roles. And so, I would say the characters existed, and they fleshed them out in terms of just giving them a soul.

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Sadie: The music, this whole soundtrack, it's so very specific and perfectly attuned to each episode. I'm curious, was that originally written into each episode, or was that something that you worked on with your music department?

Ellen: I wish I was music-savvy enough to have written that into each script. Brienne Rose, our music supervisor, came in with this vision and she said that in the 70s, each record company had one female artist, and that was their girl. And so, there were all these independent labels that had a lot of women, a lot of female voices that you haven't heard before, and her idea was to use these lesser-known women who should have been bigger stars than they were. And if you notice, we have a lot of female vocalists throughout the season. We do have popular songs, for example, “Big Shot,” I thought was necessary in the pilot to kind of make it feel safe to watch that and be like, ‘It's fun, it's not dirty, it's just a dick.’ And it felt like we had to use a recognizable song. But for the most part, I think she has this gift for finding unknown, or lesser-known artists from the 70s and finding their songs that sound like hits, but were not hits. And again, conscious in just veering away from the obvious choice of like, what's the porny sound? So, we have a lot of funk, we have things that are a little bit like outside of that dirty, hard rock sound that I think you associate with porn.

[Writing Stories You Want to See On Screen with ‘Queens’ Creator and Writer Zahir McGhee]

Sadie: Tell us about your writing journey, what piqued your interest in wanting to become a writer?

Ellen: I've always enjoyed writing. But as a child of immigrants and growing up in the Midwest, I guess I just didn't even know that that was a viable career path. I don't know who I thought made TV. I just thought it appeared. And I think at that time, a lot of people who were good writers were pushed into law, which is a weird thing that they're like, you can write legal briefs [laughs] and documents. So, I was a lawyer; writing was something I always was interested in. I think, like Joyce, it felt like, I want to write the stuff that I'm actually interested in.

I went to law school and in my third year of law school, we had an assignment to write an 80-page legal thesis about whatever issue we were interested in. And that's when I realized I was interested in no issues. And I had a professor who taught a class about fiction as a form of persuasion. And so, I asked if he would be my advisor, and if I could write a screenplay, which is a persuasive document. And he said, ‘Yes.’ I got an A. And I just started writing in my spare time as a lawyer.

Sadie: That's incredible.

Ellen: I was a bad lawyer. [laughs] So, not that incredible. [laughs] I was terrible. I remember the first day of our orientation, it was a lot of old timey lawyers who really cared about the law, and they said, ‘If you don't have a fire in your belly for this, you should not be here.’ And I did not. [laughs] Noted.

Sadie: [laughs] What do you hope audiences take away from watching your show?

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Ellen: I hope people are entertained. I wouldn't presume to tell people how to enjoy it. I really just hope people are entertained and like it and take what they want from it. To me, the most important thing was always about these characters in their coming together and how an unexpected person can come into your life and change the course of it. And I think that's really beautiful. But I think people like different things. I've heard from people who have watched it and they're like, ‘It's great for body positivity for men!’ and I'm like, ‘Great!’ [laughs] If that is something that someone takes from it ,I think that's great too. You just hope people are reasonably entertained.

The ten-episode Max Original comedy, Minx, debuts THURSDAY, MARCH 17 on HBO Max, with two new episodes debuting each week through April 14.


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