Appropriate Behaviour: An Interview with Desiree Akhavan

Interviewed by Emma Silverthorn @HouseOf_Gazelle

As a massive fan of Desiree Akhavan, ‘multi-hyphenated’ writer-director-actor of this years wonderful indie-flick Appropriate Behaviour, I had to dose myself up with calming herbal pills (rhodiola rosea) and rub some lavender oil into my wrists before our interview yesterday. Thankfully Desiree was as gracious, lovely and as cool a presence as one could hope for within the articificial context of a phone interview.

Aware that Desiree has been doing a lot of interviews recently, what with the UK DVD release of Appropriate Behaviour looming at the end of June, I began with a selection of random one word/one sentence demanding questions, officially known as The ThornKim Questionnaire.

The seed of the ThornKim Questionnaire was planted in 2011 during a strange weekend spent with my good friend Gloria Kim in Montauk, New York. These questions were created to offer insight into the minds of the artists and writers Gloria and I then featured in our annual literary arts magazine The Liner. (I am no longer at the Masthead of The Liner but Gloria is and it’s well worth checking out.)

OK over to Desiree.

What’s the first thing you think of in the morning?

Mastabation. Sex.

What do you write with?

My computer.

Favorite scent?

I really love this Hermes perfume, I forget the name, Toit something.

Favorite sound?

I was going to say children laughing, my neighbors children are always laughing where I live. But no. I really love rain when it’s outside your window. That’s really nice. And scissors snipping.

Drink of choice?

Old Fashioned.

Favorite childhood food?

I really love tadig which is like the crunchy, burnt bit on Persian rice. You should got to a Persian restaurant tonight and get some. My mom does it really well.

When do you become boisterous?

Boisterous. After a few drinks. Whenever I’m dancing I become boisterous. (There’s a line in the film I love about a person knowing and loving that these being are the things Shirin’s good at! They’re important skills.)

When do you recede?

When I’m tired and when I’ve been out in public too much. I work a really weird non-schedule but the last few days I’ve been in the centre of the city taking meetings, doing interviews and wasting time in coffee shops and right now I don’t want to be around people at all.

What were you in a past life?

Um wow. I wonder if a past life as a concept is something you’re rebelling against or something you aspire to. I think I might have been a dog, like a golden retriever. A big, hairy, loyal dog.

High school experience in one word.

Oh man. Traumatising. But necessary, I don’t mean that in a negative way, the good kind of traumatising, I think it ended up being triumphant.

 Person you would most like to reconnect with?

An old mentor of mine from High School actually.

City where you feel most at home, other than the one you live in?

New York. (Desiree is currently living in London. We agreed that Dalston was the equivalent of Bushwick in London but that Lower Clapton had no Brooklyn equivalent which is one of the reason Desiree likes it.)

Stand or sit at a concert?

The better concerts going to be stand but then you get tired. No stand, stand.

Eggs runny or well done?

Well done. Oh, but it depends on what they’re with if there’s bread underneath then runny. Ah see this is a really good lesson in how I micromanage, I’m incapable of just letting go of like tiny inconsequential things. I wont just let it go. I want to know more about the eggs though, tell me more about them!

Stripes or gingham?


Bath or shower?


Rattail or soulpatch?

Rattail ‘cos at least you can hide that fucker.

What do you have faith in?

I have faith that things work out for the right reason, how they’re meant to.

What song would you like to be played at you funeral?

I’m thinking something really cheerful. What song would make people want to get up and dance. Sorry I just need to think about this.

We can come back to this one at the end.


With you living in London now, do you notice any substancial differences between the British and American sense of humour? I know there’s the irony cliche, about Americans not getting it.

I feel like my sense of humour does better in the U.K. than it does in the States. And that here it feels like here people really love self-deprecating humour. And a little more nuanced, you have to think about a bit. Where as in the States to appeal to a wide audience it has to be really obvious. I like jokes that are laced in despair and that there’s many different ways to interpret them. This is also partly why I’ve moved here, for the humour in this country.

Do you have a favorite British writer at the moment, a contemporary?

Andrea Arnold.

I was watching the DVD extras and really enjoyed your BFI interview, it was really funny, have you ever considered doing stand up?

That was in there! I really think it would be fantastic and if I one day gained the courage to do that…but no it’s not on my radar at the moment.

I liked a point you made about ‘coming out’ films often lacking a sense of joy and I’d agree with this so what would be your favorite ‘coming out’ film that does have that joyful vibe?

I don’t know if it would be categorised as a coming out film but I really love Co-dependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. It’s a film that was shot in New York, it went to Sundance a few years ago and it’s a campy, B-movie and it’s not a coming out film, it’s an absurd film, it has a gleeful joy and lack of apology that I really admire.

I also liked a lot your description of Appropriate Behaviour as personal as opposed to autobiographical…

Yeah, it’s not a diary page and it’s going to sound douche-y but [calling it autbiographical] ignores the artistry that shaping a narrative involves. My ex is nothing like that, and the break up was nothing like that, my coming out was not like that and even if say it were, the minute you write something down it really gains a life of its own and you start making decisions for the convenience of the narrative versus telling the truth.

So you were always going to play Shirin?

I always wanted to play Shirin, I knew I’d play Shirin, I wrote it for myself.

You talk about this multi-hyphenate way of working do you feel like it’s an especially good time for this particualr way of working?

Yeah, ‘cos it’s been proven, it’s working I think it’s just going to get better and better, it’s happening. Before there were no examples of this.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a Paris Review interview that he wrote to make one person laugh, his sister, do you have an equivalent?

I do that all that time, I write to make my best friend Cecilia laugh. I write for her ‘cos she reads all my work-I’m working with her now-and I write to make my brother laugh. I feel like he really shaped my sense of humour. Cecilia was the first person who thought I was funny and made me feel like I could say things out loud. And my brother is the person who I’ve shaped myself in his image, you know I think he’s so funny and I just wanted to make him laugh…

Is he a writer?

No, he’s a doctor. So very different. But he’s incredibly witty and a hard guy to please.

Finally, where are you at with the bisexual dating show you’re working on?

I’m working on it, right now I’m waiting to hear back on some U.K. production companies and I’m really excited and I think people will like it here.

SO looking forward to that. OK have you decided your funeral song?

I have, I’ve been thinking about it. Perfect Day.

Appropriate Behaviour is out on DVD and On Demand in the U.K. from June 29th. Here’s our review of the film.








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