Iranian-American Desiree Akhavan wears many hats, including director, producer, screenwriter and actress.
After graduating from New York University's Tisch School of Arts, she appeared regularly in her work. She was in the lesbian-themed web series The Slope and in 2014 her film Appropriate Behavior had her playing an alternative version of herself.
She wrote, directed and produced The Miseducation of Cameron Post, starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane. Set in 1993 Montana, the film follows a high school junior named Cameron Post who is sent to a religious conversion camp called God's Promise after being caught kissing a girl. Group therapy and surprise friendships are all part of the adventure.
The talented, self identified bisexual called from London, where she lives, to discuss the new project.
Windy City Times: Did you always want to be involved with film?
Desiree Akhavan: Yes. I started off as a child writing plays around 9 years old and putting them on at school. Growing up in the New York area I always thought I would be a playwright.
In college, I took a film class. I fell in love. All of the skills that I had been cultivating in theater transitioned to film and television.
WCT: You co-wrote The Miseducation of Cameron Post?
DA: Yes, with Cecila Frugiuele. It is based on a book of the same title. We did research alongside that. We looked into gay conversion therapy and the different organizations that promoted it. A lot of the details that we couldn't find in the book ended up coming from the research we did.
WCT: Was the iceberg idea part of the book?
DA: It was in the book. I wish I could take credit for that, but I can't. Anyone can relate their behavior to that. It is a symptom to a larger problem. It's just a tip of the iceberg.
WCT: Did you add the 4 Non Blondes song "What's Up?" because of the lesbian lead singer?
DA: There is a moment in the book where they sing "Oh Happy Day." I loved that scene in the book, but I thought she should sing something a little more relevant and connected to the world that they live in. I thought "What's Up?" was a really great song for that moment and reflective of what they were going through. It was from 4 Non Blondes that was a notoriously queer band. It felt like the right time for her to have that peak enjoyment in the movie.
WCT: How was working with Chloe Grace Moretz?
DA: It was fantastic. She put her focus and energy into transforming into a different person. We built a character together. She had lost herself in all of the other characters she had played previously so I loved making this with her.
WCT: Did Forrest Goodluck have to actually shave his hair?
DA: Yes. It was a real challenge finding an actor that was not only Native American, also willing to play gay, that was something a lot of Native American actors were not comfortable doing, then on top of that was willing to have his head shaved.
Forrest Goodluck was a unicorn of an actor! We were lucky to have him and he was incredibly brave. He was game to do whatever it took to transform into the role.
WCT: Was it challenging to make Miseducation in the first place?
DA: Yes. We didn't make it with a studio. We made it independently. A company called Beachside that financed the movie. They were the only people that had the courage to make something like this. It was a real labor of love. The people involved were all aware of the risky subject matter that was involved.
WCT: What have you heard from audiences now that the film is out?
DA: I have been grateful to meet young people that were desperate for something like this. This film spoke to them on the personal level and spoke honestly about someone's sexual coming of age. I have heard people have laughed and cried. There has been some overwhelming sentiment.
WCT: When the truck is driving away, I saw some Illinois radio station bumper stickers. Was it filmed here?
DA: That is so interesting. I didn't know it was Illinois. Basically, we tried to keep it ambiguous as to where the kids are from. We wanted wherever people are watching it from that it could be their town. So why don't we go ahead and say it's Illinois?
WCT: Well, come and promote the film here.
DA: I love Chicago. My friend Joe Swanberg makes Netflix's Easy there so I want to see how he shoots.
WCT: So, you starred in a past film of yours Appropriate Behavior?
DA: Yes and it was a fantastic experience. I co-produced with Cecilia Frugiuele. I was in it and shot it for no money. It wound up premiering at Sundance.
More recently, I shot a TV series that will be on Hulu and I am in that as well. After making Cameron Post I have to say that I would rather direct than act. I prefer to stay behind the camera from now on.
WCT: What is the Hulu series called?
DA: It is called The Bisexual. I play a bisexual in the comedy.
WCT: How do you feel bisexual people are represented in the media?
DA: There isn't any representation. It is a very niche subject matter. I think it is something people don't discuss very often.
It seem neither here nor there. You are defaulted to whomever you are in a relationship with. If you are with the opposite sex then you are straight and with the same sex then you are gay. It is hard to be visible as a bisexual. It was something I had a lot to say about so that's how the series came about. No one had really said anything so it was a good opportunity to tell stories that hadn't been told.
Visit CamPostFilm.com for screenings and information on The Miseducation of Cameron Post.