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Interview with Lennie James

Tanya talks to pimp

HBO

Tell us a little about Charlie.

Lennie

Charlie is an old-school pimp. An OP. He seems to have reached the stage in his life when he has nothing left to prove. He has a few girls that he puts up, but it's mostly out of habit rather than desire. I imagine him as a guy who is slightly past his best days, living out his remaining ones in something of a pimp wonderland.

HBO

In what ways does Charlie show that he's past his prime?

Lennie

In his clothes. When we were deciding how Charlie would dress, we came to the thought that it would be clothing bought back when he was making top-notch money. But that was ten years ago and he's still wearing the same clothes.

HBO

What does his presence bring to the show?

Lennie

Hopefully, Charlie brings a different perspective. Since Lenore and Tanya are such unusual pimps, the whole thing can be seen as being a little fanciful. Charlie brings a bit of reality to that world, but in a way that doesn't undermine or overwhelm the other stories. For me, it was important that Charlie's character not be a stereotypical pimp. Even though he's the most, let's say, obvious-looking pimp, I still wanted the minds behind the show to be as smart with his character as they've been with all the others. It wouldn't have worked to have a stock, archetypical pimp when no one else on the show is like that. There are no archetypical mothers, husbands, children, grandparents, neighbors, coaches or pimps.

HBO

How would you characterize Charlie and Tanya's budding friendship?

Lennie

Charlie has a real grudging and growing admiration for Tanya. She seems completely oblivious to what he is capable of, in the way that only Tanya can be. She's so absorbed in her own life she doesn't realize that she's in a dangerous part of town with a potentially dangerous man. That sort of tickles Charlie. When he sees her at the donut shop for the second time, he tells her "I've missed you." It's a hell of an admission for Charlie, but it's true.

HBO

How does Charlie feel about being a mentor?

Lennie

It's fun for him to teach this strange, artsy white lady how to be a pimp. It amuses him that her only whore is a man who doesn't do other men, and that she shares him with another pimp. Where he comes from that's a very simple problem to solve. If someone steps on your turf, you take them out. But in Charlie's world, people aren't missed the same way they are in Tanya's world. He takes joy in figuring out how to pimp in the 'burbs as opposed to the ghetto. He loves being Yoda-pimp.

HBO

In his advice to Tanya, we see Charlie has a violent side. How ruthless is he?

Lennie

We don't know yet. So far, we've only seen the side of Charlie that he chooses to present to Tanya, which is certainly different than the face he presents to other people. As the relationship grows, you do see more of his other side. Charlie won't tell you anything about himself; you learn about him through what he teaches, his actions and his surroundings. I think he's probably done things we don't want to know about.

HBO

Why does he eat his donut with a knife and fork?

Lennie

I think he's been very well brought-up. Even in the strange and dangerous world he lives in, he does a few things to raise himself above his surroundings. He eats his donut with a knife and fork to remind himself and the world around him that where he is isn't who he is. It's a very deliberate act. It's food. And food gets eaten with a knife and fork. That might be something his mother or his grandmother taught him years ago, but he's sticking to it to show that he comes from someplace and that he knows something.

HBO

How are you different than Charlie's character?

Lennie

In almost every way. Luckily, I didn't have to make the choices he did. I'm almost certain that I would not have survived if I had to do what he did to survive. He's certainly much more ruthless. Charlie has tested himself at a level that I - thank God - haven't had to. Though I do think we're the same height, and roughly the same weight.

THINK FAST:

 

Best relationship advice you've ever received: Do unto other as you'd want them to do unto you.

Best relationship advice you've ever given: Watch your back.

The key to success is: Being honest with yourself.

My strangest eating quirk is: Putting hot pepper sauce on lasagna.

Interviews