The Orchard
March 19, 2018 at 04:25 PM EDT

Zoey Deutch was attracted to her role in new indie film Flower not because the role was easy, but because it was a challenge. “When men play parts [that] are morally ambiguous, they are Taxi Driver, they are Walter White. When women play them, they are lacking redeeming characteristics or unlikable.”

The 23-year-old actress plays Erica, a rambunctious teenage girl who, with two other teens, entraps child molesters by baiting the men, filming them in inappropriate acts, and then extorting them for money. “I never once thought of what she was doing as sexual, it was always transactional,” Deutch said of her character in the movie, which is directed by Max Winkler (Henry Winkler’s son), in theaters now. “None of this stuff that she’s doing is to her in any way sexual, it’s a means to try to have some semblance of control, her whole life is spiraling, she has nobody that she thinks she can trust, she wants to destroy relationships and hurt people before they have any possibility of ever hurting her.”

Hunting predators doesn’t stop Erica from developing some complicated romantic feelings for former school teacher Will (Adam Scott), who himself may be a sexual predator — depending on whether she believes the account of a teenage boy who claims Will sexually assaulted him.

Erica falls into Deutch’s wheelhouse of playing characters that contend with morality, innocence, and adulthood in coming-of-age tales such as Everybody Wants Some!! and Before I Fall.

“I love anti-heroes,” Deutch said. “I love not knowing if I should be rooting for them or against them. I love strength and vulnerability, I love frustrating and fragile.”

Read on to learn more about Deutch’s latest movie, Flower, which has became a timely statement in the #MeToo age, as well as the obstacles she has faced as a young producer.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you interpret these girls’ vigilante justice and the way they went about it?

ZOEY DEUTCH: I relate to the fact that these are essentially kids who can see that something is wrong but don’t know how to go about it really. We all can relate to that, when you’re a kid and you know something’s up. Do they go about it in the right way? No. But are their intentions and heart in the right place? Yeah.

It’s interesting because we didn’t make this movie knowing this would come out in this climate, we made this movie before the Harvey [Weinstein] story broke and the #MeToo movement started, but this is sort of wish-fulfillment of what would happen to these f—ers who deserve to go down. Again, of course, I am not condoning the ways in which they did it.

As this is a group of high school girls and predatory faculty staff is something we’ve had to contend with for decades, how does it play into America and American high schools in 2018 and what does it say about the system?

Well, the social justice system fails us, and because the social justice system fails us, these teens try to take it into their own hands. They don’t necessarily do it in the right way, but they’re trying. They have no one to turn to — or so they think — and that’s what it feels like, you have no one to go to.

What did you think about Erica and her mother’s unconventionally close relationship when you first read it on the page, and how did you and Kathryn Hahn talk about portraying it?

I think the most important part of their relationship for me to latch onto was their lack of boundaries. It’s a completely boundary-less relationship, which I know personally. I see some friends have those relationships with their moms where you don’t really know who’s playing mom or daughter and every day it switches back and forth. I think there’s also an element of Erica having a hard time looking at her mother like a human being. I think a lot of people can relate to that, it’s a Freudian theory of a child-like psychology that you have a hard time looking at your mother as a human. It’s like that moment as a teenager when you find your dad’s weed or something. It’s like, “Oh, they’re a human being too?”

You attended the Oscars this year. What did you think of Frances McDormand’s inclusion rider speech?

I thought that was fantastic.

Were you aware of inclusion riders before, and is that something you’re planning to adopt?

I was definitely aware of it. I’m not sure if I have enough power yet in my life to request it. I have requested it. I’m doing a deal right now and I asked my lawyer — that was the first thing I mentioned before all the other things you go into — and the first response was, “I don’t know if you have enough power,” which was tricky but I will fight for it as hard as I can.

That’s interesting when you hear, “You don’t have that clout yet.”

It’s about when you do, it’s about making people aware that it’s really tricky. You have to have power in order to ask for something that should be already in place.

I love that you’re already producing projects; it’s interesting to see younger talent taking that charge.

I want to be involved in everything, and when you have the title, you’re heard from than if you’re just somebody coming in and giving unsolicited advice or opinions, and I’d rather be of service to the project and the greater good of the project than feel like I’m a nuisance. I want to be there, I love making movies, I want to be involved. If Erica uses pick flosses, I love to be involved in every single step along the way and I’m going to be involved in every step along the way.

Has there ever been pushback for you going into a project like that?

No, the people I’ve worked with thus far have never halted at my involvement, but I didn’t get a producing credit on Flower, which I should have. I hope that doesn’t come across cocky — you can call Max Winkler and he would back me up — but I also didn’t ask for it. I didn’t ask for it, and that’s the other thing: as women, we’re told that we should hope rather than expect, and that’s not the way you get s–t done.

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