Zoey Deutch and Lea Thompson on Playing the "Worst Versions" of Themselves, Together
It's no accident that actress and producer Zoey Deutch, 26, is following in her family's vocational footsteps. Her father is director Howard Deutch, who met her mother, famed actress Lea Thompson, when she starred in his 1987 film, Some Kind of Wonderful. (The creative legacy extends to previous generations as well — her grandfather Murray Deutch was a music executive who discovered Buddy Holly.)
So, when the pandemic hit, the younger Deutch did not have to turn far to find collaborators for her latest project, a 10-episode scripted podcast for Audible called A Total Switch Show. Conceived by Deutch and her friends, executive producer Gavin Polone and writer Matt Powers, the dark, fast-paced comedy tackles the familiar trope of what happens when a mother and daughter — Deutch and Thompson, naturally — switch bodies. Deutch's 30-year-old sister, Madelyn (a polymath who also took these photos near their home in L.A.), serves as a writer on the series, and the stellar cast includes Bradley Whitford, Judy Greer, and Bobby Moynihan.
Deutch, in London, where she was busy practicing her 1950s Chicago accent for the upcoming film The Outfit, and Thompson, in her daughter's childhood bedroom in L.A., got together via Zoom to unpack the evolution of their careers and making art together.
Your creative family vibe is very endearing. What's it like working together?
Lea Thompson: I mean, mothers drive their children crazy. I realized that I do that to both of my kids. I try not to do it, but it's inevitable. I have such extreme admiration for both of them. One of the things that I was always conscious of as a mother was to see them as people, not extensions of myself. They are their own selves, their own souls. It's also really fun to spend time with them, artist to artist. To be able to act with them even in a situation where we were doing one of those horrible self-tapes…
Zoey Deutch: In fact, Mom, I need you to help me with one tomorrow night. Sorry to interrupt. But I do need you.
Your artistic leanings are an extension of your relationship.
ZD: It's not without conflict. I respect my mom as an artist. I also understand that when there is a mother-daughter relationship, it's extremely close, and there are not a ton of boundaries. I need to do a better job of being a better co-worker with her. But at the end of whatever project we've done, I'm always proud that I got to create it with the person who created me.
How does this all factor into your latest project, A Total Switch Show?
ZD: It was truly a family affair, and we put a very dark spin on the story. It's about a control-freak mother and her disdainful daughter who firebomb each other's lives once they switch bodies. The title is a play on "a total shit show," which maybe isn't obvious, but I want to just lay that out there.
LT: I've always liked really demented ideas, from Back to the Future or Howard the Duck. For some reason, I don't get cast in them anymore like I did when I was young. So this was really fun. [Our characters] either hate each other or they love each other. It's the worst version of how you would imagine Zoey and me.
ZD: Yeah, for sure. It's totally not us. My mom plays a millennial from the Valley, and I play a very uptight, bitchy wino. [laughs]
Following the premise of the script, what would be the first thing that you would do if you could switch bodies for a day?
LT: Zoey has the body I used to have. I really enjoyed my old body; it's not like that anymore! That's the thing about being young. You should appreciate it. For some reason, women are always like, "Oh my god, I've got this one little lump right here." I should say, "Dude, this is what 59 looks like, bitches!" But instead, it's, "I've got a wrinkle."
We're our own worst judge — it's true.
LT: I know. The one thing I like to remind myself is, this is the best I'm ever going to look. It's only going to go downhill from here.
ZD: Stop, you look so great! My problem is that I'm so in awe of my mom's brain and her emotional intelligence that if I got to switch with her, I would wish for her wisdom too. I would soak it all up and then transfer it back to me. More like a vampire than a body switch.
What advice did you get from your mom when you decided to start your career, Zoey?
ZD: There was a lot, but I also picked things up via osmosis. I was aware of all the things that came with wanting to act. I had no illusions of what it was. I knew it was a job, and it was tough and cutthroat. I knew you had to work really hard and be really nice to people. There are so many who want it. She also talked to me about wearing sunscreen. That was important.
