Luti (left) and O-T Fagbenle
O-T and Luti Fagbenle are busy, busy men, even in a global pandemic.
O-T is spending his time in Tanzania with his mother and niece and nephew. He explains, "My mom lives in Tanzania. And I thought if the world is ending, I probably should be by her side. And so three months ago, I jumped on a plane to be with her. And yeah, so I've been out here.
"I've just been, like I said, hanging out with my mom. I've been homeschooling. My niece and nephew have been here with me as well. And so we've been doing all sorts of projects, which is amazingly gratifying.
"And I've been doing a bit of writing. I've got a show that I wrote and directed coming out at the end of July called Maxxx. And so off the back of that, I've had a couple of writing engagements."
Maxxx, which dropped on Hulu on July 28, is a project O-T and his brother Luti put together. O-T stars as a washed-up member of a defunct boy band, the title character. He directed many of the episodes, as well.
One of O-T's co-stars in the series is Christopher Meloni, who plays Maxxx's manager.
The part was written originally for a 70-year-old, and Meloni wondered why the brothers had thought of him for the part. O-T had the answer - sort of. He says, "Well, I mean, honestly, I didn't think of him. Mainly because I just thought he was out of our league, to be honest.
O-T Fagbenle: We didn't have a huge budget. We were shooting in London. And when I say we didn't have a huge budget, we didn't have trailers a lot of the time. We tried to put all our budget on screen.
"We didn't have a huge budget. We were shooting in London. And when I say we didn't have a huge budget, we didn't have trailers a lot of the time. We tried to put all our budget on screen. And Luti, my brother, did an extraordinary job of that.
"And so I hadn't thought of him. And Luti, he just thinks big and is convinced that we can achieve great things. And so he was just like, 'OK, O-T, forget realism. What would dream casting be?' And I was like-- and I'd watched Happy! recently.
"And I was like, 'well, yes, sure, if we could get Chris Meloni. But, Luti, we need to think seriously. We're only a couple of months from filming.' And he was just like, 'leave it with me.'
"And he went away. And he sent Chris the script. And he loved it, and came back, and just said, 'I'll find a way of doing it.' And yeah, he's just extraordinary in it."
According to both brothers, Luti is the big ideas guy. Luti, who has been in London during the pandemic, says, "I generally make shit happen, is all I could say."
Not that O-T is any slouch when it comes to ideas. And the family together is what really clicks for all of them. Luti says, "The idea of Maxxx originally came from O-T, right?
"And so where I was at at the time was I sort of just was just getting my foot in the door in television after a hugely successful career making music videos and commercials.
"And so when they were like, 'OK, give us your best shot,' it's quite obvious to go to the most talented person I know, who happens to be my brother. So, yes, convenient DNA there.
Luti Fagbenle: I think one of the cool things of me and O-T is we've been shooting stuff together since we were super young. We're both really supportive of each other's projects.
'But, yeah, I mean, I think one of the cool things of me and O-T is we've been shooting stuff together since we were super young. We're both really supportive of each other's projects. And we have other siblings as well. And we all kind of collaborate.
'And there's just that - there's that intuitive level that we're able to really get each other, and each other's tone and ideas, and kind of have belief in each other's ideas and things, whether it's a casting decision or a script idea. And so that gives us a shorthand. So we can be super efficient when working.
'It's horrible doing business with him, horrible. I give it to the lawyers and agents. Me and O-T will argue on the phone for like three hours, talking some stupid shit that neither of us understand well enough. But when it gets down to the creative stuff, it's magic.
"So we let the agents do all that stuff, and me and O-T make dope stuff when we collab."
O-T's other job is playing the long-suffering Luke in The Handmaid's Tale. It's a dark role and a dark story, so lightening things up with his turn in the mad world of Maxxx is a 180 turn.
O-T says, "And not by accident - by design. It's so weird, because I've had this theater career where I did Six Degrees of Separation. I got to play Mercutio. I did Levee in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Really kind of expansive, mercurial characters.
