‘Minx’ Star Jake Johnson on His Mastery of the Gentleman Dirtbag: ‘You Can Be Two Things at Once’

·3-min read

This story first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

It’s the 1970’s and Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson) is a charming, low-rent porn publisher, always searching for the next big thing. Enter Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond), an idealistic young feminist who’s looking to launch her own women’s empowerment magazine but settles for collaborating with Doug to publish a women’s erotic mag, the first of its kind.

So it goes in HBO Max’s freshman comedy “Minx,” which did not disappoint when it came to ideological clashes between the publication’s primary creative forces. Lovibond’s portrayal of Joyce vibrates at perfect Diane Chambers frequency, but it’s “New Girl” veteran Johnson’s turn as the founder of Bottom Dollar Productions that truly makes the series sing. And the actor knows exactly when the character clicked into place for him. In the “Minx” pilot, Joyce arrives at Doug’s house and is initially taken aback by the lovely little suburban home the publisher has for himself. He tells her that as a child he always wanted to live in a place like that and now he does.

“He became a full character. It choked me up,” the 44-year-old actor said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, what a sad guy. I can only imagine where he grew up. Imagine the life he had, that he dreamt of a quiet house on a nice street.’ And then I thought, ‘Oh wait, he’s not a sleazeball. He’s a capitalist.’ He doesn’t care if he’s selling Milky Moms (a specialty offering from Bottom Dollar Publications) or big dicks or cars. He’s just selling, and he doesn’t care what he’s selling. So he made a lot of sense to me.”

In a way, this feels like a natural progression for Johnson’s career. Known first and foremost for his turn as cantankerous bartender and love interest Nick Miller on “New Girl,” a character whose fanbase has only grown in the years since the show’s conclusion, the actor seems to have mastered the role of gentleman dirtbag. “My firm belief in all characters and all things is you can be two things at once,” he said. “You can be the greatest, sweetest person, and you could be a f—ing dirtbag. Both things can be true. Something that I don’t like about culture is, if you’re watching a movie or a TV show, you can be one thing or the other, right? You can be the good guy or the bad guy, you could be really sweet or you could be the dirtbag. That’s just not how I’ve experienced life.”

To illustrate his point, Johnson talks about his Uncle Eddie, who he describes as a scoundrel who hustled the actor at pool as a teen and tricked him into ripping off his high school classmates with a phony football pool. “One day we’re getting in his pickup truck, and it’s winter. And he goes, ‘Go put a fucking coat on.’ Now, he’s not my dad and I said, ‘I’m fine.’ And we have this really weird standoff where I thought, why is he talking to me this way? And then in a very emotional, angry moment, he said, ‘If we get into a car accident and flip over and I can’t reach you to give you my jacket, you could freeze to death.’ And he’s so mad at me and doesn’t know how to say that he wants me warm in the cold.

“If you called Eddie a thief, you would be right, and if you called Eddie a conman, you would be right. If you called him a father figure and the sweetest man I knew, you would also be right. So when I play these characters, I don’t ever want to be one or the other. I like characters that are both.”

Read more from The Race Begins issue here.

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