Zoey Deutch on ‘Flower,’ Feminism and Asking for That Producer Credit

Critics, mostly of the male variety, don’t love Flower, a coming-of-age dramedy that hit theaters Friday. But rebellious teen girls just might, and the reason is Zoey Deutch.

You might know the compelling 23-year-old from Richard Linklater’s 2016 comedy Everybody Wants Some!! as the love interest in a boys’ club of ’80s nostalgia, or 2017’s Before I Fall, playing a timid teen in the melodramatic version of Groundhog Day. In Flower, Deutch finally gets a leading role that’s more nuanced: the unruly 17-year-old Erica. “The first time I read the script, I was sure Erica was somebody who was struggling with borderline personality disorder,” Deutch told Newsweek.

It’s easy to see why. Erica is confident and crass, a little cruel and a lot manic. She enjoys drinking Slurpees, ogling the “hot old guy” at the bowling alley (Adam Scott) and drawing penises in her notebook. When we first meet her, she’s performing oral sex on a cop while her best friends (Dylan Gelula and Maya Eshet) secretly record the encounter in order to blackmail him. It’s part of an ongoing extortion hustle that Erica cooked up to earn enough cash to bail her dad out of jail. She gets called a “slut,” but Erica truly does not care what anyone thinks of her. “It's called feminism," she tells Luke (Joey Morgan), the son of her mother’s new boyfriend.

Flower_still-1_Dylan-Gelula_Zoey-Deutch_Maya-Eshet From left: Dylan Gelula as Kala, Zoey Deutch as Erica and Maya Eshet as Claudine in "Flower." The three friends make their money by blackmailing older men. The Orchard

Many have rightfully questioned just how “feminist” a movie directed and written by men can be. But there’s something undeniably empowering about Erica. Her moral ambiguity adds to her charm—she’s cruel, but she’s also cool—and she earns back some sympathy after she witnesses Luke’s sad failed suicide attempt, then helps him exact revenge on his alleged molester. It isn't hard to imagine teen girls watching Flower and looking at Erica with the same kind of admiration that drew young boys to James Dean’s Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, a film that Flower director Max Winkler says helped shape Erica.

But more important to creating Erica’s allure than Winkler, and his co-writers Alex McAulay and Matt Spicer, was Deutch herself. Her performance in Flower is stellar, the result of an unusually hands-on approach to shaping her character. Winkler, the 34-year-old son of actor Henry Winkler, was well aware of his limited ability to understand teenage girls, so he leaned on Deutch—who was 21 when making the movie—to be what he called “the CEO of the character.”

The director sent Deutch out with the film’s costume designer, Michelle Thompson, to pick out Erica’s clothes. She also chose decorations for Erica’s bedroom with production designer Tricia Robertson and set decorator Ellie del Campo. And when it came to the script, Winkler encouraged Deutch and her co-stars Dylan Gelula and Maya Eshet to make the lines their own, which led to the film’s organic dialogue. The young star even helped revise the plot: Deutch talked to Winkler and the writers about playing up Erica’s absent father as a means of grounding her emotional narrative. (Not sure how much they listened on that one; by the end of the film, the father is all but forgotten.) “I was texting him shit that was so arbitrary, like, ‘The floss that I use after the blow job, I want it to be Glide floss,’” Deutch laughs, about working with Winkler. “He’d be like, ‘OK!’ He would never shame me, he would just make it happen.”

Flower_still-5_Dylan-Gelula_Maya-Eshet_Zoey-Deutch From left: Dylan Gelula, Maya Eshet and Zoey Deutch in "Flower." The young actors were encouraged to improvise their lines. The Orchard

Still, that’s a lot of work for a star who is in every scene of the film, which isn’t lost on Deutch. “I will never do that much work without not getting a producer credit again, because that was problematic,” she says. “I should have had the foresight to know that I needed to ask for that. I’m learning what’s appropriate in this business.” (She does have a producer credit on her upcoming film, The Year of Spectacular Men, due out in June.)

However taxing the experience was, though, Deutch considers working with Winkler on Flower “by far and away the great joy of my acting career thus far—which sounds super pretentious when I say it that way, because I’m like 2 years old!” She’s also relieved to be done with the Dirty Grandpa portion of her career—a film she said she’s “not ungrateful” for, because now she knows “how hard it is to pull off a one-dimensional female character in a male-driven comedy.” (If you’ve never had the displeasure of watching the raunchy 2016 comedy, just know that Deutch played a college girl who gets hit on by Robert De Niro and Zac Efron.)

That point is not lost on Winkler. The director—who, it should be noted, is also not listed as a producer on Flower—seemed painfully aware of inevitable criticisms of his “male energy,” as he called it, and wanted less credit. “I never wanted opening credits, because I didn’t want people to know this was a movie directed by a man," he says.

GettyImages-867818914 "Flower" director Max Winkler and star Zoey Deutch during at the Savannah Film Festival on October 28, 2017. Winkler considered Deutch "the CEO of her character" while filming. Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD

Flower is far from perfect: The already shaky plot falls apart by the third act, crumbling under contrived twists for shock value. But whatever the film’s narrative flaws—and you’ll likely count several more if you make it to the wild end—Deutch’s dedication and commitment result in an unforgettable character that is, sadly, still all too rare for female audiences and actors alike.

“I’m so used to being on the sidelines, watching dudes play these vigilante characters, that don’t really give a fuck what you think about them,” Deutch says. “I’m still so thrilled that I actually got to play that part.”

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