Zoey Deutch Talks Hollywood, Heroines and Happiness

Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

Zoey Deutch’s destiny within the world of acting could be construed as preordained. The daughter of actress Lea Thompson (Back to The Future) and director Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful), one might say the nineteen-year-old was groomed for entertainment. Starring roles in films such as this year’s Vampire Academy have put the young actress firmly on the map. Yet her beginnings, she graciously admits, were more humble. “I used to make really embarrassing, ridiculous short films with my cousin and sister. We would play whatever characters we could possibly conjure up,” Zoey remembers. “I would steal my mom’s jelly boobs from when she was in a sitcom and they would put in fake padding boobs… and put them in my dresses so I could resemble Barbie, which was upsetting in so many different ways.” Her first professional job on The Disney Channel’s The Suite Life Zack and Cody wasn’t perfect either. “I was so bad at it, so uneducated about terminology and industry etiquette, and understanding people’s jobs.” Riding the wave of her blockbuster hit Vampire Academy, Zoey will star in Cover Girl as well as Good Kids, both slated for release in 2015.

Indira Cesarine: You grew up with a very creative family with your dad being a director. Do you remember the first time you were in front of the camera?

Zoey Deutch: I used to make these really embarrassing, ridiculous, short films with my cousin and sister. We would play whatever characters we could possibly conjure up. I particularly was always interested, for some reason, in the Jessica Barbie doll character, which is so drastically different from who I am today. Hilariously, I would steal my mom’s jelly boobs from when she was in a sitcom and they would put in fake padding boobs. I would steal them and put them in my dresses and stuff, so I could resemble Barbie, which is upsetting in so many different ways! I remember that. It was all home videos we used to do. Nothing professional until I was about fifteen and a half.

IC: What about your first professional role?

ZD: It was Suite Life on Deck, which was a Disney Channel sitcom. It was my first audition. I had kind of a misconception, because I did get my first job from my first audition, and I quickly found out that you probably only get one job out of two hundred auditions. So that was an extremely big wake-up call after I got that first job.

IC: It was your first audition and you got it?

ZD: I think it was just luck, or they needed someone immediately! I had no idea what I was doing. It’s embarrassing that that show was so popular. I was just in Australia and people would recognize me from it, and it’s humiliating, because I was so bad at it! I didn’t even know how to hit my mark. You’d think because I grew up in a family of entertainers that I would have some sort of intelligence on that behalf. But I was so uneducated on terminology, and even etiquette and understanding of people’s jobs. It was just so much to process so quickly. Especially on a job where these people have been working together for six years and you jump in as a newbie. Also sitcoms are terrifying; you’re essentially doing an ever-changing play. And this show is very specific. It was very like vaudevillian in its kind of comedic sense. It was very weird and over-stimulating.

IC: Have you worked professionally with your mother or your father?

ZD: I always get annoyed with my dad, because I’ve gotten him a job and he’s never gotten me a job. He did an episode of Ringer, which is a show I did with Sarah Michelle Gellar on the CW channel. I work with my mom a lot–she directs a lot. For auditions I ask her for a lot of help. My sister wrote a script called A Year of Spectacular Men and my mom’s directing. Hopefully we’ll be getting that all together. We’re gonna shoot in the fall, if all goes as planned, which is very exciting! Now that it’s all coming together, my dad wants to jump on board and be the director, and I’m like ‘I don’t think so, Howard. Not today.’

IC: Did you want to be an actress from the beginning, or did you want a different career path initially?

ZD: It’s hard to answer that question honestly. I really firmly believe that this is the job for me. It is so compatible with my personality and who I am. In a lot of ways it forces me to grow, and not make excuses for being a somewhat, perhaps by default, more difficult person. I have to actually work. I have to work on myself in order to understand myself, and to understand how to play different characters. Because if you’re out of control with your own emotions, and completely out of touch with what you need and want with yourself, I don’t know how well that would work. It’s been such a great kind of thing for me to learn about. It’s been such a great growing experience for me, especially just as a teenager. I always joke that I get to ruin fake relationships, not real ones.

IC: Do you feel like you had a role that was really a breakthrough moment for you as an actress?

