For this writer, it has been really cool to see actor David Dastmalchian’s career take off ever since we saw him portray one of Joker’s henchmen in The Dark Knight. Since then, he’s appeared in the Ant-Man films and several of Denis Villeneuve’s previous projects (Prisoners and Blade Runner 2049), he’s co-starred in several television series, and genre fans should recognize Dastmalchian from his work in films like Sushi Girl and The Belko Experiment. David even thrilled horror fans everywhere with his portrayal of Dr. Fearless, his vampiric host of the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards, earlier this year. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, Dastmalchian is celebrating his latest role in The Suicide Squad as well as his vocal work in both parts of Batman: The Long Halloween and Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune adaptation as well.

Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Dastmalchian during the press day for James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, and during our interview, we chatted about everything from horror to comics to his portrayal of the Polka-Dot Man and how he was able to relate to the character on a personal level. David also discussed collaborating with both Gunn and his fellow cast members on The Suicide Squad, how the film challenged him, and more.

Look for The Suicide Squad to arrive in theaters and on HBO Max later this week.

So great to speak with you today, David. I am a native Chicagoan, so I know that you spent a good amount of time there doing theater and things like that.

David Dastmalchian: A very significant amount of time, yes. Chicago's a second home for me. I grew up in Kansas, but I studied at the theater school at DePaul. Also, I have to say, I appreciate not only your Chi-Town town connection, but your great taste in films, just from looking at two posters behind you. Those make me very happy. [Writer’s Note: the two posters were for New Nightmare and Jason Lives.]

Well, knowing that you are also a horror fan, I was eventually going to bring up whether or not we were ever going to see Dr. Fearless again from the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards because he was a lot of fun.

David Dastmalchian: I think he has a place in the DCU. What do you think? I feel like he could pop up. I think that he'd be a member of the Suicide Squad. Right? Every Suicide Squad could use a vampire mad scientist. That would be a really good fit.

If anybody could pull it off, it would be James [Gunn].

David Dastmalchian: You're absolutely right [laughs].

For me, and for many others, you hit a lot of people’s radar when The Dark Knight came out and it's been really cool to see your career grow and evolve over these last 12 years or so. And now, you're doing so many different projects in terms of scope and sizes, where you're doing different DC projects, both animated and live action. You’ve worked in the MCU. You also have Dune coming up. So, first of all, do you pinch yourself every day when you wake up? Because all of this is just so awesome.

David Dastmalchian: I do. It's so overwhelming right now. To be quite honest with you, Heather, I'm having a really hard time grappling with it all. Like, imagine you've dreamed of, and you explored in your imagination, all of these things for your entire life. And now I'm a part of the MCU, the DCU. I'm part of Denis Villeneuve's vision for Dune, and I get to do the DC animated features now. I just got to play Calendar Man and Penguin in The Long Halloween. And so, now to culminate in this moment, where I'm in a James Gunn film, and I am one of the Suicide Squad, it's bizarre. I mean, it's crazy. If it is a dream, do not freaking pinch me. I don't want to wake up. Let me just enjoy it.

Let’s talk about your character, Polka-Dot Man/Abner in The Suicide Squad. I feel like your character and Daniela's character ended up adding so much heart to this story. I'm curious from your perspective, coming into this project, what were your initial thoughts about this character in particular, and what it was about him that spoke to you where you knew you wanted to bring him to life for this film?

David Dastmalchian: So, I got this random text out of nowhere. I was in Glasgow, Scotland, promoting an indie that I had written and acted in called All Creatures Here Below, which also starred Karen Gillan, who's also a James Gunn ensemble member and friend. And in the text, it’s James and he tells me that he wants me to be in The Suicide Squad, and he wants me to be this character, Polka-Dot Man. And you have to understand, I am a guy who has been collecting and reading comics my whole life, and I was so embarrassed that I knew nothing about Abner Krill. I knew nothing about the Polka-Dot Man. And then I read the script, and I cried and I laughed and I cheered. And I was just so bowled over by the idea of getting to bring him to life for so many reasons. But most importantly, because I know how it feels to be where Abner is. I know how it feels to not want to live another day, I do.

