David Dastmalchian is most recognizable as one of the Joker's henchmen in The Dark Knight and more recently as the Russian hacker Kurt in Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp. As an acclaimed indie filmmaker and screenwriter, Dastmalchian won accolades for his deeply personal portrayal of a heroin addict in Animals, and he'll soon appear in both James Gunn's Suicide Squad and Dennis Villeneuve's Dune.
But between all the casting calls, on-set takes, and Hollywood meetings, Dastmalchian has found time to indulge his love of comic books with a fresh new horror series for Dark Horse titled Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter, arriving in comic shops on October 23.
The storyline follows the crumbling career of ambitious alcoholic reporter Jerri Bartman as she's suddenly demoted to Creature Feature horror host at her small-town TV station. However, Jerri soon learns that there's much more to fright flick hosting than just presenting bad B movies. Her first night in the garish costume of her missing predecessor, Count Crowley, ends with her having an intimate encounter with a living, breathing werewolf. Was this real, or was she simply too drunk?
SYFY WIRE spoke to Dastmalchian to learn more about his passion for old-fashioned horror hosts, growing up with classic creepy comics, how this nostalgic '80s-era miniseries became a reality, and the myriad ways Ketner's monstrously good artwork complements his story. The prolific actor even tosses out a tantalizing tease into his upcoming roles in Dune and Suicide Squad 2.
What was the birth of Count Crowley, and where did you draw inspiration from?
David Dastmalchian: Like all good stories, it was a dark and stormy night. I was 10 years old and grew up in Kansas City in a fairly religious household, so horror was not exactly the taste du jour in my home. Yet I'd seen commercials for Crematia's Friday Nightmare, who was our local horror host in Kansas City. I started sneaking downstairs late at night on Friday nights and fell in love with Crematia and the world of regional television horror hosts, but also the magic of classic horror cinema going back to all the Universal Pictures and Hammer and Castle films.
That's when the seed was planted, and around that same time in my life the magic of comic books was instilled in me and I became a collector by the time I was 12. Thanks to local comics shops I started exploring long boxes and old back issues and found things like House of Secrets, House of Mystery, Tomb of Dracula, and pre-code things, and I just dove in and have been gleefully swimming in this moat ever since.
How did Dark Horse embrace your vision for this throwback horror series?
For many years I envisioned this superhero who has unwittingly fallen into the role of an appointed monster hunter, being also a late-night horror host as a secret identity. As themes and issues in my own life became more pressing and I wrestled with my addictions and depression and the state of the government, I found that this character was a woman. Not only did I discover that as I started developing what I thought would be a TV show, I realized it was a comic book. And that's thanks a lot to Peter Lenkov, who was very supportive of the idea because he and I shared a mutual love of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and he said this reminded him of that show. He thought a comic book was a great way to explore and really dive into the story without any constraints if I could get it going.
And sure enough, Mike Richardson and everyone at Dark Horse loved it and was so supportive. They just said to take off the gloves, dig into all the character and the drama while being as free as you want with classic monster imagery. And here we are, it's crazy! In 24 hours, boxes and boxes of this comic are going to be shipped to comic shops around the country! Think about that, it's insane! I can't grasp that right now. I've been so blessed with so many gifts as a storyteller and as a creative person. This experience with Count Crowley is truly something incredible.
Artist Lukas Ketner displayed his talents in past books like Witch Doctor and Kill the Minotaur. How did his remarkable art capture the tone and style you hoped to convey?
Lukas' gift, on the surface, and what invites you into the magical emporium of his world, is his ability to construct and create the grotesque, the terrifying, the phantasmagoric in a way that feels totally fresh, totally exciting, kind of in the way maybe when the first time you saw Re-Animator. Or the first time you watched a piece of classic horror cinema, like the first time you look at Lon Chaney's face when he's unmasked. With Lukas, he does all of that, and that lures you into the haunted house with his talent; then he clobbers you with his ability to convey the emotional state of a person or a monster in such a clear, beautiful, empathetic way.
And if this comic was going to work, I needed to reinvent all of the mythology we think we know about monsters, and he just knocks that out of the park with a flamethrower. Then I needed Jerri, my hero, to be somebody we could get behind while feeling conflicted about her bad decision-making and self-destructive behavior. She's so dynamic in the range of her emotions, and Lukas pulls you in. You look into her eyes and it's incredible some of the facial reactions she has, not just upon seeing a werewolf, but also looking into the face of her brother, who she's disappointed for the umpteenth time. He's the perfect collaborator, and he's a top-notch human being. He loves the work so much.
As the Mentat in Frank Herbert's Dune, how did you inhabit the persona of Piter De Vries in director Denis Villeneuve's upcoming big-screen adaptation?
Although I'm a lover of sci-fi, I really classify Dune as great literature that transcends genre. And I'm one of the biggest David Lynch fans there is. So everything he's made I've watched and studied with a magnifying glass. I'm also a big Brad Dourif fan, and anything he's done before I've watched and loved. I even found some old Dune bubble-gum cards I had from back in the day. Now let's flash forward to 2013, when Dennis Villeneuve first cast me in Prisoners. I felt so lucky he'd cast me in his first English-language film, and on that set it came up about my comic book and horror and science fiction fandom. Dune was something he was raised on and he's been dreaming about his entire life. When he called me last year and told me he wanted me to be a part of it, I was so honored and touched that an artist of his caliber, who is such a visionary, imagined me in a role as crucial as Piter.
So when it was time for work I was very familiar with the Dune mythology and the story and what it means to be a Mentat. The tricky thing was when I got into actually working on it, I found it to be an immense challenge, because he is a human computer, so his pathology, and the manner in which he achieves his goals, is done in a way that is so clinical that finding any kind of emotional thread was very elusive. Thank god it was Dennis who was my guide and my captain and my leader on that journey. I hope that I gave him what he needed to make his vision come true.
What can you tell us about your announced role as the quirky villain Polka Dot Man in Suicide Squad 2?
So ... yes, that is what is said in the cast list. [Laughs.] The tricky thing with this film, and my involvement in it is confirmed because James [Gunn] posted the cast list. But remember that James is a trickster, and he is a genius and he's one of my favorite filmmakers. I don't know anything yet, I don't know much and am very much in the dark. Being a part of this in any way is huge for me, and I'm honored. I can tell you that this property, this concept of a Suicide Squad, could not be in better hands than those of James Gunn. I want to reinforce to SYFY WIRE's readers that it's a good time for those of us who are in fandom, but there's a lot of misinformation out there about this right now.
Now check out our exclusive look at Dark Horse Comics' Count Crowley #1 in the gallery below, then let us know if you're a Dastmalchian fan and whether you'll indulge in this Halloween treat when it unwraps on October 23.