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Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s Veb needed David Dastmalchian, and it turns out that he needed Veb more than anyone might realize.
Veb — who’s a slime-like creature with the ability to break down communication barriers in the Quantum Realm — is Dastmalchian’s second role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the opportunity came out of the blue after Quantumania director Peyton Reed had already told the actor that his original Ant-Man character, Kurt, would not return for the threequel. Dastmalchian was so inspired by Reed’s pitch for the CG Freedom Fighter character that he put together a tape that included Veb’s potential voice and movement, and Reed responded with an invitation for Dastmalchian to come and perform Veb’s motion capture on the film’s London set.
The offer was music to Dastmalchian’s ears, as he was coming off a tough shoot that was then compounded by the passing of his father during the same week that he was supposed to start mocap work.
“I just needed this experience, man. I was in a dark, dark place. My dad died the week I was supposed to start,” Dastmalchian tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And then all of a sudden, I put on this goofy gray motion capture suit … and I got to just use my imagination and create this crazy, weird, wonderful character. It was some of the most joy I’ve ever had being on a film set.”
Below, in a recent conversation with THR, Dastmalchian also discusses his massive 2023 slate that includes a reunion with his The Dark Knight director, Christopher Nolan, on Oppenheimer.
David Dastmalchian …
(Dastmalchian immediately calls out to his partner who’s off camera.) “He’s got a Fantastic Planet poster behind him!” Wow, I’ll never forget seeing this. I can’t pick up this computer, so I’ll have to send you a picture of this specialty [Failure] poster that we framed. It’s so beautiful. [Writer’s Note: The 1996 record, Fantastic Planet, is widely considered to be a masterwork from the space rock band Failure. Dastmalchian has starred in a music video for them, and he’s also featured prominently in their upcoming documentary, Failure: The Documentary.]
Well, since we’re on the subject, do you know when the Failure documentary is coming out?
Any moment! I just talked to the band the other day, and they are hard at work on finishing it up and getting it out to people. The people need it. That band has been the soundtrack of my life since I first heard Fantastic Planet, and the fact that they’re still making music together — and that they’re now my friends — is bananas.
Even though you’re an open book, I’m going to be purposefully vague out of sensitivity, but did you guys bond over your shared experiences in the past?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, I wrote a film that I acted in and produced called Animals, and we shot it in Chicago in 2013 for a very small amount of money. And there was an important plot point to me where my character shoplifts a tape cassette of Fantastic Planet and he doesn’t want to sell it to a pawn shop. He wants to get rid of all the other stuff that he stole, but he won’t get rid of Fantastic Planet because he wants to give it to his girlfriend. So I reached out to the band through a friend of mine, who actually helped coach me with my [Ant-Man] audition for Kurt. Her brother was playing in a band that shared members with [Failure], and so they were willing to let me use the Fantastic Planet art for a prop. And when they came to screen the movie with me, we bonded and we’ve been friends ever since. It’s crazy, dude. It’s as crazy as the fact that I get to live and play in comic book movies like [Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania]. The fact that they are now my friends and I’ve done music videos with them, it’s like, “Aah!”
Well, I appreciate you telling me that, and we’ll have to resume this subject in the near future. Anyway, did you get a good news-bad news phone call from Peyton Reed that basically said that Kurt wouldn’t be back for Quantumania, but this slime-like creature named Veb was yours if you wanted it?
(Laughs.) The first call was the bad news call. [Peyton] is my friend. We’re not just co-workers. He’s become a dear friend of mine over the years, and he said, “David, I’m sad to say we’ve been trying to break this story, and it’s just a very crowded story with so much to do. It takes place off of Earth, and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be space to do more than just a cameo. And that would not do the character justice, so I don’t think Kurt is going to be a part of this. But I’ll always find a way to work together.” And I said, “I love you, man. Make the best movie you can make. I’m so excited for you.” And that was it.
So I was sad that Kurt wouldn’t be a part of Quantumania, but that’s the way this stuff works. And it was not until quite a bit later [that I heard about Veb]. I was in the midst of filming a feature that was breaking my body. It was a very physically and emotionally demanding shoot. I was isolated from my family. It was a really dark time. And then Peyton called me. He goes, “David, me and [writer] Jeff Loveness, we’re writing these characters, and I swear to God, this character is you. I think you gotta play him. Will you read it?” He then sent me the pages, and I immediately knew Veb in my heart. So I started filming myself in my hotel room, and I figured out how I thought Veb would move and how his voice would work.
