Margarita Levieva Sees the Abby as The Deuce’s Alice in Wonderland

by Ashley Morton

The actor discusses what attracted her to the role, and Abby’s openness to explore.

HBO: Why was Abby a role you wanted to play?

MARGARITA LEVIEVA: I feel like Abby spends the season finding her own voice. For me to take that journey with her was intriguing; I felt I knew what the foundation of her character was about. Just thinking about the period, 1971, and what it was like for a young woman like Abby, who is a voice of the generation that decided to do something different from their moms and grandmothers, I had a sense she would have a lot to say. She’s really looking to have an impact in this world.

Shooting that scene in Episode 2, when Abby is walking through the streets to her first adult apartment, I thought of Dorothy walking through Oz or Alice walking through Wonderland. Everything is new, so full of a life she’s not yet familiar with, but really hungry for.

HBO: How are Abby's sexual experiences different from the other women in the show?

MARGARITA LEVIEVA: When I read the pilot I knew there was nudity in the first episode. But when there was nudity in the third episode, I remember asking [co-creators] David [Simon] and George [Pelecanos] about it. As an actor, there’s always the question of, “Is it necessary?”

David and George said, “We need to see Abby in these sexual situations because Abby is the only woman on the show who really gets to have sex on her own volition. She’s not getting paid for it; she’s the voice of the young women who are sexually free; who haven’t yet encountered the period in our history where STDs are such a huge thing. What did 1971 look like for a liberated young woman who feels free and curious to explore?” Once we had that conversation, I had no problem being nude or being involved in those specific situations because we’re telling that story.

HBO: What kind of research did you do in preparation?

MARGARITA LEVIEVA: It was really helpful to watch Gloria Steinem’s earlier interviews. She was so stunning and powerful, and had really strong ambition. She opened a whole world to me with this idea that if a woman is smart and powerful, it doesn’t mean she can’t be sexual or that she’s not curious. It’s so nice to see a woman who embodied all of it.

I read a lot of feminist books like Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Anaïs Nin, and a book I loved so much, Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Steinem’s Revolution from Within, and reading Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids, were also helpful.

I would go to lots of museums to see photography shows of Diane Arbus and Cindy Sherman, and spent days roaming around New York City, envisioning myself back in 1971. I'd try to see the world through Abby's eyes; try to guess which park she'd like best or what her favorite museum was and why, and what songs would be swirling through her head as she walked those streets.

HBO: Abby carries herself with such confidence; does Episode 3 knock her down a peg?

MARGARITA LEVIEVA: Part of the reason Abby has such confidence is she comes from a home where everything has been provided; she was cocooned in a cushy upbringing. But a lot of it also truly comes from her brain. She knows she’s smart and capable, and she’s determined not to take any more help from her parents.

The reason I like Episode 3 is because of that turn from, “Things will go my way” to when her money is stolen, and she ends up going to Vincent’s bar. In the end, after being so outraged about the idea of being one of those girls wearing leotards, the desperation and the need to survive kicks in for her in a way it hasn’t before.

HBO: What does Abby think of Vincent?

MARGARITA LEVIEVA: She’s really attracted to Vincent in a human way, because he’s unlike anyone she’s been around. Most of the men she grew up with, especially in her environment, her home, were very uptight and they all do the right thing, have similar jobs and aim for similar goals -- providing for the family, having the house, having the wife at home. Vincent is this regular guy who’s so earnest and sincere, and doesn’t try to be anything other than what he is. That’s really refreshing to Abby. He’s just kind of a straight-up guy. And obviously he’s not hard on the eyes.

HBO: Why does Abby try to connect with Darlene at the end of the episode?

MARGARITA LEVIEVA: She finds a comrade in this place; and seeing a working girl reading a serious book really piques her curiosity. And Darlene has this innately attractive quality. There’s something about her that’s really captivating. So much of Abby’s journey right now is just finding out what is going on, and who these people are.