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Zoey Deutch talks 'Before I Fall' and says ambition is a good thing

The actress looks at acting as work.

Zoey Deutch has been on a tear. In the last year, she’s had scene-stealing supporting turns in “Everybody Wants Some!!”, “Why Him?” and “Dirty Grandpa.” “Before I Fall” pushes her to the front lines. An adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s YA novel, it’s essentially a more serious “Groundhog Day,” forcing Deutch’s Sam to relive the same fateful day, going from an oblivious mean girl to someone who cares about others. But Deutch — 22, and the daughter of Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch (“Pretty in Pink”) — doesn’t think you have to be a Young Adult to get it.

Not to be glib, but speaking as a non-teenage girl, I still got a lot out of this.
The thing I’m most proud of is so many people at screenings have told me that after they saw it, they immediately called their wife or their sister or daughter or someone they deeply care about, to tell them they loved them. That felt very special to me. It’s not a movie solely for teenage girls.

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It captures that moment when we’re young when we become less solipsistic, develop a sense of the bigger world and gain a sense of empathy. Hopefully.
I think at the beginning, Sam is someone who disastrously follows the rules of her group without any self-reflection. She thinks life will carry her along without having to live it authentically. She’s very much a follower, but by the end she becomes a real leader — not in an alpha way, but in taking responsibility for her actions.

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The closeness she has with her friends seemed really authentic. Did you spend a lot of time hanging out together?
I had a pretty rigorous schedule due to the nature of the movie. I wasn’t really going out. And I love my job and take it seriously. I was the lame one who would go home early and was constantly in a state of trauma.

And besides, this is work.
It’s work, it’s a job. I think people forget that. It’s always funny when people ask, “Did you have fun?” I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s the goal.” I love this, I take it very seriously.

You do seem to have gone next-level in the last couple years.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “ambition.” I love what I do and I’m ambitious. I don’t know why that word has a bad rap. It just means to work hard for what you want and love, as far as I’m concerned. I was always raised to work hard. I always knew what my purpose was. I always knew what I wanted to do and that I had to work hard for it. And also have a sense of humor.

Certain ambitious people ruin the word for the people who have healthy ambition.
But have you ever looked at the word “ambition”? The reason I bring that up is that when a female uses it, it’s like a bad word. When I say the word “ambition” it has a negative connotation. Literally the word “ambition” is a desire to do or achieve something requiring determination or hard work. I take that as a really positive, empowering thing.

I should note that you were in one of my favorite movies last year, “Everybody Wants Some!!”
Oh, thank you! That was a really special experience. We knew it was special while it was happening. Rick [Linklater, director] made a concerted effort to bring us together as a cast, as a team. I knew that was rare. Whenever anyone mentions it warms my heart.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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