LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The third and final season of HBO is "The Deuce" is set in 1985. The AIDS crisis is blowing up, and the Deuce - Times Square - is transforming from a place for pimps and prostitutes into today's gentrified 42nd Street. And the porn industry we've been following for the past few years has gone from peep shows to major releases to a cottage industry of amateur VHS tapes. And at the forefront of all of this change is Eileen, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She's had her own transformation from Candy, a prostitute, to movie director putting her name on erotic films as a Candy Renee film.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DUECE")
MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL: (As Eileen) Femme erotica, I call it. Basically, it's skin flicks. It's porn. I'm a pornographer.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Maggie Gyllenhaal joins me now from WNYC in New York. Thank you so much for being with us.
GYLLENHAAL: Hi. Thanks.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So when we meet your character this season, she's at the adult consumer electronic convention in Las Vegas, and it's a mark of how porn had become a thriving industry.
GYLLENHAAL: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think when you leave her at the end of Season 2, she's kind of in a triumphant place with her work and porn. She finally made a movie that, you know, you see was hard for her to make. And when - yeah. When you see her, at least, in relation to that porn convention in Vegas, what she's doing is not getting all that much attention.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, and remind us what makes a Candy film different. She insists she's not making straight porn.
GYLLENHAAL: Well, I think that changes. But what ultimately happens - and I promise I won't give anything away - is she starts to think about porn not as an expression of a fantasy, whether it's a feminine fantasy or masculine or if you can even make those kinds of distinctions, but as a way of expressing something real. And what does sex really look like? And how do you put that on film? And maybe it isn't such a pleasure to watch that sometimes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I kind of want to delve a little bit in to that idea because, obviously, as a society we still struggle with porn and sex and how it's shown and how it's depicted, you know, and the sort of social constraints around that. And when you go back to 1985, it's so different and yet so similar.
GYLLENHAAL: Yeah, I mean, so much of that of what the show is asking, and I would say, in particular maybe in Season 3 - which is my favorite, by the way - is really about exploring what the cost is. And, yeah, there's an element of what the political cost is, which is really interesting. But also, what is the emotional cost to the people who are the human capital, you know? For Candy, she is, like, made alive. She's able to pull herself off the street and become the artist that she is because of porn. So what do you do with that if you are anti-porn?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, it's a complicated issue, right? There was a really interesting think piece in New York Magazine's The Cut that recently called out the era of the films like "Deep Throat" that were popularized and part of mainstream culture. Now in this era of the downfall of men like Jeffrey Epstein - and they sort of made the idea that it allowed predatory behavior to become accepted. Do you have thoughts on that? I mean, do you do you think that is something that has influenced our culture and the way that we have accepted behavior from certain people?
GYLLENHAAL: Yeah, there's this line in the show that Candy says, and she says it from a very emotional place and also from a kind of an artistic place, not from a dogmatic, intellectual kind of preachy place. But she says what men pay for becomes the world.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow. That's a great line.
GYLLENHAAL: Yeah, and I think porn has made things acceptable that are not OK with many of us, that many of us wouldn't be okay doing, you know? And that they were made acceptable because it was sort of like a push for more and bigger and brighter. And people became enamored. And Candy takes some responsibility for some of this. I mean, she's a pornographer. She identifies as a pornographer, and someone at one point calls her a feminist. And she bursts out laughing. But she is a feminist. I mean, I am her. I know she is. But it's just...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You created her.
GYLLENHAAL: Yeah. But so I really relate to her. I mean, our circumstances are very different. And yet somebody asked me today in another interview whether - how I would feel if my daughters wanted to be actresses and...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, God. I thought you were to say porn stars. And I was like - I literally was waiting like, who said that? Wow. What interview was that?
GYLLENHAAL: Well, that's an interesting - it's interesting you thought that because my feeling was that, of course, my daughters can do whatever they want. I'm made alive and challenged by the work I do, but the thing that's difficult for me that I've always found difficult is a kind of commodification of me and a requirement of a kind of sexuality, which is really a...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Explain, though, what you mean - the commodification of you. I think I know what you mean, but I'm not quite sure.
GYLLENHAAL: I mean, the ways in which people have been asked to trade either explicit, actual sex or what I think is much more common - a kind of whiff of sexuality, a kind of promise of sexuality. Like, how many of us have put on a push-up bra to get a job? Many, including me. And, like, basically, what is on the table now is, does it have to be that way? And that's something I've been thinking a lot about. Why in this culture right now - OK, it's really not culturally accepted to disparage, talk badly about really any marginalized group except sex workers and porn stars. You're allowed to call someone a whore. Nothing happens to you. Why? And I think it's because this kind of commodification of sex that we've been talking about, these subtle things, these things we've agreed to were ashamed. The men who are participating in this with us are ashamed. And we're asking the sex workers to hold all of it for us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What have you learned about yourself by playing Candy for three seasons?
GYLLENHAAL: I've learned that I'm also a director. I mean, I'm a beginner. You know, originally, Candy was supposed to be kind of, like, a naturally money-minded woman, you know, somebody who was - yeah, a producer, really. And I felt it was really important to separate her from the money because if she was going to get out that it had to be bigger than the money. Otherwise, she's going to get chewed up like everybody else. And I really pushed for her to be a director. And I don't know why I did that. And then I thought it was amazing that by playing a director for a few years, I realized that's me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you going to be?
GYLLENHAAL: Yes, I adapted an Elena Ferrante novel called "The Lost Daughter."
GYLLENHAAL: Which I'm going to direct next summer.
GYLLENHAAL: Thank you. Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's really exciting.
GYLLENHAAL: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You nervous?
GYLLENHAAL: Yes, I am terrified and - but more when I think of it as a whole (laughter). When I take it one step by one step, I actually feel really curious.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in "The Deuce." The final season is now on HBO. Thank you very much.
GYLLENHAAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.