HBO's The Deuce, created by the brilliant team of David Simon & George Pelecanos (who previously were behind shows such as The Wire, Treme and Show Me A Hero), surveys the NYC of the early 1970s with a nonjudgmental, journalist's eye for detail as it follows the stories of more than a dozen characters connected to the pornography and sex industry around Times Square. In addition to exploring the historical development of pornography, the show is primarily interested in examining how capitalism drove the exploitation and misogyny at the heart of the sex industry.

It's the best new show of the fall, filled with memorable characters from all walks of life, including warm-hearted bartenders, cynical street walkers, queer actors, and bewildered police officers. Among the biggest standouts of the first season is Gary Carr, who plays the charismatic but brutal pimp C.C., the person who most buys into the mythology of pimps. In the latest episode of the show, he and the other pimps have begun to acknowledge that their profession may not have much place in the changing world, as the sex industry has started to get off the streets and legitimize around porn and massage parlors.

We got a chance to talk to Carr a few weeks back about how he got involved in the show, how The Wire changed his life, how he researched the particular era, his favorite NYC places, and more.

Were you a fan of The Wire and other David Simon/George Pelecanos projects before this? Oh yeah, definitively. I think I was relatively late compared to others on The Wire. Well, you know the whole story of The Wire—not a lot of people saw it when it first aired. I think I was one of that wave of people that came to it a bit later, but it had me. It changed my life in terms of my ambitions with acting, and what I wanted to achieve, and how I thought I was going to do that. It really inspired me and encouraged me. I thought, "Wow. It is achievable. I can make great TV."

Even in my last year of drama school I remember getting really agitated, and I kept saying, "We need to get out. We should be doing stuff. We need to be involved. Know what's going on. Know what we're doing." Me and my friends looked at each other, and we were like, "You know what we need to do? When we leave here we just need to be in something like The Wire. That's the shit we have to do." So when I read the script I was like, "Hey, buddy. That's definitely you. This is something I need to do. It must happen. I need to be a part of this." I'm a huge fan of their work. Huge, huge fan.

For The Deuce, I know that Maggie Gyllenhaal had talked to some sex workers ahead of time. Did you do any sort of similar research? Yes, I did, but not with pimps, unfortunately. I met with a lot of people who were around at the time. I did a lot of research in terms of watching tons of documentaries and films, and reading literature, articles, reports of the time. The team [at HBO] threw a lot at me. I realized how dangerous this area was in New York [at that time]. I guess that I had an idea, but when you really do the research you just think, "Wow. Okay." You hear numbers and stats, you think, "Wow, that's crazy." I pretty much know everything about the world so I could do the best job possible at making that world believable, but I didn't get to interview any pimps directly, which is a shame. That would've been amazing.

As I've been watching the show, I've started wondering: what happened to these pimps? Where did they go after this period ended, what sort of jobs did they up in? Did you find anything out about them in your research? I think the series documents this well, that the game changes a lot, significantly. The bible becomes an issue for a lot of these pimps, and they actually settle down—usually with one of the women they were in business with before, someone they were prostituting. Their identities changed quite a lot too, because that whole identity of being a pimp, that's very specific. Most of them, I discovered they had their own families.

Late in the season we get to meet C.C.'s mentor, and it's none other than Clarke Peters, aka Lester Freamon himself. How was it working with him? Oh my God. That was an honor. So many special moments because the first play I ever saw in the West End was Five Guys Named Moe, which he wrote and produced, I think. To see that kind of musical, that standard of musical theater, at that age was life-changing for me. Really inspiring, influenced a lot of what I do today. And I got the chance to work with my mentor, which is kind of crazy. It was an honor. I keep saying it's an honor for everything these days. But I mean, a project like this would be the highlight of anyone's career I think. It's great work.

Actually, I saw that scene for the first time the other day, and I just think it's really great when you get to work with great actors. It's so effortless, and you're not aware of it in the moment, but when you look back you're like, "Wow, they're magic." He knows what he's doing.

Do you view the pimps of this world, especially C.C., as some sort of mix of salesmen and capitalists?[Laughs.] I guess you could say that. But they're also deeply complex people I feel, which is I think what the series does say so well. I always like to research or discover what drives someone to do what they do, or how did someone get to the point where they are at currently. I like hearing people's backgrounds and hearing their stories. You can understand why someone would have a certain viewpoint of the world, or treat people the way they do.

I think definitely it's about business, of course, using women as a [commodity]. And when you're a pimp it's like the number one thing is that money is number one. It's all about the money, and that's everything. It's very deep. It's power as well, but also there's a lot insecurity, and a lot of fear.

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HBO

Certainly C.C., in the pilot episode especially, has this unique mix of being both sweet and menacing as we see him pickup Lori and start to groom her. Michelle MacLaren, she directed the pilot episode and a few others later on in the series. She was really strong on, "You have to really charm her. She has to get in this car with you." We think about it. Yeah, you do. I mean, I know you hear of guys, I've never been one of those guys because I'm too shy, but those guy who sweet talk ladies or whoever in the street and like, "Let's pick people up," getting numbers and stuff like that.

This is different, but she really pushed it...which I love because it was just like there were so many things going on with him, and so many things happening in the moment, and the stakes are super high. If you need it, I guess, you work harder for it. I think that's what's going on with C.C. He's very good at his job, but I think that that sweetness and also that menacingness, that's part of him as well. Those are real traits of him, that's definitely in there. I think that's definitely C.C.'s belief.

