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INTERVIEW: Sophia Bush and Deborah Ann Woll Talk Legacies and…Well, ‘Deborah’

The cast of Deborah at a table

Deborah is a movie that will make you second guess a lot about your life. Mainly whether or not you really do want to own that Amazon Alexa that you have. When your friend has a special weekend to celebrate their engagement, you go. But sometimes, maybe your childhood friends don’t have to still be your best friends as an adult.

The movie asks us why this group of friends is still together and how far they’re willing to go to be “good” people in the eyes of their friends and what happens when the façade starts to break. In preparation for the film’s release, I got to speak with stars Deborah Ann Woll and Sophia Bush about their characters! Woll plays Ada, a woman about to be married to Al (Kevin Bigley) who has a secret she hasn’t even shared with her husband.

And when all his childhood friends come to their engagement party, she’s forced to reckon with what she discovered and Al’s relationship with his friends. Especially his constant preying on his friend Nora (Sophia Bush) who masquerades under a false sense of social justice throughout the film. It’s a lot to process and a movie that is a fascinating watch.

We got to do an audio only interview via Zoom with both Deborah Ann Woll and Sophia Bush and it was so incredibly exciting to hear their thoughts on the movie! Below is a transcript of our full conversation.

Chatting with Sophia Bush and Deborah Ann Woll

The Mary Sue: So, with Deborah, the movie, it is very interesting given that it marries two fears together because it’s fear of what technology is going to be and fear of you and people you know not being the people that they kind of project out. And so for you both, I wanted to know what was it about the film that kind of brought you in and made you wanna be a part of it in the first place?

Sophia Bush: I’ll let the title name…

Deborah Ann Woll: I know in all my emails I have to be like Deborah, the other one. Just the movie and not the movie. Me. I think what drew me to it is just this idea of like, what keeps us, what helps us make the right choices, right? Is it our own personal internal morals? Is it societal guidelines? Is it consequences? Because what this movie does is essentially set up this idea that if there were no consequences, if you could just do whatever you wanted, what would you do? And obviously sort of the worst comes out of all of us, but I think that’s fascinating, sort of what keeps us in line, what keeps us from hurting others. When it really comes down to it, that sort of intrigued me.

Sophia Bush: I, similarly to Deborah, was really inspired when I read it thinking like, yeah, what is it that keeps us good? Is it accountability? Is it the idea of accountability where our morality is rooted? Or are we convicted in our beliefs even when no one is watching?

And what happens when you pressure test a system? And this script came at a time where we were literally watching the American system of democracy be pressure tested by a lack of accountability. And I was really fascinated with the idea of all of us being able to explore through these characters where that line is for us. You know, there’s this great scene with Deborah and I and Ciara (Renée) where we’re all just slightly saying the wrong thing in terms of learning justice language, and we’re embarrassed and we rewind. And then you’ve got a guy who thinks he’s a good guy. Like Kevin (Bigley)’s character who’s literally a predator who’s like, no, I’m not one of those guys. But he’s rewinding on that behavior. And so where on the scale do we each fall in terms of where we draw the line? And to Deborah’s point, what will you do if you think you can get away without the accountability?

The Mary Sue: And I think what’s so fascinating is like, even like when they think oh, this is a lighthearted game, when they’re playing the question game and the person they’re thinking of, it’s offensive, but they’re say, no, it’s a joke. And they’re like, no, this is bad. And you can see in both Deborah’s character who’s like, I’m new here and I don’t really like this. And Arjun Gupta’s character who isn’t their friend, they’re like, who is this guy and why is he here? And he’s the only one who doesn’t really do anything. He’s just singing to a dog. But, when you can see in those characters kind of the level of understanding, no, this is bad. But then Deborah, your character too is hiding this huge secret that is horrible when you learn it. And I’m like, in the era of Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, I’m like, oh no, not again.

Deborah Ann Woll: Well, we have to be shocking somehow, right? Apparently this is the last bastion.

