Known for “The Leftovers,” “Money Monster,” “Nerve,” and perhaps most notably, David Simon and George Pelecanos‘ “The Deuce,” Emily Meade has been acting in film and television for nearly 12 years. Self-taught in the craft of acting, Meade was primarily a character actor until her breakout role as prostitute Lori in Simon and Pelecanos’ hit HBO show about sex as a commodity. Meade originally auditioned for the part of Candy, which went to Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Abby, which went to Margarita Levieva and ultimately didn’t have to audition for the part of Lori which she was eventually given. Essentially, Simon sat Meade down and discussed the physical demands of the part. Though initially hesitant given the subject matter, it was always a yes for Meade, it was simply a matter of processing it.
Ahead of episode five of “The Deuce” which airs this Sunday, I had a chance to chat with Meade about her role in season two, working with Simon, Pelecanos, and the cast and crew, her career, and more.
You’ve had the opportunity to act for such great writers. Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, Terence Winter, and now David and George. As an actor, what stands out to you while reading a David Simon script?
What David and George are so good at is sort of depicting this huge universe. Not necessarily a character, or a story even, but a subject overall that they are then really brilliant at creating this overall world and then filling it with characters, stories, but all things that are anchored by basically breaking down a subject. With “The Wire,” they did it with drugs. With “The Deuce,” they’re doing it with porn, and sexuality, and sex as a commodity and commerce and it’s really fascinating to see. It’s something that does take getting used to because [actors], we’re very selfish [laughter]. And it’s been an exciting process to learn to make my own character, my own ego of wanting to tell my story as my character and learn to sew it and weave it into the overall story and the bigger picture of what it’s saying.
Your character, Lori, started out walking the streets of 42nd Street, and now she’s moved into porn as an actress with a little more freedom. Yet, the transition is not as easy, financially. Is she primarily motivated by money or by independence?
She’s motivated mainly by fame and glamour and excitement. But, ultimately, what [driving her] is wanting to be loved. Obviously, she’s someone who’s lacked that, and I think a lot of her drive for fame is, more than anything, about being loved on as wide a scale as possible. Her dichotomy and her problem are that this season, as sick as her relationship with [her pimp is], there is, there’s a lot of love there.
She’s being faced with the options of being loved or adored by far more people, but that would come at the cost of losing the one person— at least how he convinces her or she convinces herself— that loves her in her world right now. It’s a terrifying decision to lose the love she has to possibly gain more.
These next two episodes are significant for you and your character—Candy branches out and begins her new career as a porn producer and filmmaker in. Do you view Candy’s film as Lori’s big coming out, or something that could ultimately do more harm than good with her and C.C.?
It’s a combination for her, and that’s part of what her torment is. She’s beyond excited, and it’s kind of like everything she’s wanted and far more than she even necessarily imagined. She was okay with just being the best hooker on the block, and the idea of being an actual star on a screen, as she sees it, is beyond everything to her.
But there’s always the dark cloud for her realizing that the bigger she gets in porn, the more that she’s going to strain the relationship with C.C. She’s afraid of him, fearful of losing his love but also scared of hurting him. And I think that’s something that’s a massive component of co-dependent relationships— it’s not just that she’s afraid of C.C., she would, sadly, rather suffer than watch him get him hurt.
There are so many great directors on this show. For episodes five and six, specifically, you have two excellent, critically acclaimed directors Zetna Fuentes and Susanna White. Can you talk about working with them?
The craziest thing this year was [the show was] all women directors except for the first two episodes, [which were] directed by one of our producers, Alex [Hall]. This past season, I’ve worked with more female directors than I have in my whole career over 11 years. That’s a pretty crazy process to not only experience that much feminine energy and how healthy it can be, but also to see how many female directors there are that just are not being given these opportunities.
Zetna and Susanna are both tremendous and brilliant in their own ways, I loved them both, and I think you can see in the episodes. It’s a delicate show, and they were really wonderful to work with. Also, my ultimate goal is to direct, so it was great to just watch all these female directors and how they all had their own styles, and you can’t deny that it is different being directed by a woman than a man. Men and women have different ways and energies [laughter], so it was fascinating to observe female directors, how they do it [laughter], and how they manage a team of mostly men and their way of doing that.
That’s wonderful. You initiated the intimacy coordinator for “The Deuce.” It speaks a lot to the lack of supervision for sex scenes in the film industry. Your part obviously requires a lot of nudity and sex scenes. How has the intimacy coordinator helped?
The intimacy coordinator is transformative. I’m overjoyed it’s been implemented, and my goal is to do whatever I can to make it a strict legal requirement because it is mind-boggling to me that it has not already been a part of sexuality in film. For me, I think I’ve had a fascinating process because half of what we’re doing is seeking some sort of catharsis for our own trauma or pain.
I’ve played a lot of sexualized characters, which is interesting [laughter]. When I was younger, I was a lot more desensitized and disassociated, both in my real life and in my acting and sort of was able to shut down and shut off and not be as aware of the fact that I was involved in this and my sexuality onscreen. As I’ve gotten older, and especially in the process of “The Deuce” season one, I matured into a place where I did feel more in touch with myself, my body, my sexuality. I’ve felt more sensitive and protective over it; wanting to actually be present in it instead of just let whatever happen in the scene and not even really be there for it, mentally.
Then the fact that everything with Time’s Up and MeToo was starting, and there was a conversation that was actually being had, and people were actually saying they were uncomfortable with things—the combination of all those things made me realize that the lack of structure. It has undoubtedly led me to feel ways I don’t want to, and there’s really no reason for that.
Intimacy coordinators apparently have existed for a while, but I didn’t know it. It just seemed like a no-brainer—there should be someone whose sole job is to protect the actors in sexual situations, just like there is when there’s a child on set or a pet on set, or a stunt. I went to HBO and requested that, and they hired someone right away. Even vocalizing that was a massive thing for me, to say, “I’m uncomfortable,” and to ask for change and then to have Alicia on set and there to primarily just protect us and give us whatever it is we need has been very transformative.
You alluded to this earlier; are you eyeing any potential projects to direct currently?
Nope [laughter]. I don’t know if it’s just an excuse out of fear or what, but I’ve pushed directing to my 30s or 40s or time once I feel more comfortable in my position as an actor. That truly might be an excuse, and I’m learning more and more that as an actor, you might never feel comfortable and you’re always looking for the next level of success. I’ve just been observing and learning from sets. And I’m a perfectionist which doesn’t help. I think I will be good at it, but there’s a lot of pressure on it for me from myself. So, right now, I’m not working on anything [laughter].
“The Deuce,” season two, episode five, “All You’ll Be Eating is Cannibals” airs Sunday, October 7 at 9pm ET.