How has it been working with David Simon after Show Me a Hero?
It’s a dream come true. As an actor, you hope to be able to team up with writers who understand people and their human emotions. I’ve never wanted to play stereotypical characters for the sake of entertaining people who know nothing about the situation these characters are in. Everybody’s calling it “the porn show,” but [the creators and directors] don’t glamorize that aspect at all. It just happens to be something these people do.
Is that what drew you to the role of Darlene?
I was doing a commercial for Show Me a Hero and David said he wanted to talk with me afterwards. He said, “Our new show, it’s called The Deuce, and I have a character with you in mind… You should read the scripts and if you don’t want to do it, no harm, no foul.” Right off the bat I knew it was something I would be honored to be a part of because I’ve worked with [executive producer] Nina Noble before, and they’re all super protective of me. I knew I’d be safe.
What kind of research did you do to prep for the role?
I read Gentleman of Leisure: A Year in the Life of a Pimp. It tells the girls’ stories and relationships with their pimps. I watched the documentary Iceberg Slim and read the book as well. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t trying to put anything on because there’s such an idea of who a prostitute is -- how she acts or speaks. I chose to focus on her human emotions and who she is on the inside, because it’s just a job.
I also like to make vision boards and vision books for my characters. I summarize each of the scenes I have and set them to music. I’ll journal as a character. Once you write it, it’s in your subconscious. That’s the heart of my research. I wrote in my summary something Darlene’s mother tells her -- something I made up -- “The truth is the safe ground to stand on.” I think her honesty is why her regulars, and later, Larry, appreciate her. She realizes she gets the money when she’s honest -- and that her power comes in her truthfulness.
Darlene’s defining characteristic is her love of literature. How do her book smarts complement her street smarts?
She’s only just discovering a love for literature. Her job has given her the opportunity to meet [her regular] Louis. It’s only because of her sex work she knows this man, and got to watch A Tale of Two Cities. Her book smarts will help her eventually, but she’s more street smart than anything else right now.
Why is it easy for men to let their guard down with Darlene?
Because she’s so young, she doesn’t come across as someone who’s completely comfortable in her own skin. But she’s smart and has found a way to control situations to make men feel important. She’s different with Louis than she is with her other regulars. She has a different persona with Larry then when she’s with the girls. She’s found a way to code-switch in a way that’s helpful for her.
Why do you think there are so many power shifts between her and Larry?
I love her relationship with Larry so much because it’s human nature. In Episode 3 “The Principal Is All”, when she tells Larry the truth about watching movies with Louis, he doesn’t beat her up. That’s when she realizes, Oh, I have more power over Larry than I thought. And that’s why I love working with George Pelecanos and David Simon because they think about that kind of stuff and write about it.