The Inverse Interview

How Maxxxine Brings Ti West & Mia Goth’s X Universe Full Circle

Ti West, Mia Goth, and Kevin Bacon speak about the making of the final film in the X trilogy.

Ti West, Mia Goth, and Kevin Bacon speak about the making of the final film in the X trilogy.
A24
The Inverse Interview

Ti West still can’t believe he got away with it.

For the director, who hadn’t made a horror movie in nearly 10 years when he set out to write X, a 1970s-set slasher about amateur adult filmmakers facing off against murderous octogenarians on a decrepit farm in rural Texas, the idea that he was setting in motion an entire franchise of A24-produced films was too ambitious to entertain.

But when quarantining in New Zealand ahead of pre-production on X (in which Mia Goth had dual roles as a final girl and a pitchfork-wielding killer), West realized he could reuse its already built sets for a Technicolor-toned prequel, set in the same location but turning back time to 1918 to fill in the killer’s origins. Pearl, which he quickly co-wrote with Goth, was greenlit during production and shot a month after X wrapped. All that was left was to complete the trilogy with the latest sleazy horror send-up, Maxxxine.

“We’re raising the stakes.”

“I’m aware of how unlikely it is, and I’m aware of the impact that it’s had,” West tells Inverse. Describing the trilogy that’s consumed the past five years of his life as “the rock I’m pushing uphill,” the filmmaker sounds at once grateful and exhausted.

That all three of West’s films would star Goth, delivering distinct performances in each while emerging as one of the great contemporary scream queens, was beyond both of their wildest dreams.

“It’s hard to put into words, really,” Goth tells Inverse. “It has meant so much to me. I’m always waiting for an opportunity like this, but I don’t necessarily know if I could have anticipated it becoming this.”

Set in 1985, Maxxxine catches up with Maxine Minx, the aspiring actor Goth played in X, who escaped a grisly fate in Texas and made her way to Los Angeles. Though the film she’d been making in X was abandoned midproduction — another casualty of what’s become notorious as the “Texas porn star massacre” — Maxine achieves enough fame as an adult-film actor to score an audition for the horror sequel The Puritan II.

But in an era when violent crime is spiking, satanic panic is sweeping the nation, and the real-life Night Stalker has been terrorizing Los Angeles, Maxine finds herself in the crosshairs of a serial killer.

“This is as close as she’s ever come to actually having what she wants, and now it’s at risk of being taken away,” West explains. “We’re raising the stakes. It was hard enough for her to get to this point, and now she could lose it. Because she’s liberated, they’re trying to put her back in a box. That’s almost worse than never getting there.”

But while Maxine’s aspirations to cross over from the porn scene into mainstream success has its hurdles, it’s been done before. Actor Marilyn Chambers, who debuted in pornographic film Behind the Green Door before transitioning to horror with the lead role in David Cronenberg’s Rabid, is “probably the best example of that,” according to West. “She’s a trailblazer who started in one industry and then moved to another.”

Referenced directly and indirectly throughout the trilogy, Chambers served as a role model for the character — even if Maxine herself looks past her trajectory, aspiring instead to be the next Brooke Shields. “It’s so indicative of how you can’t see the example right in front of you because as soon as someone creates a new bar, you have to clear it,” West explains. “No one could run a four-minute mile, and someone did, and now everybody beats it. Marilyn Chambers is a great example of how this could be done; then, it’s like, ‘Well, how far can you go with it?’”

“Characters Come Into Your Life For A Reason”

Mia Goth reprises her role as Maxine Minx, the final girl of X.

Don Lens

One of the principal pleasures of the X trilogy, for both West and Goth, has been charting the evolution of Maxine, from the determined ingenue of X, rebelling against authority by entering the adult-film business, to the ruthless movie-star-in-the-making that audiences meet again in Maxxxine. Depicting the parallel character of Pearl was equally rewarding for Goth.

“Having the chance to play Maxine and to play Pearl — two really strong, fearless characters who have a lot of courage — they’ve taught me a lot, and they’ve guided me a lot,” Goth says. “I do believe that characters come into your life for a reason. It’s not random; there’s something bigger at play.”

Since they made X and Pearl back to back in New Zealand, West and Goth’s collaboration, too, has evolved.

“I enjoy playing characters that are complicated, that are messy, that don’t color within the lines.”

“That will forever be a very unique actor-director relationship that’s unlikely ever to happen again because of how aligned the world was at the time, in the strangest way,” says West, reflecting that Goth was asked to prove herself in different ways across all three films. “That’s a big ask, across nearly five years. I’m here seven days a week, 12 hours a day at minimum. And for her, when she’s working, it’s similar.”

Goth “naturally gravitates” toward the grit and intensity of characters like Maxine and Pearl; she says this has been a through line in her career and expects that will remain the case, no matter what projects she appears in next.

