To say David Dastmalchian is blowing up would be putting it lightly.
Perhaps most recognizable as one of Scott Lang's (Paul Rudd) formerly criminal co-workers in Ant-Man and Ant-Man and The Wasp or as a henchman for the Joker who is caught pretending to be the Clown Prince of Crime himself in The Dark Knight, Dastmalchian has booked major roles in Denis Villeneuve's Dune remake, James Gunn's Suicide Squad film as The Polka-Dot Man, and a spot in the upcoming Hulu series Reprisal. But the Kansas native's darkest role to date is the lead in All Creatures Here Below, which also stars Karen Gillan (Avengers: Endgame), David Koechner (Anchorman), and Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon a Time). Dastmalchian also wrote the film.
"It’s a really hard film to share with people," Dastmalchian told Ranker during a phone interview. "I feel a great deal of responsibility taking people on a journey this dark, and into this territory where you’ll get attached to these characters and see them suffer in ways that are challenging and trying."
The film follows struggling couple Gensan (Dastmalchian) and Ruby (Gillan) on a cross-country trip after a series of crimes force them to flee their home. Along the way, more is revealed about both or their tragic lives. The film is bleak from beginning to end, and Dastmalchian said much of the inspiration came from watching people he grew up next to struggle while he lived a fairly privileged life.
"I always had this sense of frustration at why somebody right next to me – [I] was a pretty privileged middle-class kid – seemed to have an unfair disadvantage since the beginning," Dastmalchian said. "It always bothered me to the point of kind of being obsessively confused. I was questioning life, God, everything and wondering why do some people have to suffer so much, why are some people born into suffering and others are not?"
Along with that, Dastmalchian was spurred on after learning about some unsavory activity within his own family.
"There was a lot of shame and darkness and secrets that were buried in my own family’s backyard," Dastmalchian added. "About six years ago I was having a conversation with one of the members of my family, and this big bombshell was revealed about some really horrific abuse that had taken place. I think we had all lived in denial for decades about it so it all came erupting up and I couldn’t hide from it anymore."
Dastmalchian and Gillan's down-on-their-luck characters are a sympathetic pair, but definitely make their fair share of questionable to horrible decisions through the film. Those morally gray complexities are what Dastmalchian was going for – and excited to play after many of his roles featured him as a mustache-twirling villain or comic relief.
"It’s one of the luxuries of working in this sort of movie," he said. "With arthouse/independent cinema, you have the freedom to delve into the grayer areas, you have the freedom of asking questions you don’t know the answer to yourself. It’s just to me, and this is just my opinion, the difference is if I’m going to write a comic book or tell a superhero story in a more mainstream film, I do think it’s important to pose a question and land on a solid answer.
"With All Creatures Here Below, it’s okay to me that it’s going to make people uncomfortable or it’s going to cause people to finish the film and maybe not feel a whole sense of ennui. They might walk away and think about or wrestle with some questions for a while. I feel a lot more freedom and flexibility in that world doing that. It’s a different kind of conversation with your audience."
The recent news cycle has been full of negative audience conversations with and about creators. The final season of Game of Thrones angered fans to the point that a petition to remake the entire eighth season reached over a million signatures; when it was announced that Robert Pattinson would be the newest actor to play Batman, a similar petition was created. Star Wars: The Last Jedi received roughly the same treatment after it was released in 2017. Dastmalchian has a unique standing in these conversations because, aside from being a lifelong fan of these fandom-heavy properties, he's also starred or is set to star in a handful of them. He commented on the line between being a fan of something and feeling a sense of ownership over it.
"I think there’s an important conversation to be had between fans and creators, and I think it depends on the story being told," he said. "It’s up to the creator in how they want to engage in that decision. the tricky thing with that, as a writer or director, you might just say 'f*ck it, this is the story I have to tell. This is the story I believe in.' And you just do your thing. You could end up with all the fans going crazy and loving it or you could end up with these giant online petitions."
The All Creatures Here Below writer was quick to point out that he has let his fandom get the better of him before. Dastmalchian said he remembers it happening when he heard who would be playing one of his favorite comic book villains, but it helped him learn to trust creators. The character was the Joker and the actor was Heath Ledger.
"I’m not just someone who does this for a living, I’m also a huge fan," Dastmalchian added. "I remember reading the Joker was going to be played by Heath Ledger, and thinking 'are you joking, that is so lame.' And then look at it. It’s one of the greatest cinema manifestations of a character in my opinion, and I know I’m partial because I worked on the film, but I really believe it’s one of the great performances. I never saw anything like that. He really shut me up, God, he was amazing."
All Creatures Here Below is out now in select theaters and online.