10 Qs: Desiree Akhavan

10 Qs: Desiree Akhavan

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty

It’s safe to say Desiree Akhavan an “It” moment. The actress—who was featured in the Out100 in 2012—is following the success of her webseries, The Slope, with a new feature film and a guest-starring role on HBO’s Girls.

Appropriate Behavior, which was a hit at Sundance last year, finally made its debut in theaters and VOD over the weekend. The film, about a young bisexual Persian-American who is dealing with pressures from her family and the failure of her past relationship, has turned fans out of New York Times’ A.O. Scott and Lena Dunham, who cast her on the fourth season of her show.

This past Sunday, Akhavan made her debut as one of Hannah’s new classmates in the Iowa writers’ workshop she’s attending. And as long as Hannah is in Iowa, Akhavan will be there to hilariously criticize her work.

As Akhavan celebrates the release of her new film and her Girls debut, the actress talks to Out to answer our 10 most burning questions about comparisons to Freddie Mercury, the workshop experience, and paying homage to Annie Hall.

Out: We first covered the making of Appropriate Behavior very early in the process back in 2013. What was the biggest challenge of going from script to screen?

Desiree Akhavan: The biggest challenge that I had was in the editing room. I was figuring out what I had and what to do with it. Having the experience of doing something—I have a lot of experience writing—I have much more experience on set than I do in the editing room. And when I got to the editing room it was just, like, shock when I didn’t know what I was looking at. A rough cut is a very specific thing. It’s hard to quite understand there’s hope when you see something really rough.

AB Lead

Filming 'Appropriate Behavior' in New York City

There are a lot of references to Annie Hall, was that intentional?

It was something I was looking at. There’s a sequence when they’re at the bookstore where we stole, or paid homage to a shot in Annie Hall. We were very aware of the references we were making and I wanted to make a real conscious reference to that film.

Speaking of film references, were there any LGBT films that influenced this film? Do you think we’ve reached a point where we have enough films to reference?

Of course I think we’re there. There are a lot of amazing LGBT films. High Art is one of my all-time favorites—gay or not gay. I didn’t happen to reference that with this film, but I definitely think there are amazing films and we’re at that point where we’ve got a whole history behind us.

The film deals with the complexities of being bisexual. Was your intention to shine light on bisexuality?

Yes, for sure. Bisexuality is the last great taboo in our umbrella. I feel like it’s not to be spoken of. We’ve got one poster child, and it’s Tila Tequila. It’s kind of an ugly thing to be. I feel like the feeling out there is that you can’t really trust someone who identifies that way, and that they are lying. It’s also a messy gray area that’s neither here nor there.

Bisexuality became something of a topic of conversation in 2014 when several stars started speaking out about it. As a bisexual woman, do you think it’s important to make films that address it or speak out yourself?

I feel the need to speak out about a lot of things that I feel are not spoken about. So it’s not like I have this political agenda that drives my work. My work drives my political agenda.

We respond to what’s visible and what’s in front of our face and that’s why film is such a powerful medium—for changing minds and humanizing gay characters. But the thing about bisexuality is that the way I’m perceived is contingent on who I’m with at that moment. So if you see me walking down the street with my girlfriend, I’m a lesbian. And if I’m with a man then I’m straight. Not having that visibility is really difficult. I would like to continue making work that tells the story of what it means to be in the middle there.

Our critic Armond White compared your look to Freddie Mercury and a young Steven Tyler. Have you ever heard of such comparisons before?

It’s funny—recently, I’ve been reading a lot of things that people think I look like Freddie Mercury and I look like a dude. I think in different angles I photography very differently. I happen to photograph a lot like Freddie Mercury. [Laughs] In life I don’t think I’m that androgynous. I’m pretty feminine. I’ve been told in life, a lot, Sandra Bullock and Hilary Swank. But perhaps people are trying to be nice, and that they actually think I look like Steven Tyler.

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Lena captured this all-too-familiar scene of the writing workshop in the latest episode of Girls. Have you been through a similar experience?

Oh yeah, totally. I went to graduate for filmmaking at NYU. I loved my classmates where we had that dynamic, and it’s interesting because you’re put in the situation to speak and break down people's art work to the tiniest detail. It’s so intangible what makes something good or bad but, for some reason, because you’re in the classroom environment, there is this agreed upon ‘good versus bad’ and it’s basically whatever the professor thinks.

We’ve only seen your character in Iowa so far. Any chance you’ll pop up in New York?

Uhh, I can’t talk about that. You know that! It’s a spoiler.

Both you and Lena exist in this semi-autobiographical world of storytelling. Lena has gotten pushback on that from a creative standpoint. Do you ever worry about the same for you? 

The only thing I fear is genuinely hurting people or offending people deeply—which is going to happen—and it’s just something that makes me sad. The way you respond to something is so personal. Like, sometimes someone’s face pisses me off. I don’t want to tell anybody cause that’s the case. If there’s ever an actor and you’re like, "Fuck you," and they haven’t done anything to you, it’s all about you and some six-year-old traumatic experience you had that that person’s face triggered. It’s so personal to them and not at all valid to my life. All I care about are the people in my life, and the people I love. As long as they’re OK with the film then I can’t give a shit. Or I would never make anything or leave my home.

What is your spirit animal?

A leopard. I love the way they move, and I love how sleek they are. Though, I guess Freddie Mercury is my spirit animal. Let’s be honest! 

Watch a clip from Appropriate Behavior below:

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