David Dastmalchian Plays Weird Little Guys And He’s Okay With That

late night with the devil David dastmalchian

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I don’t know what it says about us as a nation, but we know indie horror.

Written, directed and edited by Australian brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes, Late Night with the Devil is a delightfully creepy twist on the classic exorcism genre, presented as old tapes from a late 70s talk show. Even if you’re not one for horror movies, the way Late Night with the Devil plays with the medium and genre makes for a super fun watch that’s not intolerably terrifying, but still damn spooky. Honestly, I’m a little sad I didn’t get to watch this in a packed cinema.

But then, I wouldn’t have been able to talk to David Dastmalchian about starring in the movie, AI, and having “a face for horror”…

Junkee: How would you characterise Late Night with the Devil? Would it be like a solo watch or cuddle up for moral support kinda movie?

David Dastmalchian: I’ve had the very incredible gift of getting to see Late Night with the Devil numerous times in a packed cinema. There’s something so fun about watching and seeing it happen in real time that it feels like you’re watching a live television broadcast that’s being watched by millions of other people around the world or the country.

When it comes to horror in general, I love seeing a horror movie in the cinema because collectively we all get to confront something that really scares the crap out of us, or whatever the metaphor is that the movie is operating on and exploring. And we see these things that just make our blood pressure rise and we gasp and we scream and we laugh, and then it’s collectively over and we look around us in this space and everyone is picking up their trash and going to leave.

I struggle intensely with anxiety and anxious thoughts, and I often have to get to a place where I say to myself, this is just a feeling. It’s going to be over in the next five minutes or hour. It’s just a movie. And it’s kind of wonderfully cathartic in my humble horror nerd opinion.

You’ve talked about how you’ve related to Jack’s feeling of teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Does it feel a little precarious to you as an actor to be playing a character that has that kind of vulnerability when you yourself are also going through that journey?

It’s really helpful and beneficial, especially if you’re in a safe space. I felt like there’s so much of Jack that I could bring myself into, especially the notion of a guy who is a public figure who is constantly talking to a camera and presenting a version of himself that is attempting to engage in people pleasing.

I think there isn’t a person out there that doesn’t in some way relate to that notion of being in a private darkness going, oh my God, how do I keep it together? And the more we talk about it, the more we publicly destigmatise talking about it, it’s great. But Jack lived in a different time where a man couldn’t talk about those things, it was totally unsafe for him to be vulnerable like that. So getting in that space was, to me, so cool to add to the horror of this film.

When this movie was first making the rounds in the online convo, there was a lot of attention with the cutaways being AI art. Part of the reaction to that was some people saying they’re not going to watch this movie because of it. Do you have thoughts on that?

Two plus years ago when we went to make this movie, I had been reading about and thinking about AI for decades because of Ray Kurzweil and stuff. But it coming into the fray of the creative conversation was just in its infancy. And I just feel like we’ve learned so much and gained so much insight into the potential effects in the couple of years since we made this film.

It’s such an important conversation. I’m so glad we’re having it. Honestly, as far as people boycotting the film based on that personal belief system, my opinion on that stuff is always like, if you’re listening to like the deepest, quietest part of your heart and it is telling you to do something, I think you should listen to it.

I’m not here to tell anybody they’re wrong. I think people should form their opinions and follow their hearts. I really stand by the statement that Colin and Cameron released because it kind of summed up what I can’t say as well.

In an interview I read, there’s a line that says you’ve got “a face for horror”. At first, I was a little offended for you. But then I started thinking that’s kind of a cool compliment. How do you feel about it?

I used to be very insecure about my face. We all are. We all deal with our own insecurities. I have vitiligo. I have kind of a weird face. I am creepy looking, I guess. I just came to a point where I go, this is the mug I’ve been given. It lends itself to the person I am in my interior life, which is someone that’s wrestling with a lot of the darkness and the shadows of life. And when I came to the point of accepting and going, this is just who I am. If I want to be myself in roles, I should really embrace who I am and bring that to the work. I feel completely comfortable now with acknowledging and being able to play like creepy characters or, you know, weirdos because it’s who I am.

What are some of your favourite reactions of the characters facing what goes down in Late Night with the Devil?

I think watching poor Gus going, ‘Oh Jack, what’s going on here? What’s happening?’ And then being like, ‘This is (shakes head).’ You know Gus is one of those religious guys who really believes this happening. And then poor, poor Gus when Lily starts to really go full demon and Gus pulls out his little cross and he’s like, ‘The power of Christ compels you’. It tells you that he definitely saw The Exorcist and thought that that was going to work.