So I sent it back to Peyton, and he was like, “Oh my God, the movement. You wouldn’t be willing to come and actually do mocap on set, would you?” And I was like, “I’m there in a second. Get me a plane ticket. I’m coming.” And that’s how it happened, man. I got to London, and I just needed this experience, man. I’m telling you, I was in a dark, dark place. My dad died the week I was supposed to start.
I’m sorry, David.
Thank you. Acting was just really hard for me in that moment. And then all of a sudden, I put on this goofy gray motion capture suit, and I was back with my old friends on this crazy planet that they’ve built. And I got to just use my imagination and create this crazy, weird, wonderful character. It was some of the most joy I’ve ever had being on a film set.
So what do you make of Veb’s bodily fixation? Is it a classic case of wanting what you don’t have?
There’s a bit of that. There’s a whole conversation about hole envy, but it’s also the fascination and curiosity of a creature who had spent its entire existence with other creatures of its kind until those creatures were wiped out by this merciless conqueror [Kang]. And fortunately, Veb found community with these other Freedom Fighters, and Veb could offer them this ability to transcend language barriers with his ooze. So Veb’s curiosity keeps Veb moving, and that’s one of the things that made Veb such a fascinating and fun character to play. There’s never a dull moment in Veb’s world. Everything that moves, everything that exists is fascinating to Veb.
Sometimes, actors get a gut feeling that a director will call them again someday. So, in 2007, when you walked off the Chicago set of your very first movie, an epic crime drama called The Dark Knight, did you expect Christopher Nolan to call you 15 years later for an epic historical drama known as Oppenheimer?
Absolutely not. It’s not a mystery that I am a devotee to the form of comic book storytelling. I think it’s a really important form of storytelling. I’ve loved it since I was a kid in all of its forms through all of its publishers. So I couldn’t believe that I was on the set of a Batman movie, and that it was a Batman movie in which I got to portray a person who was in legion with the Joker [Heath Ledger], my favorite villain of DC. I believe DC has the best villains of all the publishers. But I also couldn’t believe that it was being directed by a person who, in my opinion, is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
So when I left that experience, I thought, “Well, that was it.” I had my experience, and I couldn’t imagine anything beyond that because it was already beyond my wildest dreams. So I never would’ve thought or assumed that I would get a chance to play with him again or that I would even be in any more movies again. I’ve been so lucky and so fortunate as the years have gone by, and I’m so grateful for the number of incredible stories I’ve gotten to tell with the filmmakers that I’ve gotten to work with. I’ve pinched myself every time. So when that call came in [for Oppenheimer] and I found out that he wanted me to come play with him again, it was tough to process and still is. I’m still going, “Is this real?”
The Failure documentary, Quantumania and Oppenheimer are three of 17 projects you’re releasing this year. Did you just move from set to set last year? [Writer’s Note: The actual number is at least seven projects.]
(Laughs.) I did, all while writing [my Dark Horse comic book series] Count Crowley. We actually just published the newest trade paperback, and it’s in stores now. I was also writing and developing my own features and TV shows, which I’ve been in the process of selling. So, 2022 was this expansive year of creative fulfillment, and I wish every artist and every creator could have the number of opportunities I’ve had to work with so many supportive and inspiring people.
Yes, I literally went from set to set. I was on Matt Ruskin’s set making Boston Strangler with these other incredible talents, bringing this really dark and difficult story to life, and Matt is an incredible, visionary filmmaker. And then I zipped over to play in the world of Rob Savage’s The Boogeyman, with my friends from 21 Laps and all these incredible artists and actors down in New Orleans. And then I went to Australia to make Late Night with the Devil with all of these incredible filmmakers, and that premieres at South by in a few weeks.
And then right in between all those, I was suddenly in the middle of New Mexico with Christopher Nolan, telling this story that just puts me at a loss for words. So I like to believe that I grew more in the last year as a storyteller and learned more as a storyteller than maybe I have in my life. It was just so much exposure to so many different processes and so many different talented and gifted and wonderful people who let me stretch and spread my wings.
And all of the characters were so fucking different. It’s so weird to go from being Veb to playing in the Boston Strangler space, to the characters in The Boogeyman, Oppenheimer and Late Night with the Devil. It’s just weird, but it’s my dream. I always wanted to be Lon Chaney. I grew up watching Lon Chaney, and I grew up watching him transform into these beings that still had empathy and humanity, even when they were doing terrible or sad things. So it’s all been crazy.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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