Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to work professionally with your whole family? How about working as an actress when your mother has to direct you in three separate sex scenes? Sounds a little like your worst prepubescent nightmare, right? But for Maddie Deutch and her mom Lea Thompson, that’s just part of the wild ride of show business, running three generations deep in their family.
This particular ride is a film called The Year of Spectacular Men—a Deutch family affair with Maddie as the screenwriter and lead actress, her younger sister Zoey starring and producing, her dad Howard also producing, and her mom taking her first stab at directing a feature-length film. The story is about Izzy (played by Maddie) and is loosely based on her harrowing year of post-college life.
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Sex scenes aside, Maddie’s extraordinarily proud of her mom, a prolific actress (perhaps best known for Back to the Future). “I really hope that this movie gives my mom the opportunity to direct more features,” Maddie told InStyle by phone. “She has a compassion for actors where she just gives you space, and permission, and never judges you.”
Maddie’s incredibly close to her little sister, Zoey (Everybody Wants Some!!, Before I Fall), too. And that’s part of what made telling a story loosely based on her real life a little easier. “Writing a character that's based on your own experiences feels like standing in a fun house full of mirrors,” she said. “It was wild, but the duality of doing a movie with your family is that on one hand, there are things you can't get away with, but on the other hand it's like they know you so well that no behavior is going to take them by surprise.”
We spoke to the actress about working with family, growing up in the business, and what she wants her audience to take away from her first feature film. Read on below and get to know the latest Deutch woman to break out into the spotlight.
What is it like to do a project with your entire family involved?
It was sort of like this pipe dream that my mom, my sister and I came up with in a car ride. I remember us all being like Wouldn't it be cool to make a movie together? It's the type of thing you say and then it probably never happens, but we actually followed through.
You said you came up with the title first. How did it snowball into the story that it is?
I had this kind harrowing year post-college. I think millennials have kind of been sold this lie that if you work really hard in high school and you go to a really good college then you're set for life, which, unfortunately, just isn't true. So many of my friends are five or six years out of college, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and still don't know what they want to do with their lives. So when I came up with that title, I thought, we can talk about all these things that I was feeling and frame it as a wild dating goose chase. The heart of the film is really about relationships with family and figuring how to move forward in your life.
What do you want people to get out of watching this film?
My prayer, hope, and the aim is to make other young women feel less alone because they’re such a freakishly underserved demographic. I hope they can see a sliver of themselves in these scenarios, these ups and downs of your early 20s—these heartbreaks, and these moments where you feel like you don't even know who you are.
You’ve mentioned that these characters were written for your mom and sister specifically.
I sat down with my mom and sister and I was like, "What are the roles you wish you could play that never get offered?" Zoey had been playing this sort of dependable heroine, and I was like no, I'm going to write her as this girl that's a prissy, boss-lady control freak. It was meant to be comedic. My mom's always offered these fulsome Midwestern mom parts, but my mom's a boss bitch. I was like you know what, I don't think she's ever played a gay woman before, so I'm going to throw that into the blender. And nobody looks at her like she could be a hippy, so I made her a yoga instructor. I thought, if no one else is going to offer them these kinds of parts, then I'll write it.
What did you want to try out in creating your character?
I wanted to play someone who was as close to my truth as possible, and my truth at the time was this like hyper-vulnerability of just not knowing which way is up, which way is down and being okay with admitting that at 22-years-old, you can have privilege, you can have all the opportunity in the world and not know what to do with it.
You and your sister are politically vocal on your social media pages. Is that something you grew up with?
To be honest, I don't think things have been this bad in a really long time, so the urgency is there right now. But my sister started doing work with Planned Parenthood and developed this voice on Instagram that hopefully inspires other young girls to stand up for and educate themselves. She really inspired me to start digging in and speaking out more—even if it's in my own tiny way.
You seem to be very close to Zoey.
We are really close. She's a total badass. I really respect her. This is a wild business, but if you have family in it, they understand what you're going through.
Your parents are also really involved in the industry. Your dad directed Pretty in Pink; your mom acted in the Back to the Future franchise. What was that like as a kid?
The wild thing about having parents in the entertainment industry is that you're held accountable in a way that I don't think people realize. You better be prepared and you better be professional. You better be good at your job. Another thing is that it's sort of as pragmatic as if your dad was a mechanic and he wanted you to take over the business. It's a family trade sometimes, so it does not always feel like some big, glamorous, wild thing.
What kind of advice did they give you about getting into entertainment?
The piece of advice my dad gave me and my sister that has never stopped ringing in my ears was: Be nice to the people you meet on your way up cause you'll see them on your way down.
That's a good one.
Yeah, and I think the greatest thing my mom ever did for us was never coddling us. “Talented” is a dirty word in our family because I think my parents always felt like it bred a sense of entitlement. It was always about being a hard worker. When they were proud of us, they'd say, "You worked so hard” not “You're so great.”
What are your favorite family memories out of the spotlight?
My mom said this to me recently and I’ve been thinking about it: “People will tell you that money, success, and fame are going to make you happy. But none of it makes you happy. The only thing that's ever going make you happy is having good dinners, hanging out with your dogs, and being out with your family and friends.”
I like that she included your dogs in there.
We're dog freaks. Me, my sister, and my mom all love to cook and we all have a bunch of rescue dogs. So we just like to make banana bread and steak and get in bed with our dogs and wear sweat pants. We're really glamorous, okay? Life's short, for Pete’s sake. Wear sweatpants.
Do you watch any particular movies or TV shows as a family tradition?
The first show that made us all come together in a bizarre way was The OC. We love The OC I can't explain it. That and maybe the early seasons of American Idol when we were kids. But to be honest, my mom and dad would get home from work and they would not be like great, let's watch Casablanca. They were tired. We would always have dinner together as a family, but we really didn't watch a lot of movies or TV.
Are you going to continue with filmmaking?
It's really hard to make a movie and it's harder to make one that you feel like is honest. I hope that I can keep doing that.
Do you think you'll ever work with your entire family again?
I hope so. I would love to be directed by my mom again, it was a beautiful experience.
Catch The Year of Spectacular Men at the LA Film Festival on June 16.