Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb talk to Zoey Deutch about her role as a misunderstood teenager in the upcoming film “Flower.”
If most teen movies are concerned with a loss of innocence, then Max Winkler’s new film Flower, out this week and starring Zoey Deutch, is not your typical teen movie. In Flower, the 23-year-old Deutch plays Erica Vandross, a seventeen-year-old whose sexual confidence far outstrips her certainty in other parts of life. Her modus operandi is to offer blow jobs to men she can extort for money, saving up so that she can bail her father out of jail. The film starts with her giving one of these blow jobs to a policeman (“Where’d you learn to give head like that?” he gasps. “Middle school,” she says impassively) and ends with a visit to prison. In between, there’s a crusade to bring down a male teacher that her stepbrother Luke, played by Joey Morgan, has accused of molestation as well as a Thelma and Louise-esque escape attempt, with Luke and Erica speeding across a Joshua tree-punctuated landscape in a stolen Saab convertible and dressed in clothes seemingly inspired by Floridian retirees—Erica in particular has a penchant for flamingo-colored sunglasses and palm-tree prints. The showdown, when it comes, is emotional, not physical, and involves a seemingly innocuous moment that causes Erica to break down in Luke’s arms.
“I think that ultimately most movies portray vulnerability as a loss of innocence, but by the end of this movie, it’s the opposite direction,” says Deutch, who in real life speaks with the same breakneck cadence as her character. Though the plot is driven largely by some decisions of dubious morality on Erica’s part, the audience feels at least empathetic, if not quite sympathetic, toward her—a fact that speaks volumes about Deutch’s ability to tap into the subtleties of being human and, more specifically, a teenager who’s desperately trying to cover her fear of abandonment. “You have to believe that beyond all of Erica’s bravado there’s this fragile girl,” points out Deutch. “A movie like Flower is about the regaining of innocence and about the learning process of allowing yourself to be vulnerable.”
Zoey Deutch has more famous dopplegangers than she can count. Rose Byrne, Keri Russell — “When the poster for ‘The Americans’ was on Laurel Canyon [Boulevard], two of my acquaintances texted me, ‘Congratulations on your show!’ ” — laughs Deutch, as she settles into a couch with a big hoagie sandwich after her Alexa cover shoot in Downtown LA. The actress, 23, has been told she looks like Isla Fisher so many times that she sought her out at a recent benefit. “I was like, ‘I know you get this a lot — my name is Zoey, we look alike,’ and she was like, ‘Really?’ and I was like, ‘Ugh!’ It was pretty embarrassing.”
But the woman she resembles most? Her mother, Lea Thompson (famous for her epic ’80s hits “Back to the Future,” “All the Right Moves” and “Some Kind of Wonderful”). Thompson and her husband, director Howard Deutch (“Pretty in Pink”), raised Deutch and her sister Madelyn, 26, in the thick of the LA scene. “I definitely grew up in it,” says Deutch, who has home videos of Walter Matthau holding her as a baby for proof. “If I could have half the career that my parents have had, I’d be so lucky.”
The young actress is now paving her own way in Hollywood. After debuting on the Disney Channel, she bared her dramatic chops with last year’s “Before I Fall” and next month’s indie gem “Flower,” in which she plays a teen girl who gathers her friends to exact justice on a rumored pedophile. “I’m excited to play this sort of character that I’m usually on the sidelines watching the men play,” Deutch says. “She’s a vigilante.”
The story couldn’t be more timely, of course, with the #MeToo movement reaching critical mass. “I am so proud and in awe of the people who have come forward about [James Franco],” she says of recent accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior against the actor (Franco, with whom Deutch worked on the films “Why Him?” and “The Disaster Artist,” has disputed those allegations). “I know how hard it is, and the pros and the cons and the sh–t that goes into making a decision like that.”
She’s also a strong supporter of the Time’s Up campaign against gender discrimination and abuse, recently posting about the 2017 Sundance bash for “Before I Fall.” “I heard the party’s *brilliant* DJ made three times more for two hours, than I did making the actual film,” she tweeted on Jan. 21.
