Bryant Dillon, Fanbase Press President: You've mentioned in previous interviews how you have always been a fan of comic books and comic book characters. Is it a surreal experience to now exist tangibly in that world of "Geekdom," as canon representations of characters in both the Marvel and DC comic universes?
David Dastmalchian: It is hard to properly describe, and it’s something that I think about often. I will be reading a comic, digging through my collection of comics, or wandering through a comics shop somewhere and, suddenly, it just hits me... I am getting to play characters, explore worlds, and interact with characters who spring from the stories that I have loved for my entire life. When you add the fact that I am a part of these stories with such gifted directors, writers, artists and production teams... it’s unbelievable.
BD: You're not just taking on comic book films these days, you're also diving in as a comic creator yourself with Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter published by Dark Horse Comics! What you can you tell our readers about Count Crowley and the experience of working in comics for the first time?
DD: I have been living with this idea for many, many years. Decades, in fact. I had been imagining a television series about a Horror Host who discovers that monsters are not only real but that they’ve been manipulating news and information for generations to gain power over humanity. When Peter Lenkov heard about my idea, he was so enthusiastic about it and he immediately understood that I was envisioning a world that felt similar to classic horror comics, the '80s world of comics, shows like GLOW and Kolchak: The Nightstalker... he had collaborated with Dark Horse previously on R.I.P.D., and he thought that they would be interested in my idea. When they told me that they wanted to develop a comic book based around my hero character, I was over the moon! I never imagined that I’d get to create and write my OWN comic... and now it’s happening!
BD: Can you tell us more about the rest of the creative team behind Count Crowley, and what it has been like to work with them on this project?
DD: Dark Horse partnered me with the amazing editor, Megan Walker, and we were instantly a great fit. She understood what I wanted to do with the story, the boundaries that I wanted to push, and the traditions that I wanted to honor. She studied my extensive mood boards and concept collages and had a strong handle on the look and tone that I was hoping to create with Count Crowley. She suggested Lukas Ketner for our artist, and I was really excited by the idea. I loved his work on Witch Doctor and Kill the Minotaur. When he read my first script, he had an awesome response and immediately sent some concept sketches over. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I was suddenly looking at Jerri (a.k.a. Count Crowley), and she was glorious! Megan then had extensive conversations with both myself and Lukas about the colors for the book and how we wanted them to feel. When Lauren Affe came on board, we were so lucky and grateful for her contribution. Frank’s letters have been absolutely perfect, and the whole Dark Horse team has helped me to craft unique and exciting ways to design and promote Count Crowley that are truly outside of the box - or the crypt, if you will! Kelly Woessner from Dark Horse helped produce our teaser videos, and I really love them.
BD: Are you a horror fan and, if so, what horror movies, stories, etc. do you really dig? What horror elements or tropes did you want to be sure to include, avoid, or re-invent with Count Crowley?
DD: I began collecting comics in the 1980s, and when I discovered the magic of horror comics, I was hooked for life! I loved the classic EC stuff and old magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, and I was really drawn to titles and characters like Morbius the Living Vampire, Werewolf by Night and The Creature Commandos (from Weird War Tales). One of my favorite things when I was a kid was watching our local Kansas City horror host, Crematia Mortem, on her Friday Nightmare every week. She introduced me to so many of my favorites like The Wolfman, Curse of the Werewolf, Dracula, and so many of the Universal, Castle, and Hammer classics. I wanted the monsters in Count Crowley to really look and move in a way that is reminiscent of the classic monsters we know and love - but with a twist! All that we THINK we know about monsters has been a lie, and so the mythology has to be completely rewritten... silver bullets won’t stop a werewolf, the sunlight doesn’t burn vampires, etc... be prepared!
BD: You've mentioned previously that Count Crowley ties into personal themes of addiction and confronting dogmatism. Are you able to expand on those ideas, and how has this story allowed you to explore them?
DD: This has been such an incredible journey - truly the most rewarding experience I’ve had so far in my creative life and it’s been really empowering to explore ideas and questions that I have around depression, anxiety, addiction, and social structures which have haunted and plagued me at different stages in my life. These ideas and struggles find their way into Jerri’s experience through both obvious and subtle ways. At the end of the day, I want Count Crowley to be an often-haunting, sometimes-hilarious, but always entertaining comic. Using my own darkness has helped me to dig deeper into the plots and characters that I am creating.
BD: What surprised you the most when comparing the comic book creative process to that of a film or stage actor? All three mediums share a focus on visuals, but how did you find that they differ?
