June 9, 2017

Women Rule Both Sides of the Camera

David Simon’s new drama The Deuce made its debut at the inaugural Split Screens Festival at New York’s IFC Center. Series co-creator George Pelecanos introduced the first episode of the series; after, director/executive producer Michelle MacLaren and actor/producer Maggie Gyllenhaal sat down with critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Check out these highlights from their talk.

It was a challenge from Day 1.

“David and I had no burning desire to do a show about porn,” confessed co-creator George Pelecanos. “But the characters were just too rich to ignore. We couldn’t get these people out of our heads. To do them justice, to honor their humanity, would require a surgical balance of content and tone.”

The story grabbed actor Maggie Gyllenhaal too.

“It just hooked me,” she said. “I was curious about where it would take me in terms of how I think about sex, power and commerce, whether I could play a woman in pretty dire straits and challenge myself to make sure she had a working mind all the way through it.”

Because of this, she took on more than just the role of Candy...

“The risk was big, so I said, ‘I want to do this, but I want to be a producer because I want to be a part of the storytelling and a part of the conversation about what happens to this woman,’ ” recalled Gyllenhaal. “And there would be times I was like, ‘No we can’t cut that!’ And they said, ‘Yes we can and here’s why,’ or ‘We know, you’re right.’”

Like when a kiss is more than a kiss.

“We do this scene where this man who doesn’t know I’m a prostitute goes to kiss me, and I played that kiss like a starving woman in the desert. I licked him, I bit him, I consumed him. And they cut it,” she shared.

So Gyllenhaal questioned the edit: “This is a woman who doesn’t get to kiss. It’s not a sentimental love story, I just want a kiss,” she said. “And they kept it. And there were many times that happened in the opposite direction. It was kind of a collaboration that you dream of.”

Filming in NYC comes with its own set of issues.

“George said this really great thing to me,” shared director Michelle MacLaren, “‘We don’t want the 2017 version of this, we want the 1971 version of this.’ That made me really think about what was going on in New York City in 1971. It was pre-AIDS. and prostitution was thought of differently. There was a garbage strike in the city. It was just a different time and we really dove deep into that.”

“But it’s challenging to do this in 2017,” she expanded. “We had to go quite far north to 164th and Amsterdam to find an area that could work as New York in the ‘70s. We used those two blocks for several different locations. We dressed everything from the ground and everything from a certain height up was CG.”

The characters perform as much as the actors.

Gyllenhaal discussed the way her character Candy walks the line between, “the performance of being alive and the performance of being a prostitute. There is a scene about her own desire later in the season and it really brings into relief how much the rest of it was a performance. The outfit was a performance. All the sex you see her having with all these random strangers is a performance. She’s good at her job.”

“But it’s also not like she’s not performing every time she’s home,” she said. “Which I think is true for people anyway. The moments in your life where you’re like, ‘I was really myself’ are really rare.”

But Gyllenhaal didn’t feel pressure to “act” like she was in the ‘70s.

“Overall, I think people are the same in their souls now as they were in 1971,” said Gyllenhaal. “So it’s more specific than that; what was happening five years before? Where am I living? What do my shoes look like? How long have I been out here? How did I end up here?”

Inspiration can come from the strangest of places.

Gyllenhaal explained her selection of Candy’s blonde wig: “It was a crazy bad, $5 wig that gave me the idea,” she revealed. “I wanted everything about her to feel yummy, like cotton candy. Almost fuzzy, just soft and light.”