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Alia Shawkat talks 'Duck Butter,' lesbian films and Jeffrey Tambor

Alia Shawkat at KPCC
Alia Shawkat at KPCC
The Frame

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Alia Shawkat is at a point in her career where she wants to be telling stories from a personal place. Her new film "Duck Butter," which she co-wrote with director Miguel Arteta, is just such a story.

You know this is the first project that I wrote that came to fruition. It's taught me so many things. But a big one is how for me, I want to share my most personal feelings. I feel like that's how I'll make the best art. In this case there is a piece of me in it for sure. 

"Duck Butter" is about two women (played by Shawkat and Laia Costa) who meet and quickly decide to embark on an experiment in which they stay awake for 24 hours getting to know one another. The only rule is that they have sex every hour. After its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Shawkat picked up a Best Actress award. 

Originally, "Duck Butter" was supposed to be about a man and a woman. When Alia Shawkat came by The Frame studios, she discussed the decision to make the movie about a lesbian couple, why there aren't more lesbian films being made in the U.S. and how she thinks about representation and the stories she wants to tell.

Shawkat also talked about Jeffrey Tambor and the allegations against him. She has acted alongside him for many years as Maeby on “Arrested Development." Shawkat expressed frustration that her words on the issue had been misunderstood in past interviews.

Below are some highlights of Shawkat's conversation with The Frame's John Horn. To hear the full conversation, get the podcast on Apple podcasts.

Interview Highlights: 

Alia Shawkat, actor and co-writer of
Alia Shawkat, actor and co-writer of "Duck Butter" talked with The Frame. Hear the podcast on apple podcasts:
Photo credit: Carlotta Guerrero

On the choice to make 'Duck Butter' about two women instead of a man and a woman:

As someone who's also bisexual, it's not like it's the craziest reference for me. But I think, yeah, I think at first it was like oh we're making a romantic story, and in order for it to reach a bunch of people this [having heterosexual protagonists] is how it would relate to people the most. But then, even for ourselves, we were able to check ourselves by being like – no, this is actually how we're going to tell the story more honestly. 

On the lack of lesbian films in Hollywood:

I think that when sex doesn't have to do with men, a lot of men don't find interest in it. Because it doesn't relate to them. So, also the idea of lesbian sex is still in the group of male fantasies. Their idea of two women hooking up, instead of it actually being that these women only desire each other and they're not attracted to a man. I think that's still part of the issue in general. Things that don't involve a heterosexual male's point of view – they don't have interest in it if it doesn't have to do with them. And, also there just hasn't been a lot of opportunities because the voices of women obviously are becoming more at the forefront. And them telling their stories on film. I think it is changing, but it's hard to see that the needle is moving because of how much time needs to pass for the audience to actually shift. So when we get to the goal where a young man can watch this film and connect to it – of course I'll never really know if he's getting turned on and that's okay – but if he can understand and connect to a character about lesbians, then that's when you know it's shifting. The idea of our sexuality isn't so polarized anymore. 

On how she wants to share personal stories and represent her unique perspective through her art:

There are things I want to write as being an Arab-American, about my family and the experience they've had as Muslims in America now. That's something I'm writing. It's like, there's a lot of artists now who are speaking out, instead of being like hey I'm just the clown, I'm just the person who's performing here. It's become so much more about sharing yourself personally and what you stand for as a representative and also as an actor. Which is also tricky. But in that, I've met a lot of amazing other actors who have these particular voices they want to represent. And now I get to collaborate with them. 

The Frame's John Horn and Alia Shawkat do a modern day
The Frame's John Horn and Alia Shawkat do a modern day "American Gothic" at KPCC.
The Frame

On #MeToo and the Jeffrey Tambor allegations:

It's really tricky, especially now because I did "Arrested [Development]" and it's coming out. And Jeffrey's going to be a part of it. I said in an interview not that long ago that I support the voices of the victims. Which of course I do. And the person took the article and said Alia Shawkat stands against Jeffrey Tambor. And I thought that was so interesting because I was like wow, this person is just trying to get a bite, so they can get hits or whatever.

I'm here – I'm a woman who made a film about two women, and she couldn't care less about that. She just wanted to continuously drag this actor's name through the mud. And for me, I was like this is part of the problem. We need to start focusing on what has all this #MeToo and all these things. Obviously it's taking people who are taking advantage of others out of power. But also what about the reality – it's supposed to be helping women feel like they have more opportunities . 

 “Duck Butter” opens in Los Angeles and New York on April 27th. 

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