HBO’s new drama “The Deuce” explores the gritty world of the sex trade in the 1970s and the lives of the women involved in it. One such woman is Darlene, a complicated and endearing figure portrayed with nuance by actress and writer Dominique Fishback. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Fishback discusses her background, her acting process and the dynamics of her character.

Fishback discovered a love of acting during her childhood, and she found an outlet for this passion at the MCC Youth Theater program for New York high schoolers. From this program, she applied and was accepted to Pace University, where the infectious creative energy allowed her to fully pursue acting.

“The MCC Youth Company let high school students write and perform their own stuff. So I always wanted to act, and that was my first experience,” Fishback said. “When I was at Pace, they encouraged us to write and perform our own stuff, so I did a one-woman show called ‘Subverted’ about the destruction of Black identity in America.”

In “The Deuce,” Fishback plays Darlene, a young and engaging prostitute working in the city’s notorious 14th district. When asked about her preparations for the role of Darlene, Fishback stressed her commitment to portraying humanity within her character. While sex workers are often tabooed and objectified, Fishback worked to shape Darlene as a person, with complexities and layers.

“I made sure that she had heart,” Fishback said. “After you do all this summary and character development stuff, then you get placed in different environments and you’re able to just play, because you have already done all that kind of work.”

Fishback also talked about code-switching: Darlene’s method of changing her tone and manners when interacting with different characters within the show’s universe.

“I believe in the power of code-switching, and I believe that Darlene as a person has learned this so very well,” she said. “You know in her core she is very sweet and very caring, but I think that what makes a person is all the layers and all the flaws that we have.”

Darlene’s characteristic strength lies in her control within the world of prostitution; she is able to navigate both the tumultuous ferocity of her pimp and the diverse personalities of her clients, all with relative comfort and capability. In one of her best scenes, Darlene is fully aware that she has made a mistake by staying with one client too long. Instead of making excuses, she admits her mistake and asks for her punishment, while also committing herself to work extra hours. It is her honesty and straightforwardness that surprises her pimp and causes him to withhold punishment.

“The truth is the only safe ground to stand on,” Fishback said. “As I read the different scripts, I realized, and she also started to realize, that when she tells the truth, she actually gets more … I think she starts to realize ‘I have more power than I ever imagined.’”

Darlene’s youth also plays an important role in affording her strength within the world. She has a keen self-awareness, and she uses her young age to her advantage.

‘The Deuce” is largely about women and created by women, with Michelle MacLaren, Roxann Dawson and Uta Briesewitz directing, and Maggie Gyllenhaal producing, among other female industry professionals. When asked how the female presence behind the camera influenced the work in front of it, Fishback spoke about the feeling of safety and understanding on set that is unique among women.

“As far as having women directors, I had never been directed by a woman before I did this. Michelle [Maclaren] is awesome,” Fishback said, “That was my first time being topless, and I remember she made everyone turn around before I took my shirt off. So I think in that way it’s very safe.”

Fishback also emphasized her writing experience and intense desire to work in the writer’s room. She is an avid playwright and is working on a screenplay, and hopes to break into television writing in the future.

“Getting in the writer’s room is my ultimate, ultimate goal,” Fishback said. 

Throughout the interview, Fishback demonstrated her strength as an actor in her ability to portray the subtle layers involved in a personality and her deep understanding of her character’s history and psychology. Her continued success on screen is sure to be bolstered by a success behind it, as she strives to write and produce compelling, thought-provoking entertainment.

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