"Turn that off," Zoey Deutch says pointing to the recording device on my iPhone. "This is the most boring shit in the world." I laugh her comment off and keep the recorder running, somehow sensing that "boring" is the wrong word for what's about to come. Zoey then launches into an impassioned recap of what she learned at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, becoming visibly excited when she gets to the part about how the price of flowers related to the price of Manhattan when the Dutch bought it in the early 17th century. "One tulip bulb cost three times as much as what they bought New York for," she says, leaning toward me with contagious enthusiasm. "That's how much flowers meant to them, which is so crazy! We don't think about flowers that way nowadays because it's so easy to transport seeds and flowers and bulbs. Isn't that crazy?" She looks at me expectantly, and then undercuts the whole thing. "Wait 'til you fact check that and you're like 'no, Zoey was like on crack.'"
Zoey is right about one thing: Manhattan was purchased for a collection of trinkets, beads, and buttons that likely were valued less than some tulip bulbs (tulips were having a moment). But she was wrong about something else: Zoey is filled with such ebullient charm and innate animation that absolutely nothing she says is "boring shit."
Though many movie-goers first got to know her in the 2014 comedy Vampire Academy, Zoey is now in the middle of the type of year that people in the business call a breakout. So far this year, she's been the cover star of magazines like Marie Claire and C, and sat front-row at fashion weeks from Paris to Milan. Just last month, the Dallas Film Festival gave her the Shining Star Award, a trophy presented to those "prepared to accept the mantle of leading the next generation of filmmakers."
Most importantly, she has five feature films debuting in 2017, including back-to-back starring vehicles Before I Fall and Flower, the movie I'm meeting to talk to her and director Max Winkler about. (A few days later, Flower would become the first film bought from the Tribeca Film Festival.)
Zoey's character in Flower is complicated, as is the film. She plays Erica Vandross, a free-spirited 17-year-old who scams older men by giving them blow jobs and then blackmailing them with footage. Erica also has complex relationships with her flighty and immature mother (played by Kathryn Hahn), her mentally unstable step-brother (Joey Morgan), and a mysterious, hot older guy who hangs around the local bowling alley (Adam Scott). It's a dark film whose original iteration was on Hollywood's famous Black List, and which the 33-year-old Winkler was almost dared to make. "It was propositioned to me as an impossible movie, for whatever reason, which of course made me want to do it before even reading it," Winkler says.
"We auditioned hundreds and hundreds of girls," he says, thinking back on the part of Erica. And then he got Zoey's tape. "I was like, holy shit. Zoey was eating chips in her audition and it was so clear that she was who was going to play this part."
Zoey chimes in with her own nuanced reading of Erica, "Her relationship with vulnerability is so tattered and torn and pretty much non-existent when you first meet her, but I always understood her, I always liked her, I always felt for her." Flower was shot in just 17 days with an almost entirely female crew. "I've never had more fun than on making this movie," she says. "I genuinely feel heartsick for the experience."
Zoey has been around movies all her life. The 22-year-old grew up in Los Angeles; her mother is actress Lea Thompson (Back to the Future) and her father is director Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink), though I didn't know either of those things until preparing to meet her. Point being, she doesn't wear her connections on her sleeve, and given her talent, she definitely doesn't need to. "I'm pretty aware and cognizant of the technical side of making movies," she says seemingly alluding to her Hollywood family.
From talking to Zoey, it's clear that show business is not just the family trade; it's pure passion, a source of joy, a lifestyle she loves. "I just hope and pray and wish that I will be able to continue to do both drama, and comedy. I want to do Westerns, I want to do a musical, I don't want to stick to one thing, she says. "I just want to be able to explore."
I don't want to stick to one thing. I just want to be able to explore.
Throughout our conversation, her enthusiasm is a constant; she gives every topic she touches the same emphasis, skipping back and forth between talking about her pit-bull Mabel ("an angel creature sent from the heavens"), to lovingly making fun of Winkler, to asking me about my own career. She speaks seriously about the research she did to play Erica (which included seeing a therapist in character) and reading everything from Go Ask Alice to The Ethical Slut. She claps when she's excited and snaps her fingers when she forgets a word and gives off a vibe that's both relatable and otherworldly.
It's fascinating to watch a person's ascent to stardom in real-time. While it can seem effortless, almost written, from the outside, I ask Zoey what a year like this feels like to the person who is living it.
"Perception vs. reality is such a weird thing," she answers. "I try to be aware and cognizant of how it looks and how it feels; I try to be honest with myself." As for what she hopes all this newfound popularity will bring? "I hope all it does is make the way for more opportunities. I know that probably sounds to you like a calculated answer, but it's just the truth. I love working, I just want to work, it's what I'm on this planet to do. So, if what is happening for me helps pave the way for more opportunities and more work, then that's awesome." She pauses, reflecting on the year, "That's how it feels."
With another big film, Rebel in the Rye (directed and written by Danny Strong and co-starring Nicholas Hoult) coming to theaters this fall, a recent wrap on The Year of Spectacular Men (written by her sister Madelyn Deutch and directed by their mother), and production starting on the Netflix romantic comedy Set It Up, a work drought does not seem to be in Zoey's future. She might not be a household name just yet, but give her time—Zoey Deutch is about to become America's new favorite actress.