DD: I would say that the small team of collaborators and the amazing way that contemporary comics artists can create books together! Lukas, Megan, Lauren, and all of the other folks collaborating on Count Crowley mostly communicate with email, sometimes text, and rarely phone conversations. Megan and I live in LA, so we can meet up for breakfast meetings sometimes, but everyone else lives in different cities. In fact, I didn’t meet Lukas or Lauren until the past month! We’ve been collaborating and creating something together for over a year, but we just met!
BD: You've talked previously about your desire to work with director James Gunn given his understanding of what makes modern myths so powerful and effective. What do you think sets Gunn apart from other directors working in the comic book film genre, and do you have any further thoughts regarding the comic book film explosion, how and/or why these films serve as modern myths, and why that is either important, unfortunate, or neither?
DD: I think James Gunn is one of the most talented artists working in film, and his ability to meld meaningful characters with fantastical journeys is evocative of the best source material from which so many beloved comic, sci-fi, and horror properties have grown.
BD: Your breakout role was in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008), where you played a henchman of Heath Ledger's Joker who is interrogated by Gotham DA Harvey Dent (portrayed by Aaron Eckhart). With the release of Todd Phillips' new Joker film, the character of the clown prince is back, front-and-center in public discussion. What discussions did you have with Nolan regarding your character in The Dark Knight and his fanaticism and loyalty to the Joker?
DD: We didn’t have too many conversations about the character, actually. It was a wonderful and very technical approach to the process which is my favorite way of working.
BD: Having portrayed a troubled individual idolizing the powerful comic book figure, do you have any personal thoughts on the ability of the Joker (or other figures or forms of extremism) to attract those who are drifting or looking for answers, and why both Nolan and Phillips seemed to focus on this attraction in their films?
DD: I think this has historically been taking place since the dawn of man. There are troubled, isolated, and angry people in our society who are looking for someone to give them permission to let their darkness manifest without consequence. There are those who want someone to say, “It’s okay to hurt others, to be hateful, to let go of care or concern for anyone but yourself....” Sometimes, that someone comes along, and they can harness the power to facilitate small groups and cults (like Charles Manson) or large movements of hatred and destruction (like Hitler or others...). These are true-life “villains,” and they are even more horrifying than the Clown Prince or Dr. Doom.
BD: You're also playing Piter De Vries in director Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of author Frank Herbert's Dune. For those who might be unfamiliar with the novels or previous film by David Lynch, why do you think Dune is an important story to tell, what does it offer today's audiences. What do you believe Villeneuve will bring to this new adaptation?
DD: Dune is an important story for many reasons, as it thoughtfully and with complex philosophies explores the ideas around class, loyalty, gender, the environment, tradition, and family. I think of Herbert’s work as truly classic literature, and I know that Denis feels the same way. Ever since I’ve known Denis, he has spoken of Dune with that certain twinkle in his eye that I probably get when I’m talking about classic horror films or comics.
BD: You've worked with Villeneuve several times previously, including Prisoners and Blade Runner 2049, and have even referred to him as this generation's Stanley Kubrick. Why do you personally enjoy working with this specific director, and why do you believe he has such a unique and powerful creative voice?
DD: His gift is singular. He has the ability to elevate every story with his surgical precision in both story and character development regardless of genre. His films truly transport us into other worlds, and I am so grateful that he has brought me along on so many amazing journeys!
BD: You have seemed to develop sincere and strong friendships with both filmmaker Kevin Smith and Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill (who you appeared with in the film Sushi Girl). What's it like being personal friends with such iconic figures in geek culture, and what have you learned from each of these friendships?
DD: I have been so fortunate to meet and collaborate with so many of the creators and artists who I admire. People like Kevin, Mark, James, Denis, and SO MANY others are so exceptional with their work, because they aren’t afraid to nurture and honor their childlike wonder and love for the stories that have inspired them since their childhoods.
BD: Are there any other projects you’re working on that you'd like our readers to know about, and where can they find you and your work online?
DD: I am very proud of the new film that I wrote and was directed by my friend, Collin Schiffli. It’s called All Creatures Here Below, and it was released by Samuel Goldwyn films this past summer. The amazing Karen Gillan plays the lead character in the film, and she is truly transformative in her performance. I hope people will seek out All Creatures Here Below and, of course, I can’t wait for everyone to read Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter!
*Photographer: Jessica Castro
Location: The Grafton