The actress reflects on her pivotal role on the Netflix comedy and working alongside acting titan Jessica Lange.
Warning: This story reveals spoilers about season 1 of The Politician.
The character’s life is upended when she decides to join fellow high schooler Payton Hobart’s (Ben Platt) election campaign and discovers that her grandmother Dusty (Jessica Lange) has been poisoning her.
EW sat down with Deutch to talk about playing the complicated teen, singing with Platt, and acting opposite Lange.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What drew you to The Politician?
ZOEY DEUTCH: Immediately the first thing was Ryan [Murphy, co-creator]. Even prior to reading it, I knew it was going to be something different and special and unique because all of his projects are, and there’s a reason why his name holds so much weight. I think a lot of it is how brave he is and how bold he is, so that was the first reason. And then I read the pilot and I thought it was one of the best things I’ve ever read. And then I read Infinity, and really all I knew were the scenes that she has in the pilot, that’s it, but it was enough. I wanted to audition and I did. I read for Ryan and I was lucky enough to get the part.
Ben was telling us that he got all the cast together before filming to bond.
In general, he’s an amazing human being, and in general, he is a connector of people. I don’t know if you have any friends like that. He’s a connector and he’s a unifier. When everybody got cast, he put everyone on a group chat, so even before meeting each other we felt together. Everyone was with each other. So from the get-go it was very important for him to unify and bring us all together, and he continued to do that throughout the shoot. We went to Disneyland together, and we went to the beach a bunch together, and went to bars and more bars and then some more bars together, and went dancing.
Who’s the best dancer in the cast?
I’m certainly not. Julia [Schlaepfer, who plays Alice] was a ballet dancer. So Julia and Ben. You know what? It’s hard. Julia, Ben, Rahne [Jones, who plays Skye], and Laura [Dreyfuss, who plays McAfee] are all incredible dancers. I would probably put myself as the worst dancer.
Talk a little about Infinity’s look. Did you give input on it?
Well, Infinity has been infantilized forever, and she has a psychology, or has been brainwashed to have the psychology, of a 7-year-old, and everything surrounding her needed to be bright and cheery, including the colors she wears and surrounds herself with. It’s about comfort. The things that were important to me were her shoes and her underwear. I wanted her to wear socks — comfortable, thick socks — and sturdy shoes, and I wanted her to wear a sports bra to feel secure and safe. There were definitely different incarnations of Infinity’s wardrobe, but where it landed I think was a really nice middle.
What can you tell us about her voice? That also sounds infantilized.
This is her reality. That voice is not put-on. That is her voice. And I wanted it to feel childlike and kind and innocent, and when that starts to fade away, that’s not because it wasn’t who she was, it was because that’s who she needed to be.
There have been some famous cases of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, like Dee Dee and Gypsy Blanchard. Did you base this on anyone in particular?
You’d have to ask the writers about that, just because that’s more their territory. For me, so much of the show discusses topics and situations very much so in pop culture and in zeitgeist, and this is no exception to that, although I like to reiterate that these are fictional characters in a fictional world, and performance-wise I didn’t base my character off of anyone real.
Most of your scenes are with Jessica Lange. What was it like working with such an icon?
I mean, a dream. She’s so funny. She’s so interesting. She’s so talented. She’s so fascinating. I just did my best to be as much of a sponge as I possibly could to soak up everything that she is and has. It was very comforting, especially after the first couple of days of working together, where I realized and understood we were clicking, we were fine. We were going to be great.
You all have many scenes set at Olive Garden. Do you have like a free pass to go to any Olive Garden now?
No, and actually they wouldn’t let us shoot at Olive Garden. That was Marie Callender’s, I think.
Towards the end of the season, you get to sing with Ben. Was that nerve-racking?
Music has been embedded in my family’s DNA forever. I grew up in a very musical family. On my dad’s side, my grandpa was a jazz singer. He sang with Irving Berlin in World War II. And then on the other side, my grandma was like the second female disc jockey in the world, and then went on to be an amazing singer-songwriter.
I always grew up with her music. And then my grandpa was a jazz drummer. And I lived with my mom [actress Lea Thompson] when she did Sally Bowles on Broadway. I stayed in her dressing room and listened to her. My sister’s an amazing singer. Point is again, music is very much embedded in the DNA of my family and I’ve loved music my whole life, but I think, as the youngest person in the family, I wanted to have my own identity. I wanted to stray away from what everybody else was so good at, so I avoided the music. I’m so grateful that I am no longer doing that, because I love it so much.
I’m really so grateful to Ryan. One of the things that is often said about him is he discovers people, but I interpret that as he believes in people before they believe in themselves. I talk about it with Ben sometimes. He gave Ben the opportunity to be a producer on the show. Ben is one of the best producers I’ve ever worked with. He gave me the opportunity to sing even though I was nervous and I was intimidated and I had to work through some stuff internally. I was so grateful for the opportunity, and he believed in me before I believe in myself. It’s such, such an amazing gift for a creator and a writer to provide that space.