‘The Deuce’ season 2 power shift finds key players out of their element

Dive bars are now disco clubs; “movie” houses come complete with a plexiglass-free peep show; and 42nd Street is speckled with fur-coat wearing businessmen: Welcome to “The Deuce,” circa 1977.

“I think what we’re seeing is the early signs of gentrification,” says actor Gary Carr, who plays C.C. in the HBO series. “The streets of New York are starting to look cleaner, well, slightly cleaner, which is great in terms of developing the story for the majority of the characters we see in the first season.”

Spruced-up streets monitored by neighborhood watch groups and patrol units who aren’t interested in under-the-table payoffs sound like progress, but it depends whom you ask.

“Where does that leave us?” ponders Carr, who portrays one of the pimps who seamlessly navigated the streets in the New York City-shot series’ premiere season.

Season 2, airing Sunday at 9 p.m., jumps five years ahead — without filling in the blanks — nudging C.C., his highest-earning prostitute, Lori (Emily Meade), Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and others into the business of making money in front of (and behind) the camera.

Carr, who lives in Brooklyn, delves into how the rise of the porn industry changes the game for The Deuce’s key players, and the feminist opposition that follows.

We open “The Deuce” with the characters finding where they fit in this new porn industry. Lori switches from working the streets to working the cameras; Candy is running the show; and Vincent (James Franco) is a thriving business owner. But the pimps, their job seems obsolete.

I think it is. And I think C.C. thinks it is as well. That’s really exciting to watch and to play and to watch him make an attempt to fit into this world where he might be able to contribute, but you’re right, it’s not the streets. C.C. knows the streets, not agents and offices and management and production companies and all that stuff. This new field is different. Also, those are clubs on themselves, anyway. You can’t just walk into those places as a pimp.

The men who once ran these streets are now the ones struggling to find their places, while the mob and film industry is profiting off what used to be their income. Is this a reflection of race or stature?

I think it could be [race]. I think it’s a mixture of things. They’re all clubs, and being African-American in this time period in New York City, you’d have to have some kind of connection in that world and even then I think it could be quite difficult … I think the storyline with the guys here is very typical. We see that across America in that time period in terms of bigger businesses and companies thriving because of race and being allowed to do things while other people are left out. But in terms of C.C. and the pimps, the race thing, I don’t know if that ever filtered into their world. This is new for them. They feel like the world is changing too fast. I guess they could have done it. They could have run the show if they wanted to.

Lori thrives in this new industry where C.C. struggles. How does this change the power dynamic here?

C.C. is very intelligent when it comes to like being on the street and surviving. But he hasn’t been around many other circles or environments. I mean I think he’s got the swag and this way about him where he can make his way in. But there’s a lot for him to learn. The dynamic in that relationship shifts anyway because Lori becomes the breadwinner. She starts being the one that is making a lot of money and also doing that without needing much of C.C.’s help. So, that puts him in a position where he’s like, well, he doesn’t know where he stands and once you’re not the pimp anymore all that power is gone.

Is it fair to say in season 2, the power is shifting to the women?

I think what does happen in season 2 is that women as a collective and as a group, their voices are being heard way more. That’s what’s happening. They’re speaking out a lot and having the power and the confidence to do so, rightly so. They’re still fighting against a lot, you know. They’re now speaking up for a reason for hundreds of thousands. I see that as an attempt to take control.

How should we interpret C.C.’s motives? Is he looking for something bigger or is it his goal to thrive within this culture? 

He wants to thrive within this culture now. His idea is yeah, I’m going to reach a height and as a result live this perfect life and travel to European cities with this girl I love, Lori … I don’t have any judgment on C.C. I think there’s a lot of genuine love and care. I think he’s just a product of his environment. He really did grow up in this world and has found himself in this situation. I don’t believe he thinks he’s exploiting anyone. He believes he’s in partnership and on a team with the women he works with. There’s an understanding, this is what you do and this is what I do. I can’t judge him.