An easy way to describe “The Bisexual” is “What if ‘Chasing Amy’ was not directed by Kevin Smith, but a bisexual woman?” — and it’s a description that creator Desiree Akhavan appreciates. “I’ll take it,” she said to IndieWire in a recent interview. “I 100 percent agree with that synopsis.”
Akhavan, who also directed this year’s Sundance favorite “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” didn’t have anything against “Chasing Amy.” But, she felt, “what if it was written from the perspective of Amy? Which is what I care about more. That’s why I like that film — I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a story I can relate to.’ That’s comedy, that’s something really intriguing to me. But, I didn’t want to know it from Ben Affleck’s point of view.”
The Hulu series mirrors the 1997 Miramax film when it comes to its central premise: A woman who has always identified as gay discovers that she’s attracted to men. However, while “Chasing Amy” was told from the perspective of the straight man who falls in love with that character, “The Bisexual” is firmly rooted in the experience of Leila (Akhavan), whose love life becomes a lot more complicated after the end of a 10-year relationship with a woman.
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The ability to flip stories like this and find a new perspective on them, Akhavan said, is “why I enjoy being a filmmaker. I think you usually get the stories from the least interesting characters’ point of view, because men control storytelling, or have throughout our lives. It’s exciting to say, ‘Alright, same story, but it’s suddenly completely reinvented, from the perspective of the other person. The marginalized person in the room.'”
Over the course of the six-episode first season, Leila explores sexual relationships with both men and women, while also dealing with the reveal of her orientation and how it affects all of her friendships. While its complicated yet funny characters end up developing into a true ensemble by the end, the focus on Akhavan remains throughout.
“The Bisexual,” as a title, wasn’t with the project from the beginning — when Akhavan was developing the script at the Sundance Episodic Story Lab, she entered it with the title “Switch Hitter.”
“I was looking for a euphemism that meant bisexual, but that was less gauche and less tacky and less upsetting,” she said. “And then, I think it was about a year ago that I realized that I think all the things that made me uncomfortable with the actual title were the reasons why it needs to be the title of the show. And it was like, ‘Okay, we can’t use any euphemism.’ I think the show is about how hard it is to say this word and we need to put our money where our mouth is and do that.”
But it was a decision that wasn’t embraced universally. “Even when I did that, I had a lot of friends and family say ‘you gotta come up with a different title,'” she said. “It was that dialogue of ‘why’ that solidified my conviction that it was the title we needed.”
Akhavan stars as well as directs the series, which is never an easy feat. “With this show, there were so many moving elements, it was really challenging. It was like shooting two low-budget indies in a row, and also starring in it,” she said. “The mechanics of directing were pretty stressful on this shoot. Which made starring in it very difficult.”
But Akhavan made the series alongside Rowan Riley and Cecilia Frugiuele, and noted that Frugiuele, who produced her previous two films and co-wrote the show, is a key part of how she’s usually able to both act and direct at the same time.
Frugiuele, unfortunately, wasn’t available to be on set for “The Bisexual” due to recently giving birth, “so it was actually pretty hellish. But, I don’t think it’s always hellish and I don’t think that’s the rule. I just think each circumstance is completely different,” Akhavan said. “What enables you to wear so many hats is putting your weight on your collaborators. She’s in every word of those scripts. So, it’s very much her project too. Losing her temporarily as a collaborator was the hardest part of the shoot for me.”
Acting, in general, isn’t something she wants to prioritize in her career going forward. “I see myself as a storyteller, and whatever tools I need to get there I’ll take,” she said. “But, at the same time, I don’t think that acting is my favorite of the jobs or the one that I feel expresses what I have to say the most. I mean, I’m very happy to do it when I do it. But we should leave it to the professionals.”
Akhavan said that after every project, she typically wants to do something completely opposite — “it always swings like a pendulum” — so her desire for her next project is to “go into something more magical realism and visually driven.”
However, should “The Bisexual” get a second season, she has plenty of ideas. “[Season 2] would probably pick up at a very different point in all the characters’ lives. I think that’s the luxury of being such a short season — the format changes a bit, it’s not the same episodic candy like, it can go on forever and not a lot has to change,” she said. “I think when you have such an economy of time, you get to really get in there and tell a story and get out. And there has to be a reason it’s such a short glimpse. I’d like for a second season to reflect that model.”
And she feels like there are going to be more and more opportunities, to tell stories from different points-of-view. “I feel in some ways that’s what’s happening in Hollywood. They’re slowly realizing that there’s a lot to be won from those marginalized perspectives, and there’s some really good storytelling there that the audience craves. I think we’re slowly getting there.”
“The Bisexual” is streaming now on Hulu.