The Tribeca Film Festival is known for its programming of quirky comedies. Those special comedic gems are often serviced by the ordinary characters at the center of a story with an enormous amount of heart. In “Buffaloed," actress Zoey Deutch displays that special “Tribeca quality” as Peg, a natural-born hustler whose bold, quick-witted and scrappy ways land her behind bars. She’s a woman who doesn’t take grief from anyone, even if it means getting kicked over and over again by the economic strife surrounding her family.
Once out, Peg leaps at the chance to make quick money by operating an underground debt-collecting scheme.
“Buffaloed” is a comedy that isn’t afraid to unpack the false bill of goods many Americans have been sold when it comes to the American dream. It’s a film that asks a big task of its 24-year-old lead, as she balances the turmoil of barely surviving her means with moments of levity (like running for blocks with a handgun to catch the guy that messed with her money).
The rising star ("Why Him?," Netflix’s "Set It Up" and the forthcoming “Zombieland” sequel) also found a surprise calling with an additional role as producer.
"I love having some semblance of control and being able to have a firmer kind of grasp on the kind of parts that I get to play," Deutch said. "I was like on a warpath a la Peg to get this movie made selfishly because I think it’s an amazing part."
amNew York spoke with Deutch.
You have a Buffalo accent and it’s oddly specific. It really doesn’t sound like what people typically think of as a New York accent because it’s so far removed. How was it to capture that?
I had no idea. The writer [Brian Sacca] is from Buffalo and he gave me a little bit of an idea about the accent and how specific it is and how little it feels like a New York accent. My family is from Long Island and I have a stereotypical Long Island Jewish grandmother "who tawks like this." That’s what I’ve always known the New York accent to be. My family is from Merrick and Hewlett, so when he did his version of what he grew up sounding like, I was like, “No way that’s New York, are you kidding me?” I decided I needed to go there because capturing the essence, the spirit, and understanding the kind of nuances of an accent and a town is impossible to do via YouTube. Like anywhere in the world there’s varying degrees of accents. We chose to go the more heightened route because Peg inherently as a character is heightened. She’s operating at 110% all the time. I was nervous but at the same time I had the director [Tanya Wexler], and she was just like, just go for it.
Did you get a crash course in debt collecting?
It’s a lawless business but yeah, I did. I mean, I learned a lot more than I ever thought I would about it. And the only piece of advice that came out on the other side was just never pick up the phone [laughs]. It’s a bizarre world but there’s levity and it’s fun to watch as a piece, but at its core it’s about a young woman in a small town trying her best to get out and everything else is working against her. I think that’s a meaningful and worthy story to tell.
The film deals with this concept of what financial freedom is. It looks different to everyone and what makes Peg a sympathetic character, like you said, is that she’s really just trying to escape her means, and this history, that in some ways has already been written for her. Is that something you really wanted to get to the heart of?
That, and also the idea that she has no other choice but to become what destroys her to begin with. It’s that sort of, "you are your own worst enemy," which is what I thought was an interesting thing to explore.
It also touches on the student loan debt crisis and how kids have to pay the price for an education, especially when you’re looking at ballooning interests and being surrounded by economic strife. Peg has some thoughts on the injustice of that. What are your thoughts?
It’s so sad that some of our brightest, most educated brilliant minds aren’t able to utilize their knowledge and education because they have to take jobs to pay off the student loans that they’ve racked up, which is so counterproductive to create a better society. We would flourish so much easier if the smartest and brightest were able to use what they know. I’m 24 and so many of my friends are going through this right now and it’s unfathomable. They’re sold a [false] bill of goods that says get an education, go to college and then you come out the other side, and it’s just not right.
The film also focuses on millennials who buy into the big dream of the pursuit of happiness through financial gains. Especially with this generation, there’s this excess of flaunting this fake image of success on social media. As a public figure, is that something that you’re aware of in terms of your own social footprint?
Am I aware of it? Absolutely. Do I think I’m being the best example for it? No. I put on my social media the highlights. I don’t put the lowlights. I’m just not a good enough writer and I never know how to articulate myself well enough — it’s not my medium and that’s not my format. That’s not what I’m good at but maybe I could get better about that.
Peg looks for that validation of success. What does success look like for you?[If ] I finished a job, a movie or show or a play and I have come out with one or two or three people that touched me and hopefully I touch them and we’ll be in each other’s lives forever — that’s what success is to me today.
Since your family is from Long Island, what’s one memory you associate with New York?
I used to get so overwhelmed by the smoke coming up that I was holding my breath and would make myself faint as a little kid [laughs]. Things have gotten better since and I can handle the New York vibe a little bit better. I’m a food freak. I love going on food tours. I’m figuring out tonight what two meals I’m going to consume. So that’s my New York experience.
IF YOU GO
"Buffaloed" screens at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. at Regal Cinemas Battery Park, Friday at 8:45 p.m. at Village East Cinema and Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at SVA Theater | tribecafilm.com