ZD: No, I think I’m going to wait for that, and hope it comes soon. I’m never gonna sit here and say that I’m this established actress that deserves something. I hope I don’t have an entitled perspective about who I am and the career that I deserve. I don’t sit here and go ‘Oh, I should have this part’ or ‘They should offer me this and I don’t have to audition.’ I’m on such a track of having to prove myself, even to myself, and I so understand that. You have to do things that perhaps you weren’t initially proud of, or projects that you get what you can out of them. Things don’t always go exactly as planned, especially in this business. It’s kind of brutal. It is totally brutal actually.

IC: Do you find that sometimes you have to work even harder to overcome the preconceived notions that people have, being the daughter of a famous actress and director?

ZD: No. I don’t think I do. I have the same trials and tribulations that any other young actress in my boat has. I don’t have a hard time discussing it, or feel like I need to shy away from the connection to my parents, because I know that I’ve put in the work. I put in the work and I’m not just riding on the backs of them. I really have. I’m also proud of them, what they’ve accomplished, and who they are.

IC: Did they give you a lot of pointers and try to guide you at all, when you decided to become an actress?

ZD: Well, my dad said ‘don’t do it – become a lawyer’ and my mother just gives me little tidbits of insane wisdom all the time.

IC: Were there any actresses you looked up to when you were younger? That you thought ‘ if I could have a career like them!’

ZD: Natalie Portman. Sandra Bullock. Obviously, Meryl Streep. All similar in the fact that they’re wildly successful drama actresses, as well as comedic, which I find so exciting. I guess for me, I would imagine it would be more fulfilling, especially because I really value humor. I think that’s kind of a through-line with all three of those actresses that I really respect.

IC: What is it about the level of humor that you like?

ZD: I appreciate the fact that all three of them do funny movies, as well as super serious movies. Also the fact that they put humor in very dramatic scenes. But more-so, that they have the ability to go back and forth with those kinds of movies, which I think is so cool. In terms of humor, I’ve always kind of used it as a means of survival. There’s a theory that babies are really only cute because otherwise humans would kill them because they’re so annoying. I always say that the only reason I’m funny is that otherwise people would kill me, because I’m really annoying as well!

IC: What do you feel was your most challenging role that you’ve played so far?

ZD: I played a crazy over-the-top southern belle using her charm to kind of mask her insecurities and jealousy, in a movie called Beautiful Creatures, which was so far off from me that it was kind of wild. That was really fun. The main challenge was that I was afraid it was going to be inconsistent because it was so far from me. It felt like six different characters.

IC: You’ve crossed over a lot from TV to film. What do you prefer?

ZD: I started in TV, but I guess I haven’t done it for like two years now. I am open to going back to it, but I haven’t read anything that I’ve been super excited about. There is a stigma about… well, I mean, I don’t wanna necessarily get into all of this, but there’s a huge stigma that if you’re not a movie star by the time you’re twenty-six, then it’s probably not going to happen. But for men, their time could be at thirty-five to become a movie star. Not saying that that’s necessarily what I want, but to have the ability to be in movies is so much more difficult when you’re in your late twenties and thirties for a woman than it is for a man, and that’s why I’m trying to do it now. And locking myself in there at nineteen for six years is a daunting, but also perhaps, a rewarding experience if possible. Depending on the situation.

IC: Do you feel it’s a deeper rooted double standard than just ageism in Hollywood?

ZD: Well, inevitably men find younger women sexier, and they want to watch those. They want to go pay fifteen dollars to see the young ones on a giant screen, opposed to perhaps one that’s five years older, which is ridiculous considering, men can become movie stars and star in action movies until they’re seventy. Not to say that that doesn’t happen with women either, but much, much less frequently.

IC: Are there any particular directors that you feel their work resonates with the direction you want to go in as an actress?

ZD: I always have a hard time answering that. It’s kind of similar to when people ask you, ‘Why do you want to do this movie?’ And I’m like ‘Because I got the job and I really wanted to do the part.’ It’s hard to answer that honestly and be like ‘These are the directors I want to work with,’ because it almost comes across as self-indulgent. But if I had my dream come true experience I would love to work with Judd Apatow, Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell. I mean those are the big ones that of course any actor in their right mind would chop off their right arm to work with, and along with probably five hundred other people as well.