LT: [makes a flossing motion]
ZD: Yeah, flossing is important too. Something that I'm very grateful for is that I have never felt competition from her. I don't know what it's like to raise a daughter who also kind of looks like you and does the same thing as you. I've only felt support. As a result, I genuinely support and feel love for fellow actresses. That's because of my mom treating me that way.
LT: One of the beneficial things about kids who come from a legacy of watching their parents, second-, third-generation Hollywood, is that they see how brutal it is. They're doing it because it's in their soul. It gives a kid the opportunity to be a long-distance runner. Our society now is all about reinventing yourself. I've reinvented myself as a director. I can't get a job as an actor.
ZD: That's not true. You do get jobs all the time as an actor, but you're a kick-ass director, and you love it.
LT: Directing is more fulfilling because I get to be the boss. I'm old enough now to be the boss. [laughs]
ZD: My family has three amazing directors. My dad, my sister, and my mom. And I'm the bossiest. I don't know what that means.
LT: It's true. There are a lot of directors here. Zoey is so powerful, and she's always had such a great business mind. I learned a lot from her and Madelyn. My mom was kind of kick-ass too, but it's a different time, and they are much stronger and more assertive. Everything I did, I had to tilt my head so as not to confront men. [uses coquettish voice] "Um, I was just wondering if maybe I could stand on this mark?" But Maddie and Zoey are always just straight-on. "I would like to stand here."
ZD: It's funny because I am so hyper-confrontational with men, and it's probably a direct result from watching you head-tilt.
In what ways are you two similar?
LT: I think we both have talent. We both work really hard. We share in our empathy. I tried to instill in my kids what's really important to me, which is I don't like a class system. It was very difficult for me to raise children with a lot of money.
ZD: A lot of money … Mom, don't use that wording.
LT: I mean, I grew up very poor. I just wanted to make sure that my kids didn't view the world that some people are better than others. That was important to me. And it's really apparent with Zoey; she's got the hugest heart and is the coolest chick. And so is Maddie, and that makes me feel good because it is an interesting thing to raise kids in a way that you weren't raised. I mean, it was definitely better, because we were in the middle of Minnesota and our heat would get turned off because we didn't have enough money to pay the bill.
Zoey, did you watch your mom's TV shows and films growing up?
LT: My kids were so traumatized by me kissing other men! [laughs]
ZD: When I was in kindergarten, kids would ask, "What does your mom do?" And I would say, "Oh, she's an actress." And they would say, "Oh my god, she's an actress. What movies?" I said, "Oh, well, I can't watch them. My mom makes adult movies." Eventually, I think the kindergarten teacher had to put an end to me spreading a vicious rumor that my mom was a porn star. [laughs] But when I was younger, I couldn't watch a lot of her stuff, obviously.
LT: Someday, Zoey, you'll discover some of my older movies that are pretty great that you've never seen. You've never seen The Wizard of Loneliness, have you? You should see it. It's really good.
ZD: I've seen a lot of yours and Dad's work. I think you guys are amazing.
Do you watch her movies, Lea?
LT: Oh, I'm so proud. I love her acting. I love Maddie's acting too. I love watching them; I love directing them; I'm mesmerized; I'm a fan. I knew from the get-go that Zoey was going to be an amazing actress. When she would play Barbies with her friends, she produced real tears. She'd be like, "Ken has left. I am so sad." Tears would come down, and I'd say, "What's going on here?"
ZD: What a nightmare to raise.
LT: Oh, you're a great kid, honey.
The Audible Original comedy A Total Switch Show will be exclusively available on Audible on May 6.
Photography by Madelyn Deutch. Hair by Bridget Brager for The Wall Group. Makeup by Jenna Kristina for The Wall Group. Clothing and accessories by Fendi. Earrings are Thompson's own.
For more stories like this, pick up the May 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Apr. 16th.