The Mary Sue: For both of you, this group is so interesting because they are friends who don’t seem to like each other. You’re building like a relationship as actors where it is “Yes, I love this person, but I really don’t, I don’t like them.” And so how is it for you guys? Because I’m assuming you filmed this during Covid, cause you guys mentioned like the election in 2020 and things like that. And so how was that dynamic kind of like building that relationship that is strained but still needs to be believable that these people ever liked each other in the first place?

Sophia Bush: I mean, it was wild, kind of in the best way, but also so intense just because none of us had been out of our houses for almost a year. And then it was mid-November and we drove to Utah and isolated and we were on this strict testing regimen and it was obviously everything outside covered in snow. So we’d go on walks together, but essentially we never left the house. We lived in the house we filmed in.

Deborah Ann Woll: Right. And the being that like all social activity was us, right? If it was movies, karaoke games, TV time, it was all us just hanging out together all the time.

Sophia Bush: And it was so special because we were this group of people motivated by the same story and really interested in humanity and figuring out where our character’s traumas existed, where our newfound creator friends connections were being built. And we were experiencing the end of this first year of global collective pandemic trauma. And so what I really appreciated about everyone is people just were like, I’m having a hard time sometimes, man. You know, we had nights where we would karaoke and like everyone cried in that house at least once and we were just like, this is crazy, but also so special. I can’t explain it. It was a really incredibly unique way to witness people. You know, as artists you normally leave the set and you go home. But our home was the set. And I remember having this out of body experience after we’d done our first big dinner party scene where you’re (Woll) in that like beautiful floral dress and a couple weeks later we were all sitting around that same table in the house having Thanksgiving dinner together. And I was like, this is some Twin Peak shit. And there was no one I would rather be doing it with than all of you.

Deborah Ann Woll: The funny thing, at least for me when you’re broaching doing pretty traumatic or triggering type material is actually the safer that you feel with your scene partners, the more you’re able to lean into that and kind of fully experience that moment as an actor. So in a way, because we were all living together and we had to bond very quickly, kind of whether you wanna do or not, it set us up for success in that way that I think Kevin Bigley is such a standup. He really is one of the good guys, right? That then when we have to go do scenes with him where he is not that we can fully kind of give in because we know that we’re actually very, very safe with Kevin. And so, I think that that really makes for a good experience as well as better art.

Sophia Bush: Having an experience with an actor like him who you have to have a conversation about these scenes that revolve around betrayal and assault and themes that are not insignificant. And you know, Kevin and I did our first scene in the garage and the second Noga (Pnueli) said “Cut” he just went, are you okay? Are you alright? Are you feeling safe? I was like, who’s sweet man?

The Mary Sue: Well, and like I would say both of your careers are like based in shows that it is so important that these characters, you believe that they have found their family, whether it’s One Tree Hill with all of the friends and the group there, or True Blood and Daredevil is very much like, I found my family and I’m going with it, that’s who I’m with. So for you guys as actors with that kind of dynamic and the split between those shows, which are pre-pandemic shows, and obviously like you said you went home versus this where it’s like you’re in it for the long haul with all these people. Which one is more, I guess a comfort? Is it having that kind of camaraderie that you’re in this together? Or is it just two different sides of the same coin and just how those experiences planned out?

Sophia Bush: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I’m curious how you feel about it, Deb. For me it feels kinda like two sides of the same coin. It’s like one is summer camp and one is college. They’re both, when you look back, they’re both the best. But they’re different.

Deborah Ann Woll: I think also the series that we have experience on lasted multiple years and relationships. It was like the Deborah Dorm folks, it was fast and deep, right? It was like the first time when you’re 16 and you fall deeply in love with that person you see across the room in like an instant. And then next month you’re totally into someone else, but the TV show is like sort of, it’s a little slower paced. It gets a little bit deeper later on, you know each other in a different, maybe more organic way. So I don’t know. I think she said like they’re different sort of processes, but in the end it’s kind of the same results. You get close to people. So they say distance makes the heart grow fonder as well. You know, there were definitely times, you know, with the Deborah dorm where I was like, I’m gonna go to bed early tonight and hang out alone in my room because I need some recharge time.

