SEP 8, 2017

The Deuce Cast and Creators on Depicting Sex, and the Good and Bad in People

At the New York premiere of The Deuce, the show's cast and crew including James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, George Pelecanos, and David Simon explained what drew them to the series, inspired by the unique stories of real-life people from 1970s Times Square.

Producer and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal explained why she immediately gravitated towards the role of Candy, "It had a lot to do with exploring misogyny and sexism, or even femininity for real.”

Those same topics also attracted co-creator George Pelecanos to the world: “Every character had a fantastic story I couldn’t have made up.”

Co-creator David Simon added, “You had a product, and an exploited labor force, where the product is the labor. This was a moment where a legal product emerged from beneath the counter and became a million-dollar industry that affects everything. We don’t even sell jeans or beer without using the tropes of pornography. How the money and power routed itself, who financed it, how it worked, who got paid, who didn’t, that really interested me. In a way, it was a critique of market capitalism.”

James Franco, who plays twins Vincent and Frankie Martino, and also directed multiple episodes, shared his first discussion with Simon about the series: “He said, ‘It’s going to be about the porn industry so they’re going to expect a lot of gratuitous sex, and I’m not going to give any of it to them.’ I thought that was a good framework to start from, and then show everything else that’s going on. You get to see both sides of this world... It was an actor’s dream.”

Both series creators acknowledged the biggest challenge of creating The Deuce was telling a story about sex without hiding from it, or over-showing it. Pelecanos noted, “We were involved all the way from its conception, to the writing, to the shooting, to the editing to make sure we didn’t fall on either side of the fence.” Simon continued, “It was integral that it was a discussion between the men and women working on the project.”

In approaching these scenes, director and executive producer Michelle MacLaren explained, “It was important to me nothing was salacious or gratuitous. So I shot it very real; very raw. I think there’s an incredible beauty in the authenticity of it, and also an incredible sadness in certain situations: the harsh reality of transactional sex.”

For Emily Meade, who plays newcomer Lori, the honesty of the content was a big draw. “It’s not trying to be a warning story, nor is it trying to glorify anything,” she said. “It’s very exciting to tell these stories from a woman’s perspective and not try to create a person with a heart of gold or have them just be the hooker in the background; it’s somewhere in between. You see them as well-rounded humans who are both good and bad in their own ways.”

Of her character Sandra Washington, Natalie Paul explained, “Being an African-American journalist, she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place: She wants to break a story but she doesn’t want to bring attention to the African-American prostitutes and pimps and show those negative images.”

Lawrence Gilliard Jr. shared how playing Officer Alston meant he had to consider a different side to the city he grew up in. “I was a young boy, but I remember Times Square. It was a very scary place. But until I started working on the show I never considered the police presence that was there. Back then cops were walking the beat: talking to the pimps and prostitutes, building those relationships and that community. They want to protect and serve. So I tried to tap into that: He’s in a corrupt system but he’s trying to be good.”

Set and costume design played a huge part in helping the actors step into the world, said actor Chris Coy, who plays Paul: “You stepped out of your trailer and smelled 1971 before you even saw it or felt it.” When Coy expressed admiration for parts of his wardrobe, that department was quick to remind him: “It was stitched in ‘65 so don’t mess it up.”

For Gbenga Akinnagbe, who portrays pimp Larry Brown the costumes were also a big selling point. “The writing, the period, I got to wear tight leather; they had me at hello,” he joked. “All of the costumes were amazing but there’s this cowskin coat I found sexy as hell. We took a picture of George Pelecanos wearing it and he just made it pop. He wore it like he knew what to do with it.”