On the upcoming HBO series The Deuce, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a woman named Eileen Merrell who is also referred to as Candy, a sex worker who operates out of Times Square in the 1970s and decides to get in at the ground floor of the porn industry once it's legalized. Candy is independent but also caught up in desperate situations as she tries to make ends meet. The show faithfully recreates the era and location it is set in, but how far does that authenticity extend? Is Candy from The Deuce based on a real person?
There were actually two real women who went into forming Candy's character, according to series creator David Simon, but they weren't the only influencing factors. Candy also grew and changed during production, especially with the input of Gyllenhaal, who did a lot of research to make sure Candy's experiences were honest and real in the eyes of the viewers. The character's creation was a collaborative process, so even though she was partially based on real people, that wasn't where the story began and ended. Still, there were women who served as an inspiration for Candy's character and her journey over the course of the first season of the series.
Simon told Paste, "There was a Candy who was a part-time bartender at [James Franco's character] Vincent's bar who actually started as a prostitute/street walker and was a little bit actualized, a little bit, by the politics she heard in the bar from Vincent's girlfriend, but also had some preliminary involvement in the early days of porn." But the fictional Candy was also inspired by Candida Royalle, who started off as a performer in porn before becoming a producer and director.
Royalle went on to form Femme Productions, a company that specialized in creating female-centric erotica with a sex positive spin. In Royalle's 2015 obituary, producer Angie Rowntree is quoted as saying that Royalle had "a commitment to the principle that women have the right to explore, enjoy, and celebrate their sexuality, openly and proudly, without taking any kind of metaphorical backseat to men."
Gyllenhaal herself had a big impact on Candy too, pushing to become a producer on the series so that she could be sure both she and the character would be treated respectfully. It also allowed Gyllenhaal to give notes on Candy's arc throughout the season, which the writers responded to. She told Vulture that her suggestions would start to show up in the series "in much more interesting and complicated ways than I had imagined. And then I would act them in my own way. They started writing for me: 'I see how you're interpreting what we're doing.' I had never experienced that before."
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