david dastmalchian late nigh with the devil
Image: Adam White/IFC Films/Shudder

David Dastmalchian: “I want to go on as many adventures as I can”

13 May 2024 | |By Gregory Wakeman

The American actor talks his love of horror, career goals and why he’s stepping behind the camera

David Dastmalchian has a very recognisable face. Attractive yet mysterious, he’s an everyman who can blend into the background; warm and charismatic one minute and creepy and terrifying the next. These shape-shifting qualities are exactly what prompted Christopher Nolan to give Dastmalchian his movie debut, in The Dark Knight, in the small yet hugely memorable role of Thomas Schiff.

Seemingly a police officer working as an Honor Guard during the funeral of Police Commissioner Loeb, Schiff is soon revealed to be a paranoid schizophrenic henchman to Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Dark Knight kick-started Dastmalchian’s career. In the 15 years since he’s since starred in Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune, joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Ant-Man, as well as featuring in DC’s The Suicide Squad and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, before re-teaming with Nolan for the Oscar-sweeping Oppenheimer.

“My friend Ash Crossan, who works as a reporter, said to me one day, ‘Dave, I think that you’re living in nerd-vana’. I think about that all the time. I can’t believe that I’ve had the chance to work with so many great directors,” Dastmalchian tells me over the phone. “Not just work with them, but they’re my friends now. It’s an awesome life that I get to live.”

david dastmalchian
Dastmalchian at the Avengers: End Game world premiere. Image: Paul Smith/Featureflash/Shutterstock

Dastmalchian acknowledges that he’s “worked very hard” to get his career to where it is. He created opportunities for himself by writing and producing the critically-acclaimed 2014 romantic drama Animals, based on his own struggles with heroin addiction, while also devising his own comic series Count Crowley.

He’s also humble enough to admit that, like every other actor who achieves any kind of success, he has had plenty of luck on his side, too. “I have made my own luck. But I can’t discount the power and the grace that I’ve been shown and the luck of being in the right place at the right time. Having a director like Christopher Nolan, and his casting director, John Papsidera, notice me and taking a risk on this unknown actor out of Chicago, and giving him an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Eckhart and Christian Bale – it’s kind of miraculous.”

With Late Night with the Devil, which was released earlier this year to strong reviews and an impressive box office haul considering its tiny budget, Dastmalchian has taken even greater control of his career. The supernatural horror revolves around late night talk show host Jack Delroy, who tries to boost ratings by inviting an allegedly possessed girl on set, only for chaos to ensue. This film marks not only Dastmalchian’s first leading role but also the debut release from his production company, Good Fiend Films.

Dastmalchian founded Good Fiend Films to focus on genre-specific movies that are either horror, sci-fi or fantasy, as he’s always had a deep connection with the power these types of films can have on an audience. “These films allow us to look at big, complex and complicated things we confront on a daily basis through the lens of monsters, the supernatural, superheroes, and science fiction. They give our imaginations time to wander and look at things from a different perspective,” he explains. Accordingly, he’ll also appear in horror films They Listen and Dust Bunny, plus sci-fi drama The Life Of Chuck, before the year is out.

Growing up a huge horror fan, who was obsessed with the works of Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, and William Friedkin, Dastmalchian has always had a keen eye for scripts from the genre. “With Late Night with the Devil, Colin and Cameron Cairnes’ vision for the film was so clear and beautiful and specific that I knew I was in as soon as I read it,” he says. “I remember opening the email and reading it and it scaring the crap out of me.”

Having previously put together Animals and the Karen Gillan-led All Creatures Here Below, Dastmalchian had already learned a few tricks of the trade before producing Late Night with the Devil. “I knew how to create an environment where you can execute the director’s best possible vision of their film, where you can support the artists and help them communicate and put together the film,” says Dastmalchian, who says the Good Fiend Films team are currently working on numerous projects in various stages of development for both television and film. “It’s a role I really enjoy. I really want to make things that you don’t typically see in Hollywood.”

late night with the devil
Image: IFC Films/Shudder

So, what lessons will he be taking from Nolan et al as he moves more firmly behind the camera? “Not only is someone like Christopher Nolan a visionary director, but he is an incredible communicator. These are people who understand their vision so thoroughly that they’re able to convey it clearly to a team of artists around them. It just makes everyone so much at ease. Plus he’s great at giving you the freedom to contribute, too.”

The release of Late Night with the Devil has also prompted Dastmalchian to reflect on what he’s achieved in his career so far. Initially he just saw acting as a way to express himself. Then he set himself the challenge of making a living from it. When he finally arrived in Hollywood in 2010, Dastmalchian had three goals as an actor.

“Number one was to work with the Muppets in some way or another. Number two was to play a James Bond villain. The third was to work with David Lynch. I’ve done one. Now I’m chasing down the Muppets.”

As he enters this new stage of his career, Dastmalchian is doing away with the list making and goal setting. Instead, coming out of the pandemic and actors’ strike, he just wants to perform, produce, and write with likeminded people he enjoys spending time with. “I want to work with people who are highly proficient in their craft. People who care deeply about humanity. I want to be able to create a space that’s safe and where I feel supported, work with the people I love, and go on as many adventures as I can.”

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