Russian-American actress, Margarita Levieva talks her new role on HBO’s The Deuce, competitive gymnastics, and how to heal through dance and movement.

Dress Calvin Klein

Phoebe de Croisset I am so curious about your early career as a competitive gymnast – can you tell me how it all started?

Margarita Levieva It was kind of crazy. I was three years old and living in the Soviet Union, and was walking down the street with my mom one day when I noticed a gymnasium. I didn’t know what it was obviously, but I saw all these ribbons and balls and hoops and I told my mom I wanted to go in. We met with the owner, and soon after, we discussed my enrollment in classes. They did a pretty rigorous body test on me; flexibility, agility, balance etc. and the instructor told my mother that I had a propensity towards weight gain. My mom explained that I had just come back from visiting my grandmother who had been overfeeding me!

PC That’s unbelievable!

ML I know! I was three. By the time I was five years old, I qualified for the national team – everything was government subsidized at that point in Russia, so all of us were essentially owned by the government – we trained as professional gymnasts in preparation for the Olympics, and it was intense. Seven days a week, before and after school, and summer camps as well.

PC Why did you stop?

ML I moved to the US with my mother and brother when I was eleven, and continued to compete, regionally, in NY and NJ. I won the Princeton competition, which meant I was to go to the East Coast Nationals in Detroit. When I got there, one of the judges said, “Look, you can compete, but you can’t win here.” I didn’t understand at first, until he told me that my illegal immigrant status would prevent me from winning a title. He said if I wanted to win, I would have to go back to Russia and compete there.

PC Which is something I assume you did not want to do…

ML No, definitely not. My mother had gone to such great lengths to get us here. I decided to focus on school. I got accepted into LaGuardia (School of Music & Performing Arts) and then had to make the difficult decision of what to pursue. I felt it was my responsibility to study a “serious” subject, to pursue a dependable career. I felt I owed it to my mother. She had brought me to the US as a single mother – she had nothing; no English, no papers, and she worked so hard to give me everything. I felt I had to pay her back, in a way. To play my part.

PC But your heart was in the arts?

ML Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be on a stage. I was five years old when I saw Maya Plisetskaya perform in the Black Swan. I remember her completely transforming into a bird on stage. I knew I wanted to do that. The desire was always there. But my dreams of making it into a career went out the window in high school. I stayed involved, of course, but always under the guise of, ‘this is just curiosity – it’s not going to be my career’.


All through my life, my mother’s experience has shown me that nothing is too hard, and that everything is possible.

Coat, Bralette & Skirt Prada Handbag Mansur Gavriel Socks Aldo Shoes SJP Collection Ring on right hand Joanna Laura Constantine Necklace Margarita’s own

PC I suppose the universe had other plans for you…

ML It seems that way! In college, I majored in two subjects, and minored in three – and worked a full-time job – and graduated a year early. I spent a lot of time thinking about my path, and I eventually had this “come to Jesus” moment where I saw this very vivid image of myself on my deathbed, surrounded by grandchildren who asked, “Grandma, do you have any regrets?” And I vividly remember feeling that not pursuing acting would be an enormous regret. Not because of money, or fame, but because I felt it would drive my soul. So very cautiously and quietly, I applied to acting programs and thought, ‘if I get in, it will be a sign’.

PC I’m guessing you got in?

ML Well, yes, but even then, I said to myself, I will do this for 3 months, and if I am terrible at it, if I hate it, or if they hate me, I will leave. At every turn, I was prepared to leave.

PC And here we are, all these years later! You have dozens of projects under your belt, including your newest television appearance on HBO’s The Deuce. What drew you to this series?

ML I was familiar with the 70s because I had just done Diary of a Teenage Girl. I always loved that era, and thought I fit in. I also loved that movie so much, and the process, so when another 70s projects came about, I was eager to do it. That said, the NY I discovered while researching this show was completely different from the one I’d known. It was a very scary place. In 1971, NYC was bankrupt, criminal activity was everywhere; people were being stabbed on the subway, the city was falling to pieces. It was very different from the city we live in today.

Dress Calvin Klein

PC What was the best part about working on this project?

ML I have always been drawn to ensemble pieces, I think partly because, coming from this sports background, I love the feeling that everyone is in it together, that the goal is to make it the best it can be. From the costume department, to lighting, the director, producer, writer, the actors, of course, it’s a collaborative process. It’s part of the reason I wanted to act. We all come together and say, ‘here, this is what I have to offer, and how I see it.’ That’s what’s exciting to me.

PC And of course the cast of characters – both on and off screen.

ML Of course. Being a part of a David Simons and George Pelicanos project is amazing. I have been a fan since I watched Show Me a Hero. And the quality of the actors; Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Franco. The opportunity was a gift. The tremendous thing about this project is that every character is so fully flushed out, so unique and with such depth, so although I didn’t play a lead role, I knew that every character on the show was going to get an opportunity to say something, and to bring a real human being to life.

PC You’ve been dancing since you were a child. Is that something that’s still a big part of your life?

ML I think it always will be, although I have moved away from my rigid ballet training and am exploring different kinds of dance and movement. I am a big believer in Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms, which is a dynamic movement practice aimed at igniting creativity, connection, and community. I am a huge proponent of movement as a way to heal, to get rid of toxic energy, and trauma, and I’ve been spending a lot of time at after-school programs, and in hospitals helping to get people to move and to dance. There’s no greater joy for me than to see people up and moving. It has been really helpful to me, and I know it can be for others too.

PC Who is your personal hero?

ML My mom. Watching what she went through at such an early age – she was way younger than I am today when she arrived in the US with me in tow. All through my life, her experience has shown me that nothing is too hard, and that everything is possible.

Dress Miu Miu Boots Prada Socks We Love Colors Handbag Mansur Gavriel Ring on right hand Joanna Laura Constantine Rings on left hand Blaine Bowen (middle finger) and Ofee (ring finger) Necklace Margarita’s own
Coat Carolina Herrera Turtleneck Tory Burch Pantas Chocheng Shoes Tory Burch Handbag Simon Miller Earring Bing Bang Rings on left hand  Blaine Bowen (middle finger) and Ofee (ring finger) Ring on right hand Joanna Laura Constantine

I knew that every character on the show was going to get an opportunity to say something, and to bring a real human being to life.

PC Mantra/life motto?


“If I must fall, the one I will become will catch me.” – Baal Shem Tov

Coat, Bralette & Skirt Prada Handbag Mansur Gavriel Socks Aldo Shoes SJP Collection Ring on right hand Joanna Laura Constantine Necklace Margarita’s own