TV

Margarita Levieva Of ‘The Deuce’ Tells Us About The Development Of Her Trailblazing Character

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The Deuce will return to HBO with a second season on September 9, which will reunite audiences with Times Square and most of the debut season’s major players, who are either fully entrenched or on the periphery of the burgeoning porn industry. A time jump from 1972 to 1977 means that everyone’s got new hair (it’s now easier to tell Vincent and Frank, the twins played by James Franco, apart) and slightly tweaked professions. Yet some major changes are afoot, including how Abby (embodied by Margarita Levieva) moves to the forefront of the action with a transformation in process.

Levieva spoke with us about how Abby’s wise-beyond-her-years beginning in the series has taken her into new territory. From college student to barmaid to artist to activist, she truly becomes central to the series’ critical gaze upon the sex industry. Abby’s also the long-term love interest of Franco’s Vincent, and Levieva was happy to chat about all these topics in our conversation.

Abby’s always been remarkably wise for her age. You’ve been asked previously about playing a 20-year-old [Levieva turned 38 this year] college student, but she’s older now with the time jump.

Yes, she’s actually 26 or 27 years old now.

Does that feel much different for you, playing an older Abby?

Definitely. It’s good that she’s had that time to grow up, and I can explore what that’s like for Abby and see where she’s going.

I feel like she’s almost deceptively nuanced. The series objectified her more early on, but she was the one who hung back and questioned why certain characters do what they do. How did she become so wise?

Part of it is that Abby is someone who comes from a lot of privilege and ended up in this world. In the first season, we see how she doesn’t quite understand how some characters live the lives they do. She’s definitely wise but, at the same time, naive about how the world works, especially the world outside of her immediate upbringing. Now she’s had some time to live in it and experience first hand what a lot of these people go through. I think her determination to make a change, to help people, to find a way, and to just contribute in whatever form is so important. And she’s also more realistic this season about the way things work and maybe not as hopeful on some of the magical thinking. Her early 20s are gone, and I think she’s looking for ways to do something of substance, and she’s become so practical.

She’s taken more ownership of the bar, and I feared that would be the bulk of her arc, but in episodes 3 and 4, we see some enormous shifts in her perspective. What can you tell us about that?

Coming into the second season, I had to create a lot of the history and the inner world of Abby and really think about what the last six years have looked like for her. And I was very excited for 3 and 4 because some of the changes in Abby’s most immediate circle to do with Vincent, to do with some of the changes she’s learning about that are happening onscreen, will propel her to move forward in a way that has more purpose and even more action and fire — that internal fire. And she’s also getting yet another opportunity to grow up and find out that things aren’t necessarily how she believed them to be. And another opportunity to see that they’re way more complicated, and this world that she’s a part of is not safe, and it’s not easy, and it’s not on the surface, and stuff that I think she was a little too naive toward in the past.

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There were hints of this coming in season one — the way she treated the girls and their pimps, along with her shifting taste in literature — but the writers performed a remarkable slow reveal. How is she transforming?

Abby’s a sponge for information. We see definitely an activist, and she’s political, and that idea of what is personal becomes political. And now having lived in this world for some time, her personal experiences are driving her to become political, more active, and at the same time, she’s also an artist. So all of that, the internal drive for Abby is to really gather as much ammunition as possible and information to really implement a change. That’s why she’s such an avid reader and will absorb every possible book and subject matter that can [tell her] about the world to move forward in the environment she’s living in.

And in that same way, she’s also living in New York and the art scene and really cares about the art and the music and the photographers of the time and wanting to give them a voice. That’s what’s so interesting about that time, is that there’s a real opportunity to bring things forward that were a bit more underground. And Abby’s a conduit to bringing some of that [into the bar], but what really drives her is to bring what’s within to help create a different world that she’s experienced at home or the one she’s living in at Times Square. To be the pioneer of that.

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She’s still living with Vincent. Does it surprise you that they have endured, all this time, even though he’s a little stagnant regarding her developing interests?

Yeah, I had to think a lot about that actually because Abby’s such an emancipated woman who’s independent and believes in open relationships and exploring and not being tied down, not like the woman of the past who’s just someone’s wife or mother. And so I thought about what’s kept her with Vincent all these years and what’s keeping her there now. You know, I kept going back to that first scene in the pilot when the two of them first meet, which for me and the decisions I made while playing her, is just that sincerity, authenticity, that he was the realest person she had met at that point in her life. And his lack of need to pretend or act like something that he’s not or want to fit somewhere that he doesn’t belong? Abby grew up with so much of that, that it made a difference in him, and that was the thing that initially attracted Abby.

She’s got a deep, deep loathing for fakeness or people not following on their internal authentic drives or following who they are, and I think Vincent embodies that, and there’s real love between them, and he has also really given her an opportunity? That maybe she could do more than just running a bar, and [she’s now] exercising her voice, and her vision. And that’s what keeps her there. And I think they appreciate one another that’s special and at this point feels very comfortable. And with this second season, there’s the exploration of what is keeping the two together.

I always think of that first hook-up scene with them, where she tells him, “You’re not in control of this, I am.” And he’s been more than cool with keeping that dynamic.

I remember, actually, but further down the next season when we were shooting, and James and I were on the set before we were shooting, and he asked me why Abby was frozen with Vincent, and I think she loves him. And I was like, we’ve all been there. I’ve certainly been there, where I’ve been in a relationship where from the outside, stuff doesn’t match, but I really love this person, there’s really something about this connection that keeps me here. And that exists for Abby and Vincent. That internal connection is very strong and hard to break from, and I think that’s very comforting and safe in ways.

Let’s finish with something light. If you personally had a chance to hang with one of the Franco twins, Frank or Vinnie, in Times Square tonight, who would you pick, and why?

Well, James will appreciate this because when I met Frankie, I said, “I’m sorry, I like your brother better.” It was a joke, but that’s interesting. My first instinct was to say that I’d pick Frankie, just to be curious about our dynamic. I’ve never thought about a one-on-one between Abby and Frankie would be like … yeah, I’ll stick [for Abby] with Frankie. [For me], yeah, I’d also like to see where Frankie would want to take me and introduce me to some of his friends in his wicked world because I feel like I personally never get to explore that. I’d be curious, but I feel like Margarita (and me as a human) would have way more in common with Vin than Frankie. I’m sure it would still be in an unforgettable night.

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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