At Girls on Film we love seeing ladies on screen, given big juicy screen-filling parts to sink their teeth into, written with subtlety and nuance by über talented ladies and then handed over to be created into an art form by equally fab ladies, and damn gurl you got all three in one.
We got to interview this lovely lady, actor/writer/directer Desiree Akhavan, and let me tell you she was everything we expected her to be; intelligent, self-aware but modest, witty and importantly very nice! Holding myself back I managed to not completely fangirl out for a few mins to ask Desiree some questions about her film and how she thinks film in general is progressing for women. Oh also, scroll down to the end to see her participate in the entirely sophisticated and in-no-way-silly game of ‘Appropriate Behaviour or Inappropriate Behaviour?’
Firstly, I hope you’re having a fab time in London. We wanted to say, here at Girls on Film we absolutely LOVED your film. It was really hilarious, really original and emotionally charged. We particularly liked the ‘Fart House Cinema’ scene.
Only one other person has said that to me before and I think thats genius!
I’ve read you say it’s not autobiographical it’s personal, but obviously there are similarities between you and Shirin. How much of yourself do you see in her?
I think the basis of the character is me, but throughout the course of writing the script it was about the choices that made her not me that became the defining characteristics of this woman
I hope I’m not as bratty or entitled or whiny, but it was really important to me that we show a child of immigrants who is queer and female and is just an entitled as any other asshole. All those characters that are entitled are always white middle aged straight men and the women in their stories are vehicles for them to have jokes or be heroes and I wanted to reverse that.
Ultimately, it’s about the choices you make that drive the script. You start from a kernel of you own life. something that you feel you have to get out and then you take that and manipulate it to fit it into a 90 minute narrative, and in the process of that manipulation you start to create a new character. And a new story. There were kernels of myself, like the sense of humour, was very much me.
Well, I guess it’s hard to write a different persons sense of humour.
Yeah, because I’m writing for myself. I’m going to deliver these jokes, this is the way I talk.
Also, I’ve never been closeted. It was convenient for the narrative that shirin be closeted. And that she live with Maxine and not tell her parents about it. That’s another good example of ‘it’s personal’ but that did not happen. I’m a very bad liar I’ve humiliated myself many times trying to lie then immediately confessing – within one breath. Especially to my parents.
It’s just too hard to lie to your parents. They know, they always know!
They always know.
So you were acting in it, writing it, directing it. Was it an issue to assume control of so many parts of production? And did you feel you were responsible for an overwhelming amount of it?
One job really enabled another. To tell a story this personal I could only do it if I were in all those roles. Because I had to be in a position of power so I felt a sense of control.
On the other hand also, I surrounded myself with people I really trust and have a lot of respect for: my producer, my cinematographer, my editor, my production designer and my actors. So I could say “you do your thing, check back with me and let’s see if we’re on the same page” and that experience really propelled my work forward. Moving forward in my next feature I’m only writing and directing it I’m not acting in it and I’m actually kind of nervous, which is odd because you would think ‘this will be totally easier?!’ but it will be a completely different process for me.
So would you say your biggest passion lies in filmmaking rather than acting?
Yeah, but I also see myself as a storyteller. I like to put my talents where they’re best at use. If I was really well suited to playing one part in someone else’s film that would give me a lot of joy, it’s not like that would give me less joy than filmmaking. When people ask me “What do you prefer?” I always think, it’s not a matter of preference, you’re so blessed to be one part of the machine. We are all working together to make something. I very much have the feeling about filmmaking, and I get to be lucky with this movie and sell it and talk about it and it’s me, that’s because its such a self-indulgent movie, about one person and my first feature.
Film is the most collaborative medium so wherever I can be in that process, adding to it, I’m very happy.
(Desiree’s web series) ‘The Slope’ – In what ways did that help you progress to your first feature?
Artistically it got me on the trajectory of not giving a shit of what is right and wrong in the process of making something. I really let go of my instinct to be precious with film time. Also professionally, in terms of the trajectory of financing a film, my producer and partners were able to identify that there was an audience for this kind of film. It gave me a showreel for my sense of humour and style.
Do you feel pressure being a bisexual, Iranian, female filmmaker to tell peoples stories? Do you think theres a certain amount of responsibility?
No, I can only tell my own experience of life. I do think that all work, whether or not its about marginalised people should be ethical and moral and I know where my morals and ethics lie
In terms of filmmaking do you always have in mind you’re a woman playing a mans game, and it might be that bit harder?
No. I think in the world I am aware of the fact that I am a woman in a mans world, but I do not see myself in that way industry wise. I think that would be a self fulfilling prophecy and a curse. If you look at yourself in a position of disempowerment in any endeavour you will not achieve it.
You really have to fake it til you make it and have the gumption to achieve anything in life.
(pretty inspiring, woah)
We at GOF wanted to know what you think generally of the landscape for women in film and TV. I’m under the impression that in TV there are so many great roles (and positions) for women at the moment and it’s only slowly dripping through with film.
I can’t make a definitive statement like that, but I do think that television takes risks in terms of storytelling, in terms of female characters and narrative structure. TV is going into a really fascinating place right now. But it is safer there; financially. The talent is starting to move there because it’s so hard to make a living off independent films. When you work in the Hollywood sphere, those are not your films, you are just an employee and you don’t have control. Which is a very different experience to the work.
What can you tell us about things coming up in the pipeline for you.
Well actually, funnily enough I have written a TV series that I want to make but haven’t found the home yet. It’s a bisexual dating comedy that I workshopped at the Sundance labs.
I also have the next feature with my producer, an adaptation of a YA novel. It’s a huge departure for me; it’s all teenagers, set in a boarding school environment.
Is it daunting to adapt someone else’s work?
I’m really excited about the challenge, but maybe ask me in a month!
Ok, now time for the game you’ve been waiting for:
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR OR INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR?!?
Ok so the premise of this game:
We found some of the top google searches for ‘is it appropriate…?’
Now we aimed to get 5 questions but unfortunately most of them were about funerals…so in an attempt to make it less morbid we added a couple of our own questions in.
Shall we begin?
Is it appropriate to…
1. …Kiss on a first date?
Yes (good time dependant)
2. …Eat pizza for breakfast?
No (a controversial choice, at GOF we believe pizza all day, erryday, pizza 24/7.)
3. …Sleep with your ex?
Hard to deem – it’s a personal choice. If it’s not torturing your heart then why not. But if you’re emotionally dying inside, then no.
4. …Blow off your friends to binge watch the new series of Orange Is The New Black (or insert favourite TV show) e.g. “*cough* I’m sick”
No. As much as I love binge watching, it’s not ok to blow off your friends.
5. …Wear leggings to a funeral.
Umm…not if they’re jeggings for sure. You gotta dress up a little, someone died.
…Is it appropriate to take a selfie with Desiree?
She said yes
So there you have it. Empower yourself, don’t be afraid to tell your story, and never wear leggings to a funeral.
Appropriate Behaviour out in cinemas 6th March by Peccadillo Pictures