The Real Story Behind Darlene's Big Return On The Deuce

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
If you've been watching HBO's excellent new drama, The Deuce, you'll know that Dominique Fishback has been stealing every scene she's in as Darlene.
Sunday night's episode, " What Kind of Bad," showed us a new side of this already fascinating character. After Abby (Margarita Levieva) buys her a bus ticket home in what can only be read as an attempt to save her, we catch up with Darlene surrounded by her former small town friends. She's clearly bored by their talk of local boys and their daddy's Mustang — we get a sense that this is the very reason she left in the first place. Darlene wants more from life, and she's ready to accept the consequences of what it takes to get there. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise when it turns out that she's not home for a visit or to escape her pimp, but rather to recruit.
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And yet, it kind of does.
It's a testament to George Pelecanos and David Simon's writing, and Fishback's skill as an actress that we don't come to hate Darlene for bringing another woman into this life — rather, this development made me even more invested in her character. She's not simply a victim. She's a complex human woman with inner demons, and ambition, and heart. That's what makes The Deuce such a great show — it doesn't deal in one-dimensional characters (save for maybe Abby, who only has three episodes left to prove she's more than just a spoiled college student looking for excitement).
It's a perfect environment for Fishback, who is far from one-dimensional herself, to thrive. She'll be back as a series regular when The Deuce begins production on season 2. But in the meantime, she's got more than enough to keep her busy. In 2018, she'll be making her film debut as the lead in Jordana Spiro's Night Comes On, about a woman bent on seeking revenge against her father for killing her mother. She'll be starring alongside Amandla Stenberg and Anthony Mackie in The Hate U Give, based on the award-winning YA novel by Angie Thomas. Oh, and she has also written and performed a one-woman show called Subverted, about destruction of black identity in America, in which she plays 22 different characters.
“It’s pretty awesome for me to have all these different interests, and it’s super early in my film and TV career to play characters that have depth and have deep souls, and [deal with] material that matters to society right now, she told Refinery29 in a phone call. "I just feel very fortunate to be able to do it.”
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We chatted with Fishback about last night's episode of The Deuce, what she imagines Darlene's backstory to be, and what it's like to work with women on a show about the porn industry.
Refinery29: How did you approach playing Darlene? How did it come about?
Dominique Fishback: “Well, it came about because I was doing Show Me A Hero with David Simon on HBO, and it was one of the last days of production. He said he wanted to talk to me because he had a role with me in mind for his new show called The Deuce. But it’s not a show that you take just to take it because it’s about the rise of the porn industry. I loved the fact that [Darlene] doesn’t play victim — she knows what she made a choice to do what she does, and she accepts that every step of the way. I loved that she watches old movies with one of her johns, I thought that was really special. And so I approached her heart, foremost. I didn’t really stress myself out about it being the 70s, or if there’s a way I’m supposed to walk or talk. Because if they saw me for this role, they wanted what I could bring to her, and not just anybody.”
I think I read somewhere that you made up a backstory for Darlene. Is that true?
“Yeah, I make it up in the sense that they don’t really tell you where they’re from, so you have to fill in the blanks. You make up a backstory just for your own sake, as part of creating this whole person, so you have what she’s been through in your mind, but then the writers will come and say ‘she’s from here,’ and then you just add that to it. For [last night’s episode] I had to do a southern accent. For the whole series, she doesn’t have one, but now she’s going to have one. But I really like that idea because I know growing up in Brooklyn, and going to school in Manhattan, they talked about my articulation a lot. Being aware of that, I jumble up my speech a little bit when I am back home. You fall back into the habit of where you’re from. I’m really excited for everybody to see Darlene in that new light.”
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It was cool to see her in a different context.
"Were you upset with her?"
For bringing back the other girl? I thought it made her so much more interesting. Because she’s not just a victim, her actions are so much more complex. I love that.
"I loved it too. When I first read that, I was like ‘yes!’ Because in her soul, she’s sweet, but that’s human nature. You could be the sweetest person and have the most heart, but you still have flaws. It’s what makes people interesting."
What do you imagine are kind of the tentpoles of Darlene’s backstory?
