If Minx — the fictional feminist porn magazine at the center of Ellen Rapoport’s new HBO Max series — is the brainchild of Ophelia Lovibond’s character Joyce, then Jake Johnson and Idara Victor’s characters are its brainparents.
Victor, who plays Bottom Dollar secretary Tina, is the equal business partner of Johnson’s Doug, Minx publisher and Bottom Dollar founder, in every way but their title. With the arrival of Joyce, the duo’s mom and dad dynamic sees them bumping heads as much as having each other’s backs while they navigate their family of employees, meddling politicians, inventive advertising partnerships and just generally steering Minx‘s rollout through a constantly (and rapidly) changing storm.
In the series’ latest episodes, the two — Tina, the reliable, clear-headed businesswoman always thinking two steps ahead, and Doug, the charismatic, creative risk-taking leader working on the fly — find themselves once again having to dig their way out of a few holes.
At one point, it’s a truck full of magazines that haven’t made it to the shelves, marking yet another unexpected setback in the release of Minx. At another, Doug’s relationship with Tina is tested by the sexism and racism of a Mafia head responsible for distributing Bottom Dollar’s magazines whose religious wife is enraged after an article discusses contraceptives.
The outcomes of both episodes speak to Tina and Doug’s past as well as their potential future with the company and each other. Following the release of “Relaying News of a Wayward Snake” and “Mary Had a Little Hysterectomy,” The Srdtf News spoke to Johnson and Victor about why their characters got into porn publishing, how Doug and Tina navigate race and gender together in the 1970s and how a decision about Joyce and Doug’s relationship impacted Doug and Tina’s dynamic.
Doug and Tina are two very different people working in a very specific industry. What draws them each to porn and publishing?
IDARA VICTOR At that time, I think it’s one of the few worlds or places that she could have the level of autonomy that she has. Tina seems to be a very educated and free woman. She has an understanding that this is life, this is sex, this is love. This is just part of life. She likes to enjoy life. She goes out for a drink. She does her bowling. She’s really just out for the taking when it comes to life. I think the idea that she doesn’t live by a lot of ideologies allows her to be free and accept what’s happening around her. She just allows people to be who they are, and then she sort of utilizes the resources that she sees in front of her. She doesn’t use judgment as her way forward. She’s just as much of a sort of an opportunist as Doug, and she asks, is this going to push us forward somehow? What is the resource here? Even in the people at Bottom Dollar, she uses Bambi (Jessica Lowe) in a really sort of strange, strange way. (Laughs.) Because she sees a resource in Bambi even when he doesn’t. I just think that’s how Tina sees the world.
JAKE JOHNSON I don’t think Doug really cares about porn in terms of the sexuality of it. My father used to have a car dealership when I was growing up, and when we got to know each other, I asked him what drew him to cars, and he said, “Nothing. They were units,” and that he was just trying to sell units. My father, he couldn’t change oil. But it’s just, I could sell these units. For Doug, it just happens to be naked people. But if there was a market for like dogs and cats, then Bottom Dollar would be taking photos of dogs and cats, and Tina would be running that. (Laughs.)
I think the part of the show that has been a bit of a shock to me when I started doing press, and it’s because I’m slightly brain dead, was how much talk there was about the dicks. Because I really just see it as a workplace comedy. I see this show deeply about capitalism, about starting a company, about taking a risk on a new voice and the established voice being Tina and Doug. Tina, especially, being like, “I don’t know about her,” and Doug being like, “I got too many ideas — this might work!” I forgot that there’s so many dicks and boobs in it. Because I view that as I think Doug views it and Tina does — that’s just what they happen to be selling. And if it goes under, they’ll be selling something else.
We’re given some backstory about how both of them came to work together. How much of that backstory did you have to build?
VICTOR It’s interesting because, in our first rehearsal, Ellen [Rapoport] actually asked each of us what we thought the relationships are. Jake and I came up with the background story of them meeting 10 years ago, selling these things out of the trunk of his car, kind of forming this alliance and building this thing together, even though she’s still his secretary. But they built this thing together from the ground up and have been dreaming about these things. We make mention of that — the back of the Impala and the conversations that were had about what’s possible for Bottom Dollar. We agreed on this idea that they met 10 years ago, formed this alliance and decided to sort of build this empire together.
They’re both in different positions at Bottom Dollar and are very different people. Why do they work together as a team, and why is that dynamic important to the company?
JOHNSON I see them as kind of one thing — two pieces of one thing — and I think that I wouldn’t know how to play Doug if Tina didn’t exist. Because there’s a lot of things going on. There’s bringing Joyce into the mix, there’s Bambi, there’s Richie (Oscar Montoya) and there’s nude models. There’s all this noise that they juggle together. Then they go into the office and close the door and can say, “Are we OK?” The way that I see the partnership is it did start in a car between two people who were most likely having a secret affair. We don’t know their backstories, we don’t know what lives they lived, but we do know at one point they met, saw something in the other and said, “We could do this together.” The fact that they’re in this spot now in 1971 — I think they’re both a little shocked, but as you see as the show goes, Tina starts getting some options.
