The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

DePaul Alumnus David Dastmalchian on his journey to stardom and ‘Late Night With The Devil’

Courtesy of John Bridges
David Dastmalchian performs in a DePaul production of “I Got the Blues” in 1998. The show ran from April 16-May 2, 1998.

David Dastmalchian enrolled in DePaul’s Theater School in the mid-1990s with a difficult past weighing heavy on him.

In high school, he struggled with a secret drug problem and undiagnosed clinical depression. Yet he pushed himself to be an avid student in his acting program, to continually improve his craft that he adored. 

“I carry all the work that I’ve done at DePaul with me to this day,” Dastmalchian said.

Dastmalchian graduated in 1999, and when his underlying mental health and addiction challenges caught up to him, he began living out of his car – for the next three years. 

Now 25 years later, Dastmalchian is one of cinema’s most recognizable faces: from “Oppenheimer” to “The Suicide Squad,” “The Boogeyman” to “Dune” and “Animals” to “Ant-Man.” A multifaceted artist, Dastmalchian is known for being a character actor, comic book writer and performance artist.

Maya Oclassen

Dastmalchian is now set to star in “Late Night With The Devil,” a mockumentary horror film where he plays Jack Delroy, a late-night TV show host in the 1970s who performs an exorcism on live TV. 

Barry Brunetti, theater director and former professor at The Theater School, recalls directing Dastmalchian in DePaul’s 1998 production of “One Flea Spare.”

“His presence on stage is undeniable. He’s utterly fearless as an actor,” Brunetti said. “His constant desire to just be better, and to be correct in his choices, was always something that was easy to work with.”

Dastmalchian starred in six plays while at DePaul, notably playing a police officer in “Sleep Deprivation Chamber” and Captain Hook in “Peter Pan.” He also formed an experimental theater company, “Theatervolution” with his friends while attending university. 

Post-university, he was aimless. 

Dastmalchian wandered the country in his car, living in Seattle, Chicago and his hometown of Kansas City. Eventually, he returned to Chicago to attend rehab after encouragement from close friends and family.

“Many of the people that helped me gain the confidence to quit were, in one way or another, connected to The Theater School,” Dastmalchian said.  

Dastmalchian took a five-year break from acting post-rehab. He found a job as an assistant manager at Long John Silver’s and almost thought he’d never return to the craft. But in 2007, he found the spark again and a chance audition landed him his first film role in “The Dark Knight.” 

“For a long time, I thought that I couldn’t act without being on heroin,” said Dastmalchian. “It was quite the opposite. I was a much better actor with much more ability to regulate, support and be secure in myself as a sober person who was getting the help that I needed, and it made my acting much better.”

His role in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster epic is not what made Collin Schiffli, director and Columbia College graduate, reach out to Dastmalchian. Instead, it was the “3conomics” series of commercials for Wendy’s that gave Schiffli the confidence to seek him out. Dastmalchian credits the series director, documentarian Chris Smith, for helping him learn how to act on screen. 

David Dastmalchian performs in a DePaul production of “Peter Pan” on Oct. 23, 1997. Dastmalchian portrayed Captain Hook. (Courtesy of John Bridges)

“I saw him in ‘The Dark Knight’ and just had this immediate connection to him, his face,” Schiffli said. “But I just thought of him as some actor that I’d never get to work with. Then I saw those Wendy’s commercials and I thought ‘Oh, maybe this guy is a local actor’ and then ‘Oh, maybe I could get in contact with him!’” 

In 2009, while Dastmalchian was getting back into experimental theater in Chicago, Schiffli hired him for his thesis film at Columbia. The short film “Head Case,” a horror short about a gardener fighting his own plants, is something Schiffli says he’s now embarrassed by. For Dastmalchian however, he found merit in Schiffli’s directing abilities and consistency as a collaborator. 

After working on a few more shorts and moving out to Los Angeles together, Dastmalchian approached Schiffli about a script he’d been writing, one that detailed his time as an addict in a codependent relationship. The script became Schiffli’s directorial feature debut, “Animals,” in 2014. 

“It was low budget, so me and Collin were doing a lot,” Dastmalchian said. “I was producer, writer, set scouter, casting director — it was stressful, but invigorating.” 

While working on his passion project, Dastmalchian was quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s favorite character actors. Denis Villeneuve found him a place in “Prisoners” and “Blade Runner 2049.” Later in his career, he found himself split between the Marvel and DC universes as Kurt, a Russian hacker in the “Ant-Man” series and Abra Kadabra on CW’s “The Flash.” He later landed a dream job working with David Lynch on “Twin Peaks: The Return” in 2017, a project he said was “life-changing.”

Aside from his blockbuster career, Dastmalchian’s core interests have always laid in horror. Along with his own comic book series “Count Crowley,” he starred in “The Boogeyman,” “Boston Strangler” and “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” — all in 2023. 

The directors’ passion for horror is what drew Dastmalchian into “Late Night With the Devil.” 

“The Cairnes Brothers are fellow monster kids like me,” Dastmalchian said. “They wrote this film that is so wonderful and unique and weird and I read it and I’m just like ‘I love this.’” 

“Late Night With The Devil” releases in theaters nationwide on March 22 via IFC Films and Shudder. Having gone through every trial and tribulation an actor can go through, Dastmalchian shares what keeps him going through those tough times.  

“I just want to tell stories that make us feel less alone, even if just for a moment.” Dastmalchian said. “Whether that’s through writing or acting, I hope, if I’m able to do anything, I can do that.”

More to Discover