March 3, 2015 Leigh Singer

Desiree Akhavan – Appropriate Behaviour / AnOther Magazine

Desiree Akhavan: Not the New Lena Dunham

Filmmaker Desiree Akhavan on her acclaimed debut Appropriate Behaviour and all those Girls comparisons

Let’s get two things out of the way from the start: Desiree Akhavan is not Shirin, the endearingly self-sabotaging lead of her debut feature Appropriate Behaviour, even though she actually plays this “heightened version of my worst and best” and they share a specific Iranian-American, bisexual, New Yorker background; neither is she ‘the new Lena Dunham’, whose Girls show is regularly name-checked in any Akhavan profile, for sharing the same hip Brooklyn environs and a protagonist beset by thwarted artistic ambition and disastrous relationships.

What Akhavan, 30, is, is a bold new female, cinematic voice with her own fresh insider-outsider perspective. Building on the promise of cult web series The Slope – co-created with her ex-girlfriend Ingrid Jungermann, which landed them on Filmmaker magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film list – Appropriate Behaviour is a super-smart, often very raw (she does share Dunham’s lack of inhibition) and touching film, whose sense of humour remains gleefully inappropriate throughout.

On inhibitions off and on-screen…
“Photographs make me really paranoid; so does video and listening to my voice. I’m actually not very good at this [interview] stuff, so I’m trying to learn to handle this part of the job with grace and dignity, which I do not have yet. But watching footage of myself when we’re filming, I’m OK with. Or choreographing myself in a sex scene. It’s very much how I’m part of a larger vehicle, moving a project forward and you’re able to talk yourself into the perspective you need to create it.”

On her formative film influences…
“My brother is five years older than me and my parents weren’t precious or overprotective with us. My first film at the cinema was Amadeus. I saw Se7en at around 10 years old, It didn’t haunt me, I was really fascinated. I saw Trainspotting in the cinema then too and it had a real impact on me. I had a very dramatic inner life and when I saw films like Trainspotting, it was like, this speaks to me, this is life how I felt it! The drama of the snobby elementary school I went to and the kids being mean to me, was on a par to being a crackhead and losing your baby – those were the stakes and they were exactly the same…”

On being a “half-assed Iranian”…
“I was born and raised in New York. Being Iranian is a huge part of my identity in a way but I’m getting this whittled-down, third-hand information from my family. Even my language is limited and very old-fashioned. I have a film school friend who grew up in Tehran and when we speak Farsi, she’s like, ‘You sound like my fucking grandma!’ I can’t go back [to Iran] any more because it’s just too dangerous. When you’re openly gay and make work about it, it’s like painting a target on your forehead. So it’s a very funny place to come from – when something so dictates your life and yet you’re an outsider completely.”

On whether her work is her therapy…
“I’ve seen so many different therapists in my life and I’m a real advocate. My work is very personal and in some ways how I take power over situations in which I’ve felt disempowered, for sure. But that’s the extent of it. If the film were a way for me to work through some things, it would be highly masturbatory and only I would enjoy it. At the end of the day you’re thinking about creating a story.”

On appearing in the new series of ‘Girls’ and Lena Dunham comparisons…
“Lena’s character goes to graduate school and I play her classmate. I’m really excited about it. It’s just a really collaborative and relaxed set – something that’s entirely contingent on the people in charge. It makes sense to say [Appropriate Behaviour] is of the same world. But there’s inherently an implication of ‘This seat’s been taken.’ And I think Lena, in the very action of casting me, was saying, ‘No, there’s room.’ I think it’s a real testament to how little she breeds competition and how she doesn’t care about superficial bullshit like that. I don’t think she has to watch her back!”

Appropriate Behaviour is released on March 6.

To read the original article at AnOther Magazine, click here: Desiree Akhavan Appropriate Behaviour

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