SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not seen “A Scintillating Conversation About a Lethal Pesticide” and “You Happened to Me,” Episodes 9 and 10 of “Minx.”

“You didn’t ask me about working with dongs!” says Lennon Parham at the end of an interview about her role in “Minx.” “That was a first. In one scene, an actor, Nate [Crnkovich], had on a prosthetic [penis], and it was arresting. We were totally shocked and couldn’t look away. Then, everybody just got used to it.”

Such is life, Parham supposes, when you’re shooting ‘70s pornography, which is what the characters in “Minx” do. In the HBO Max comedy, created by Ellen Rapoport, Parham plays Shelly, the older sister of Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond). Joyce has just launched the feminist magazine she’s been dreaming of her entire life — with a catch: the only person who would help her get it off the ground is Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson), a publisher of erotic magazines. Thus, Minx is born, becoming the first porn mag aimed at female readers (and featuring male … members).

When Shelly first appears in the pilot, she comes across as the platonic ideal of a ‘70s housewife. But as the season presses on, it becomes clear that she’s more open-minded than her activist sister. Joyce is terrified to talk about sex, or to let herself enjoy sex to begin with, until Shelly gently pushes her, revealing that she owns vibrators and enjoys looking at the men who appear in the pages of Minx. At the same time, she begins to further explore her own sexuality. After admitting to her husband Lenny (Rich Sommer) that he isn’t satisfying her in bed, she tries escaping into fantasies involving Fabio-like characters in lavish costumes, but gets too distracted and anxious for it to work. So instead, she puts on some lingerie and poses in front of a camera held by Bambi (Jessica Lowe), a former nude model who now works behind the scenes at Minx, who tries to help her find her groove. Bambi gently encourages Shelly, who finally realizes who makes her feel good about herself — she grabs Bambi and kisses her. They spend the night together, but the next day Shelly goes back to Lenny, and hands him the photos that Bambi took.

With Season 1 now completed on HBO Max, Parham spoke to Variety about getting down and dirty as a liberated woman of the ‘70s.

Tell me about first getting involved in “Minx.”

I got an email saying, “Do you want to put yourself on tape for this ‘70s porn comedy?” And, well, they had me at ‘70s porn comedy. It was like the funniest pilot script that I’d read in years. We went through the traditional process. We shot the pilot — pre-vaccines — in downtown L.A., and it clicked from the beginning. It feels like totally fresh. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. I think it’s a joy to watch, the smart way that they edit it, with quick cuts. It keeps you on this forward-moving train.

Ellen [Rapoport] has been very communicative, and generous and sharing. It makes you feel respected and involved and included no matter what size your part is. She texted me like, “Hey, do you have five minutes? I just want to talk you through Shelly’s arc.” Because I was about to have a fitting, and she didn’t want me to go into it and be trying on corsets and lingerie and not have any idea why. Shelly’s wardrobe shifts a little bit. As she loosens up, her wardrobe loosens up. So she wanted to take me through that, and I was aghast. I was so excited. It’s just so fun to play a true character arc, you know?

What were your first impressions of Shelly? In the beginning, she seems like the archetypical American housewife, but it turns out she’s more of a badass than Joyce, who is the outward feminist.

We meet Shelly through the lens of Joyce. Joyce doesn’t know anything about [Shelly’s sex life]. The culture in the home was that we don’t talk about this. The culture at the time was that we don’t talk about this. It sounded to me like Shelly only talks about sex with her hairdresser. So it wasn’t clear at first the extent of Shelly’s openness, but we see that she’s been out there living the life of a woman in 1972. She had kids in the late ‘50s. Joyce is the textbook feminist, but has no street smarts. She’s read all the books, but she hasn’t applied it to real life. Shelly, having lived that life, is more open to the aspects of feminism that weren’t talked about. She’s been living them sort of secretly.

What kinds of research or preparation did you do to situate yourself within this era of the ‘70s?