I've been in the throes of morbid depression, I’ve been suicidal, both with ideation and attempts. I know what mental unwellness looks like. I know what it feels like to be disconnected from your family, to be riddled with shame. I even know what it feels like to have weird spots on your body. I've lived my whole life with an auto-immune disorder called vitiligo. I have these big spots all over my body that I was always so embarrassed about. So I just got Abner. I just got him. And I wanted to do my very best to be as authentic and bring as much of myself as I possibly could to the role. And James, every step of the way, encouraged me to do that.

He kept saying, "You don't have to do anything else. Just be your true self. Breathe. Let the words come through you." And every time I got ahead of myself, every time I got nervous, every time I got off-kilter, he was right there to center me and be like, "You got this; just be you." And it was just such a joy to play this role.

I have to say, one of the moments in The Suicide Squad that made me smile the most was when Polka-Dot Man says, "I'm a superhero." Because I think everybody out there, there are these moments in our lives where we all want to either be seen or heard or feel like we're part of something or we matter. And to me, that was the moment for this movie, where it just really clicked that James was doing something so much more than just trying to give us another quote-unquote superhero movie.

David Dastmalchian: Yes, definitely. When I read the script and I read that scene, I cried. I was like, "I can't believe how beautifully written this is." And I thought about that scene every day until the day we shot it. Of course, we had to shoot it at the end of the freaking schedule. So it was like at the very, very end of shooting when we shot that scene. So I had months and months of building and thinking about it and getting to it. On the day that it happened, it was an intense experience. And James, again, amidst all the craziness of shooting a giant scene like that, was able to come down and be with me and just remind me to just be myself and tell me that I had a handle on it.

Obviously, you're no stranger to taking on a variety of different roles and working in movies of different scopes. So how did The Suicide Squad challenge you in ways that differ from other film experiences that you've had in the past?

David Dastmalchian: One of the most challenging aspects of bringing Abner to life and doing my best with this was really trying to embrace some of the more challenging physical work with the role. I found his posture pretty early. I found the way he walked pretty early. But there are several sequences in this that required some pretty elaborate stunt artistry.

Now, I will say, most of what you see is being performed by Adam Hart, who was my stunt double on The Dark Knight. He went on to build an amazing career for himself as a stunt artist. So, he was also my double for Polka-Dot Man. But I did do some of the stuff myself and it was really amazing and hard, where we had thousands of gallons of water being dumped on us in the flooding office scene. Or there was the scene when we’re jumping off a collapsing building. I did do some of those stunts, and it was really awesome, but really challenging.

How was it working alongside everybody on set? It really feels like everybody came together so well in this, and the shared chemistry is so great.

David Dastmalchian: That's James. He is this beacon of light, imagination, bravery, courage, humanity, generosity, and he sets such a great tone. I've known James personally for a number of years now and he's one of my favorite humans on earth. He's also one of my favorite artists and filmmakers. But I will say that I've heard him talk about filmmaking in the past, where it tends to be a really stressful experience for him. So I was nervous going into the on-set process with him and seeing how that was going to work and what that was going to be like energetically.

Maybe it’s because of the trials and tribulations he's faced in recent years, or maybe just because of the effect that his incredible partner Jen Holland has had on his heart and life; I don't know what it is, but he was like a joyful kid in the candy store every day on set. He said that to me, "I've never had this much fun making a movie." And because of that, he brought all of us so close, and we really became a tight-knit family.

I'm a big believer that whenever you do anything creative for a living, whether it's writing, acting, directing anything, obviously, you put something of yourself into that, but I feel like you also take something away as well, once everything is done. When looking at your experiences working on this film, what's been your biggest takeaway from being a part of The Suicide Squad?

David Dastmalchian: Well, there are two things. One is to never limit the balance of your imagination. Being around James and watching the way that he would just fearlessly, tirelessly give all he could to push the manifestation of the boundless creativity of his imagination was so inspiring. He was never going to let things limit what he wanted to achieve with the camera because they didn't seem logical or feasible or attainable. He just didn't. So that really inspired me. The second thing is all the friendships I made. I have made some incredible friendships through the course of this process, and now I'll have them for the rest of my life.

Well, David, it has been a real pleasure to get to speak with you today. And again, congratulations on all of your successes. And congratulations on The Suicide Squad. I can’t wait for everyone to see it soon.

David Dastmalchian: Thank you so much. And I hope you will read Count Crowley, my comic book, and that we will get to talk about many more cool, scary, fun things in the future.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.