You might not know David Dastmalchian’s name, but you do know his face. The Kansas-born actor made his screen debut in 2008 in grand fashion in The Dark Knight, playing Thomas Schiff, the psychopathic henchman of the Joker (Heath Ledger) who Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) threatens to kill. From there, Dastmalchian went on to several roles in indie films – including one he wrote, called Animals – before playing the creepy, disturbed Bob Taylor in Prisoners opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman. He’s also been seen on TV in Almost Human, Intruders, ER, Ray Donovan and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Now in Ant-Man, he gets to lighten up a bit and play Kurt, the computer genius who is part of Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) heist crew. Kurt, along with fellow crew members Luis (Michael Pena) and Dave (T.I.), eventually gets recruited by Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to help him and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from weaponizing the Ant-Man tech. Appearing in both a DC movie and a Marvel one is a dream come true for Dastmalchian; as we found out when we recently sat down with him, he’s a massive, lifelong comic book geek.
Den of Geek: What were the first comics you read growing up and how did you get into it?
David Dastmalchian: The first comic book I ever bought, I was in third grade. It was Avengers, I think, #240. I grew up in Kansas City. And I walked into a 7-11. I had seen like The Hulk TV series. I knew about comic book heroes. I knew about it, but I hadn’t actually had a physical comic in my hands until that time. And it was a big deal for me. It was one of these great covers that had a bunch of heroes in a unified battle, which Marvel is so good about bringing different teams together. And I’ve kept it for 30 years. And it’s amazing because you can see the trace lines on it, because I used to try and draw covers.
But I didn’t stick with The Avengers. At that point I wanted to be a part of something that was new, and there was this really goofy, weird spinoff of The Avengers that lasted about 100 issues called West Coast Avengers. That was my first monthly series, and because you can’t rely on spinning racks, I found the magic of the comic shop. So I found a place called Clint’s South in Kansas City, which was in a mall. I would ride my bike there, and every week with my allowance, or if I got lawn mowing money, I would spend that money on that. And I was obsessed with the Marvel heroes, especially more splintered people, like I became very big into Moon Knight, Morbius. The West Coast guys, like Hawkeye and Hank Pym, were also a big part of that journey.
I don’t know why. I would make my own comics where I would have crossovers. But my favorite villain, as is millions of other people, was The Joker. My favorite heroes were tons of the different Avengers in the West Coast and just different members of the Marvel universe. I used to play a roleplaying game called Marvel Superheroes we’d play at this particular comic shop.
I’ve keep every comic I’ve bought in my life. I used to be obsessive about boarding and bagging them all. Now I couldn’t collect anymore because they took over too much space. I go get comics still, but not the way I used to. But the first comic that I bought I kept, and Stan signed it to my son Arlo a couple weeks ago. It’s probably one of the most prized possessions I own.
I’m sure! So is your son into…
He’s 15 months. I nervously look at my long boxes and think, “Someday when I bring them down, I hope and I pray that Arlo…” I hope that my kid gets as excited about them and doesn’t go, “Where’s my baseball? Where’s my football?” [laughs] I’ll encourage whatever his obsessions are, but I sure hope that he likes comics as much as I did. He’s going to want to know how to throw a good curveball and I’m going to be like, “You don’t want to know about what happened when Secret Wars happened and the Beyonder battled against The Avengers? No? OK.”
It’s interesting you like Morbius, because that’s a whole other realm of Marvel that these guys haven’t explored yet.
I know. I wanted to say to Kevin Feige, “So if I am an actor in one of your movies, does that eliminate me from being…” Because I always wanted to play Michael Morbius. And I also always wanted to play Marc Spector. He’s blonde in the comics a lot of times, although he’s had different incarnations. I just feel like Moon Knight is the Dark Knight of the Marvel world. Granted, he has more magical powers, but he’s still more utilitarian in a sense and he still uses great gadgets. But I think I’d be a good vampire.
You could do it.
I think I could! If you see Feige, will you say, “Hey, Dastmalchian, Morbius…” I’ll get you points on the back end. (For the record, we did run into Feige later and communicated Dastmalchian’s desire to play Morbius. Feige’s response? “Interesting.”)
When you got the chance to audition for this, did you know what you were going for?