I did some research for some of the sexy stuff, because I really wanted to nail that piece of it, and deliver with a level of respect around that relationship. She’s taking this big risk. So I watched some stuff for that. But to be honest, I was born in 1975 and — this is gonna sound weird — I feel like a backup singer for Donna Summer or somebody like that in the early ’70s. That genre of music, I understand it on a cellular level. That doesn’t make sense, given that I am a child of the ‘80s, really, but yeah. I didn’t have to do much research. And I surrounded myself with the music. When I was driving to set I would be listening to the greatest hits from 1970. And my dad also had all cassettes growing up, so I have all those lyrics in my mind forever. They also did a lot of research for the makeup and the wardrobe too. That was an easy access point into it. The makeup trailer was just totally covered in images from that time of every color and age and person that you would come across some from sexy magazines, and also, like, buttoned-up Italian wives.

One of the standout scenes of the season happens when Shelly tries using different fantasies to improve her sex life with her husband, but it all goes wrong. What went into shooting that?

There was like some serious mental preparation, because I knew when I was going to shoot that essentially three quarters of the day would be back-to-back makeouts with dudes I’ve never met before. It’s just like, “OK. This is my job.” Also, I say goodbye to my kids in the morning, take them to school, and then I go make out with a bunch of different men? It’s a pretty weird world. Like, two separate lives. The rich inner life that Shelly has, I find very interesting. There are the tropes that are getting her there, but then the reality of things sets in. I very much connected to trying to escape, and being pulled back by an errant button, or having to scold your kids. That saturates and permeates every part of your life when you’re a mom. So trying to get like a piece of life for yourself, that’s just for yourself, untouched by that is nearly impossible.

Shooting it was insane. We spent a lot of time on the first sequence where the Heathcliff guy comes around. He had on this wig that reminded me of Winger, and I had a poster of Kip Winger above my bed in middle and high school. He was super funny. It was over-the-top. I was honestly like, “This is supposed to be funny, right?” It’s written like it’s funny, but also it’s her fantasy, so I didn’t want to make it too funny. But he was like, “No, go for it! Let’s do accents! Let’s do ridiculousness!”

And then I made out with the priests. Those dudes were like full-on stunt guys. So they had worked really hard on their stunt fighting, and making out with them was like there’s a little bit of a stunt happening on my face. And there was a horse, and we were on hay bales, and Rich Sommer is just such a good sport. I’ve never shot like that. I’m way more comfortable with a comedy makeout. I’ve never spent a whole lot of time shooting sensual, sexual scenes that are supposed to be believable. It’s all been a bunch of insane comedy tongue.

So what was it like shooting a more serious sexual scene, when Bambi takes boudoir photos of Shelly and they kiss?

We had a Zoom call about it with the intimacy coordinator and the director, and we talked about what we were going to see, how it was going to feel. Natalia wanted it to feel very passionate, and not super soft, although I think it still achieved some level of softness. But the initial leap for me, being the instigator of this makeout, I had to be pretty overcome with feelings. So I did some of my own personal research here like, watching some films that I thought would be inspirational. I watched “Afternoon Delight” again; I watched “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”

For Shelly, that was not a possibility that had ever entered her mind, at least not ever to be considered deeply. And at the time, a move like that might have cost her everything that she valued already. So I think it surprises her as much as anyone. I think it just feels really good, and I think she’s just following the good feelings. She feels really good around Bambi, this woman who’s just totally comfortable in her body. It does feel like they’re almost dating, even friendship dating. They just like being around each other and have that zing that you feel when you first meet somebody that you have major chemistry with.

Ultimately, though, she does leave Bambi’s house to go back to her husband. What do you make of how Shelly and Bambi left things?

I don’t think she’s done with Bambi. There was a pointed close-up on the bracelet that Bambi had given her. I feel like Shelly had a moment of, quote unquote, coming to her senses. Like, “What am I doing? I have to make dinner for my family! I missed my son’s game! I’m living in this sensual pigsty! This is not real.”

But something clearly shifted in her, and opened up in her. She’s wearing pants for the first time. She shares those photos [with her husband], which I think [shows] a cracked-open version of her. The lens was Bambi, essentially. She’s trying to drive the passion back into the place where she thinks it’s supposed to live, and that never works. It is heartbreaking, but fingers crossed, if we get a Season 2, maybe we’ll find out more.

This interview has been edited and condensed.