As someone who has been championing 100 Bloody Acres for over a decade now (it’s so great!), I was beyond thrilled to see that Australian filmmaking duo Cameron and Colin Cairnes would be celebrating the world premiere of their latest genre effort—Late Night with the Devil—at this year’s SXSW Film Festival. Late Night with the Devil stars David Dastmalchian as struggling talk show host Jack Delroy, who decides one fateful Halloween night to take his show in a new direction, resulting in a night filled with thrills and chills for viewers and participants alike.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Dastmalchian about his involvement with Late Night with the Devil, where he discussed everything from how he approached his character, how the project is a love letter for all his fellow monster kids out there, his experiences working alongside both Colin and Cameron on Late Night, and he gave us some insights into his collaboration with the Boulet Brothers, who have a new special headed to AMC+ and Shudder very soon. We even geek out over legendary horror host Svengoolie and chat about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.
So great to speak with you, David, and I hope that SXSW is treating all of you very well.
David Dastmalchian: Well, it has been a dream. I was here in 2014 with the film that I wrote called Animals, and at that point, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had never been to a film festival before, and now here I am eight years later with this movie that I am so proud of and that I got to watch with the crowd full of people and listen to all their gasps and sounds of shock. And it was like a dream for me. Really, the whole thing has been a dream because I'm so proud of this movie, and I couldn't imagine a better launchpad for us than SXSW.
I know that you're a huge horror fan because we have talked before and it's been so cool to see all the different things that you've been able to do in this space between your own comic to getting to host the Fangoria Awards, and now you're this host that isn't technically in the horror space but is having all of this weird and horrific stuff unfold in front of him. How cool is it to get to be a part of something that expands upon your own fandom?
David Dastmalchian: It is so cool. The nostalgic elements of the film really evoked for me all of the excitement of late-night television from when I was a kid. And then this notion of event television, bringing to life what happened on that fateful night to Jack Delroy, or because of Jack Delroy. This is a story that explores both the public perceptions and persona of a person who lives in front of the camera while underneath the worms of mental decay are chewing away and pulling apart the fabric of his very sanity. And to get to play that out in one night of live broadcast television as an actor is such a dream. The dramatic elements, the horror elements, all of the genre stuff that I love while being a part of a really well-assembled, character-driven story, it's just so much fun.
Absolutely. And what I think is really great, too, is that there are so many nostalgic elements to this that the script explores very thoughtfully. But I also think there's something about this story that is super relevant these days, especially in YouTube culture and social media folks, where we're seeing one aspect of people, and yet there's always the truth of what they're going through beyond that.
David Dastmalchian: Totally. And also the nature of what it is that people are putting up in front of our eyes and ears every day—for what purpose is it for? The strictly entertainment purpose? Is it the promotion purpose? Is it for comedy purposes? Is it about the bottom line, which is the mighty dollar? And at what lengths are these people willing to go to make sure that they're getting eyeballs on the screens at a certain time each night? I mean, there's really questionable behavior, especially in a lot of the stuff that's being pumped through the airwaves into cable television and quasi-news these days, where you go, “Man, how far will people go to make sure that folks tune in to see what they're trying to shovel at us?”
I feel that using the ’70s as a backdrop for this story was a great decision, just because of what was going on in the country at the time. Was that fascinating for you to play around with as a performer?
David Dastmalchian: Oh, absolutely. I was raised watching people like Phil Donahue and Morton Downey Jr., who put Satanic cult members on television, and they would have all this exploitative fear-mongering kind of drama, especially in the heart of America, that exploited the rural and suburban fear of urban expansion and the fear of people that looked and felt differently than them. And as we know, the power structure has always been really good at manipulating and exploiting those differences amongst people and playing upon those fears as a way to keep them distracted from the issues that really are the ones playing the people. So I've always been fascinated and obsessed with that.
I was raised in a time and in a community where the Satanic Panic was so intense that we had a local police officer from a local Kansas police department come and talk to us as young people about warning signs to look out for as far as being recruited into satanic cults and how to beware of rituals and things like this. That was real, man. So I love getting to tell this story and explore all of that and all the dark shadows of that stuff.
How was it working with Colin and Cameron? Because I have been touting 100 Bloody Acres for forever now because it rules so hard, and I'm just always so happy when they've got a new project.
David Dastmalchian: I love them. I love them so much. I swear the first thing I saw when Roy Lee sent me the project was their lookbook for the script, and I thought to myself, “This is genius. These guys know exactly what they're doing.” They'd created an entire digital electronic kit to talk about their film, and it was designed to look like an old TV Guide from the 1970s. It was just so masterfully constructed and all the language was so exciting. And then I read the actual script and I was like, “Oh man, these guys are so cool.” We started talking, we met through Zoom, we talked about Fangoria, we talked about a bunch of our favorite horror movies, and we talked about cinema, so I knew we would get along well. And then I went down to Melbourne and they're just like family now.
