Chris Coy’s Paul Is a Little Bit Steve McQueen
by Ashley Morton
The actor discusses returning to work with co-creators David Simon and George Pelecanos, and his inspiration for Paul’s strength.
Why was Paul a role you wanted to play?
He’s beautiful. What really drew me to him was his confidence and that he’s so far ahead of his time. He knows there’s nothing wrong with him being the way he is, even if the world doesn’t quite understand that yet. He fearlessly steps into that world and says, “This is who I am. Take it or leave it."
What was it like to work with David Simon and George Pelecanos again?
It’s always a pleasure and a privilege. Those gentlemen are like uncles to me. It was like coming home to family and warmth. You just trust them. It wouldn’t matter what they told me to do, I would do it with zero hesitation, because I believe in them.
How was working on The Deuce different from working on Treme?
I was 24 on Treme. It was the first series regular I had ever had, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was terrified in every corner of my life. And in terms of the characters, L.P. Everett was a little closer to me -- even occupationally he was just out there trying to find the truth, and that’s exactly how I approach acting. I want to make it as real as possible; to make it true. Whereas with Paul, being somebody from a different time, space and culture, with a different struggle, it’s more of a stretch. But David and George make that easy because they write so well.
As the most prominent gay character, Paul represents a different storyline than many of the other characters. What sort research did you do to tell that story?
The truth is I spent a great deal of my early 20s in West Hollywood — I was living in that area — and many a night out at the gay clubs. When I moved to L.A. I very much wanted to party, and I experimented. I’m a straight man, married with kids, but there was a life before that in which my walls were down and boundaries were maybe less visible. There’s a whole life that I’ve lived that’s three-dimensional and not so black and white, and so I pulled a lot from those experiences.
Every gay friend, associate, anything, in my life, when I told them I was playing this character, unanimously said, “Please make him a strong man. Don’t go in there and play the stereotype.” And Paul’s cool as hell and a pretty tough guy. He has a strength I based half on [actor] Steve McQueen and half on my grandmother. I was raised by strong women, and I really took from those strengths I saw in my mother and grandmother — both being unbelievably strong and single women who took the world on without flinching, as Paul does.
Could you talk about the moment Paul gets arrested for solicitation?
In watching the episode again, I was like, “I hope viewers see this isn’t the first time it’s happened.” Really, it’s the frustration of “Again? Here goes another six hours.” He knows the process: They’re going to throw him into the paddywagon, hit two more spots to round up random people, then drop them off at the jail. He’s going to sit in his cell, make his call, and get bailed out. As unfortunate as it is, it’s a part of his life. It’s a part of his damn-near daily struggle. It’s not more dramatic than that.
What was very uncommon, that I celebrated as rare and special, was I was arrested by the Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio. Which I did not know. For whatever reason, I overlooked that he was playing one of the detectives. It’s our first encounter in the show, we get to set, I do a rehearsal, and Ralph wasn’t on set — I think he was being held back by hair and makeup or something — so I did the rehearsal with the stand in. So then we go to shoot, and Paul’s kind of a physical guy, so it kind of looks like he’s going to swing on the cop that grabs him. In re-watching the episode, I was thinking, “Holy s**t! Can you see the shocked look on my face? That’s Daniel LaRusso!”
What’s the situation between Paul and Art and the status of their “relationship”?
Sean Meehan, who plays Art, and I, made the call that this has been a pretty long-going relationship. They’ve been at this for maybe even a couple of years. It’s pretty open. Paul likes to touch things and go live in the world. But Paul has been trying for a long time to pull Art out and show Art by leading by example that he can be himself. In the scene in Episode 4 [“I See Money”] when Paul tells him, “We’re in New York City. Nobody cares” — which isn’t necessarily true, but he’s saying what he thinks Art needs to hear to come out of his shell. Truth be told, I think Art represents the majority of non-effeminate gay men of the time: He’s educated. He’s got a good job. He knows if he’s outed things might change, or at the very least become very difficult for him. It’s easier for Paul because of the life he lives.
What’s important and relevant about their relationship is that it’s the same kind of problems any relationship might have with one person being an extrovert and one person being an introvert. Sometimes, no matter how much you try and bring someone out to a level you think they can reach, they refuse to go. That’s sort of universal. And I love that element in their relationship.
What does Paul think of Vincent and Frankie and working at the Hi-Hat?
I think those are great relationships in the story. Initially, Paul just sees two guys he’s seen before, and thinks, “Oh, you’re just going to keep talking s**t. You’re going to keep cutting me down.” As time goes on, we realize that isn’t the case. Vincent’s not saying it in malice. It’s the language of Brooklyn and how he’s grown up. But he’s open to change and Frankie too. Even if he isn’t willing to be educated, he’s just so much fun and likeable, Paul appreciates his energy.
Paul has a pretty good vision. He sees the future in the Hi-Hat. When he walks into that dance club in Episode 5 [“What Kind of Bad”] and sees what may become of his culture and of the world, the Hi-Hat is a really good representation of that. Vincent, being a good businessman, understands that shape, size, color, orientation, clothes — none of that matters because you’ve all got green money. So he opens up his heart and doors to anybody who wants to come in and drink. Vincent has the courage to be different and Paul is excited to be a part of that.