Multi-hyphenate—writer, director and actress—Desiree Akhavan took cues from Woody Allen for her first feature film, Appropriate Behavior. “It’s structured a bit like Annie Hall,” she explains of the movie, which premiered at Sundance in January. “I was super inspired by that film and kept thinking, ‘What if this was a gay couple, and instead of Manhattan, modern-day Brooklyn is the backdrop?’”
Akhavan plays the lead role who, like herself, is an Iranian-American trying to come out to her family. Though the storyline is personal, it’s not autobiographical. “The events never took place, but I had been dealing with a breakup and had come out to my family a few years earlier. Those were things I wanted to talk about and examine.”
“The events are also absurd. It’s silly,” she adds. Take for example, one scene in which Akhavan’s character Shirin is lingerie shopping. “I actually need to stock up on panties,” she banters with the associate. “My ex-girlfriend cut up most of mine. So I’m going to need more.”
“The film talks so frankly about sex,” says Akhavan, who has more nude scenes than any of the other actors. “It was the best possible scenario,” she explains of directing herself in sex scenes. “It’s far more nerve-wracking performing for another director. Being in front of the lens is really vulnerable. It’s inherently scary. There is so much that could possibly happen with your image. It’s another person taking your words or your performance and taking it out of context and editing it together into something you have no control over. When you’re the director and you know you’ll have a hand in what happens next, you have no fears. You can take whatever risks you want to, go wherever you’d want to. And if you’re uncomfortable with it, it doesn’t have to go in the film.”
The star enlisted the same courage off camera. “I was directing in my underwear sometimes. Just panties. Nothing else. After a few takes of this one scene I stopped putting my shirt on in between the takes. It felt more risqué if I kept having to take it on and off.”
If Akhavan’s refusal to feel awkward about being naked reminds you of Lena Dunham, then her next move won’t come as a surprise. The 29-year-old will have a recurring role on Season 4 of Girls.