Do you think that he buys into the mythology of being a pimp? I think he did...well, I don't want to give anything away for people who haven't seen later episodes, but I think he definitely does at first. I think he had to be 100% committed to it. A lot of these guys are very much about being number one, and power's a big thing. You go into the game to win it.

That's why he gets to the point where he ends up cutting or harming one of his girls, although they even discuss it in the first scene. Like, "You don't ever really want to have to cut a bitch," as Reggie Love says. You don't, but shit, if that's the only thing that's going to get the money, or get her doing that sort of thing. I think it's like he definitely thinks that this is life. This is real, and there's an Eden to reach, but I think as time changes around him, and the world changes around him, his viewpoint on that shifts, which I love.

There is a little bit of an existential crisis that comes up later in the season, with how pimps fit into this changing world of the sex industry. Exactly. I mean, I think they're completely overwhelmed by what's happening, and about to happen. They can see it coming. I feel like they feel that they have no power and control in it, which is completely just the biggest punch in the stomach.

I don't mean to be dramatic, but it's like being an artist. Artists are what they do, so they need to do it to live. I think it's the same thing with the pimps. It's like, "This is what we know. This is who we are." That's super fucking deep. Like, "After this we could be nothing." I guess it's a big question for all of them, for Larry Brown as well, which is interesting because I thought C.C. and Larry Brown happened to be the two who really treat it like a serious job, who make it their everything.

There's also a great irony there that these people who control women through violence and manipulation are now feeling powerless themselves to forces larger than them. Of course. And that they don't actually quite fully understand. I think that's what's so great about the writing. It's so great to be able to play a character going through that change and dealing with all of that. I think that's really human, that's extremely human, that we all I think can understand that. It's about survival.

So much of Simon's work in general is about how systems trap people into either work, patterns of abuse and misuse, and everything. That's another thing that's extremely attractive to me about David and George's work. It's social commentary. You can discover and learn so much about that world and the political climate through their writing. It's great that these characters are trying to do that as well. It's unique and extremely important, and completely relevant. Needless to be said, any kind of work or text that leaves you more informed, that wakes you up in terms of your thinking and your approach, is on a really deep level for that reason.

Have you spent much time in New York proper? Yeah! Actually, when I was casting for it I let the producers know that I'd fly over just to be in New York. There's all these idiosyncrasies and colloquialisms that you get when you live in a place that you just wouldn't if you were trying to learn it over the Internet or something, or sitting in a room with a dialect coach. I really wanted to get that. I wanted to film in New York and feel the energy and vibe. I'm big on that as well.

It was great living here. We shot for a long time, I think I was here 10 months, but I've been here many times before. I love the city. It's sort of like a second home. I lived in Brooklyn, in Bed-Stuy. You just hear about how much the city has changed [since then], which isn't surprising to me. I'm from a huge city as well [London], and I understand what the change is about, but I still think New York is a special place. That special thing that New York has I don't think will ever die despite all the changes. New York is New York, and it's a really exciting city. I love it. It's great for people like me. I mean, I don't sleep, and I've always got something to do. It's really like being in a fantasy land. Actually, sometimes it's too good, but I'm really grateful for it. Because I'm artist, and I think that you can achieve anything when you're in New York. It's just a great place.

Did you have any particular favorite restaurants, bars, other places you liked to frequent? Oh God yes. Are you kidding me? I'm a foodie. Okay. My family is Trinidadian, and so there's this place called Allan's Bakery on Nostrand, and that's proper Trinidadian bakery. It's just got the best rolls and cakes, great food.

A bit more New York I guess would be Archie's Bar and Pizza, which is my most favorite pizza place in the world, it's in Bushwick. My problem was dragging people to Bushwick. They're like, "Dude. We're not coming to Bushwick. Forget about it." I'm like, "You have to come to Archie's. Get over here." Eventually people do come, and they're like, "Wow. This is the best stuff." If you get anything with fresh garlic on it, you're good. And AP Café, Montana's Trail House, in Bushwick again. Moloko in Bed-Stuy, what a great spot. Crif Dogs, God, Crif Dogs is amazing. Yeah. I could go on, and on and on and on.

Also, you might know this spot as well. It's in Williamsburg called...it's a Japanese fusion place. Ah god, it's a really great one. I really wish I could remember it. It's called House of something. [I think he was referring to House Of Small Wonder]

Lastly, do you have a favorite Franco twin in the show? Which is the dominant mustache of the two Francos?[Laughs.] Actually, they've both got quite good solid, legit, '70s mustaches going on. I have love for both of those guys, because I feel like we all know them, or the brother [Frankie] at least...oh, wow, sorry, oh, God. I always get the names wrong. Is Frankie...

Frankie is the ne'er-do-well brother, and Vincent is— Exactly. I love Vincent's story as well. Everyone's in a state of change. Everyone's trying to survive, and I love it. The story with his family, and what he's trying to do, but also he's got a lot of heart. A lot of sensitivity.

I love seeing like deep, complex characters. It's really great to watch. You care. You just care, and it's the same with Maggie's character. With James and Maggie leading the cast, with Candy and Vincent leading the cast, I think you're really rooting for them.