Not Okay’s Zoey Deutch and Filmmaker Quinn Shephard Are Living Scam-Girl Summer

This post contains spoilers for Not Okay.

Cancel Danni Sanders. That’s what the world at large demands Not Okay, a satire of internet scammers and influencer culture now streaming on Hulu. It’s also the phrase Zoey Deutchwho stars as Sanders and executive produces the film, is sporting a tank top during a recent Zoom.

“What do you think of my shirt?” she excitedly asks, lifting her Earth tone-colored sweater to reveal the merch. The shirt, which writer-director Quinn Shephard also owns, is modeled after a garment worn by Paris Hilton in the early-aughts. The heiress went viral thanks to a photoshopped version of the tank. In reality, it says, “Stop Being Desperate.” The fake version reads “Stop Being Poor.”

Not Okay opens with Danni in the throes of cancellation after falsely claiming that she was present for deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. Shephard wanted to use a meme of Hilton wearing a “Cancel Danni Sanders” in the film’s opening montage. To obtain legal clearance, Deutch sent a DM Hilton’s way.

Paris Hilton wearing the shirt in 2005.Christina Elliott

In return, she got not only Hilton’s permission, but a “five-minute voice note” with her blessing. It was “the kindest, most generous…” Deutch begins. “Like, ‘Is there anything I can do for your movie? I’m so proud of you. That’s so funny.’ It was an iconic exchange.”

Then came the matter of delivering Hilton’s consent to the studio. “I had to screen record Paris’s approval via DM and send it to Searchlight legally, which was probably the least professional thing I’ve ever done as a producer,” Deutch recalled. “But regardless, it made it into the movie, and now Quinn and I will forever more have Paris Hilton-inspired clothing.”

This detail is indicative of the film’s deadly accurate take on millennials, the sort of people who label Avril Lavigne‘s “Complicated” an “oldie” and feel 9/11 FOMO. Shephard, who began writing the script for her sophomore directorial effort in summer 2018, says she’s earned “a social media cleanse” after her internet deep dive. “I was so immersed in research and then in marketing. Zoey and I have been like, ‘Let’s embrace the meta, let’s go super internet-y,’” she said of the film’s robust social media strategy, including a TikTok account that’s drawn more than 300K followers. “You catch the internet bug, and then you’re on it all the time. Now I genuinely think I need to delete my apps in a week.”

Before logging off, Deutch and Shephard spoke to Vanity Fair about why we can’t resist a scam story and what most movies get wrong about millennial culture.

Vanity Fair: We’re living in an era of scammer stories. What drew you to the genre?

Quinn Shepard: Scammer stories are something that a lot of people can digest because they’re almost like true crime where nobody dies. And oftentimes they function as a satire of privilege. It is usually a very specific kind of person at the center of these stories: a lot of them really focus on the scammer as an iconic character and a sympathetic character, but don’t necessarily hone in on just what they’re causing. Or in the case of Danni, the kind of trauma that they’re co-opting. So I knew that if I was going to tell a story like this, I really wanted to show both sides of the coin.

Zoey Deutch: I’m obsessed with playing scammers. I had no idea until I wrapped this that I became aware of my obsession with playing scammers—Flowers, Buffaloed, The Politician, Not Okay. They’re all very different people, but they’re all scammers. More than scammers, they’re all people with a big secret, and a big lie. And that’s really fun as an actor, because then it raises the stakes of every scene in a really fun way. Regardless of if it’s written in, I always try to have some sort of fun secret with my characters, something bubbling under the surface that makes it feel carbonated, for lack of a better metaphor. [laughs]

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