James Franco in THE DEUCE - Season 1 | ©2017 HBO/Paul Schiraldi

James Franco in THE DEUCE – Season 1 | ©2017 HBO/Paul Schiraldi

Created by George Pelicanos and David Simon, HBO’s new Sunday night series THE DEUCE explores the dawn of the modern porn industry in New York in the ‘70s. James Franco, who is also one of the executive producers, plays twin brothers, based on two real people, and Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Candy, a prostitute who has aspirations to become a porn director.

Michelle MacLaren directed both THE DEUCE series premiere and the first-season finale. She has also directed episodes of other HBO series, including GAME OF THRONES and WESTWORLD, and was a directing executive producer on the original THE X-FILES and BREAKING BAD.

ASSIGNMENT X: Are you one of HBO go-to directors?

MICHELLE MacLAREN: Gosh, you’d have to ask HBO that [laughs]. HBO makes fantastic shows, and I feel very fortunate to work on them, so I love it when they ask me.

AX: Was THE DEUCE’s world something you knew anything about before this project?

MacLAREN: No, I didn’t. I had to educate myself on New York in the early ‘70s. I’m a huge fan of movies from that time – MEAN STREETS, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, FRENCH CONNECTION, TAXI DRIVER, SHAFT, PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK – so I was aware of that world, but I really had to educate myself on what New York was like during that time period. I’m from Vancouver, Canada, so it was an education for me.

AX: Did you know anything about the world of pornography, past or present?

MacLAREN: Not really, other than maybe I’d watched a little bit before, but no, I’m not an aficionado. I had to educate myself on how porn was made in the ‘70s, and it was different. And that was interesting to me as a storyteller. So when I shot scenes and it was the making of porn, I had to think about it being shot differently than I would shoot something. I had to really think about how they did it those days.

Of course, in the ‘70s, they shot everything on film, so it actually had a film quality to it. But it was really important that I had something to bring to the table. When I read the script, and George [Pelicanos] made the comment about it being the 1971 version, which is, of course, pre-AIDS and prostitution was thought of differently, I realized they’d written this great script that, while on the surface, it’s exciting and fun and there’s lots of opportunity, and not a lot of rules, then you get behind closed doors, and there’s the harsh reality of it all. And there are consequences for crossing that moral line.

GAME OF THRONES - Season 7 key art | ©2017 HBO

GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 key art | ©2017 HBO

AX: There have been reports that, in the real world of pornography, some people, especially women, were coerced, or they had consented to doing something sexual on camera, but some of the situations turned into something way more than they what they understood they had agreed to …

MacLAREN: I don’t have enough knowledge of real situations to speak to that. I  spoke to some porn stars who were very proud of what they had been part of, some porn stars from the ‘80s. They see it as an art form, and they were very proud of what they made. That doesn’t mean that all of them see it that way, but I don’t know.

I will say that I think that there are some sexually confident characters in this – Candy is very sexually confident – and I think that’s great. I think that critiquing misogyny and sexual exploitation is a really important and interesting subject, because we have evolved, and we need to keep evolving, so that we don’t recreate or execute that world. The way it’s portrayed, you realize that this isn’t right.

AX: Obviously, when you’re working on GAME OF THRONES, you’re in multiple different worlds. Does THE DEUCE’s 1971 New York feel like another different world, or does it feel more like our world?

MacLAREN: Well, 1971 New York, the way we portrayed it was as accurate as possible, so it is our world, it was our world in 1971, and we tried to make it as authentic and real as possible. Every sign is real, every poster is real, every costume and car – we try to make it as authentic as possible. When you’re doing GAME OF THRONES, there’s a fantastical element to it, so we can create weapons that never existed, we can create wardrobe that never existed. In THE DEUCE, all this wardrobe, it existed. We’re inspired. I would say we have more of a framework to be inspired by.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in THE DEUCE - Season 1 | ©2017 HBO/Paul Schiraldi

Maggie Gyllenhaal in THE DEUCE – Season 1 | ©2017 HBO/Paul Schiraldi

AX: On GAME OF THRONES, most episodes are shot in several different real-world countries. Can you talk about how that works? Do they have each director moving to each different location?

MacLAREN: They do. They cross-board all ten episodes. So there’s one one-liner, and there are two crews, and a director and their d.p. [director of photography] and their first a.d. [assistant director] and their second a.d. move from crew to crew and location to location, depending on where and what they’re shooting. The directors shoot all of their own episodes. Everybody shoots their own episodes. And so it’s a giant feature that is cross-boarded. So it’s not block-shot, it’s cross-boarding.

What they do is, there’s always a crew in Northern Ireland, and then at some point in the season, one of the crews go to the different location, and the actors and the director and their team fly in and out as the schedule needs them for their particular episodes. So I would be shooting in Northern Ireland, then I would fly to Iceland, or Morocco, wherever the crew is at that time, to shoot the scenes for my episode.

AX: I think many people will really love THE DEUCE, but maybe not in the same way as GAME OF THRONES, where people love it almost like they’d love a living person. Do get any kind of personal thrill from that, or you’re just so immersed in the work that it’s like, “Please, God, let me get this shot in the next ten minutes”?

MacLAREN: Whatever it is you’re filming, you need to be present. You’re always racing against the clock, you’re always racing against time. There’s never enough time. I also think the most creative moments can come out of being present and also just out of necessity. You need to be present. You can’t be thinking about who’s going to watch this, and how many people are going to watch this. You’ve got to be thinking about, “How do I make this the best scene possible, the best shot possible, in this moment, to tell the story I want to tell?”

AX: Without being spoilery, can you talk about points in making THE DEUCE you’ve had a moment of inspiration, like, “If we light this this way, we’ll get this emotion across,” or …?

MacLAREN: Without being spoilery, I’ll just say that, in THE DEUCE, when I read the script the first time, I knew the last shot of the pilot that I wanted. I knew exactly how I wanted to shoot it, and what I would hope it would say. When I read the script for the finale, for 1:08, I realized that the writers had written to that last shot of the pilot to bookend it. And I was so excited, and I knew, again, exactly how I was going to shoot it. And I hope it makes a statement for people. The point I’m trying to make is that with good writing, there are so many inspirational moments. When you read good writing, you see it, and you know, “I know how I’m going to shoot this.”

AX: How is it working with James Franco, who is an executive producer on THE DEUCE, and directed two episodes himself, as well as being one of your leads?

MacLAREN: James is amazing. James is incredibly talented. He’s a lot of fun to work with, super-smart. He’s a great collaborator – whether he understood directing or not, he’s a great collaborator, but he does understand directing, he’s a really good director, and that makes for a great collaboration. You get to communicate and talk, not only director to actor, but you also get to communicate and talk and be inspired by director to director. And that’s a lot of fun.

AX: Do you have any other projects you’re working on that we should know about?

MacLAREN: I am developing a miniseries for HBO with Vince Gilligan [whom MacLaren worked with on BREAKING BAD] called RAVEN, based on the Jonestown massacre.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE DEUCE?

MacLAREN: I just hope that people watch it and enjoy it, learn from it, that it evokes emotion.

This interview was conducted during HBO’s portion of the Summer 2017 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

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Article: Exclusive Interview: MICHELLE MACLAREN on THE DEUCE and GAME OF THRONES

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