From director Max Winkler, the indie drama Flower follows rebellious 17-year-old Erica Vandross (Zoey Deutch, in a truly stand-out performance), who lives with her single mom (Kathryn Hahn) and her mom’s new boyfriend, Bob (Tim Heidecker), in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. When they’re not at school, Erica and her best friends, Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet), get in plenty of trouble as self-proclaimed vigilantes, so when Bob’s unstable son, Luke (Joey Morgan), arrives from rehab to live with the family, they all decide to expose the dark secret of a high school teacher (Adam Scott), which ends in a way that none of them could have imagined.
At the film’s press day, held at The Spare Room gaming parlor and cocktail lounge in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with actress Zoey Deutch and filmmaker Max Winkler, who talked about why they were both so passionate about Flower, wanting to make Erica relatable, what they enjoyed about their partnership and working together, putting everything into this film, and that they’d like to work together again.
Collider: With the story you’re telling and the subject matter you’re exploring, it seems as though there could have been endless ways that this could have gone wrong and been a much more exploitative film than it ultimately turned out to be.
MAX WINKLER: We weren’t interested in that. That would not have been what we were interested in.
ZOEY DEUTCH: There is no reward without risk, and this was definitely a risk for Max and for me. We put our whole hearts and souls into it. The most important element of this whole process was how much I trusted Max. I think he is an incredible director with an incredibly bright future. He is, by far, the funniest person I know and also, by far, the best listener I know. He also goes to more therapy than anyone I’ve ever met, which maybe sounds like a backhanded compliment, but he has a different therapist for each day and I really respect that. I have a lot of gratitude for this movie and the process. With every single independent movie, the director and the actor go, “This movie was as grassroots and personal as it gets! It was so small!,” and I’m gonna do the same damn thing. We made this movie in 16 days.
WINKLER: For half a million dollars.
DEUTCH: We both practically got second mortgages on our homes, to make this work. We felt so strongly about this film. I love Erica and I love her put-on male bravado, her fragility, and her frustrating nature. I think she can be so frustrating, and I love that about her because that’s fun to delve into.
And it’s very human!
DEUTCH: Right?! Humans are frustrating!
WINKLER: And very 17 years old.
DEUTCH: Yeah, I got to pull from my personal experience of being frustrated, as a teenager, and bring frustrating to other people.
Max, on the surface, it seems like there’s no way that you’d identify with a story like this, about this character.
WINKLER: I did, actually, a lot.
What was it that you found yourself so strongly connected to?
WINKLER: I was a real fuck-up, as a kid, and I got into lots of trouble doing what I thought was the right thing, but it ended up being misguided. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, so that was very personal to me. I related to the character a lot. The thing I liked the most about the script was that it wasn’t a male lead. In all of these great ‘80s movies that we watched and pulled from, it’s always a male lead and the girl is always the object of desire who, if they go through their trial by fire, they get at the end, with the exception of John Hughes movies, obviously, and I’m sure there are others I wasn’t watching and references. But, I think John Hughes wrote women and teenagers better than anyone.
DEUTCH: Also, this is the type of part that, if played by a man, is morally ambiguous, and if played by a woman, it could potentially be lacking redeeming characteristics or qualities, or be potentially unlikeable, which is the devil word. What’s interesting for me is that, when I’m looking at parts, I’m not looking at whether they’re unlikeable, I’m looking for whether they’re relatable. I don’t give a fuck about unlikeable. That doesn’t mean anything to me. What I give a fuck about it unrelatable. She’s very relatable. She is so afraid of getting hurt that she is willing to hurt someone so badly, before they have any opportunity to harm her. That is really relatable. People are really afraid of love and pain and abandonment. These are all universal themes that everybody has to deal with, at one point in their life or another.
Erica is an interesting character because she’s manipulative, but she doesn’t feel calculating in her manipulation. It seems more like it comes out of loyalty and to achieve the end result that she’s looking for.
DEUTCH: That’s interesting.
WINKLER: That’s good. The majority of the movie is these three girls and her stepbrother, plotting this sting against a guy that she has conflicted feelings about, but really the heart of the movie is in that moment where she tells the stepbrother, “I believe you,” and you see him so shocked that someone believes him. That’s where the loyalty comes in. If Erica is loyal to you, she’s a ride or die, but I also think she is dealing with these massive feelings of abandonment, so it gets complicated.
Did you ever have trouble finding the right ending?
WINKLER: No, because it was in the original draft of the script that I read and it felt, to me, like she almost regained her innocence and lost that burden, through these crazy circumstances that take place. The original writer, Alex [McAulay], wrote that beautifully.
You guys seem like you were much more than just a director and actor working with each other, and that you had a partnership on this. What did you most enjoy about working together?
WINKLER: We should have a studio that Zoey should run.
DEUTCH: No, we’ll run it together.
WINKLER: We were partners, on this whole thing, so if Zoey didn’t feel like a line was authentic to the character or that the wardrobe didn’t work, she said so. Our wardrobe designer, Michelle Thompson, is incredible. She did it all with a few hundred dollars.
DEUTCH: And a blowtorch and some string.