David Dastmalchian is a man of many comic book movie roles. The writer-actor, who got his start in 2008's The Dark Knight, has gone on to appear in superhero adaptations like The Flash, Gotham, Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp. What's more, he officially has his very first comic book coming out: Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter.
A longtime comic book fan, Dastmalchian sat down with CBR at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss all his upcoming nerdy projects. He offered some details about his work with artist Lukas Ketner on Count Crowley and explained why he is the luckiest nerd he knows. Though he couldn't talk much about The Suicide Squad, he revealed the reason he was particularly excited to play Abra Kadabra on The Flash and why Dune's Piter De Vries was his most challenging role yet. He also teased his role in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, his new Hulu series Reprisal and more.
CBR: You've appeared in projects like The Dark Knight, The Flash, Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Gotham, which is quite a storied comic book career. Was that intentional, or is this all a coincidence?
Dastmalchian: With acting, as much as we like to make intentional [choices], I believe that it is like playing the lottery. I am the luckiest. I'm the luckiest nerd I know. I grew up in the world of going to my local comic shop in Kansas City, called Clint's Comics. That was my weekend, every weekend. That, and movies, were my life and my dream. Then I fell in love with acting when I got a little bit older. I went and studied acting and became a professional theater actor in Chicago, but always still reading my comics and going to my movies and dreaming of working in movies.
I got the opportunity to audition for my first movie in 2008 for The Dark Knight, and that was my break. That was the first time I was ever on a movie set. It has been a very surreal roller coaster ride all the way up until the very moment that we're experiencing right now, which is still just insane.
You're also a writer, and you've got a comic book coming out. Can you tell us a little bit about that and who you're working with?
I'd love to! Yes, so I've written my whole life. I've written in all different forms and formats. I wrote my first screenplay that was actually produced [into] an independent film called Animals, which we made in 2013 and came out in 2014. Then I had another dramatic film script called All Creatures Here Below, which actually just came out. [It] stars Karen Gillan, one of the best actors in Hollywood right now. Those have been incredibly rewarding experiences for me, as an artist, as a storyteller.
Then, since I was about 12 years old, growing up in Kansas City... and collecting comics, but also watching my Friday night creature feature, which was hosted by an incredible woman called Cremation Mortem, played by Roberta Solomon. Creation Mortem's Friday creature feature -- I just obsessed over it. In the years since then, I've always been imagining this world in which this hero battles monsters, and their alter ego is as a horror host. That idea, that 12-year-old in me's idea, has evolved and taken a lot of new meaning on as I've grown into my adult life, experiencing a world in which I believe monsters are real, whether they may be in the guise of humans or politicians or people that we see around us on the news or in real life.
So I had this idea that I thought would be a really interesting television series. So I work on the new MacGyver [with] Peter Lenkov, who is a mastermind behind so many nostalgic properties that have become television and film. I said to Peter, "I could use your advice. I have this idea that I think I want to try and create a TV show to try and pitch. Could I talk to you about it?" And he said, "Sure." And so I was telling him about this hero, this Count Crowley hero, and Jerri Bartman, this woman that I want to be this horror host and Peter just, like, latched. He loved the idea. He got really excited about it.
Next thing I know, one of his producers, Ashley Dizon, came in the room. Then we were just going and we're excited. Then he wanted to introduce me to Mike Richardson at Dark Horse. I met them last year at Comic-Con, we had a big sit-down meeting, and they told me that they thought it would be really cool, that this story would lend itself to comic books. I freaked out because, like I said, I've been reading and collecting comics. I've got thousands of comic books... I never imagined in my wildest dreams. I just never thought I would have a story that would -- I didn't imagine I was going to be a guy that could write a comic book. I didn't ever look at comic books that way. It was never something that I thought, like, "I'm going to make those things." I just love them. I love getting lost in them and collecting them. But the idea of making one was something that hadn't even crossed my radar.
So when Mike Richardson is sitting there with you from Dark Horse, saying, "I love this idea. I think it would be a great comic book." I just died, and then I had to dive into learning how to write a comic book. Fortunately, because I've been writing screenplays, there is a great connective tissue.
I have an incredible editor, Megan Walker, at Dark Horse. Then she introduced me to Lukas Ketner, our artist, and he drew his first sketch of what he thinks Jerri Bartman, aka Count Crowley, would look like. I hope that you can show your audience, but I've never had that experience, where I've imagined something for 30 years and then someone drew it and painted it and it looks even more like what I dream of than my own dream. It's crazy. So here we are. We've just announced the comic, It comes out October 23, issue #1, and it's an insane ride.
Is there any established property that you'd like to take a crack at writing?
Yes, a number of them. I'd love to bring back like a Blood of Dracula and do something of my own with that. I think it's really fun, reading and following what's been happening, you know? They're doing a cool Reanimator right now and Vampirella mashup, which has been fun. I would love to dabble in that, but I hope -- now that I'm getting to know people at Dark Horse -- that, at some point, I could take a crack at a BPRD story or plotline because I think that what Mike [Mignola] did with that world, creating a universe that is open to... its history. There's so much stuff in that universe now, and the Witchfinder stuff and all. It's so cool. I would love to get my hands and take a shot at something in there.
So we recently found out that you're going to be in Suicide Squad.
Oh, says who? Is that out there?
Can you, in your own words, describe Polka-Dot Man?
I honestly don't know. I don't know anything about Polka-Dot Man. I don't know. I really don't know anything about Suicide Squad. I know that James [Gunn] is one of probably the greatest people who makes movies in our time and what he's done with the characters -- be they super obscure characters that even comic nerds might not be totally familiar with, all the way to legendary and iconic characters. What his mind, what his imagination, what his heart does with telling these stories -- it's just mind-boggling. And I am as excited as probably you are, as probably everyone watching this is, to see what he's going to do with this next movie that he's about to make, as well as the one that's coming after it [Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3]. How incredible is that? The guy is going to get to actually make the movie that we've all been hoping and waiting to see since Guardians 2 came out. Thank God, like the universe was righted. Finally. But yeah, that's it.
Can you maybe talk a little bit about how you got involved in the project?
I don't know. I take your word for it. I mean, you're a journalist, you know, I'm just an actor... You know what? I've got an idea. So Comic-Con 2020. When this couch is reset in this room, we'll sit down and maybe we could talk about other things like that. Is that a date?
Let's switch tracks and discuss your TV history. You played Abra Kadabra on The Flash, and it really felt like the character stepped right out of the comics.
Thank you for saying that. Thank you for saying that. I was familiar, very familiar... and I do love the DC villains and the Rogues Gallery. There's something about characters like Abra and maybe some other characters that are out there, but there's something special about Abra for me because [of] what his motivation [is] and what really drives him. Of course, there's different plot lines, where they've tried to go different directions. I appreciate what they did with Rebirth, because it was cool to see him come back, but I love the guy that all he wants is attention and all he wants is everybody to love him. I think that's such a gross, sick, kind of twisted thing -- that he would come from the future to get millions of people to like, applaud and bow down before him and have all this power.
So when they called me and asked if I wanted to play Abra Kadabra, I was very excited. I also really love the show. I think Grant [Gustin] is so good, and the whole cast is great. So I'm glad that you liked that. I wanted it to be even more in a in a way of a nod to the nostalgia of those more classic Rogues, you know? I think we got there. I think we got to do something that felt like a real nod to that DC world of yore.
What are the odds we could we'll see Abra Kadabra sometime in the future?
Well, because I am from the future and because I'm a magician, I can tell you that that all is -- oh, the assassins are over there. [laughs] They're like, "You can't say anything about [that]." Yeah, no, I've always got my cards and Abra, he's always right there, waiting to jump back in. I don't know if they could handle him. I mean, honestly, I think if you gave him too much time, he'd really end up taking over Central [City] and probably getting everyone to just applaud. He could mesmerize everyone and hypnotize them into into a 3000-year-long standing ovation because that's what he really wants.
