THERE ARE THREE COFFEES ON THE TABLE. TWO WATERS.
“We have many beverages,” jokes actress Zoey Deutch, “and not enough time.” We’re sitting in the shade at a popular Silverlake restaurant initially made famous by its jam, and though she’s kidding, one glance at her schedule over the last two years, and it’s clear that there’s truth in the comedy.
Before I Fall, a book adaptation in which Zoey plays the lead, is in post-production. She’s currently filming Why Him?, a comedy in which she plays opposite James Franco and Bryan Cranston. And this month she secured the highly sought-after role of Oona, in the J.D. Salinger biopic, Rebel in the Rye. For Rebel in the Rye, Oscar nominees auditioned for the part. Deutch landed it.
Working professionally since 14, Zoey candidly acknowledges this hasn’t always been the case; her career thus far has been full of ebbs and flows. “There are so many factors that you can’t control,” she says. “I did a movie called Beautiful Creatures, I didn’t work for a year. I did a movie called Vampire Academy, I didn’t work for a year. I’ve seen both sides.”
She’s also quick to admit that at the moment she finds success more complicated than failure. “I was surprised by my own reaction after SXSW, I was worried. To be a part of something that people really love… damn. Pressure’s on.”
She’s referring to the reviews for Everybody Wants Some!!, the latest film from darling director Richard Linklater set in the early 1980s when tie-dye t-shirts were still a thing. Zoey was one of the first to secure a role in a movie that’s been likened a spiritual follow-up to cult-classic Dazed and Confused, and as a career-maker for the ensemble cast. The film follows a group of baseball bros navigating life at a small Texas university. There’s not a lot of baseball. And there aren’t a lot of women. Zoey plays the role of Beverly, a strong-minded theater geek whose role is more than simply to get laid. The New Yorker calls her performance "the only female presence of any depth in the story, but wise beyond her years, and so beautifully played."
It’s an attribute that mirrors IRL Zoey: resolute, sagacious, opinionated, not timid around men. “I tend to peacock,” she says. She’s also a nose-the-grindstone worker. She’s headed back to Austin to do more press for the movie the next morning.
“Even in the last two weeks,” she says in between bites of brioche toast, “I wouldn’t call myself a workaholic, but you can probably see that I don’t say no. There’s a lot of yes, yes, yes.”
Yes, yes, yes, she’s right. Zoey is in perpetual motion; it’s hard to throw a stick in her river. But despite her twenty-one years, she understands that you work when the work is there, and when it’s not you “work even harder.”
Two weeks prior to meeting up in LA, we were on a plane back from SXSW. Complete, though welcomed, happenstance. Walking through the airport, a teen whispered to her friend, “she’s famous, OMG.” However, that afternoon, Zoey in long, tan-suede coat, was not the most famous person to board the plane. That was Jenna Lyons. Creative Director and President of J. Crew. Business woman extraordinaire with international acclaim.
Zoey and I start talking gender-bias. She spent the previous day doing press for Everybody. “I’m in this movie full of men,” she says, “and they’re all being asked questions about Rick and their roles, and the first question I’m asked is if I’ll go to prom with someone in the audience.” She pauses. “And of course that’s what Deadline and other outlets pick up.”
What do you think people are asking Jenna Lyons, we ask.
“Oh I don’t know,” she says. “I’m sure she spends the day trying not to be defensive about female-centric questions. But I have no fucking clue.”
Naturally, we take this as the cue to push on about the hot-button, oft-highlighted gender-bias in Tinsel Town because from an outside perspective, and taking cues from the current press regarding these issues, Hollywood is at a crossroads. While actresses like Jennifer Lawrence are penning open letters regarding equal pay, and the NY Times is running pieces on the pervasive sexism in the industry, Zoey has a slightly different opinion. “I don’t feel like this is the first time it has come up, nor do I think it’s the last time.”
She mentions a documentary she recently watched about the Oscars. “Women who were accepting their awards in the ‘40s were brilliant, hilarious, outspoken— they weren’t timid the way we’ve painted them to be,” she says. “And now, ALL of a sudden, we have our Amy Schumers and Jennifer Lawrences and we act like there is a new breed of woman. I don’t find that to be true. There have always been funny and brilliant women.”
Yet she’s hardly blind to the bias. “I see the sexism in Hollywood. I see it. I understand it. I know it’s there. But we’re working toward something better.” Her voice upticks here, slightly unsure if this is the right thing to say; she proceeds regardless. “I sometimes wonder how much talking about it does. Or when might be the right time to shift the conversation.” Adding, “It’s so much easier to say the wrong thing, than the right thing. But I don’t know if 'media-trained Zoey’ is a role I want to play.”
As for women getting paid less in general? She doesn’t mince this thought. “It’s fucked.”
She recalls a wrap party in Canada last year, where a drunk crew member approached her and said: “I know some people are taken aback by how you carry yourself on set, but I really love the way you handle yourself like a man.”
Does she think this a good thing? It’s unclear. “I’m trying not to be defensive in my life, because it’s really an easy reflex. So I asked him, ‘What does that mean? Really what does that mean?’”
She explains that his answer was as follows: you take no bullshit, you stand up for yourself and other people, and you’re not worried about making sure everyone likes you. “I took it as a compliment,” she says, while recognizing the inherent bias of having someone respect you for ‘acting like man,’ for acting like yourself.
“I was lucky to be raised by people who embraced that element of my personality, and who never tried to break that spirit, but why that has to be classified as ‘acting like a man?’ I can see the issue there.”
What the actress also recognizes is that Hollywood has a representation problem — across the board, and that the way people in the industry get paid, is “very disproportionate.” It’s something she says she’s talked about with her mom. “Second, third, fourth, on the call sheet, you’re not making the eight-figures people think you are. The pay-scale is incongruous — not just for women.”
She thinks people would be surprised to learn that on a big movie, many actors are making $1500 compared to a star's millions. "But no one talks about it. You don’t want to get fired, you don’t want to lose an opportunity.”
She has a slightly different attitude about role discrepancy as well. “Here’s the truth: we hear a lot of people saying, ‘There aren’t enough strong female characters in film, which I don’t agree with. The problem is we don’t have enough real, complex, fucked up, human characters.”
Though her career is certainly on the rise — Vogue just called her “Linklater’s newest dream girl,” she doesn’t pretend that she’s at a point where she can pick and choose roles with a feminist comb. “I want to work,” she explains. “So I can't sit here and pretend yet that I only pick the parts that portray women in shining lights.”
This is another moment where she gives the, maybe I shouldn’t have said that look. It’s a self-awareness and honesty most often attributed to press darlings Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley.
“The irony of an actor being in the public eye,” she says, “is it’s the opposite of what should happen. Actors are fucking crazy, and vulnerable and emotional. To expose those people on a grand scale is comical.” She quickly adds, “To me. I’ve never done an interview in print where I didn’t think, ‘well, that came across poorly.’”
Well. There’s a first time for everything and everybody.
Everybody Wants Some!!, wide releases April 8th.
Arianna Schioldager is Create & Cultivate's editorial director. You can find her on IG @ariannawrotethis and more about her on this site she never updates www.ariannawrotethis.com