"And in television, I tend to play the nice boyfriend or in Handmaid's, the nice husband kind of thing. And as much of a gift as Luke is to play, and as much of a gift Handmaid's is to be a part of, I miss playing someone a bit more mercurial, a lot more flawed. And so I went about and tried to write them.
"It was a bit of a process of discovery for me. I'd never written for myself before. My short films, I didn't act in at all. And so, yeah, I had so much support both from mentors and friends of mine. I worked with improvisers from The Second City.
"I had great execs, and commissioners, and script editors. It was a real village effort."
Luti concurs, "O-T's character on Handmaid's Tale, I don't know if a lot of people knew he could do this, you know? I know because I've kind of grown up with him.
"But to be a dramatic actor, and be very well known in theaters as well, and then to come and do something completely zany, wacky, comical, and musical as well at the same time, he's throwing down some serious acting chops. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised seeing O-T in this role."
Another surprise for viewers is that the music of the series is also primarily the product of the Fagbenle brothers.
O-T explains,"A lot of my process is about collaboration. You could even put in parentheses, working with people more talented than myself. And I co-wrote the main song with one of my longtime writing partners, a guy called Marcus Marr.
"And again, my brother Rockwell helped with a lot of the music. And so again, a team effort.
"But yes, I'm responsible, for better or worse, for at least half of some of the songs. And then yeah, we had a great composer, Vince Pope.
"And I've always been involved in music. I started in music when I was just a kid playing the saxophone. I guess it was an opportunity for me to infuse that part of my love of art into a bigger project."
Luti, too, brings his background in music videos to bear on the series. He says, "It's kind of like the school of filmmaking I came up in, you know? I always wanted to make movies, and to make TV shows, and to make big ideas. But as you know, those doors aren't necessarily that opened.
"And so making music videos was kind of my entryway.
And actually, because of how far we got with it working with the biggest stars in the world, the Beyonces, the Kanye Wests, the Drakes, the One Directions, we were able to collaborate with amazing filmmakers, like Oscar-winning cinematographers and production designers, and just work at an aesthetic level that is super high.
"And so then kind of translating that into comedy has been a joy, because I feel like we can bring a flavor to comedy that isn't like kind of what you get when you go to a comedy production company or methodology.
"At the same time, it's a huge learning experience, because I'm learning about a new genre, a new medium, a different pace.
"And so what we try to do with Maxxx is kind of get the best of both worlds. And so sometimes we had just a music video hustle, or a media studio, or just being able to say, 'oh, we want to do something the day after tomorrow in Toronto? Sure.'
"You can't typically do that on a TV series, because the engines to configure it, it's just not lined up that way. But we are a very reactive production company, working in the music video space. So when we see opportunities, we can jump at them.
"So that was kind of cool to be able to bring some of that flavor and that hustle to television."
The combination of careers and the flexibility of their process also helped them in getting some unusual casting.
O-T says, "That's how we got a lot of our cameos from Larry King and the Backstreet Boys. Those were last-minute opportunities, literally day-of opportunities that we managed to exploit because, you know, like Luti said, his flexibility, malleability, and ability to respond."
Luti adds, "And a lot of them were reverse-engineered. We knew we wanted to play with the space between fiction and reality. And O-T, you know, as a celebrity on the rise himself, had certain access.
"He was going to the Emmys. He was doing an interview with Larry King on a breakfast TV show. So we just thought about, what is the best way we could completely hijack this to make our TV show without ruining his career as an actor?
"And we did. And that's how he pulled off shit, because, you know, if we had written in Larry King in a script, and emailed his agent, yeah, right, he's going to come to the UK in a British TV show? For what, you know?
"But that would be quite charming. So we asked him on set, what's he going to do? So we got away with murder. And we loved doing it."
Overall, both brothers thoroughly enjoyed their experience making Maxxx. Luti says, "It was fun. It was fun for everyone. And people really gave so much of themselves. And we really appreciate all the love we got in this to help make it what it is."
For more on the stars of Maxxx, click HERE