In season one of HBO’s The Deuce, Chris Coy’s Paul Hendrickson was an openly gay man trying to find a place he belonged in 1971-era New York City. Now, the season two premiere, which airs this Sunday, will move the timeline along to the mid/late 70s, an entirely different era for not just the porn industry, but for New York — and the world — on a whole.
While he was in town over the summer for the ATX TV Fest, we sat down with actor Chris Coy to discuss how his character, Paul, has evolved with the times, and how his wardrobe ends up informing his distinctly 70s-era swagger.
So, given the time jump between seasons one and two, where are we at, culturally speaking, with Paul being an openly gay man at this point in history?
Season two is the most libertine time that the gay community ever experienced. Which is interesting, because in season one, there’s moments where you’re watching where you’re watching and Paul’s talking about Stonewall and stuff like that, and he’s suffering certain prejudice. In your contemporary mind, you’re like ‘Oh, look how far we’ve come.’
When you watch season two, you’re gonna be like ‘Oh, we’ve gone backwards.’ Enough time had passed after Stonewall for the sensitivity in the climate to calm down. From then until September 81 when AIDS breaks and everybody freaks out, there’s this sort-of Goldilocks zone right there where acceptance is abound, and they’re open and unafraid. Just courageous enough to be themselves to the fullest, in front of everyone. And their world, New York City, is fully embracing that.
When you show up in season two, we’re right in the middle of that. Paul has no fears. His ambition’s leading him. He’s finding success. He’s got his own bar now. He’s building, essentially, his own empire. It’s really a time of positivity and fun and liberation and nakedness… all the best parts.
It’s interesting to hear that, since during season one, Paul’s very much under Vincent’s wing.
And 100% of the backing and companionship of Vincent, it’s still a partnership. Just maybe at a distance. But that relationship still very much alive. That affinity still exists. And they’re thriving together. Just separately.
I’m curious what it’s like to against Franco when he’s playing two distinctly different characters.
And also directing.
…and also directing.
To be honest, he does it with a pretty high degree of ease. When you’re working with him as Vincent, and Frankie is in the scene, it’s a stand-in, and… it’s not as confusing as you might think. The only times where it’s like ‘Wow, this is a lot,’ is when both twins are in the scene with you and James is directing. Even then, though, he pulls it off well. He really does crush it. And it’s fun to watch.
There can be times where, in your own brain, you’re like ‘God, this is A LOT.’ But it’s an incredibly professional set, and David Simon, George Pelecanos, and Nina Noble, they run a tight ship. They trust all of us, and we trust them. The content is so good, but they also expect us to show up and deliver, and that always happens.
There are many, many days where I show up and I’m looking at the schedule going “God, that’s a lot of pages…” And it’s always done. It’s rare, if ever, that someone’s pulling their hair out in frustration.
Well, and everyone involved, from Simon to Pelecanos to Noble to the rest, are all veterans of this industry, with impressive pedigrees to back it up.
Yeah. Everybody knows the game. And knows how to play it really well. That translates into an easy workspace — and incredible results. Sometimes I’m sitting at home watching it thinking “That day was so fun,” and it’s devastating on the screen.
Do the shifting time periods affect the motivations of the character? Not just from the sense of where New York was culturally, but the fact that so much time has passed between seasons.
For Paul, at least, because season one, we never outright say how old he is. But he’s 25-ish. Now, we come back and he’s 32. And for me, my life changed drastically from 25 to 32. Paul as well. Paul has matured a lot, he’s really come into his own, his self-understanding, who he is.
Not that he didn’t know that in season one, but there was a certain element of ‘fake it ’til you make it.’ He’s an outsider who’s come to New York, and he’s been there for a number of years, and he’s doing well. But, as we talked about earlier, it was a delicate time. Now, because he’s free to be who he is, there is a shift. It’s subtle, but it’ll be noticeable.
Then, obviously, cool things happen. Visual changes. The hair’s a little different, the clothes, just get a little cooler between ’71 and ’77. I can’t say enough about it. It’s really fun to play. It changes the character enough to where it’s almost a different character, because there’s shift. There’s a change.
What do you draw from for inspiration? Has that changed from season one to season two?
Because the clothes change and the hairstyles change — they put a wig on me — visually it’s so different from contemporary times that it helps tremendously. You kind of work from the outside in. When you go into your trailer and you put all that stuff on, you feel different. You walk different. And not just because you’re wearing heels.
But, I don’t put any emphasis, aside from my language and inflection isn’t too contemporary. Last season there was a scene where it was me in my bed with my lover, Andy Eisenberg, and at the end of the scene, the line was “What?”
For whatever reason, my contemporary mind, when I said it, I said “Whaaaat?” That was fine, and they liked it, but in ADR six months later, and David Simon said “I just realize the way you delivered that ‘What?’ is post-hip-hop.” It didn’t exist. It wasn’t the way we said it.
That comes into the equation. I make sure I don’t say something because I heard it said that way on The Simpsons. But other than that, the clothes, the haircut, the style, that will sell the time. It’s important to me to play Paul as the kind of man that I think he is. That transcends, period. He’s honest, he’s ambitious, and he’s cool.
Maybe there’s a little swagger in the way that he walks, but those are the heels. The boots change you. A tight polyester shirt changes you.
The Deuce airs every Sunday night on HBO, and on demand on HBO Go and HBO Now