I did. I got the audition in January of ’14, so that was when Edgar was the director. I went in and I met with the casting director first and I wore like a red shirt, these Rayon polyesters with some tight pants and a leather jacket. And I had a big beard at that point because I was doing something else. And I had the voice, at least. I’d figured out what the voice was. So she said, “Oh, I want you to meet Edgar.” So I met him and I read for him.
And then I had a test in March, which was an amazing time for me, because I was at South by Southwest with my film Animals which was coming out. My wife was 8 ½ months pregnant. And I had this opportunity that I was going to test opposite Paul Rudd to be in Ant-Man. I mean it was insane. And the dates kept getting moved and I was like freaking out. I actually left Austin from South By to go and finally got to do the test. And I got the part. And I found out I got the part when I was in Vancouver. And I jumped up and down on a bed and I hit the ceiling really bad and all the pieces of the ceiling came down on me.
Originally, his heist crew was much larger. There were a lot more of us. Then Edgar left and some of the crew started disappearing, and people were going, and the film was changing. And I was very nervous that I was now not going to be a part of Peyton’s vision for the film. And then my manager called and said, “Hey, you are going to Atlanta finally,” just months after I thought I was starting. “Oh, you are going to do some tests down in Atlanta, and Peyton…” And I was like, “Oh my god. I have to test again?”
So I flew down to Atlanta. And I went in hair and makeup where they put in my hair and they started doing makeup and wardrobe and I meet Peyton. And I realized we were doing camera tests, which they do before you actually start filming. Like, I had the job and it wasn’t an audition again. I was actually there. So I grabbed him and I was like, “You mean I’m in it?” He was like, “Yeah! What do you think you are doing here?” I was like, “I thought I was testing.” He’s like, “You are. We’re testing the looks and how everything works.” I was like, “Oh my god. That’s kind of amazing.”
You mentioned The Joker being your favorite villain. Of course your screen debut was working for The Joker in The Dark Knight. What was that experience like on that film?
A dream. It was the first time I’d been on a film set. I was a theatre actor in Chicago who had left acting for a while to deal with getting my life together and figuring out what I needed and wanted out of my life’s journey. And I felt like it was an incredible nod from the universe saying, “You are on the right path,” because I had started to take care of myself and I had found a new way of living my life that was wonderful. And I didn’t know how acting was going to play into that.
So I was doing theatre for $100 a week and loving it. And then I got this opportunity to audition for one of the bank robbers at the beginning of the film in the heist scene. And I got to meet the director during that process. Four months later he brought me back and cast me as the role of Tom Schiff, which put me in the middle of, all of a sudden, one of the biggest film sets ever put together, standing next to some of the greatest actors of our time, one of whom was, I believe, one of the greatest actors in my life, who is now gone, and watching him in the role of a lifetime, which is a character that I was obsessed with. I don’t know how to put proper words behind the fact that it was…there’s no feeling like that.
That’s why now being in the Marvel universe, it’s surreal to me. I can’t really wrap my head around it sometimes. I just try and just sit back and breathe and enjoy the ride, because it’s such an incredible experience.
This role (in Ant-Man) is much different…
I’ve said this many times. My mother, boy, she can’t want for Ant-Man to come out. Man! She’s been dying to see me do something nice! But I get to be playing for the good guys now, which is a great feeling. That movie (The Dark Knight) nailed the DC tone, the Batman tone, the Frank Miller tone of that. Marvel nailed Stan Lee’s…They’ve nailed what I think is that brighter, much more tongue-in-cheek, much more fantastical element that those two worlds represent. So I feel like I’ve gotten the opportunity to play in the best of both worlds as an actor, which is just…it’s a dream.
You wrote a movie called Animals, too. Is writing and maybe directing something you want to pursue?
Directing is not on my agenda, but writing is. I want to write everything from action, superhero films to quiet dramas, smaller films. We’re actually in pre-production for the next one, the same team from Animals. We’re getting ready to go. We had such an amazing experience and a wonderful response to our film that we’re now prepping to go and make another indie. They almost kill you to make them, but I’m so excited and so honored. I do love writing. It doesn’t come to me as readily as I think acting does. I think acting is in my instincts. Writing is a craft that I work very hard at. And I have to train and continue to develop. But it’s starting to happen.
Ant-Man is in theaters on Friday (July 17).