IC: Can you tell me about your experiences in your role for the Vampire Academy?

ZD: It was really fun to do that movie, whether or not it necessarily resulted in something that I initially thought it was going to be. I got so much out of it in terms of learning how to carry myself and conduct myself as the lead. In terms of really making sure everything is going the way it should, and setting the tone. It’s kind of dependent on the person that’s there 24/7: the director and the lead. That was a huge growing experience for me because I’d never been in every scene of anything, you know? Especially on such a tight-packed schedule, with a lot of training in a foreign country. It informed a lot of who I am today for sure, regardless of how the movie did, or what people think about it. I got more out of it than I could have ever hoped to get out of it, personally, for me as a human.

IC: What was your role in the film like?

ZD: I play Rose Hathaway, who is the narrator, heroine, bad-ass, hilarious character, half vampire. Her only kind of real power is that she has an innate ability to fight really well. Like super-humanly.

IC: How were you able to get into character with that? Did you have to do your own scenes, or did you have a body double that was doing the stunts?

ZD: I trained for about three months before with jujitsu, karate, kickboxing, as well as in the gym. I really worked hard on that and I did most of my own stunts, which I was very happy with. I would have done all of them if it had been my way, but apparently the insurance company won’t sign off on flying me across a room on the wire. If I would have hit a wall, they wouldn’t insure that for some weird reason. So, yeah, I did most of my stunts.

IC: What do you think of the whole vampire craze in films?

ZD: I think it’s definitely getting a bit tired, but the reason I think that this one stands out is because it’s funny. It really, really, has such a unique humor. It’s written by Dan Waters, and that’s what really sets it apart. It’s not a parody by any means, but it definitely pokes fun at itself and the kind of ridiculousness that sometimes vampires can entail.

IC: What else are you working on at the moment?

ZD: Right now I’m actually writing a short story with my friend, and I’m doing a bunch of smaller things. We are in pre-production for this movie I’m doing with my family, which has been really, really, cool. I have a couple of other things that are hopefully going to happen, but I probably shouldn’t talk about them and jinx it. I’m just going to go try to get hired by things that I’m proud of.

IC: Do you have a personal motto or words of wisdom that you live by?

ZD: “Everything will be okay, if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Sometimes I live by that. It depends on the day you ask me what’s my motto. Depending on how melodramatic I’m being that day, the motto changes.

IC: This is our “Legendary” issue so I just want to ask you, what does the word legendary mean to you? When you hear that word what do you think?

ZD: Legendary… the first word that comes to mind would be remarkable, heroic. Also words like, fairytale or traditional. Those kind of things come up as well – all those things come to mind.

IC: Can you think of any particular legendary artists be it film or music or fashion that really come to mind when you hear that word?

ZD: Yeah, Van Gogh. Steve Jobs.

IC: What about in the film industry?

ZD: Stanley Kubrick.

IC: Any living ones?

ZD: Meryl Streep… Jesus and Moses. Napoleon. Shakespeare. Elvis. The Beatles.

IC: What about legendary women?

ZD: Audrey Hepburn, Hilary Clinton, Oprah… Oh and the most legendary, Cleopatra! Yeah, she’s a bad bitch.

IC: Let’s think about future legends. People who are your contemporaries: the under twenty-six set. Who do you think has what it takes to be a future legend?

ZD: I watched this Ted Talk about this boy entitled Life Hacking and I think he has the potential to be a future legend. He has passion, veracity, and the will to live the way he wants to.

IC: Any actresses that you think, you look at their work and you think ‘wow she’s amazing’?

ZD: I would go to actress jail if I didn’t say Jennifer Lawrence. Just because she’s remarkable, and she’s done this amazing thing, whether it was calculated or truly just unintentional. She’s the first kind of America’s sweetheart to get rid of the stigma of having to be this perfect, tiny, skinny blonde, little angel. She made it real. A real human being who’s funny, sarcastic, and crude at times. Relatable. And she’s so wildly talented.

IC: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

ZD: I hope in ten years I’m happy. How’s that? That’s it. Whatever makes me happy during that time, I hope I’m happy.