the vice interview

Desiree Akhavan Doesn't Mind Being a Hollywood Outsider

We spoke to the writer, actor and director of 'The Bisexual' and 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post' fame, about… well, loads of things.
01 February 2019, 11:00am
Writer and director Desiree Akhavan press photo
Desiree Akhavan (Photo via Vertigo Releasing)

In 2018 the writer, actor and director Desiree Akhavan had something of a bumper year. Following on from her 2014 feature film debut, Appropriate Behaviour, she began the year by premiering her new film, The Miseducation of Cameron Post (about homosexual reversion camps for children) at Sundance film festival, taking home the top Grand Jury prize. Later that year her brilliant comedy drama, The Bisexual, also starring Maxine Peake, launched on Channel 4 to great acclaim.

Now she finally has a day off in 2019, ahead of the DVD/Blu-Ray release of The Miseducation of Cameron Post,. So we figured we'd call her up and subject her to the VICE Interview.

VICE: What is your greatest fear?
Desiree Akhavan: Mediocrity.

You seem to have avoided that so far.
There's a certain point when you're creating anything when it's deeply mediocre and it's just the name of the game. To create something is to stick with it while it sucks and make your way through it. The process is full of facing your own fears because you see the worst version of the thing you're trying to make when you're making it. Nothing comes out perfect.

What would your specialist subject on Mastermind be?
This is really depressing and I’m facing my own stupidity here but it would be either the plots of Archie Comics from the 90s, which I remember every single one of the hundreds I have read, or celebrity gossip – like really banal, petty, stupid celebrity gossip.

Who is the worst celebrity you have ever met?
Oh, I could never answer that but I will say an anecdote about it. Recently I was at an event and I was surrounded by Hollywood A-list actors and, like, one of them had seen The Bisexual. Everyone else had no idea what it was and weren't talking to me. Then I was introduced to this movie star and she said hello, having no idea who I was. The director who I was with was trying to talk me up, like, ‘Desiree won at Sundance this year’, and, ‘her show The Bisexual is with Maxine Peake and it's really good’. It was all really awkward because she just wasn't interested in meeting me at all; it was like my parents trying to talk me up to the admissions council at Harvard.

There was this really awkward pause and I just looked at her and said, ‘I was also the first girl in my school to get her period' and the joke fell so flat. It could not have landed worse. I don't know why I compulsively made a joke about my period but I have not felt as embarrassed or uncomfortable around a celebrity as that moment. I bombed. I once also deeply humiliated myself in front of Amy Poehler, who was clearly so uncomfortable around me and my level of – it wasn't even being sycophantic, it was aggressive – 'you're the reason I make movies' kind of bullshit. I got very excited because I love, love, love everything she does.

Desiree Akhavan on the set of The Bisexual

What conspiracy theory do you believe, if any?
I think I do believe a couple. After seeing Room 237, the documentary about The Shining, there is like 10 percent of me that wonders if Kubrick staged the moon landings.

What's the closest you've come to death?
I have been hit by a car a couple of times. I wasn't seriously injured but it was terrifying. It triggers something in you when that happens. Also, one time when I talked back to my mother.

How long would you last in space?
Not long at all. I'm very high-maintenance. I don't even understand people camping, I honestly don't, it's nonsense. I also get very lonely.

What was your worst phase?
Being a teenager is just the worst. I didn't have any friends and I would mother people to get friends: like, bringing in cakes on people's birthdays and driving everyone everywhere. I just had no personality and mimicked everything that was around me. It was pathetic, absolutely pathetic.

Did it work in getting you new friends?
No, of course not. I had no friends but a lot of chores to do. People were like, 'oh that's just Desiree, she loves cleaning and making sandwiches'. I'd go to a sleepover and everyone's house would be spotless.

Desiree Akhavan

What is the best TV show ever made?
Ever? I don't know, but what comes to mind is 30 Rock. That show is brilliant. I'm always in the mood to watch it, it stands the test of time, and you can watch it 30 times over and still find something to laugh at. It's incredibly smart. It's pure comedy.

How often do you lie in interviews?
I honestly don't think I ever have. There's nothing to lie about, my life is so boring and also I really am uncomfortable lying, it eats away at me. I have nothing to lie about or show off about, also no sexy private life to hide.

If you were a wrestler or a boxer, what would your walk on music be?
"Heads Will Roll" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Desiree Akhavan on the set of 'The Miseducation'

How many times as an adult have you shit yourself?
Once. I had gone to Montana to location scout for The Miseducation of Cameron Post and I put diesel in the engine of the rental car and ruined the engine. I was in the middle of an interstate, about to miss my flight, waiting for AAA and completely stranded in the middle of nowhere. Also realising that I had ruined the engine of a brand-new car. I was so freaked out. I don't think I did it to such a degree that it was a complete disaster but I did it a little bit, it was the Diet Coke of shitting myself. I only share this story to say that pursuing your dreams is ugly business. There is nothing elegant or dignified about making movies, you really have to get your hands and other parts of your body dirty. It is full of failure and embarrassment.

What would your parents have chosen as a profession for you?
I can actually ask my father right now, he's sitting with me.
Desiree’s dad: Just something that would have made you happy.
Desiree: That was really sweet, dad. Also, it's true, they have always been really supportive.

When did you last say no to something?
I just said no to a role, actually. It's hard to gauge when to say no to things, and I think especially with the modern day, 'millennial non-stop freelance working' mentality there's this attitude of everything that is offered you should just be like, 'take it, take it, take it.' No has become my word for the year. I'm becoming really cautious of what is going to drive you further into that to-do list hell.

Desiree Akhavan with Chloë Grace Moretz on the set of 'The Miseducation'

If you could experience death but be guaranteed to come back to life, would you do it?
No. Why? Why would you want to experience that? It sounds terrible. I don't want to experience death, thanks.

Do you have a five-year plan? Or set out goals and ambitions?
I'm not someone who sits down and obsesses over things like that but then also, how are you going to accomplish anything if you don't have an idea of what you aspire to? So I definitely have an idea of what I want to achieve. I realised recently that it's not a biological clock that ticks, it's that you realise your body is no longer going to be capable of having a child soon. That is now something I’m considering since I turned 34. Like, 'oh, this is something I need to make a decision about because my window is closing'. So, yes and no, I’m breezy but I have goals and I know what kind of work of work I want to move into but I’m also open to turning things on their head.

Is that a difficult balance to manage? You thinking about your body running out of time during a period when your career is rocketing?
It's not a balance at all right now because the focus is the work but it's on my mind and eating away at my heart and my brain. You chose your priorities everyday and so far they haven't taken me down the route of getting pregnant but it's something you think about. I have made it a priority for me to have a career on my own terms and that feels paramount at this stage. But it sucks, it 100 percent is shitty. It is what it is.

What piece of advice would you give you this time last year?
If you'd have asked me this a year earlier, I would have said something along the lines of: 'chillax and everything is going to work out' – and maybe that is the advice I need right now, but last year was so hard. A year ago I was at Sundance and also in pre-production for The Bisexual, so I flew back and went straight into on that, which then went into post-production. I didn't have a day off for pretty much the whole year and it was really hard. So I guess I would be like...'fucking brace yourself'.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is released digitally, on DVD and Blu-Ray from Monday the 4th of February.