Maggie Gyllenhaal sat down with New York Magazine’s David Marchese to discuss her HBO series The Deuce, her upcoming Netflix movie The Kindergarten Teacher, and the #MeToo movement. In the interview, which was published Wednesday, Marchese connected the dots between the former and the latter of those topics and asked Gyllenhaal, who produces on The Deuce, which stars James Franco, about why he stayed on for season 2 after he was accused of sexual misconduct by five women.
I’m wondering if you can walk me through your thought processes after the allegations against [Franco] came to light.
Like I said before, in this moment of change, in this incredible moment for women, it’s important to think as deeply and as carefully and as specifically and in as nuanced a way as you possibly can. Simple black-and-white thinking or action is always going to be problematic.
Gyllenhaal goes on to say that there are some cases that are clear-cut, like when “This person is a rapist and therefore needs to go to jail,” although we all know it almost never works that way. Others, she posits, are in a grey area that requires more nuance. Franco’s case, apparently, is one of them. She explains:
I was part of a group of intelligent, thoughtful people on The Deuce — David Simon and George Pelecanos and also Richard Plepler, who runs HBO [...] we took the allegations really seriously — learned everything we could about them. All of us felt that it was important to talk to the people who were on our crew and in our cast and make sure they felt that they’d been treated with total respect and felt safe — everybody did.
Absent from Gyllenhaal’s list of people who felt strongly about continuing the show as is, is Margarita Levieva, who plays Franco’s girlfriend on The Deuce and shares many sex scenes with him (though Levieva has spoken positively about Franco in the past):
[The Deuce is] about misogyny, it’s about inequality in terms of gender in the entertainment business. It’s about the subtleties of transactional sex. And I felt that it would have been a terrible shame to stop telling that story. I had so much more to say about all of these things by playing Candy, and I know that Emily [Meade], who plays Lori, and Dominique [Fishback], who plays Darlene, and Jamie [Neumann], who plays Dorothy, also had feminist interest in continuing this story. So those are some of the things I felt.
That the creators of the show reached out to their cast and crew and ensured everyone felt safe is commendable. But there does come a point in her conversation with Marchese where Gyllenhaal concedes that she may not be the best person to talk about whether Franco should be on the show or not, based on whether it hurts The Deuce’s progressive aims:
I was reading an essay about the show where the writer was arguing that James Franco’s continued presence hurts her experience of watching The Deuce because it falsifies some of the arguments the show is making. Do you understand that line of thinking?
I’m so not objective. I’m not the right person to talk about that except to say that neither of James’s characters on the show are heroes.
And then side-steps the question about his role on the show:
I would say he’s walking right into the eye of the storm — he’s continuing the conversation with the work that he’s doing. I don’t think there’s a way to do this show without consciously knowing that you’re part of a larger conversation about exploitation and misogyny.
And then says she can’t speak for him:
That’s what I think. I can’t speak for him [Franco]. I think everyone’s been respectful in terms of not asking me to do that because that’s not right either.
Because you’re not him.
I’m not him, and I don’t have to take that responsibility.
No one is asking (or should be, anyway) Gyllenhaal to own up to Franco’s alleged sexual misconduct—which includes, among other things, allegedly removing a plastic guard over an actor’s genitals while shooting a scene that involved oral sex. The question that pertains to her—and the other people who put on the show—is whether Franco will face consequences for his alleged misconduct, or whether things will remain pretty much exactly the same for him. And the answer to that isn’t nuanced or complicated; the answer is yes. That’s about as black and white as you can get.