Exclusive Interview: Desiree Akhavan talks Appropriate Behaviour…

DesireeToday we are very pleased to welcome actress, director and writer Desiree Akhavan to the site in order to talk about her huge success Appropriate Behaviour. For those of you who don’t know the story focuses on Shirin as she ‘struggles to become an ideal Persian daughter, a politically correct bisexual, and a hip young woman from Brooklyn’¹. Appropriate Behaviour is released on DVD and On-Demand from Peccadillo Pictures now, it holds 98% on rotten tomatoes and in my opinion is one of the year’s strongest comedies. So why not read on for our interview!

Firstly could you introduce the film to those amongst our readers who haven’t yet seen it?

My elevator pitch is that the film is a gay Annie Hall about a woman who is trying to win back her ex-girlfriend while coming out as bisexual to her Iranian family.

The film has often been couched in terms of your race and sexuality rather than being focusing upon it as simply a relationship, does that concern you or do you not mind?

I don’t know… I try not to pay attention to the way the film is marketed or spoken about because the way that people best sell and market it is someone else’s job. If people need to digest it in certain ways in order to make sense of it themselves, and if that’s how they do it, then it doesn’t matter. Surprisingly I think the film is received outside of that, it’s a comedy to a lot of people, and it’s not just a gay comedy. I think it’s part of a movement, I mean Weekend changed the face of gay cinema and we are moving it in a way where gay relationships are just relationships.

But also sometimes marketing is designed that way in order to appeal to the gay community, to say ‘look here’s a film for you’.

Do you find that people often have preconceived notions about you and your work based on your race and sexuality?

Well, I don’t know about me personally. It’s hard for me to judge that because people give a good poker face! I think that people assume that a lot of gay films are going to be dramas, so I’m really proud to have done a comedy that deals with that subject matter.

So is it comedy which you’re going to be continuing with for the foreseeable feature? It’s clear that you’re very comfortable with it and good at it…

Yeah, thank you. I love comedy and it’s what my next projects are planned to be. But you never know, my next feature is comedic but it’s also very dramatic. It’s far more of a drama than Appropriate Behaviour is. I really love artists like Noah Baumbach who I think go back and forth between being incredibly comedic and then quite sad and dramatic.

appropriate-behaviorIn the film you’re very conscious of your Iranian background and sexuality, do you think you are going to continue to draw from that or move away from that into a different style of comedy?

Well there is so much left to say, my work is always going to be personal no matter what. Even if I make a film that seems to not be linked to me in anyway, there has to be a reason I want to tell that specific story. You know there are so few comedies about being gay so it’s important for me to join that conversation and add a few things.

I know it’s not strictly an autobiographical film, but when you’re drawing from yourself with a tongue in cheek attitude, how do you set about writing, directing and acting that character?

I surround myself with people who I trust. I always have my producer Cecilia Frugiuele heavily involved in all stages of production, and she and I have been close friends for ten years and she understands me and the distance between me and the work. So people like her help me from being self-indulgent.

The film feels very lived in and well observed, did you have to research any particular aspect?

No, it’s just the world I live in!

Do you think you would ever direct/write a film in which you didn’t act?

Oh yeah, I don’t have a role in my next film.

What was the challenge like juggling all those different hats during production?

I really love it all, I think you catch yourself in different roles as you see fit. I’m equipped to do the job of writing and directing a film, but I also lean heavily on those who I worked with. My producer was there all the time helping me with her eyes on the monitor. My cinematographer knew exactly what I wanted and when you look at each scene of the film you’re seeing his vision too.

So you lean heavily on your crew and have to trust them to pick up all the flack. I was very lucky in that I had amazing people around me. I cast the right crew.

Did you see the project evolving over the process? Did it change a lot from when you sat down to write it before it got to our screens?

Yeah, a film grows at every stage. It’s a very seamless thing. You write a film then you cast it, then you rewrite it in casting, then you re-approach it again in post. So at each stage of the game it’s a completely different piece, and that’s true of every film.

Desiree-Akhavan-Appropriate-BehaviourAbout the critical and public reception of the film, how have you found it to be so far?

Every day has been incredible, I’ve been very very blessed and lucky. Maybe I have been blind to criticism which I didn’t know about but everything that’s got its way to my ears I have been very glad to hear! It’s just a perfect scenario and it happens so rarely that things in your life go  according to your wildest dreams.

So has the film opened up a lot of opportunities for you…

Well it has opened up opportunities, which is fantastic, but also you create your own opportunities. I can take the meetings that I want to take now but it’s up to me to create the body of work that I want to make. Not that I’m waiting for somebody to drop something into my lap but when I write things I am able to take those meetings I want to take, and that’s the good part.

We’ve touched on what you want to do in the future but in the long term do you see yourself continuing in the same genre of filmmaking? Will you always be directing and acting?

No I just am very much about what’s next and I focus on that. So I always have four projects in the pipeline and I have no idea what is going to happen after those four. It’s film and television but who knows what will happen. Right now I don’t see myself making genre films, but it could change.

And that’s all folks! Before you go make sure you drop your thoughts off in the comment box below!

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