As anyone who watched Sunday’s premiere of HBO’s The Deuce knows, it’s not the “porn show” that a one-line synopsis might imply. Just like the previous shows from co-creators David Simon and George Pelecanos before it (The Wire, Treme), the new series is a nuanced group portrait of men, women, their money, and the money that controls them.
Likewise, Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays independent streetwalker Candy, isn’t here to provide the nudity that’s simply expected with a premium cable drama. As an executive producer on the show, Gyllenhaal took a vested interested in making sure the show portrayed its women in a true, multidimensional light.
EW spoke with Gyllenhaal about her dual role on The Deuce and how the show avoided the cliches and stereotypes of similar stories.
What did you find attractive in the show’s treatment of characters like Candy, people who would be marginalized at the time, especially in the pop culture of the era?
I think it’s a very interesting time to be thinking about misogyny, about sexuality, about power, about feminism, about women as artists, about women as people in positions of power, about women in positions with no power, and about exploitation. I think when we made the show, it seemed as though we were in a different political situation than we’re in now. I think we really all kind of knew what was bubbling beneath the surface, even if it wasn’t conscious. All of those things are inside our show.
What was it about the writing of Candy specifically that spoke to you?
The thing about Candy is that she has a mind and a working mind. I think that there are some prostitutes, who I’ve met and spoken to, who give up their mind in order to do the work that they do. There are some who didn’t. Candy is someone who didn’t. Candy is able to hold onto her mind. What you’re watching when you watch her move through this piece — she’s a prostitute, she gets involved in pornography — you’re watching someone guide you through that world who has a functioning mind and a very exciting mind.
Was there any hesitation on your part to take on an archetype that has been so poorly represented in the past?
Yes, there definitely was. I knew David’s work. I knew that it wasn’t going to be a mindless, exploitative piece, but I was signing onto something with three scripts and it was something that could go for three years if it works. I did say to them, “Look, I have faith in you.”
I think you see it even in Candy’s costumes that the show is going for something more authentic.
In other movies and TV shows about prostitution and porn, you can sometimes be a stereotype, something that doesn’t feel real. This wardrobe looks like these people don’t have a lot of money.
What do you hope the show’s portrayal of sex workers changes about the public’s perception of them?
I hope that this show, in a way, shines a bright enough light on a group of people who haven’t had one shone on them. The stereotypes and ideas we have about prostitutes and people who work in porn are too vague. I hope the show will be specific enough to change some of our ideas about those people.
The Deuce airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.