Natalie Paul Knows What Sandra Washington Is Really After
by Olivia Armstrong
HBO: How has it been getting to work with David Simon again?
Natalie Paul: It’s been great. Especially because the writing is so impeccable. I worked with him on Show Me a Hero, in a role [Doreen Henderson], that really leant itself to creativity and expressing true emotions.
HBO: What made you interested in the role of journalist Sandra Washington?
Natalie Paul: Her ambition, and the fact she’s career-driven: The Deuce has incredible themes about business and moving up and making it — that’s also what makes it such a New York story. Sandra is a woman who’s not interested in being fake, she’s interested in doing whatever she can to get to the story. Ambition comes in all these shapes, colors and forms — and Sandra is no different.
HBO: What is her opinion of sex work — as well as the police?
Natalie Paul: She’s really curious. She’s not judging them; and she’s willing to join up to find out what’s behind it all. Even though she comes from the world of journalism, she’s more interested in the humanity behind the facts. When I was researching journalist Gail Sheehy, I got that from her writing. She comes from a world of very erudite, educated people but is somewhat skeptical — and is looking for something greater than what’s on the surface.
HBO: What other research did you do to prepare for the role?
Natalie Paul: I researched African-American journalists at the time. I had to learn basic stuff too, like the structure of a newspaper. If I’m playing a journalist, I need to know what a lede is — the vocabulary, how they speak, the pace of the job — that way, I can really get into the stakes of her world.
HBO: Sandra strikes up a relationship with Officer Alston [played by Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.]. Is getting close to him beneficial to telling her story?
Natalie Paul: For one, he has the inside scoop. What’s interesting about the writing is you never really know if she’s in it for him, or the story. Then he gets more involved in her story and it becomes even more blurred — for him especially. Is this relationship inspiring him to do the right thing? Or, is she just playing him for the information? I think within her there are these competing desires — and we eventually find out which wins.
HBO: Sanda’s place in The Deuce is unique in that she’s on the outside looking in. What do you hope audiences take away from her experience?
Natalie Paul: The duty of being a journalist. She does some unconventional things to get the story, but I think the admirable thing about her is she wants the truth. She doesn’t want to be salacious; she doesn’t want to make anything up just to get a reaction out of people, she really is on a search for the humanity behind the names in the paper.
What’s also cool about Sandra is there’s a bit of black history included. Even though she’s partially inspired by Gail Sheehy, a white woman, it wasn’t about me playing a white woman. The antics Sandra uses were real. Black journalists existed and they tried to convey what their communities were going through. We don’t see the representation of black journalists enough and here we get to see this beautiful representation of a black woman. George [Pelecanos]’s and David’s imagination is so inclusive.