“It’s a big part of it,” she says. “It’s almost required. I enjoy playing characters like that. I enjoy playing characters that are complicated, that are messy, that don’t color within the lines. I think that it’s the most accurate portrayal of what it is to be a person.”

Maxxxine takes us behind the curtain of Hollywood.

A24

Preparation was crucial ahead of Maxxxine to both West and Goth, who spent hours discussing where the character they’d introduced in X would be in her life and how she would respond to the threat of a mystery villain with an unexpected connection to her past. “All that prep work gets you to a place where you can be so free with it,” Goth explains. “There’s so much pressure on a set. There’s a crew; everyone’s waiting, and you have to be on as soon as they call action. It’s a lot of pressure, and you just have to act.”

Once on set, West found himself directing Goth less than he had on X and Pearl. “I tried to put as much of it into the script as possible,” he says, “because once you’re making the movie, between action and cut, Mia’s just gone. And when you say cut, she’s back. But, for me, it’s about [giving] her the space, freedom, and opportunity to just go for it. That’s the most you can do with a fearless actor like that, who’s so in the moment. That’s what people respond to about her acting ... that it’s truthful, unpredictable, and raw in a very exciting way.”

Goth can’t say exactly where she goes when the camera’s rolling, though anyone who’s seen the show-stopping, nine-minute monologue she delivers in Pearl — unleashing all her long-repressed rage and regret on an increasingly disturbed sister-in-law — are acquainted with how hypnotic Goth can become in an extended closeup.

“Thinking has never really worked out when it comes to a performance,” the actor says. “The best ideas come from being in the moment, from being present.”

Making Movies About Making Movies

The glitz and glamour of Hollywood is deconstructed in Maxxxine.

A24

From the beginning, West wanted to make movies about filmmaking that, on both narrative and aesthetic levels, allowed the art of cinematography, sound design, score, acting, special-effects makeup, and more to shine through.

“Craft is very much a part of the process,” says West. “That’s why, in X, they’re making a movie within the movie, to let you behind the curtain. With Pearl, it became about what it feels like to look at the movies and want to be a part of them. And then, with Maxxxine, it became about what if you actually were there, in the industry, and what that feels like.”

Like the other two films, Maxxxine is awash in ’70s and ’80s references. Whereas X modeled itself after sizzling grindhouse spectacles like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Eaten Alive, and Pearl was a demented riff on Disney aesthetics that imitated everything from The Wizard of Oz to Sirkian melodrama, Maxxxine is a psychosexual thriller that pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock and revels in the voyeuristic gaze of Brian de Palma. West even sets a chase sequence around Pyscho’s Bates Motel set and namechecks Body Double and Cruising as influences.

“[It’s] a love-hate letter to making movies.”

Equally core to the X franchise is a symbiotic relationship between pornographic and horror cinema, two historically disreputable forms of filmmaking that thrived on the fringes of ’70s Hollywood. It was the golden age of porn back in 1979, when X was set, and the home-video market was soon set to explode, making films accessible to consumers who could suddenly watch whatever they desired in the privacy of their own homes. By the time Maxxxine picks up in 1985 Los Angeles, porn, horror, and heavy metal have all flooded the market. But new forms of censorship are also emerging to push back on what they saw as corruptive, corrosive influences on the next generation.

Kevin Bacon is a standout as the film’s seedy private detective.

Justin Lubin

“There was a great juxtaposition,” says Kevin Bacon, who plays John Labat, a seedy private detective in the employ of Maxine’s adversary — and who starred in Friday the 13th (in which he memorably got an arrow through the throat) in 1980 before breaking out in 1984’s Footloose.

“The films that were being made were oftentimes very lighthearted; two of them, in my mind, are Footloose and Beverly Hills Cop, but there was also Ghostbusters and The Goonies — fun, bubbly popcorn films,” Bacon explains. “And then there was also the AIDS epidemic, and there was a lot of darkness and desperation that was certainly underneath the surface.”

Bacon felt West’s love of genre cinema when he saw X and Pearl; the actor refers to Maxxxine as “a love-hate letter to making movies,” especially in how it pulls the curtain back for thrilling chase sequences on painstaking recreations of the same studio backlots where Bacon filmed at the beginning of his career.

A Full-Circle Moment

Mia Goth relishes in getting to be the star of this unexpected trilogy.

Justin Lubin

Though this latest film concludes the saga of Maxine’s ascent to stardom, neither West nor Goth will rule out future installments in the franchise, at least not yet. West has “an idea” for how it could continue, which he’s not ready to go into, though he’s teased more stories beyond “the Maxine era.” First, he needs time to recover from the five-year marathon of making X and Pearl back to back and following them up with Maxxxine.

“I’ve been existing at such a high RPM,” he admits. “I don’t quite know what it’s going to be like and what to do with myself when I am not necessarily behind on some deadline for something in the world of the X universe.”

Maxxxine is now playing in theaters.

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