Created by George Pelecanos and David Simon (The Wire) and starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce follows the story of the legalization and subsequent rise of the porn industry in New York’s Times Square from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s, exploring the rough-and-tumble world at the pioneering moments of what would become the billion-dollar American sex industry.
We spoke with cast Natalie Paul, Dominique Fishback, Emily Meade, Margarita Levieva, Jamie Neumann, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Kayla Foster, Olivia Luccardi, Andrea-Rachel Parker, Chris Coy, Ralph Macchio, Lawrence Gilliard Jr. and Chris Bauer on the red carpet.
Talk about why your character is so informed already.
Emily Meade: Well, she’s been doing this a while already. I think she’s been doing it enough to learn that the best way to get ahead is to act like she hasn’t been doing it, and sort of let the people think that they’re in control of her, while she thinks she’s in control of them. Yeah, she was already on the street doing her thing in Minnesota, and she’s just trying to find a bigger, broader audience in New York City.
Talk about the script and what attracted you to the show?
Emily Meade: Yeah. I mean, everything. The people involved, David Simon, George Pelecanos, the actors involved, James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the subject. It’s about sex, and it’s about humans, and sex, and commerce with sex, and obviously that affects us all. To tell the story in a very journalistic, from the ground up, like here’s the story of how porn began, to me is very vital, and very beautiful especially in the setting of the 70’s, which has always been my favorite time period. It’s kind of like a dream.
What did you love about the storyline?
Natalie Paul: To play an ambitious African American journalist in the 1970’s at the height of the Black Power movement. I mean, it’s a lot going on. I hope I do a good job doing that. I mean, seeing a woman who is articulate about all of these issues, and trying to crack the big story was extremely attractive to me as an actor because then I could find that place within myself that was super empowered and wasn’t struggling. She was like, “No, I’m doing great … It’s about you.” Like she was scared for you because she’s trying to come for the story, so that part was really exciting.
What can we expect from your character this season?
Margarita Levieva: Abby is young and she’s discovering New York and this world for the first time, and she’s very curious. I saw her sometimes as like Alice in Wonderland, just kind of discovering her way, and seeing what this world has to bring, and what she has to bring to it, and what she has to say, and … yeah, she’s finding her voice.
Tell us about your character.
Dominique Fishback: When we meet her, she’s in over her head, it seems. She’s always running without her shoes.
I was thinking I know this girl is not walking down the street without shoes!
Dominique Fishback: I know. I know, it’s bad. But she was working all night … There was one scene where I had to run barefoot in the puddle, so when you see the opening credits … right before The Deuce, that’s my foot. It was a lot. I went through a lot for that shot!
On getting into character:
Dominique Fishback: I got down to the heart and core of who she is. I don’t put anything on. She’s going to be a prostitute no matter how she’s portrayed … so why not find out what she really cares about and focus on that, you know?
Tell us about your character:
Andrea-Rachel Parker: I play Bernice, and Bernice is from the south, so she’s just kind of taking in the New York City environment. It’s way more rugged than I think she expected, and then she gets into all these different situations because she’s trying to find herself. She wants this adventure. She wants this life that she thought of in her head. Being that she’s like one of the youngest in the cast, she’s having a harder time dealing with the realities of New York City. So, we kind of see that transition, we see that roller coaster ride from her just really accepting what New York life is really like.
Tell us about your character.
Chris Coy: Paul Hendrickson. Strong gay guy, 1971, which isn’t an easy thing to be in that particular time and place. But he knows who he is, and he’s not ashamed of that even for a second. He puts himself forward every single moment of every single day, and he doesn’t care what you think about him.
What attracted you to the project?
Chris Coy: The fact that David Simon, George Pelecanos and Richard Price wrote it, obviously. But also, I mean, specifically the first character that I was drawn to was Paul for those reasons because of the fact that he’s in a place and time that doesn’t really accept him, or his people, and he’s choosing to stay there anyway, and make a life for himself, and seek out happiness and love. He’s ambitious. To be honest, it wasn’t unlike, I guess, I hadn’t thought about this until right now, but it wasn’t unlike me moving to LA in the pursuit of this, or in the pursuit of something more. I was in a place that almost immediately was like, “Get the hell out of here,” and I just chose to stay out of pure stubbornness. I think there’s a little bit of that in Paul. He doesn’t know where else he would go. He loves this place. He wants to be here, and he’s going to make it.
Speak about working on the show.
Ralph Macchio: I understand the language of these guys because I grew up in New York. That sort of language, that shorthand, I mean, I get it was a survival time, you know? They were just surviving, and not necessarily thinking they were doing bad. So, it’s kind of fun to play that. It was kind of fun to not be the clean cut kid next door that I got to do for a couple of decades. I did work with James a few times. He directed me in episode seven, arguably one of my bigger scenes I had in the show, and we had a great time. He was a super fan. He was a super fan of The Outsiders. He was quoting the movie, and we got along just great.
Was he fanboy-ing a little bit?
Ralph Macchio: Maybe a little bit, but I was fanboy-ing probably bigger. He’s just too cute and too talented.
Talk about your character and what we see her go through in season one.
Jamie Neumann: I play Ashley, a lady of the night from West Virginia. In Ashley’s mind, the bottom of C.C., one of the pimps. I think, really, quite in love with him.
You guys have a very interesting relationship.
Jamie Neumann: We do, we do. It’s not always pretty, that’s for sure, but I think it’s a main motivation for Ashley a lot of the time, to try to do right by her man. I think you sacrifice a lot of yourself to do that, so I don’t know if it’s going to end up happily for them. I hope that it can, but in the beginning of the show, he brings in another lady to our life … It’s hard to share your man, even though that is the name of the game, you know? And you want him to be successful. He’s your pimp, so you want him to have a stable of ladies, but it’s also hard because I think a lot of the pimp/prostitute relationship is the mind games of feeling like it’s a real loving relationship, so it’s just interesting, but it’s all based on money. It’s an interesting dynamic to play with. It definitely creates a well of inspiration.
Speak about working in New York and New York as a character.
Gbenga Akinnagbe: It’s a different New York, obviously, than what it used to be. But a lot of those buildings are still there. A lot of the structures. The intensity of the city. You don’t have the grit that was New York in the 70’s and early 80’s. But you do have the memory and the nostalgia of it. You do have the locations where … you have Needle Park. You have all these places where amazing things happened, good and bad, and you can feel that when we’re telling the story. You could feel that when we were shooting this story. It’s amazing because this is a New York I never saw, but I got to kind of recreate, and delve into via this project.
The eight-episode season airs on Sundays (9:00-10:30 p.m. ET/PT).
Photo credit: StarPix/HBO