Sophia Bush: There’s something about summer camp where you have to put your skills to use and it’s very cool because the interesting thing about it is it in the same way that the movie has these sort of tessellations of these moments with friends that rewind and replay And they literally create that like wave across the screen. We kind of had that together doing the film where we were making this film, but we were also living the film. And I think there’s something special about actors and creators in general, but certainly this group that really was able to be like, I’m having a weird experience today. I know I don’t know you that well, but can I ask your advice about it? And it was cool, I don’t know, maybe it’s also the age we are in the stage in life, but you’re like, oh, these are a bunch of people who’ve been to therapy and know how to talk about their life.

Deborah Ann Woll:And then we’d all been in this business for a long time and doing this and you know, in different sort of areas that way. But I really trusted everybody’s instincts and point of view on these things. It was really special.

The Mary Sue: What’s really interesting too about this movie is it’s coming at a time where, for both of you, people are revisiting your old shows a lot as well. Like Deborah, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen everyone online, if they’re not watching True Blood, they’re rewatching Daredevil. And I’m like, okay, I’m into it. I’m a nerd. So I’m like, great guys.

Deborah Ann Woll: Listen to our podcast, Truest Blood: A True Blood Rewatch. We give all the behind the scenes, we interview cast and crew, listen to the podcast while you rewatch.

The Mary Sue: Everyone’s rewatching your stuff. And then everyone is kind of really obsessed with One Tree Hill and the nostalgia that it left for all of us. So with a movie like Deborah, it’s coming at a time where people who are in your filmographies are going to go and watch it. So for you both, what do you hope those like your longtime fans and new fans get out of Deborah when they get to see it?

Deborah Ann Woll:I don’t get to do a lot of comedy in my film. Like when I do theater, all I do is comedy. I only get ever cast for comedy in theater, but very rarely in film and TV do they want me to be funny. And I don’t know, I felt like I got to be a little funny in this, I guess I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know if it comes across.

The Mary Sue: You’re funny at it. You’re very.

Deborah Ann Woll: I felt funny. So I don’t know. I liked that aspect because most people who know my work don’t know my theater work. So, you know, they really just see a drama performance and so yeah. I’m happy to maybe expand that a little bit.

Sophia Bush: I think for me what feels exciting about it is I love things that feel new as an actor, like a new challenge. And as an audience member, I want to watch something that feels fresh. I don’t want to watch a movie where I go, oh, this is exactly like that other movie. I love that this feels like a completely new and surprising experience, but there is nostalgia and yeah, I am a nostalgia junky, I just love that cozy warm blanket feeling. And I think there’s something very cool about being able to make something that people can feel their own nostalgia in and at the same time be surprised by.

The Mary Sue: I can’t wait for everybody to see it. I do have to say, Deborah, I hope we get Karen Paige again because all of those characters seem to be coming back. And I’m like, all right, well where’s Foggy and Karen? And Sophia, thank you for being the raspy voice girl representation throughout my entire life. Every time in high school someone would be like, you remind me of Sophia Bush. And I’m like, it’s because we have raspy voices. Like you guys are just, you’re relating to the voice.

Sophia Bush: I love that, by the way. Like, I used to get teased for it and then my mom was like, oh, this bullying at school is affecting her. And so my mom started just showing me, we would do like marathon movie days, watching Demi Moore movies. And I was like, yeah. I’m so down, so I’m glad do that for you in some way.

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Check out Deborah when you can because it is definitely one you won’t want to miss! And hopefully fans get to continue love Bush and Woll’s work. And I’m serious, I’d love more Karen Page.

(image: 1901 Pictures)

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Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast.