Created by David Simon and George Pelecanos (The Wire, Treme), the HBO series The Deuce is back for Season 2, as it jumps five years after the culmination of the first season to 1977, when the Times Square area of midtown New York was at its most lurid. With the dream of a mainstream X-rated film business a credible reality, disco and punk are reaching new heights of popularity, and police corruption is at an all-time high, the Mafia is looking to reap the profits of the porn industry. The series stars James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Margarita Levieva, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Chris Bauer, Dominique Fishback, Emily Meade, Gary Carr, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Michael Rispoli, Chris Coy, Luke Kirby and Jamie Neumann.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Margarita Levieva (who plays Abigail “Abby” Parker, the young woman that keeps things going at the Hi-Hat bar, alongside her proprietor boyfriend Vincent, played by Franco) talked about why she wanted to be a part of The Deuce, the role she originally auditioned for, building an entire world instead of just focusing on the exploitative aspects, what she’s most enjoyed about her character’s journey, getting to tell a story that spans so many years, working on a production where attention is paid to every little detail, and what she’d still like to see with her character.
Collider: When The Deuce first came your way, what was it about the project that got you most interested, and what made you most nervous about it, especially since you didn’t know exactly what it would turn out to be?
MARGARITA LEVIEVA: Certainly, the people involved was the first what caught my eye, initially, hearing that it was David Simon and George Pelecanos. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and I had, just before that, watched Show Me A Hero, which I loved. So, I think hearing that they were involved and that this would be their next thing, of course, got me initially interested. And then, I read the script and what I loved about the pilot and what fascinated me the most was that, even though it’s such an ensemble piece, and some of the characters only had a few scenes, and it was hard to tell who was gonna go where or how they were gonna develop, but I was still able to see, within those first few scenes, just how rich the material was and how much room they gave for development.
I had originally auditioned for Candy and while I was working on the material, I was like, “Wow, she’s only in a few scenes in the pilot episode,” and that opened up my imagination and gave me inspiration, and I was like, “I would love to work on something like this.” And then, they asked me to come back in for Abby, and that scared me, playing a 20-year-old when I wasn’t anywhere close to 20. And then, there was the subject matter. It’s interesting, I think what’s so beautiful about the show is knowing that it’s about the beginning of the porn industry, it’s about Times Square, and it’s about that aspect of New York, at that time, and yet, it never felt like it was only about that, to me. When I tell people, “Oh, I’m doing a show about the beginning of the porn industry and the sex industry,” it sounds worse than it is because actually reading the script, and then working on it, you see the genius of their work. They’re building this world and really presenting to the audience this entire world, which involves so much more than that.
When you do a show from David Simon, you know that the subject matter is going to be presented in a way that’s different from how most anyone else would do it. Having worked on a variety of different TV series throughout your career, what do you think it is that makes a David Simon production different?
LEVIEVA: Not to downplay some of my past work – and I certainly love all the people that I’ve worked with in the past – but I definitely had a sense of going to work and feeling like I’m working with people that are at the top of their class, in every area, whether it’s a production designer or costume design, or our DP and lighting people. It really was one of those sets where, almost daily, I was aware of the fact that I was working with one of those five-star crews. Every person that shows up on this production is just working at the top of their game. That was a huge honor, and was really felt by me, as I showed up to work.
Because of the subject matter and the time period, it’s not surprising that the show does have a certain amount of nudity, but for a show that details the lives of sex workers and the rise of porn, that nudity doesn’t ever feel like it’s exploitative. It still always seems to be driven by the characters, and the characters really drive the drama of the story. So, when it comes to that aspect of the story, were you surprised at how not exploitative it actually is, in that sense?
LEVIEVA: Absolutely! I remember, with the first season, watching an episode where there were several simulated sex scenes for porn, and within that episode there were two moments. One moment was where Darlene goes to kiss Larry Brown on the cheek, when she’s sitting in the car. And there was another moment where Paul is in a gay club, for the first time, and is just experiencing that high of being amongst his people and dancing. This one guy comes over to dance with him and just lightly brushes his lips on his neck. To me, there was such a deep awareness that I had just witnessed several full-on sex scenes with nudity, and yet those two moments were the ones that felt the most sensual. I knew, before then, that I was a part of something special, but that was one of those moments where I felt like, “Wow, I’m really a part of something special.” To do that, to me, is extraordinary. To be able to deliver such sensuality in the simple moments, and yet to tell the story of the porn, whether it’s prostitutes having sex in a way that is slightly removed and really gives us a sense of what it was like for them, which was not sexy, or attractive, or a turn on, was just extraordinary.