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[The following story contains spoilers from Buffaloed.]
The comedic drama follows the downward spiral of Buffalo, New York, native Peg Dahl (Deutch), who is desperate to get herself out of debt and escape a life of poverty. After learning about the town’s debt collection agencies, Peg begins to work for Wizz (Jai Courtney) before leaving his agency to become her own boss.
“She ends up finding her calling in this very ethically debatable industry, which is the one that destroys many people’s chances of becoming somebody to begin with,” Deutch told The Hollywood Reporter about her character’s questionable career path.
Judy Greer, Jermaine Fowler and Noah Reid also star in the Tanya Wexler-directed film, which is currently in select theaters and available on demand.
In addition to starring in Buffaloed, Deutch served as a producer on the film. She spoke to THR about playing the “anti-hero hustler,” the film’s social commentary on debt, her favorite scenes and how producing the movie helped her become a better performer.
To begin, how would you describe your character Peg?
Peg has a sharp mind with a sharper mouth. She’s a young woman obsessed with making enough cash to get out of her blue-collared existence. I fell in love with Peg because that was a story that would usually feature a male protagonist. She’s a real anti-hero hustler. She’s desperate and obsessed with making enough money and to be taken seriously as a budding businesswoman. She goes against these typical expectations of femininity, yet she embodies feminist ideals like her determination to provide for herself without relying on male figures. She’s greedy, but her greed is great. She’s doing what she does because she wants freedom. She sees her mom and everybody else in Buffalo and knows that you’ll never be free if you don’t have financial stability.
Peg is accepted into college but quickly realizes that she can’t afford to go. Do you think the film has any social commentary on the high cost of college tuition?
I don’t know if this is still the case, but the last time I checked, student loan debt in America adds up to a total of $1.5 trillion. One in four Americans have student loan debt. The average student loan debt comes out to $37,000. People that are going to school to make money and have a better life and do good for this world — to be doctors, to be scientists — and the people with those jobs that are paid the highest are the most in debt. It’s a tragedy; it’s like an epidemic. It’s a nightmare in our country, so certainly the film makes a lot of commentary on class and on people in debt.
Buffaloed seems timely considering that many of the Democratic presidential candidates are factoring college tuition into their policy proposals. Why do you feel like right now is the best time to tell this story?
To be totally honest, this has been a problem for a while. It’s not just a problem in present day. It’s a problem we’ve had for a while, but I think it’s incredibly relevant and incredibly problematic. It’s wild. Many people have this problem in their life. Of course I was attracted to the fact that this character is aggressive and yells and holds a gun, and I love the immediate veracity of her running down the streets of Buffalo in a maroon power suit with fire in her eyes and a “fuck this” attitude. I have a history of being attracted to feisty, intelligent, strong-minded women, but it was very easy to establish a connection with Peg and myself because I understand that her greed comes from a place of seeking financial freedom.
When Peg quits the first debt collection agency, she is underestimated by her former boss and he tells her that she won’t be able to succeed in the industry on her own. There’s another scene when Peg’s family members tell her that a man is the provider in a relationship. Did the idea of female empowerment and gender equality appeal to you when reading the script?
An interesting thing that I noticed was that a character in the story mansplains to Peg what she needs. As I was reading the script, I thought that there was an interesting opportunity with the characters mansplaining to Peg about what she needs and to have. The audience could possibly agree, but then Peg could surprise everybody in the audience and show what it’s like for a woman growing up in this town and what it takes to get out. The audience might be like, ‘Well, maybe they’re right.’ But then you understand that you’re being taught a lesson along the way, as well. She knows that by letting a guy take care of her or take her out to dinner, she’ll lose any financial control. In some ways I feel like it’s even more than greed. She’s driven by control. It’s like how some people say that anorexia is about control and manifests itself in food. People think that Peg is being greedy, but it’s control manifesting itself in money. She just can’t stop.
Peg recruits a bunch of misfits to work for her debt collection agency. How would you describe Peg as a leader?
She thinks she’s finding her calling in debt collecting, but the reality is she’s finding her calling in being a teacher and giving back to people who work hard but were never given the chance to exercise that part of their brain. She’s a natural leader and brilliant. She’s also full of moxie and has lawlessness as a leader, as well.
Peg’s home life plays a major factor in who she is as a person. How would you describe her dynamic with her family and how it evolves throughout the film, especially considering that her father is no longer in the picture?
The dynamic of her and her mom, played by national treasure Judy Greer, was important to make her more real and grounded. We all do this, I think, where we have an idea of somebody because our memories of them as a child have stuck with us and then other people bring insight into what the reality was. It’s the perception of our insight versus the reality of who a person really was. With her and her mom, it’s their relationship to the father figure and how Peg put him on a pedestal and thought he was a wonderful dad when he really only cared for himself. There is an inherent disconnect between Peg and her mom because her mom is resentful to her father and Peg’s resentful to her mother because she thinks she doesn’t see the situation for what it is. The dynamic is complicated. She pities her mother and doesn’t want to become her mother.
You produced this film. What about Buffaloed made you want to produce it?
I was shooting a movie called Set It Up when I read the script. I think for a lot of actors, when you’re playing one part, you’re attracted to playing something that’s totally different. In Set It Up, my character’s super bubbly, a people-pleaser and very positive, and Peg is the total opposite. I was attracted to her grittiness and her drive. I knew I had to play Peg and I wanted this desperate, money-hungry woman to be taken seriously as this budding businesswoman on a mission to get out of the town.
What did your roles as a producer look like?
The producers found our fearless leader, Tanya Wexler, who’s a joy to work with. Then the tough stuff came. I love the journey of producing for so many reasons, but the extra gift that comes with it that I didn’t know was that as an actor, you so rarely get time to exist in your character’s space. You don’t get time to spend in your character’s kitchen before you shoot in the kitchen. You don’t get the time to spend at the high school that they went to. You don’t get to do these things that you do as a producer when you’re location scouting. You get to exist in the same world as your character and understand it. There are things like that along the way that are happy accidents and gifts that are wonderful and rewarding. I think I’m a better performer when I have more information and all of the details.
I noticed that the film features many Buffalo references, especially through the costumes. For example, Peg wears a Buffalo Bills shirt under her power suit.
We purchased most of the costumes at thrift stores in Buffalo. The writer, Brian Sacca, is from Buffalo and we went there. I loved it. We tried all the different wing places. I went to a lot of different thrift stores. I went to the Bills’ merch store. I’m wearing a Bills scrunchie the entire movie even though you can’t see the logo because we couldn’t get it cleared.
Was there a scene to film that was particularly memorable for you?
There’s a scene with Judy and I in the jail and we’re really connecting for the first time. We’re talking about Peg’s dad for the first time. They both made comments in passing for years and years, but they never really flushed it out. All the montage sequences we filmed also stick out to me: the one where you see Peg’s side hustles in high school, or when she becomes a debt collector and she’s closing more accounts and outworking everybody that she’s working with. Those fast-paced, insane, hilarious montages were a joy and hectic to shoot. I loved this scene where it was extremely hot — we were shooting in Toronto in the summer and I was wearing this polyester suit; I was sweating and so hot; I was screaming and had laryngitis — when we were shooting the scene where I’m throwing a blow-up doll while talking on the phone. I don’t know why I enjoyed that scene so much. I was exhausted, but I remember it being a fun day.
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Sterling K. Brown