Ready for her close-up

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Why entrepreneurial women can identify with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in “The Deuce”


  • Maggie Gyllenhaal as "Candy" (Eileen) in HBO's "The Deuce." Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

I’ve never been a prostitute, especially not one who strolled pre-gentrified 1970s Times Square, yet oddly enough I find myself identifying with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character on HBO’s “The Deuce.” I don’t think I’m alone.

The Golden Globe-winning actress plays Eileen, a single mom whose son is being raised by her mother in the outer boroughs, while she lives in Manhattan (in what looks like an Upper East Side luxury doorman building) so she can be closer to her job on 42nd Street where she hustles in a curly blonde wig as “Candy.”

What’s so compelling about this striving New York woman, is that even though her story is set forty-five years ago, she seems contemporary.

Thanks to our gig economy, we’re used to the rise in female entrepreneurs, making Eileen’s independent streak understandable. From the get-go, we know her alter ego is a cut above her colleagues; she’s a little savvier, a little smarter, and a maverick. Eileen’s gone rogue, operating without a pimp because, “Nobody makes money off my —— but me. I’m gonna keep what I earn,” so she can spend it on her boy.

Because of layoffs, or simply feeling underemployed, and with no prospects in their current industries, today’s women are going back to school or taking unpaid internships to try and switch careers. It’s easy to relate to Eileen’s desire for a new challenge.

She’s aware that the world — her world in particular — is changing, and she wants a better place in it. There are no “Pretty Woman” fantasies of being rescued by a millionaire or unrealistic ideas about transitioning into a more respectable business. This ambitious escort knows she’s in the only industry she’s ever going to be in, so when adult films start to trend, Eileen’s Candy is ready for her close-up.

However, to paraphrase Tess in “Working Girl,” although Eileen may have a bod for sin, she’s got a head for business. She knows the real money isn’t in performing, but in making as well as distributing the movies. And she’s not one to “leave money on the table for somebody else to pick up.” What she really wants to do (pardon the Hollywood cliché) is direct, as well as produce. All Eileen needs is someone to give her a chance and show her the ropes.

Don’t we all.

I remember my months after college graduation looking for a job as an advertising copywriter, only to be met with the always frustrating Catch-22 — you can’t get a job without experience and can’t get experience without a job.

Like Eileen, I took a stepping-stone position. As the assistant to a creative director at a large agency, I lived on the belief that all the typing, copying and coffee fetching would lead to my big break. I also networked, showing my portfolio to other agencies, hoping they’d think of me if something came up.

I felt Eileen’s pain when she delivered her elevator pitch to an oblivious male filmmaker she’d invited to lunch. As he scarfed down his free meal as though it were his last, he blew her off with a wave of his fork: “I don’t need no more overhead.”

The disappointment on her face coupled with the slump of her shoulders was body language I remember all too well. (My hopes were dashed with a more articulate, “There’s no money in the budget at this time to take on junior people.”)

If it was demoralizing to be dismissed as a rookie, it’s even worse now as an industry veteran, often told I have too much experience or not the right kind.

But this is New York City, the place where people come to follow their dreams, because here is where the opportunities are. And so, I keep hustling.

For inspiration, I watch Eileen always find a way to get her way, and remember that’s me — minus, of course, the hot pants, halter top and platform high heels.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Back to Work She Goes” and “Fat Chick,” for which a movie is in the works.

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