Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy: Method Man and Black Thought Get Real About Life in ‘The Deuce’
New York City’s famed 42nd Street may look like a hyper-corporatized Disneyland today—lined with bright lights, restaurants, and upscale nightclubs—but not too long ago, the midtown Manhattan landmark was a hub for the city's seediest hustlers, uptown pimps and downtown players. Created by David Simon (The Wire), HBO's new drama The Deuce travels back to the sordid and seamy NYC of the 1970s, with Method Man and Black Thought amongst a star-studded cast recreating a pivotal era in the city's history.
The semi-fictional drama focuses on New York’s porn and sex trade industry in the 1970s. Meth and Black Thought are pimps Rodney and Reggie Love, respectively; and we talked to the two emcees-slash-actors about revisiting that time and place.
The Boombox: Meth, as a New Yorker, what are your memories of The Deuce back in the day?
Method Man: Easter. We used to go to The Deuce every Easter. You’d throw on your best [outfit], go out to The Deuce and stunt. You take some pictures with a dirty backdrop with like a Mickey Mouse with a four-finger ring on in a Gucci suit. It was good times.
Do you remember any craziest moments?
Method Man: I left work to go see a movie 42nd street was playing. I remember the line was pretty long; all the way to where 42nd street and Broadway meet. I was standing on the back of the line with my book-bag on, and something just felt weird. I looked back and I see this little dude standing there, looking stupid. So I thought, “This nigga is trying to rob my bag.” So I left. And sure enough, when I looked, my bag was slightly opened. But nothing was gone. The audacity for him to try that while I was on line…that was The Deuce.
Is there a Philly version of The Deuce?
Black Thought: I didn’t have a specific strip in Philly that was popping the way that The Deuce was. The closest thing we had to 42nd street was Atlantic City. If we wanted to see the bright lights in your face and half-naked ladies out on the strip and get a glimpse of pimps and players—that was all to be had in Atlantic City. Philly had its share of colorful characters, but they were never in a concentrated area.
Do you see any parallels between sex industry and lifestyle of the 1970s and today?
Method Man: [What The Deuce was] died out. There’s too much money over there in Times Square [now]. They’re not letting any of that fuckery come back. It was where uptown and downtown could meet on a common ground. It was like going to the Red Light District in Amsterdam.
Black Thought: I think some of the socio-political ongoing that begat the adult film industry and that begat organized crime and other organizations [is still there]. I feel like what was going on in the world and in the country at that time is still very relevant today. I feel like that’s the parallel. There are still people that are protesting--you can fill in the blank. There are still people in the country that are upset with the sitting president. The analogies I make in The Deuce to Nixon and the pimping game – I feel like some of that stuff is still applicable to the Trump administration. But I feel like most pimps are manipulative and I don’t know if the Trump administration is equally as smart, so I might not give them the credit of being pimps too.
After filming an eight-episode series on the subject, what have you learned about prostitution and the porn industry that you didn’t necessarily know before?
Method Man: A gang of shit. One of the most grounded things I learned was where [working girls] keep their money: in their pussy. You can’t trust johns, so they keep it in their cooch. Now I want to know when do they take it out and let the John in…do they hold it in their hand?
How do you play a pimp without defaulting to a caricature based on all the cartoonish images we've seen about ’70s pimps?
Black Thought:I think when you approach any character; you have to do the work. You have to give the character that you’re going to portray a story – something that’s real. It’s up to you, and hopefully an acting coach because all the brilliant actors are brilliant because they’re brilliantly coached. And you never get too big for your britches or too over confident and say, ‘Oh, for this film, I don’t need a coach.’ It’s always good to have a second set of eyes and ears with only your specific interests at heart.
There are a lot of graphic scenes on the show. Was there anything you were uncomfortable filming?
Method Man: Not as far as my scenes. Now, if you ask Maggie [Gyllenhaal] about her scenes, she might [not] give you the same answer. Some of that she she’s doing, I can’t say I would never do, [but]...you’d have to really strip yourself down. She’s killing it!
A lot of rappers-turned-actors tend to play it safe with their onscreen roles, and often wind up playing characters that resemble themselves. How do you push yourself to act beyond how people stereotype you?
Method Man: Play the stereotypical roles. Get comfortable in your own skin. We’re rappers, not thespians. You’re going to start off with more familiar characters, like the thug or things of that nature. It’s kind of a comfort zone because I’m from that world. But the worst part is that it’s expected.
Black Thought: I want it to be engaging for me. I want to show range, and I want to be able to rise to the challenge. I kinda stray away from roles as a musician at this point – and I don’t wanna be a frustrated rapper. [I like] to play a character [with] elements of my personality and my actual story, but I don’t wanna be pigeonholed by that.
The Deuce airs Sunday nights at 9pm EST on HBO and is available on HBO Now/HBO Go.
Watch the Trailer for HBO's The Deuce: