Zoey Deutch was in New York shooting the Netflix instant-classic Set It Up when the script for a quirky dramedy about the (not-so) glamorous business of debt collecting landed in her lap. “I fell in love with it,” she tells EW. “I got in touch with the producers, came on as a producer myself and was immediately on a quest to find our director.”
Buffaloed tells the story of the wonderfully-named teen Peg Dahl (Deutch) whose plans to go to college and thereby escape the wings, Bulls and general economic depression of her hometown of Buffalo are thwarted when she a) realizes her debt-ridden mother (played by Judy Greer, of every rom-com out there) can’t possibly afford further education and b) lands herself in prison trying to acquire the necessary finances for such an endeavor. “At its core, the movie’s about a young woman in a small town that’s trying to get out and everything that’s pinned against her,” says Deutch.
On her release from prison, a chance phone call leads Peg into the underworld of debt collection, an altogether morally-corrupt and shady enterprise. “She’s set up for failure before she’s even born because her mother is in a mountain of debt. She has to become the thing that destroyed her family to begin with,” says Deutch. “I found it to be touching emotionally and, even though it’s a comedy, I found it relatable that she’s going to do whatever she takes to get out of this town and make a difference.” It’s true, the movie is as hilarious as it is troubling.
Striking that perfect balance tonally, Deutch believes, is due to the finding the right director for the project. “I only met with female directors,” says Deutch. “I’m very grateful we found Tanya Wexler (2011’s Hysteria). I had seen her first movie Hysteria and what I recognized in the movie was the tone she was able to achieve. It was a British period piece, but it was funny as sh-t. I met with her and she was so prepared and she was so smart and so overqualified.”
It was, however, another chance phone call that cemented Wexler as the right woman to helm this project for Deutch. “During the meeting, she got a phone call that could’ve been a potential family crisis,” she explains. “The way she handled being under pressure in a very difficult situation was so impressive. It ended up everything was fine, but I watched her navigate something very quickly that is very difficult and I just trusted her.”
While Wexler keeps a cool head in a crisis, Peg is a little more likely to fly off the handle. As the movie progresses, she moves from working for a debt collector to starting her own debt collection agency. Though she vows to her lawyer boyfriend (Jermaine Fowler) that she’ll run her business with moral integrity, the grey area soon starts to grow — it doesn’t help that the other criminal debt collectors are out to get her for stealing their “papers” A.K.A. records of people’s debt. “She’s a hustler,” shrugs Deutch. “It’s ethically debatable at times, but I think she’s a good person.”
Despite her best intentions, those ethically debatable moments do tend to lead poor Peg into trouble, including the moment when a vat of menstrual blood is dumped on her head in a bathroom stall. “That was maple syrup,” says Deutch, though apparently that wasn’t the best substitute. “It was really, really bad because you’re so sticky and that was not one day; that was like 6 days that I had to do that! Anybody on the crew whose house was nearby, I would just go and shower. I’d walk in the door, see their kids and be like, ‘Hi, guys!’ covered in blood and rushing to a stranger’s bathroom. It was not fun.”
Despite the comedy, the movie delivers an important message on the prevalence of debt in this country and the ruthlessness and unlawfulness of those who doggedly pursue those in debt to make a quick buck at their expense. In one scene, the collectors repeatedly go after an elderly lady with memory problems, collecting on the same debt over and over, purposefully. “Everyone in this country has a relationship to debt and understands how painful that world is,” says Deutch. “It’s a really weird business. It’s lawless and bizarre and… just don’t pick up! Just don’t pick up, is the answer.”
Next up, Deutch can be seen in Ryan Murphy’s The Politician and shortly after in Zombieland: Double Tap alongside Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg. “The whole experience was such a dream I’m kind of still on a high from it,” sighs Deutch of shooting the sequel to the 2009 flick. “It was one of the most fun experiences of my life in general, not just working, but of all the experiences of my life. I was actually kind of bummed when it was over. It was just awesome.” As for a sequel to the aforementioned Netflix classic Set It Up, all Deutch will say for now is: “Dot, dot, dot. Ellipses. Dot, dot, dot.” We now know what she meant by that.