Actor, writer and director Max Minghella carries an enormous weight in Hulu’s esteemed series The Handmaid’s Tale, providing a rare comfort in a show that seldom sits in moments of tenderness.
The Social Network star, who most recently appeared alongside Chris Rock in Spiral, wanted to physically reflect the strain under which Nick Blaine continues to operate in Gilead. After disappearing to Chicago midway through season three, Nick reappears across season four with an awareness that he can help from within the ranks of Gilead’s totalitarian society. As the story settles in Canada after June’s (Elizabeth Moss) monumental escape, Nick ensures that June has the opportunity for vengeance.
The season four finale gave fans a series highlight when June and Nick turned on their former, sadistic boss Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), who stands flabbergasted as the two lovers openly display their resilience and strength before his eyes. It’s a kiss that ignites a revolution.
“I love how much it makes sense for June and Nick in this moment,” Emmy nominee Minghella shares. “It’s a great embodiment of their dynamic.”
Minghella spoke with Awards Focus about his admiration for Elizabeth Moss as a director, how Nick is complicit in June’s capture, and what he’s most excited for audiences to see in his next starring role in Damien Chazelle’s upcoming Hollywood period drama, Babylon.
Awards Focus: Congratulations on the Emmy nomination. How did it feel to see a large number of the main cast nominated this year?
Max Minghella: The nicest thing about it was that so many crew were also recognized for their work this year. We shot a very ambitious season during the pandemic, and those guys just work so hard across the board.
AF: How did your relationship with Elizabeth Moss evolve this season as she directed three episodes?
Minghella: It was my favorite thing because she really elicited the best work from the actors. She has a remarkable ability to make you feel safe, and step out of the traditional boundaries of the show. She also has an incredible visual flare, like in episode three, doing these complicated set pieces like trains flying off the rails while also directing intimate character work.
AF: In season 4, Nick and June had some incredible moments together, but some more harmful then others. To what extent do you feel Nick is culpable to the pain inflicted on June this season?
Minghella: I don’t think Nick is as complicated as people perceive him to be. He’s always trying to protect June to the best of his abilities, but sometimes there’s two bad options, like in order to protect her he has to choose between two evils.
People forget Nick is a spy, and we’re four seasons into the show, so expecting the audience to retain all of the history of these characters is way too much. Ultimately his intentions are in protecting her.
AF: Do you think Nick would be found guilty for his part in protecting Gilead, even though the choice to decide was ultimately taken from him?
Minghella: laughs. It’s a very good question that only Bruce Miller and Margaret Atwood can answer. One of the great joys of doing a television series is you don’t know what’s going to happen, but I definitely would love to play that.
AF: Episode nine, directed by Elizabeth Moss, features a beautiful reunion between Nick and June where the connection between them becomes undeniable. What was it like to film those scenes with the emotional weight Nick was carrying with him?
Minghella: It was the most method I’ve ever gone for a scene, and I think it came across. I didn’t sleep for a few days before, and I was eating badly and trying to demonstrate a physical reflection of how hard it must be for him. At this point in the show you haven’t even seen Nick for a while. He bears so much stress on his shoulders in a very quiet way, so I wanted something external that you could see.
Elizabeth Moss and I have a natural chemistry that makes it quite easy and fun to be honest. She’s one of the great actors alive. Also, it was exceptionally freezing. You can see the strain in my face to even breathe.
AF: The kiss between Nick and June in front of Commander Waterford in the season finale was also extraordinary. Had the kiss been in the script or was the moment unplanned?
Minghella: It’s funny because I’m not part of the brain trust and don’t really know the evolution of the kiss. My understanding was that it wasn’t in the script and was an idea that Lizzie (Moss) had. It struck me as something very organic to the characters that I know seems strange and crazy, but I love how much it makes sense for June and Nick. It’s a great embodiment of their dynamic.
AF: You’re currently filming Damien Chazelle’s Babylon. What’s exciting you most about the film?
Minghella: It’s pretty exhilarating. I can’t play it cool because it’s an amazing set to be on. In 2021, to be on a movie that is an original story, a period movie, and made with some of the greatest craftsmen alive, is such a unique thing.
I haven’t adjusted particularly well to the new movie system, the types of movies people are making and the level of ambition of these films. So I feel very lucky to be on a set where people are striving to make something brilliant that can stand the test of time.
I love working in these environments where people are reaching for the sky.