We shot on a stage together every day and going to work was such a joyful experience. They're such wonderful collaborators. They really listen and they really care about making you feel like you're part of the construction of this world. They knew how seriously I wanted to take my portrayal of Jack Delroy and how seriously I wanted to dive into making sure that I got the tonality and the cadence and the style and manner of speech. They were always willing to continue sharing great inspiration with me. And I would say a lot when we were on set that if the audiences for this film enjoy what they see even a fraction of as much as I'm enjoying making this, then we're going to be in really good shape.
Oh, I think you guys will do very well. It felt like if you could define my wheelhouse as a movie fan, Late Night with the Devil is definitely part of that.
David Dastmalchian: Oh wow, Heather. I love reading when you're excited about something, so that makes me really happy to hear, because that means your readers are going to read that, too. This is the kind of film we're going to find our audience through hearing about from all the fellow monster kids around the world and around the country, who will hopefully love it, too. I think what's so fun about the buzz for this film is this idea that it's kind of a hard film to write or talk about without getting into too much of the minutiae because it's an experience that you really want people to have for themselves. You need them to see what really took place that fateful night. For me, because I'm on the inside, I don't have any objectivity the way that you do. I feel like I just want everyone to find out about it through a text message or through reading their favorite column in their favorite horror site or whatever. That's the way that this kind of buzz usually travels about.
Well, thank you for that, David. That means a lot. And I wanted to talk about your performance—or performances—in Late Night with the Devil because there are two Jacks in this film. Can you discuss how you approached that duality in this character and found these subtle ways of exploring that in this project? There are a few key moments when you're not even saying anything, but we see it on your face, and I think that it was really great.
David Dastmalchian: Thank you. It was a really intense challenge, and I really love taking on the work that I think pushes me as an actor and forces me to grow and stretch and develop new muscles. Because otherwise, I think it's boring for audiences to see an actor do the same thing over and over again, or to just play in a space that feels safe. So, for Jack, I knew that I was going to have to really push myself and to ground myself in finding the things that I could connect to Jack that I understood. One of them was the exact thing that you just described, this duality. I'm an individual because of the nature of my work, who lives in front of people and has to present himself as authentic as possible and yet is still a manufactured perception of my reality, both as the characters I portray, but also as the performer bringing those characters to life.
So, this is set within the late-night talk show framework, where it’s all on this stage and there’s an audience there reacting to everything as it unfolds. Was the experience of shooting Late Night any different than a traditionally staged movie at all?
David Dastmalchian: Yes. It was so smart to try and construct this story as a one-night broadcast, where our film takes place over the course of one broadcast, this one fateful night on live television. So they set up three old-fashioned television cameras around the set on a stage with a live studio audience and a live house band. This was really like they were producing and putting on a live late-night talk show. I was able then to, as long as I could find my light and move to where the action needed me, play and explore and make discoveries and relate to my other castmates, including the cameras themselves. Because as a talk show host, a lot of who I am addressing is the home-viewing audience. So I'm able to literally look at the camera sometimes.
It's another character that was so freeing and cool and challenging for me, and it created this even more vulnerable vortex of visibility for Jack, who's trying to hide all the cracks in his veneer from the world and doesn't want everybody to see how much he's falling apart inside. So, from my point of view, there's always somebody watching, and I'm having to keep up the Jack Delroy of Night Owls that everybody loves a full 360 degrees, and that's maddening.
So I have to ask—there’s a little moment in this that felt like a hat tip to Svengoolie. Am I correct in thinking that [laughs]?
David Dastmalchian: Hmmm [laughs]…You know, today is Rich's birthday, so I certainly hope you will include in the article that anybody who is a Svengoolie fan will catch a certain nod to my dear friend. And anybody from Chicago who's in the know will know exactly what I am talking about when it happens.
I’m a Chicago kid and I totally got that moment.
David Dastmalchian: Oh, you knew. You knew [laughs]. But yeah, I'm really blessed, Heather, we've talked before and between all of the superhero worlds that I've gotten to play in, the fact that I get to write and publish Count Crowley, the fact that now I've gotten to be a part of Late Night with the Devil, this is all for me a monster kid’s dream come true. And I can give you some “heard it here first” bit of news as well today because I am very excited, as I am almost done working on a project that I have been collaborating with my dear friends the Boulet Brothers on. I'm helping co-produce a special scripted project that they are producing and it's coming out in the spring on AMC+ and on Shudder. That has been really neat. So I feel like it's another chance for me to get out there and just tell these kinds of stories and being a part of this kind of storytelling is something that was all I ever dreamed of doing.
You know, when I first stepped out there to deliver that first monologue as Jack Delroy, the terror running up and down my spine told me that I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing. I hope that everybody who watches Late Night with the Devil is going to feel that same terror running up and down their spines. Because I'm so damn proud of this movie and I really can't wait for folks to get their eyeballs on it. But just be careful because once you see what you see during Late Night with the Devil, you may never unsee it again [laughs].
Amazing. David, thank you so much for chatting today.
David Dastmalchian: Oh, you're awesome. Thank you for being a fellow monster kid, and thank you for always being so supportive and for writing about such awesome stuff. It means a lot to me, and I'm really glad that you liked our movie. It means a lot to me, so thank you.
Go HERE to catch up on our coverage of the 2023 SXSW Film Festival!
[Image Credit: Above image courtesy of SXSW.]