We sit down with the writer, director and star of this weeks’ APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR
As her debut feature debut APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR hits our screens, budding auteur DESIREE AKHAVAN talks to Movies.ie about first steps, holding New York up to the light, and trying to be the perfect Persian daughter.
Having written, directed and starred in the 2010 short NOSE JOB and the TV series THE SLOPE (which ran from 2010 to 2016), native New York Iranian Desiree Akhaven makes the jump to the big screen with APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR, a semi-autobiographical tale of bi-sexual relationship troubles for, hey, a New York Iranian.
As the film – “inspired by my experience facing life after my first serious relationship with a woman” – garners some highly positive reviews, both in the US and on this side of the water (Sight & Sound reckoning that Akhavan’s ‘voice is definitely her own’), Akhavan will be beamed into many of the world’s better homes, having just joined Lena Dunham’s acclaimed HBO series GIRLS for three episodes, as Chandra. So, you know, we at Movies.ie were lucky to grab her for 15 minutes. Just before Akhavan’s 15 minutes really kicks off.
There’s quite a lot of blood on the tracks here – did you find making Appropriate Behaviour therapeutic? Did it help you find a few new perspectives on your own experiences?
DESIREE AKHAVAN: No, I don’t see my work as therapeutic. Though the subject matter is personal, the story of the film is fictional, as are the characters – it was about taking my experiences and transforming it into a 90 minutes narrative that could speak to others. I never would have been comfortable starring in the film if it were an open wound I was trying to heal.
All great artists bring themselves to their work, even when they don’t realise it. Do you feel that having an emotional stake in the story is crucial, or is it horses for courses?
DA: I don’t think I’d ever be able to make anything of worth if it wasn’t something that spoke to me on a personal level.
How close to the bone did you want to go? Are your family happy with the film? Are the Iranian community in New York loving their portrayal – it’s not quite My Big Fat Iranian Break-Up, but…?
DA: My family has been incredibly supportive and positive throughout this entire process. As for the larger Iranian community, I have no idea and I don’t see it as my business. I made a comedy that was true to my world as I experience it.
Initially, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS without the songs but with lesbians, but you quickly go deeper, and deeper. Did you always have a clear idea what your end result would be?
DA: I always had a clear sense of the tone (in both comedic and dramatic momnts) I wanted. That said, you never know exactly what you’re going to get. It’s an old saying and I’ve found it to be true: there’s the film you write, the film you shoot and then the one you edit.
When it comes to matter of the heart and the head doing battle, New York is very often the backdrop. Just a haven for smart, sensitive artists, or is everyone there just trying to be Woody Allen?
DA: Nobody should want to be Woody Allen.
Who are your influences? Besides Rakhshan Bani-E’temad, Marjane Satrapi and Michael Bay…
DA: Louis CK, Tina Fey, Noah Baumbach, Catherine Breillat – all smart, honest funny people with something new to say, and a specific point of view.
You do seem to be holding a certain section of New York up to the light – that section that has more than its fair share of hipsters and art installation loft parties; to celebrate, to ridicule, or to examine?
DA: All of the above.
Scott Adsit seems to be having a lot of fun – did he know there was a film being made?
DA: I know you’re looking for a cute response here, but I’m not playing.
It’s New York, so, there’s plenty of sex on offer in the city. The swingers scene has a lot of casualties though; did you feel the need to step cautiously when portraying that world…?
DA: No, I don’t think I’m capable of stepping cautiously. I follow my gut and make an effort to avoid being mean-spirited or unfair.
Have the commercial aspect in mind? There’s a much bigger audience out there for farting zombie ninjas…
DA: I would love to continue making films I think matter and for them to be seen by as many people as possible. I’m not against making commercial films and I think what is classified as commercial is beginning to change. That said, I don’t see any action or zombie films in my future.
The main life lesson here is, farts are funny, right? If Louis CK says so, it must be true…
You’re about to join Lena Dunham in GIRLS. Curious, is there a world of difference between Girls and THE MINDY PROJECT, and, hand on heart, which one do you prefer?
DA: I’m very genuinely a fan of both women and watch both shows.
Words: Paul Byrne
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR hits Irish screens March 6th