Interview with Desiree Akhavan

Anthony Davis spoke to Desiree Akhavan at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse recently after the screening of her film THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. He began by asking whether she had been influenced by ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST or GIRL, INTERRUPTED…

Desiree Akhavan: I’ve seen CUCKOO’S NEST and GIRL, INTERRUPTED but I didn’t want to be influenced by them. The only film that I felt influenced the movie is Todd Haynes’ SAFE. I watched it with a friend towards the end of the year that we were adapting the book into the screenplay, and there were so many parallels that I found… and suddenly, I got inspired to write a couple of new scenes.

AJD: You’ve said that after CAMERON POST, you wanted to make something more mainstream, because that was the sort of film you grew up with.

DA: Yeah, for sure!

AJD: When you were here before, I mentioned ANNIE HALL in connection with your film APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR. Woody Allen followed up with INTERIORS and then alienated everyone with STARDUST MEMORIES. He’s been able to make a film every year.

DA: To be fair, although I’m not a fan of him as a human being, I’ve been inspired by ANNIE HALL in particular. As an artist, he is incredibly prolific. He self-generates, and has so many ideas. I think that he’s in a position where no-one says “no” to him, and he has been since the 70s.

AJD: He’s a special case of privilege.

DA: Yes, privilege meets hustler. At the same time, I think he would have benefitted from someone saying “no”. I think a lot of those films shouldn’t have been made.

AJD: Do you think that people are going to see APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR as more personal, despite its not being autobiographical?

DA: I think a big selling point of APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR was the fact that the star was the writer, was the director. Because it’s my face on screen, you can’t ignore the fact that there’s one person at the helm of this. Because it’s Chloe’s face in CAMERON POST it’s going to attract a really different audience and I don’t think people are going to be so aware of the person who directed it, which is fine. It is very personal to me but it’s also my fingerprint touching it. It’s my interpretation of a book.

AJD: What drew you to Chloe for the part?

DA: Her team showed interest and I jumped at it. She wasn’t someone that I envisioned for that part, but when I heard she was interested I got so excited because it was so leftfield, I never would have thought of her for that role. I thought that kind of casting juxtaposition of her personality to the character was really smart for this kind of movie.

AJD: Was there a quality in her character that you liked, or that was brought out during the filming? She acts so well with her eyes.

DA: Yes, I didn’t realise it until we were filming that she was very good at silently playing a scene. I think in rough cuts there was a worry that there was an opaqueness to that character. It’s a performance that lives a lot in silence, and that is a strength of Chloe’s.

AJD: How was it filming the last sequence of the film?

DA: It was hard, because a lot of different things had to come together, but it’s still one of the most triumphant moments I had on set. It was a lot of different moving people and it was hard because we had to have the motorcycle stunt coordinator – there were three vans following each other, there was the truck – our cinematographer was strapped to the truck. Her grip was lying on top of her with his body, double strapping her in.

Then there was the focus puller – there were all these people – and then I was in the truck behind them with the monitor, and then the AD was driving and walkie-talkie-ing – and then the stunt coordinator was ahead of them. There were people on either side holding the traffic with the cops. It was this huge production, and I’m not used to production because I make these tiny films… And all the time the sun was setting. It was magic hour, it was ice cold, and we could only block the street for so long.

We did it maybe eight or nine times, and it’s tiring for everyone but you’re like, “which one do you have the magic on?”. I remember I was recording it on my phone as it was happening so I could review it later, and we had that one that just worked because something in Chloe’s eyes just died, and that’s when the music fades out. To me, it was that they don’t have a plan – and the triumph of their escape is immediately squashed by the realisation that they are homeless now. I’m really proud of that ending.

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