David Dastmalchian

Interview: Talking “Late Night with the Devil” with David Dastmalchian

Whenever you see David Dastmalchian in a film, it’s almost like a reliability factor. You know you’re in safe hands. Over the course of his career, Dastmalchian has worked in more franchise films than we can even count, including The Dark Knight, Ant Man, The Suicide Squad, Blade Runner 2049, Dune, and Oppenheimer. But above all else, what makes Dastmalchian stand out is the inspired choices he’s always made as an actor.

I first met and got to know Dastmalchian a little bit back in 2014, when I saw a film in Chicago called Animals, written by Dastmalchian and directed by his friend Colin Schiffli. I was immediately taken with Dastmalchian’s skill as not just an actor, but as a writer. He was actually the very first interview I ever did back when that film was coming out. Also, I’ve learned that he also happens to be one of the kindest and most genuine people you’ll encounter in this business. In the years that have followed, he’s also somehow managed to find time to explore other creative avenues, such as in his comic book series, Count Crowley, which follows a horror host. 

Speaking of Crowley, that background perhaps set Dastmalchian up perfectly for his role as Jack Delroy in Late Night with the Devil. Delroy is a late night talk show host in the 70’s, who’s still reeling from a tragic loss in his life. On Halloween, things take a rather dark turn as Delroy embraces the supernatural, and he quickly loses control of the show. All set within the taping of the talk show, it’s the perfect static environment for all of these events to unfold before the audience. 

It’s Dastmalchian’s well layered and nuanced performance as Delroy that really drives everything home. Delroy showcases the complexities of a performer who is trying to save face and their career by adopting one persona on camera, while also getting a glimpse when he’s off camera of how he’s unraveling. It’s an insight into this desire to try to get the best ratings, and just how far people were willing to go to do so. It’s those chaotic backstage moments where Dastmalchian gets to reveal the man behind the curtain and let us discover who Delroy truly is behind the persona. 

We recently spoke with Dastmalchian about the film, the inspiration he drew from late night hosts, his own love of the supernatural and horror, his background in theater, and more!  

The first thing that jumped out at me with this film is that it sort of goes hand-in-hand with your own horror host creation, Count Crowley. So when you first read the script, does it immediately feel clear that it was tailor made for your sensibilities?

It was tailored for my sensibilities as a fan as somebody who loves nostalgia, late night television, horror, the supernatural. All of those boxes in my proclivities were checked. The thing that was wild to me was that Colin and Cameron Cairnes - who wrote and directed the film - wanted me to be Jack Delroy. That was such a head scratcher to me, because I’m like “I am flabbergasted that anyone would think that I’m the right guy for this role. But I’m not going to question it because I love this thing so much. I’m going to do it. And I’m going to bring all of my love for Svengoolie and Joe Bob Briggs and Morton Downey Jr. and old shock TV Phil Donoghue with late night comedy TV like Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett and David Letterman and Conan O’Brien and Don Lane. I’m going to bring everything I’ve got.

And because Jack Delroy - host of Night Owls in 1977 - was so curious about the supernatural, I also wanted to bring my love for coast to coast AM and Art Bell into this movie. And I felt like there were some personality traits that Jack shared as an interviewer with Art Bell.

While watching it, I definitely noticed Delroy falling in line with guys like Carson or Cavett, where the talk shows seemed more driven by personality and conversational.

I think the biggest asset to me was that I had a few months to prepare before it was time to go. The writer/director team sent me a bunch of footage of Don Lane, who was a talk show host in Australia back in the day. He was originally from Chicago and had a lot of the traits that I loved about Jack Delroy.

And then thanks to the internet, I could spend countless hours every night before I would go to bed watching old episodes of The Tonight Show, old episodes of The Dick Cavett Show, old episodes of Letterman. All of these incredible interviewers and monologists and satirists and getting to just listen to the pattens and the rhythms and the delivery. It’s its own unique musicality and sound. And it was almost like meditating. I would just put it on every night so I could hear and hopefully feel that flow. So that by the time it became shooting time, I would be able to conjure that.

It’s so interesting that we haven’t seen a horror film set on a talk show, because those two seem like the perfect blend. In an era where ratings mattered, I really do appreciate seeing what lengths someone would go to to stand out. 

Isn’t that the wonderful thing about storytelling? Every time we think that every plot and every environment and every story has been told, somebody like Colin and Cameron Cairnes will come out of the woodwork and go “Here’s this story that I want to tell.” And I feel so lucky that I get to be apart of it. What this movie does is it mashes up my love of late night horror hosts and talk shows with my adoration for storytelling and the tradition of Creepshow and Weird Magazine and all the old EC comics. As well as my love for the energy and the style that I experienced when I was a training Chicago theater actor, going to places like Second City or the iO and getting to see performers onstage interacting live with audiences.

All of those combined together led to something that I feel is wholly original and unique and I think is - whether people are horror fans or nostalgia fans or comedy fans or TV fans - I think it has something for everybody.

You mentioned your years spent as a theater actor. Given that it’s set in one location, did you find yourself getting that throwback to your years onstage?

Absolutely. What a gift. Even though we had a tight budget and a very tight shooting schedule, they had all the rafters up and all the bleachers where all the audience was. And on those days when I’m delivering those monologues and needing to interact with the audience, we packed the house with a bunch of great actors who were dressed up in their Halloween attire. We also had a live studio band who was constantly there, playing my intros and giving me good drum rolls and rimshots when I’d make jokes. It was like being in theater in Chicago again. It was such a treat.

One other thing I have to mention is I also definitely got a little bit of The Larry Sanders Show-esque vibes with the behind the scenes footage.

God I love Larry Sanders, I love that show, and I love that you got that from it. Because I think the peak behind the curtain is one of the most interesting aspects of the film. And I hope that audiences in those moments when they get to see Jack not as the star of the show, but as this terrified, nervous, breaking down dude trying to save his career and the life of his legacy. That’s where hopefully the audience will really connect with Jack and see themselves and their own fears.

Last couple things. What do you think we can expect to see next from Count Crowley?

I’m so excited. Issue three is about to drop, and the newest volume, this is Frankenhooker meets Reanimator meets Poltergeist. I’m bringing together some of my favorite inspirations in horror into the pages of the comic. And when you see where the story is going next, I think it’s going to literally flip people’s lids.

Now we’ve talked a lot about your talk show inspirations. Anyone tuning into Jack Delroy’s show that night would think it’s obviously the craziest television moment they’ve ever seen. Having said that, do you have any favorite wild talk show moments? 

When Crispin Glover was on David Letterman and just lost his mind. That’s one of my favorite late night talk show host moments of all time.

How to watch David Dastmalchian in "Late Night With The Devil."

David Dastmalchian stars in Late Night With The Devil playing in theaters now.

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