The Wire creator David Simon on why he had to make 'porn show' The Deuce

David Simon has created The Wire, Treme and now The Deuce.
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David Simon has created The Wire, Treme and now The Deuce.

A new drama about the rise of the New York porn industry meant a step back in time for The Wire actor Lawrence Gilliard Jr.

Gilliard Jr, who played doomed drug dealer D'Angelo Barksdale in the ground-breaking crime drama, finds himself, nominally at least, on the opposite side of the law in The Deuce in the role of police officer Chris Alston.

The series, which also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as sex worker Candy Merrell and James Franco as twin brothers and Mob frontmen Vincent and Frankie Martino, takes viewers back to 1971's Times Square and its then dark and dirty underbelly – an era Gilliard Jr recalls from growing up in the city.

Lawrence Gilliard Jr plays police officer Chris Alston in The Deuce.
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Lawrence Gilliard Jr plays police officer Chris Alston in The Deuce.

"I was born in New York and I was a kid during the 70s. I remember my family, my mom and my dad, we would have to go through Times Square to get to where we were going," he says. "I remember how seedy and scary it was. I remember all the XXX-theatres, and I remember pimps being on the corner, prostitutes all round.

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"Being on set, it kind of transported me back to that time and it was just scary again. But I never thought about the law enforcement that was around. I never thought about the fact there were police there and that they were part of that world."

James Franco plays twins Vincent and Frankie Martino in The Deuce.
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James Franco plays twins Vincent and Frankie Martino in The Deuce.

But to which part Officer Alston belongs remains to be seen. Gilliard Jr researched the role by talking to police officers and found they had one thing in common.

"They started because they all have an overwhelming desire to help other people, to protect and to serve," he says.

"That's who Chris Alston is. Of course, he's dropped into one of the most corrupt police departments during that time, so if he ends up falling, we have to wait and see what side of the line he ends up falling on."

Maggie Gyllenhaal as sex worker Candy Merrell in The Deuce.
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Maggie Gyllenhaal as sex worker Candy Merrell in The Deuce.

The Deuce is from George Pelecanos and David Simon, the creative force behind Treme and The Wire, but both were initially reluctant to become involved with a story about the fledgling porn industry.

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When the project was suggested by the assistant location manager on Treme, their reaction was, "We are married with lawn furniture. We don't want to do a porn show," recalls Simon.

But a meeting with one of the real-life Martino twins changed their minds.

"He started telling us stories and three hours later, George and I walked out of that meeting and we pretended we were going to smoke a cigarette, even though neither of us smoke, and we said, 'Oh my God, we're going to have to do a porn show,' because the stories were so compelling."

For Simon it was an era that marked a turning point in society's attitude to porn.

"It was a moment where the legal system, in one time and place, no longer felt comfortable in qualifying what is pornography and what isn't. There's a moment where the rules changed," he says.

"One moment you weren't allowed to do things and then the next moment you were. And the money and the human beings arrayed themselves around the new truth."

Franco says the 70s porn industry was so different from that of today.

"Of course there was exploitation and all that stuff happening but compared to where porn went, and a lot of things that are happening in pornography now, in some ways it was a lot more innocent," he says.

"They were trying to tell stories, there were actually porn films that had artistic aspirations. They were trying to do something there more than just titillate. Some of the films are a lot different to what you will find nowadays streaming on line."

But whatever the intentions, Simon points out the changes of the 70s paved the way for today's free-market approach.

"The porn industry has become a billion-dollar dynamic and commodity of American life," he says.

"We don't sell a bottle of beer any more without some sort of natural or unnatural logic of porn behind it.

"And I mean, if you look at the advertising industry, how we make our imagery, even without the nudity, what we do is commoditised flesh and it's very effective."

The Deuce, SoHo and Neon, starts Monday September 11.

 - TV Guide

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