“I imagine that she came to New York to be an actress. And that’s something I imagined from the first episode, which lends itself nicely because with her john she role plays, and that’s something she does on the regular with him. And with the other john, she watches old movies. Why did she leave her small town to come to the big city? What pulled her that way? She gets bored very quickly — I made that up — she doesn’t like to sit still, and be in one place. You don’t tell the writers that, but then it comes up that that is actually true. I kind of like that I’m connected with her before it’s even written. I think that her mother used to tell her ‘The truth is the only safe ground to stand on,’ and I feel like in the first episode she tells Louis the truth when she says ‘I need extra money, I’ll come back for free, but my man’s gonna be mad at me.’ And then in the third episode, when she confessed to Larry that they watched a movie. She could have made up a completely different story to try to get out of it, but I think she said, ‘I’m going to tell the truth.’ And what happens when she tells the truth? She gets out of it. So, I think she’s realizing that the truth is actually what’s setting her apart."
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Her relationship with Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe) is so interesting. How do you view it?
"He really does care about her in his own way, and she loves him. I didn’t want to have her indifferent to him, because that’s not powerful. I love that he knows and loves A Tale of Two Cities. I thought that was so awesome when I read the script that they could bond over something like that. The power in George [Pelecanos] and David [Simon]’s writing is that these are real people. Just because he’s a pimp and he can be violent, doesn’t mean he can’t have a soft spot, or care about literature or movies. I love their relationship because there’s a power struggle that goes on. He’s more powerful physically, but I think mentally, she’s learned that she has more power. She’s able to get out of things, [like] not letting her john get beat up because he’s a regular, she can rely on that income. And she’s so brave. She’s willing to take beatings for anybody."
How do you think Darlene feels about Abby?
"I think she admires Abby. Abby is interesting to her because she has the education that Darlene didn’t get to have. So, if she can get a second-hand education about literature from her, she’s going to do that. Just as long as Abby doesn’t overstep, and not just get Darlene in trouble, but herself. As we saw from the other episodes, Darlene is a caregiver, and ultimately I think she’s trying to protect Abby. When Abby gives her the bus ticket and the book, Larry is right there, so now of course he’s going to ask ‘What’s this?’ So, it’s sad that she brings someone back, but also if Darlene were just to stay home, Larry could come get her. When I read about girls being trafficked, a lot of them were scared that their pimps would be able to find them. If he couldn’t find her, Abby’s right there, getting in trouble with all these different pimps. All these different pimps are side-eyeing her, and she’s just there speaking her mind. So, she could really get hurt if Darlene doesn’t come back. When Abby’s looking at her in the bar, like ‘Welcome back,’ and Darlene doesn’t say anything and gives her an attitude look, it’s because she’s saying ‘Are you really going to do this right now? There’s so many pimps around, so many other girls, this is not the time and place to talk about it.’ She’s hard on Abby because Abby doesn’t know this life."
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What was it like working with a female director like Michelle McLaren for a show like this?
"It was my first time being directed by a woman, so I was pretty much in awe of her. The world of The Deuce is so big, it has so many aspects, so to direct the pilot and create a world that’s going to be here for the rest of the season is such a big responsibility. She handled it with such knowledge and poise, it’s really inspiring to watch. From that perspective, I felt women can really do anything, with is really exciting. The first episode was also my first time being topless, and I’m glad I got to do it with her because she was so considerate and aware. When I first had to take off my shirt, it was a closed set, but still she had everybody turn around."
Did you have any input on how and when to show your body?
"Having Maggie [Gyllenhaal] there was great. She’s been doing this for so long that she can focus on Candy, focus on what she has to do in between takes, but it’s not in a way where she doesn’t see everything that’s going on around her. She’s very protective of the other actresses on set. So, even though it was very safe, and I could speak up if anything felt uncomfortable to me, I’m a new actress and you don’t want to make anything difficult. So, she’s able to see things, and say ‘ I think we can change this,’ and I’d look at her and I’d smile. I never even had to say anything. And then I got to shadow Roxanne Dawson, who directed episode six. I wanted to get in the writers’ room, because I’m a writer as well, but they wanted to keep everything top secret, so [they] asked ‘Do you want to shadow a director?’ And I got to see all the different departments and how they feed the world. It was really inspiring."
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Do you have aspirations to direct?
“I don’t know about that. I really loved watching the monitor. I really did not like scouting. Oh my god, that’s the longest, most boring part. That being said, I like to coach some of my friends who are acting. I think I’m really good at it, so I don’t know, maybe there is a director in me.”
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