“That pissed me off,” she says now. “That was really brutal.” She explains that while she didn’t personally see evidence of the amount that DJ Tiësto was paid, she wanted to add her experience to the conversation. She notes that it’s “changing the way that I look at things, and the roles that I wanna take and the money that I deserve to make.”
While Deutch is zip-lipped on whom she’s currently dating (she split from her boyfriend of five years, actor Avan Jogia, nearly a year and a half ago), she’s happy to share her unconventional opening line.
“The first thing I say during a date is, ‘My work comes first.’ A lot of my friends will say that that’s not an open way of approaching a situation, but I have to be honest with myself — in my life, my work comes first!”
Deutch took her first acting class at age 5 — although her parents forbade her from becoming a professional child actor. “It wasn’t even in the realm of possibility,” she notes. Still, she attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (working as a babysitter and junior camp counselor on the side) and, at 15, finally began auditioning for roles.
She was quickly cast on Disney’s “The Suite Life on Deck” in 2010, made her big-screen debut in 2013’s “Beautiful Creatures” and has worked steadily ever since. “But I wake up every morning feeling like I just haven’t done enough, and I need to do more, and I need to learn more,” she confides to Alexa.
Deutch has the energy of a kid home from college: She speaks quickly, exaggerates her facial expressions to make points, and is entirely unself-conscious as she bites into her sandwich. She’s dressed in vintage high-waisted Levi’s held up with a thick black leather belt from her mom’s closet, which she’s paired with a tight, white Hanes T-shirt from the boys’ section and Commes des Garçons Converse sneakers.
“Don’t I look like a 12-year-old boy?” she asks, pointing to herself with laughter. “I have to work with what my body gave me. And I have the body of a frikkin’ boy!”
Deutch says she appreciates when her stylist of three years, Elizabeth Stewart (who also styles Jessica Chastain and Cate Blanchett), steers her toward up-and-coming designers. Stewart, meanwhile, values the actress’ playful edge, telling British Vogue: “It’s … fun to work with new clients who love to explore and be daring, like Zoey Deutch.” When it comes to the big labels, Deutch is a fan of Miu Miu (“because it has a sense of humor, it speaks to my personality”) as well as Valentino and Dior (“for their silhouettes and their femininity”). Her favorite red-carpet look to date is the elegant white Tory Burch dress she wore to last year’s Met Gala.
And when she’s working in New York — as she was recently for the Netflix rom-com “Set It Up” — she’ll hit up Café Habana, Bar Pitti or Carbone on Thompson (“though I can never get in,” she jokes). And she recites her Katz’s Deli order by heart: Half pastrami, extra mustard; two latkes, extra crispy, no sour cream, extra applesauce; egg cream; a matzo ball soup; half old pickles, half new pickles; and a seltzer or a beer.
Back at home in LA — where she lives in the Valley with six dogs — she surrounds herself with a core group of girlfriends she’s known since childhood, along with a few actress friends, like Chloë Moretz. Deutch calls herself “the germaphobe, food-eating, momlike, crazy one” of the group.
She also remains close to her parents. “I don’t think it was a fear of theirs, that they were gonna lose me. I’m very codependent,” she laughs. “I’m sure that they wish they could have a little bit more distance.”
Indeed, this year Deutch is co-producing and acting in “The Year of Spectacular Men” — directed by her mother, written by and starring her sister, and co-produced by her dad. And she’ll keep auditioning for the parts that feel right — which, she insists, isn’t always easy or fun. “I have to fight for the roles I get, and 99 percent of the time I get a no.
“I don’t look to the thing that I love to make me happy all the time,” she continues. Instead, as she forges her own way, separate from those faces hers resembles and the footsteps of her parents, she leans on what she’s learned so far.
“I know the things that will make me happy all the time,” she says. “My dogs, good food, my family, my friends.”