So he's a little more intimidating than the Anti-Monitor, huh?
A little bit, maybe! I don't know. It's up to you! That's a personal choice, personal decision... I love what's happening with television. I love the world of long-form storytelling. I think it's like comic books. I think we can come back every issue, just like you can come back every episode, just like with movies, what's happening with Marvel, what's happening with DC. I am so excited about the time that we're living in in entertainment, especially as someone who loves comic books.
I'm working on a really cool TV show that isn't from a property that exists called Reprisal that'll come out from Hulu next year. The guy who created that, I feel like his mind is reminds me a lot of Frank Miller with some Tarantino, Rodriguez. That vibe of, "This is la timeless kind of world we're creating," and there's gangs and I get to play a -- dude, if you liked the look or the style of some of the crazier characters I've played before, I can't wait for people to see this character Johnson in Reprisal. And then Dune! I mean, gosh, I'm a nerd. Like, it's crazy. It's crazy.
Speaking of Dune, what went into crafting your character Piter De Vries?
You know, Piter De Vries, the way he's described in the book -- I think that what's so what's so wonderful about about him is that he's a human computer. All the Mentats are human computers, but some have been twisted. Piter is one who has been twisted. So his work for the Baron and what he needs to achieve for house Harkonnen is dark. What has been tricky for me, as this film is being made, is I've played a lot of characters -- some are twisted or dark, or like with Abra, he's fun because he needs the love. He's filling this empty hole in his heart. But with maybe darker or even more serious characters, it's been really always a gift to know that I've always worked for and with collaborators who have created characters -- that the motivations behind them are, you know, emotional, whereas Piter is like the computer version of sociopathy. I mean, his curiosity and his ability to harm someone or hurt someone to achieve a goal is as much out of a kind of sick curiosity as it is to achieving the goal that needs to be reached, and that was hard for me.
You could just twist your mustache and be a bad guy and just want to hurt people. You could do that. But that's not the movie Denis [Villeneuve] is making, and that's not the book that Frank Herbert wrote. I mean, the characters in Dune are some of the most well-rounded, some of the most multi-dimensional characters in literature. I mean, it's incredible when you look at that piece of writing and you look at all the angles at which he wrote about his characters and their relationships to one another. So when I think about how I was going to make Piter move, speak exist. Yeah, really, really interesting.
Tell me about your Jay and Silent Bob Reboot character and how you got involved in the project.
So Jay and Silent Bob Reboot was a blast for me to work on. Kevin [Smith] has become a good friend over the years. Through Kevin, I've gotten to know Jay [Mewes]. Jay's directorial debut, Madness in the Method, is coming soon. I actually first worked on Madness in the Method with Jay. They had reached out and asked if I wanted to come play a role in Madness in the Method. And so I said, "Of course, yeah." I went and we had a blast. I played this character called The Witness and it was so fun shooting that.
Then, when Kevin started working on Reboot, I said to him, I was like, "Hey, man! Anything you you want, I'd love to come play and do a cameo." And he was like, "Are you sure you want to come? Because we need somebody to be this. I don't know if you've seen the trailer." Yes, SWAT team member who is very nervous. He's having a very rough day. He's very uncomfortable. And when we go to raid their spot, the reaction -- because Jay doesn't seem to hear us for a while and we're saying, "Drop your plants! Drop your plants!" And he drops his pants, and I freak out. What can I say? Jay tucks and my character doesn't understand what's happening.
It was surreal. Dude, it was so cool to be on set with those two guys, who are such incredible friends and such great people. I mean, their relationship to one another and all the crew and their friends that were with them, making their movie and seeing Kevin, who came at the very edge of death's door just a year ago and is now making his movie, it was awesome.