In HBO’s new series The Deuce, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays seasoned sex worker Eileen “Candy” Merrell who on any night may end up on her knees, her back or both with a plethora of Johns willing to pay $10 for the room and $30 for the service.
Set in 1971 during Time Square’s more deplorable days before the chain restaurants and family friendliness, Candy walks the streets independent of a pimp to act as her employer or protector. “No one’s making money off my p***y” but me,” Candy proclaims. Yet despite Gyllenhaal exposing herself physically and emotionally on screen, the 39-year-old actress keeps her private life close to the chest.
“I keep my heart out of the press,” the Academy-Award nominated actress said adamantly at the start of the interview.
Gyllenhaal along with cast mate Gary Carr (Downton Abby) who plays the charming yet ruthless pimp CiCi discussed the humanity of the character they bring to life. Both also made sure to refer to the job women perform in this occupation as sex workers and not prostitutes.
“Well, I got told off by some sex workers online. They were like ‘please call us by what we would like to be called.’ Fair enough.” Gyllenhaal recalls of doing research for the role. “I just didn’t know. They were saying we’re not prostituted people. We’re sex workers, this is our job.”
Dubbed the deuce for the slang used to denote 42nd Street, the men and women who call the strip “their office” are a cast of characters driven by the power of the almighty dollar. Carr says CiCi-who’s first introduced to viewers after picking up Lori, his newest girl, inside the Port Authority-walks the line between caring for his women and protecting his investment, even if it means doing so violently.
“You have to remember with these guys, everything is about economy and business and making money. You have to make money, that’s number one,” the 31-year-old British actor said. “He definitely cares for Lori and he cares for Ashley as well and all of his girls. I don’t want to make him sound…but if someone’s going to hurt them or do something to them, it’s going to be him. I know, it sounds crazy.”
While Simon and Pelecanos who created The Wire bring to life that moment in American culture where sex becomes transactional on a domestic scale, Gyllenhaal and Carr are steadfast their characters are more than just one-trick ponies.
“I think what’s unusual maybe about the way the sex workers are portrayed in this piece, and the pimps too, is that usually you just get to see on TV and film a prostitute working. Annie Sprinkle, who was once a sex worker and she still does really interesting pornography, I spoke to her and she said that a street walker in 1971 would probably sleep with eight to 10 men a night. That’s an experience that I think is difficult for many women to imagine, but if you get to see someone who’s job that is also as a mother, as a sister, as a lover as a thinker and as an artist then all of sudden you have all these ways into understanding this person and you can see that element as their work,” Gyllenhaal explained.
Sex workers may be the breadwinner in the situation, but it’s historically been pimps who receive the glory and are considers owners of cool for their ability to manipulate and manage multiple women. Yet despite how pop culture has depicted these men, Carr says The Deuce doesn’t exalt their tactic, but in fact shows how multifaceted they are.
“What I think is really great, especially when it comes to sex workers, we’re humanizing them as people and they’re whole experience,” Carr said. “With pimps, I don’t think they’re glorified in this series at all and they’re not perfect. What I like about it is that we see human sides, we see they’re emotion, sensitivity or even fear.”
Carr knows it’s a long shot, but says hopefully The Deuce will allows viewers to see sex workers as human beings performing a in-demand service.
“That’s the most important thing for me in life. I care about people and human beings. I feel like we’ve been given an opportunity here to bring that to the screen and to have other people view that as well. If we could show other people, people and humanize them and their experience, that’s a really great thing. Hopefully some kind of love or compassion could be born from that and then some kind of understanding, and hopefully after that some kind of progression,” Carr said.
The Deuce debuts on HBO Sunday, Sept 10