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“I’m a superhero!”
Those words had loomed over David Dastmalchian for months. The actor was on the Panama set of The Suicide Squad preparing for the biggest scene in his biggest role to date. It’s the moment his character, Polka-Dot Man, finds his purpose after a lifetime of abuse, disappointment and loneliness. It’s the moment Abner Krill becomes a superhero.
“The day arrived, and I felt very scared,” Dastmalchian tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was really afraid of what my voice and my body and my face were going to be capable of.”
The line was deeply personal for Dastmalchian, who had more in common with Abner Krill than filmmaker James Gunn realized when he wrote the part for the actor. Like Abner Krill, Dastmalchian was self-conscious about his skin. (He has vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes loss of pigment in polka-dot-shaped areas.) Like Abner Krill, the actor had spent younger years riddled with self-doubt, feeling lost.
“I had always told myself that I was going to be a failure in life,” says Dastmalchian, who shares two children with his wife, artist Evelyn Leigh. “I was always quite certain I was going to be a failure as a father.”
The day the scene arrived, a family issue occurred back home in Los Angeles. Dastmalchian desperately wanted to be there for his young son, but couldn’t. It tore him up inside.
Then something clicked as he looked around that Panama street, full of hundreds of people, dirt flying everywhere.
“I said to myself, ‘You’re a good dad. You’re a good dad.’ I just kept telling myself that. And it made sense to me in that moment,” says Dastmalchian. “I was there with Idris [Elba], and I was trying to summon the courage to take on the scene. And I still felt like I was struggling to get there.”
Then Gunn came to the rescue. The filmmaker was speaking through a loudspeaker to control the chaos but sensed his actor needed him.
“He put his mic down, and he came to me and put his arm around me and he just said, ‘You’ve got this,'” recalls Dastmalchian. “He reminded me to just breathe and to just be me. Like, ‘You can do this. I have always known you can do this.’ And then I did it.”
Dastmalchian’s The Suicide Squad journey began months earlier with a text in February 2019. He was in Scottland premiering his indie feature All Creatures Here Below. Around midnight in his hotel room, his phone vibrated.
“I got a text from James that said, ‘I want you to be a part of The Suicide Squad.’ My life changed in that instant,” says Dastmalchian, who had been friends with Gunn for years.
Gunn sent him the script, and the actor stayed up until 4 a.m. reading it — shocked not only that Polka-Dot Man was a central figure in the film, but stunned by how much the role resonated with him. After finishing the script, Dastmalchian grabbed his phone and recorded a raw, emotional voice message for Gunn. He shared the recording with THR.
“I’m just really honored that I get to play this character. He is me,” Dastmalchian, voice choking with emotion, says in the message. “You don’t even know how much my dumb skin conditions haunted me as a kid and how much I felt there was something wrong with me. And how bad I wanted to kill myself … 18 years ago, when I got the closest I ever came to taking my own life. And now I love my life. And I’m so grateful that I have Eve and the kids and I’ve got my friends and you.”
Before working in The Suicide Squad, Dastmalchian spent years building a career that saw some of the biggest films in the world using him as a utility player. He’d proven himself a valuable asset in films like The Dark Knight, Ant-Man and Blade Runner 2049 — and he has Dune due out in October. Dastmalchian still has trouble believing filmmakers think of him for these roles, but it’s not a surprise to those who know him.
“When I read the script the first time, I pictured him. I didn’t picture anyone in any of the roles except him,” his Squad co-star Margot Robbie tells THR. “When James Gunn was like, ‘So, David Dastmalchian is going to play Polka-Dot Man,’ I was like, ‘That’s so weird. That’s who I pictured the whole way through.’ It’s so clearly written for him. He elevates everything he does.”
The Suicide Squad producer Charles Roven noticed Dastmalchian on their first DC movie, The Dark Knight, and got to know him better over coffee in Panama.
“He’s so unique. He can do so many different things and so many different characters,” Roven tells THR. “The Polka-Dot Man, he’s a goofy character. He’s got that to him, but he’s also got that sinister thing when you see him and you know he’s dangerous.”
After years without having an agent or manager, the actor signed with Roven’s management company, Atlas Entertainment this summer. Previously, Dastmalchian fielded acting offers himself via his personal email address listed on IMDB Pro, and worked only with a publicist and a lawyer to keep his career on track. It was an unusual arrangement for someone booking roles in blockbusters for Marvel, DC and director Denis Villeneuve.
“I’ve been the person who is on the phone with people. No agents, no managers,” says Dastmalchian, who would pass contracts on to his lawyer, Duncan Hedges, when it came time to negotiate an offer. “I’ve been doing everything myself and got to know these people really intimately, which is the way I like to do my business.”
His Squad castmate Daniela Melchior (Ratcatcher II) recalls Dastmalchian bringing those personal touches to his interactions with the cast and crew as well.
“When it was my birthday, he was the first talking about it many days before. ‘Don’t forget about Daniela’s birthday. We have to get her polka-dot cookies,'” Melchior recalls with a laugh.
Now Dastmalchian is cooking up new issues of his comic, Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter and has been working in Berlin, filming the Dracula-tinged horror film Last Voyage of the Demeter, with his family in toe. He’s enjoying the moment, and maybe even letting himself believe he’s worthy of a superhero ending.
Back in 2019, Dastmalchian wrapped that 4 a.m. voice message to Gunn with the same words that so worried him on set.
“I’m a superhero,” the actor told Gunn. “So thank you.”
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