Those options are very key because if you have somebody in your life that you count on as your rock, but you undervalue or underappreciate them, you better be careful. For Doug, Tina’s his team. They’re together. You hear in the episodes how much he values her; how much her opinion matters; how much he knows the machine doesn’t operate without her. When they get in trouble with books, he gives her all the books. He says figure it out. So I think they’re just at the point of the rubber meets the road that I don’t know how much longer she’s going to sit there while other people get the shot.
But you do feel like they complement each other.
VICTOR Yeah, 100 percent I think that they complement each other. Where one lacks, the other one picks up the slack. I think that each of them pulls out a side of the other that maybe they don’t have another person in their life that can do that. I think that Doug winds up being in, the way Tina sees him, a really lonely position having to be the boss of this company. And there’s really no other person that he could confide in the way he does with Tina. I think even just the the sheer smarts that Tina has, I don’t know that Doug has people in his life that can speak as intelligently with him as Tina can and vice versa.
JOHNSON Yeah, I agree. I think Tina is the slow and steady, and Doug is the fast. It’s the tortoise and the hare, where I think together they move forward at a good pace. But I think Doug brings out the wild and the exciting, and Tina makes sure that it’s going in the direction they want to go in. So I actually think she’s more of the center of Bottom Dollar, and he’s actually more — [in] the way Joyce is the face of Minx — Doug is the face of Bottom Dollar. I think Tina might be more of the guts of it.
Jake Johnson and Idara Victor
Katrina Marcinowski / HBO Max
Doug and Tina seem to be pretty close as a white guy and Black woman in the ’70s. And in episode five, we see that tested a little bit with the Mafia, but Doug rejects their racism and sexism to choose Tina. How important is that moment to their dynamic?
VICTOR That’s the only way that Tina could be around him for 10 years and do this. I’ve said this even about Jake, that he has a lot of soul about him, and I think Doug has a lot of soul about him. Tina feels like she can relate to him and be real with him, and without that ability to do that and know that she’s treated with the integrity that she sees in herself, I don’t think she’d be able to stay there that long. I think she’d have to find a new environment to thrive in. I have to say, Jake, you played so beautifully that moment when you were challenged that way about Tina.
But I have to say that I think that Tina understands Doug’s position on almost all things, including I would imagine that they’ve discussed racism. I’d imagine that she understands who he is and where he is with it after watching him for so long. So there’s a comfort level that she finds there with him that I think she wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. That’s why she can even, you know, call it out the moment she meets Joyce with knowing that he’s 100 percent in tow with her, and they’re gonna joke about it because she knows exactly where he stands.
JOHNSON I’ve talked about Doug this way before, but what I think Doug is more than anything is a capitalist. A lot of the conversations about the show are about feminism, and obviously, with Doug and Tina, it’s also about race. But — and what’s so insane about racists and sexist people — when you think about capitalism, is that the best idea is the best idea. When Doug met Tina, it was probably 1963 in Los Angeles, which I would assume would have been a wild time to be, especially with race relations. And all Doug saw was holy shit, this human being is very smart and because of the situation, she might rock with me. In another era, I don’t think I can get the claws in her.
Because it’s ’71, I don’t think he thinks he’s going to lose her. In 2022, she’ll just start her own company. There’s so many other people where she could go, but I think he — without thinking about it — can think that I don’t need to think about Tina leaving. He’s got an ace in his pocket. When things go bad, it’s his company, right? But when the books are bad, he’s lying to her about spending. He doesn’t need to lie to her. But he’s lying to her because he needs her opinion. Because she’s smart. With the Mafia stuff, he can play with those guys and listen to him and do the dance, but you can’t insult Tina because he knows who she is and what she means to him. When you push certain buttons, it’s pushing buttons of family, where you go, “I just can’t sit there for that because you’re wrong.”
These two definitely have a business partnership. But there are moments watching them where it feels like it could be more. What can we expect from this relationship going forward?
JOHNSON When I first was talking to Ellen about doing the show, she and I were both on the same page that the idea of Joyce and Doug having a “will-they-won’t-they” kind of cheapened the whole push of Minx. If that was the main thrust — if it was a feminist and a skeezy smut publisher fall in love while doing Minx — then the rest of the characters and the rest of the world feel very secondary. And it’s really about Sam and Diane and their little baby being Minx. That was not interesting to either of us. Then when Ellen started talking about the Tina-Doug dynamic, and the idea that there was a very complicated past there and potentially a future there, it felt like, “Oh, that makes sense.” We haven’t been told where they go and what happens, but that is, I think for Doug and Tina, that’s the “the thing.” That if we’re lucky, and we get to go a long time on this show, that’s the story between these two — to see what happens and where they go. But it feels like there’s a lot of meat on that bone that feels very right for both these characters, at least from my point of view.