As HBO’s “The Deuce” wraps up its first season, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Candy is trying earnestly to get America’s porn industry running. The Martino brothers played by James Franco, meanwhile, have largely moved the other sex workers of Times Square yore off the streets; instead, they’ve taken up at indoor parlors operating under the eye of a corrupt police force.
Among those women is Darlene (Dominique Fishback), who is also realizing she may have erred in bringing another girl, Bernice, back with her from the small-town South. Bernice (Andrea-Rachel Parker) is not adjusting well to Darlene’s lifestyle, in large part because Darlene had told her she worked as a model, not in the sex industry. Speaking to HuffPost, Fishback stressed that sort of thing actually happens in real life ― even if fans weren’t happy about seeing it on screen.
“A lot of times there are young women who bring other young girls into the life. That’s a huge part,” the actress said, adding, “There’s a psychology of it all.”
“I even put on my Instagram a picture ― because people were so upset with Darlene ― I put up a picture and said, ‘Let’s talk about it. How are you feeling about it?’ So it kind of started up a discussion, which I really liked. That’s what I love about art.”
Fishback thinks the situation with Bernice will make Darlene reconsider her own outlook on the lifestyle.
“She has to have a tougher exterior,” Fishback said. “She’s a caring person. But I think that she likes it better when it’s every man or every woman for themselves. She’s been doing all right, in her mind, and then she brings this girl, and people are thinking she’s responsible for her well-being. Darlene never thought that when she brought her back. She thought it was going to be like, ‘You come here, you do a job, and that’s it.’ I think she also didn’t consider the fact that everybody is not built the same way. She’s like, ‘I know I come from a small town, but if I’m able to survive in the city, then she could be able to do it, too.’”
Read on for more from Fishback about Darlene’s evolution, her relationship with pimp Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and why she moved up north in the first place.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
So creator David Simon approached you specifically about this project. What did you do to prepare for it?
I read a book. They gave us a book called Gentlemen of Leisure: A Year in the Life of a Pimp, a chronological story of a year with a pimp and four of his women. They all had different perspectives; they all had different relationships with him. I was able to really get into the mind and the experience. You know, I was wondering: Do they love their pimp? Are they in love with them? Do they just love them as family? Are they just friends? What is keeping them so hooked in this situation I didn’t understand?
I also watched a documentary called “Iceberg Slim,” which is from the perspective of a pimp. The book was more from the women, but knowing what the pimp thought and how he would manipulate women and get them was really good insight for me as an actress. Not for Darlene to know but for me to know as an actress.
And then I would also give music to each scene that would get me in an emotional state that I needed to be in, especially when there are so many things going on.
I heard you say that women who are or were in the sex industry have been reaching out. How does that affect you?
It just reassures me why I’m doing what I do, and why I’m supposed to do a role like this. It’s not very easy to say, “Yeah, I’m gonna do this.” You don’t know how people are going to respond to it. You don’t know how the season is going to carry on. I’m just glad that I trust David Simon and George Pelecanos and Nina Noble to give full characters and stories, so that made it easier for me to do, but for someone to tell me that my art has affected them, or they could hear their voice through the characters, that’s pretty much all I really wanted to do.
I wanted to use my instrument to tell stories that really matter, and to give voice to people who don’t often get it. In a lot of my art ― I have a one-woman show and I wrote a screenplay ― that aspect of who I am as an artist is so important. So when people realize it or appreciate it, it just makes me feel good and I want to continue in that direction.
Have you gotten any feedback, as an actress, from them?
I haven’t gotten any feedback. They’ve just said thank you for bringing humanity to [Darlene]. One woman said, “In the work that I do, I care a lot.” And so when [Darlene] shows care for another person, whether it’s the john or not, she just understands that so well and is glad that it’s shown on TV that there’s love and care and kindness, as well, from their perspective.
We see the imbalance of power between pimps and sex workers play out through the show. How would you characterize the relationship between Darlene and the pimp Larry?
I would say that it’s a growing and evolving relationship, just like any relationship. In the beginning, you see them, and you think that he has all this power and this control, and she believes that, as well. But as the season goes on, you see her knowing that she’s getting away with things that she never thought she would. When she’s truthful and honest, she’s been able to avoid any consequences that she thought she’d have.
So, from watching the movie with the john and just confessing, like, “Yeah, I fell asleep. So whatever you need to do.” That turned it around for him, and he went, “Well, I’m not going to [punish her] now.” She realizes slowly that she’s gaining more control, and then when she goes to bring a girl back, and she lies about [her job in New York], you see how it backfires for her?
It’s so crazy, because I’ve been watching and she’s really so honest. She’s been honest with Louis [a client of Darlene’s] about needing more money, she’s been honest for the most part all around. And then all of a sudden, she chooses to lie and say she’s a model. So now, I’m like, OK, what is this. It’s not normal for her character to do this, but it backfires completely and now she’s wishing she hadn’t. So maybe she’ll continue to be honest.
You made up your own backstory for Darlene ― could you explain what that is, and why she moved to New York in the first place?
Sure, so obviously, the writers didn’t give us the backstories.
But later we see how she’s from a small town.
Yeah, but even from the beginning I never knew that! I only knew that she was from the South, you know? And then it kind of played out that way, where she was bored and just trying to play with the hands that she was dealt, but couldn’t survive that way. She felt smothered and suffocated and knew that she had to express herself in a different way. So she moves to New York, and I think that she wanted to be an actress, and that’s why she watches old films with one of her johns, and why she’s reading the book from the film, and then she role-plays with another john. That really lends itself to her wanting to be an actress.
As I know as an actress, it’s not that easy to have your dreams come true always in the way that you want them to. I’ve been fortunate enough that mine has panned out great, so I’m thankful. But it’s not always like that. So I think that she just kind of got deterred from what she originally wanted to do, and Larry ― just like how C.C. [a pimp] is there waiting at the bus stop ― flagged her and made his move.
“The Deuce” Season 1 finale airs Sunday on HBO.