Up next from Australian writing-directing team Colin and Cameron Cairnes (100 Bloody Acres, Scare Campaign) is found footage horror Late Night With the Devil, with David Dastmalchian (Dune, The Suicide Squad) starring as the host of a late-night talk show that descends into a nightmare.

Dastmalchian stars as Jack Delroy, the charismatic host of “Night Owls,” and the film traces the ill-fated taping of a live Halloween special plagued by a demonic presence. 

Bloody Disgusting spoke with the actor after the SXSW world premiere of Late Night with the Devil (our review). Dastmalchian, a massive horror fan who’s hosted the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards in character as fanged host Dr. Fearless and is also the author of the graphic novel Count Crowley, seems like a perfect fit as host Jack Delroy.

It turns out that producer Roy Lee thought so, too.

“It’s crazy to me to think that somebody wrote the script, read the script, was producing the script, and thought, let’s call Dave Dastmalchian,” the actor states. “But that’s exactly what Roy Lee did. Roy’s producing the film, and believed in and loved the film when he read it and was helping put it together, and for whatever reason, he thought of me and sent it to me.”

Dastmalchian describes how he personally was reeled in before he even read the script, The first thing I looked at was the lookbook that the directors had created, which was designed in the format of a 1970s TV Guide mixed with a National Enquirer. The design, the layout, the tone, the imagery, the language all was so entrancing to me, this world-building that was going on. That led me right into reading the script with some extra excitement. So, I started reading the script and all of the genre elements and the horror aspects of the film, which of course, I love as a longtime lover of the genre, was second to the power of the character development throughout the story.”

He adds, “I thought there was something that I could really connect with when I was reading Jack’s journey from the opening monologue through to the end of the film and seeing this progression of a person who has created a public persona that is so vital to his validation as a person, to his success as a business person, to his popularity as an entertainer and showman, and this private suffering; the deconstructing brain of a man who has faced abject trauma and hasn’t processed it properly. That was the hook that pulled me in, and then I was like, ‘I want to go for this.’”

A significant component of Late Night with the Devil‘s success and appeal is the intricate blocking and staging that the Cairnes’ craft to establish a TV set’s bustling, chaotic nature during a live broadcast. It’s an impressive technical feat. Dastmalchian breaks it down, “When you think about those 70s films like Network or these chaotic energy storytelling narratives where you see behind the scenes of production, to me, that is something I experience regularly when I’m on the set of, say, a movie or TV show. There’s this chaos and fantastic energy, but if things aren’t going well, it could quickly spin into a pretty intense maze of emotions, different people’s working styles, and other people’s crises.

“So, over the course of the night in question during Late Night with the Devil, what’s happening with my character and these moments in between broadcasts were so vital to layering in the tension of what was building. So, it was great to work with the camera team we did, and the directors were so intentional about this, but as soon as we yell cut to commercial break, and then we’re behind the scenes, the energy, the pacing just completely shifted.”

The actor continues, “It went from one type of music to another, and I’m blocking it specifically so the camera can catch all these moments, but we want it to feel fluid and natural. It should look almost like vérité style, like a 70s French documentary vibe, and I’m making sure you’re hitting this mark here, and you’re grabbing the coffee here and the cigarette there. There’s a mirror there, and you want to make sure and turn here because there’s some background going this way. Oh, I love that stuff. It’s the magical choreography of film language that when you get into sync, it’s like it gives you so much to chew on as an actor.”

While Dastmalchian took great care to disappear into his character and make him entirely original, the actor studied the mannerisms and cadence of legendary late-night TV hosts.

He explains, “There were just hours, probably dozens if not hundreds of hours of nights where I would, before bed, just put on old YouTube episodes that I could find of everyone from Don Lane who is a huge influence on our film. Don Lane was the late-night talk show host that Colin and Cameron grew up watching. He was an American entertainer who became a big late-night talk show host in Australia. He was the Johnny Carson of Australia, but he also had more of a proclivity toward the esoteric. So he was always having on mind readers, spoon benders, he loved that stuff, the supernatural.

“I also watched a lot of the old episodes of Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, and early David Letterman. Interestingly, some of the inspirations I pulled also weren’t necessarily late-night talk show hosts, just because I love listening to Art Bell, an old radio host, in the way that he would relate to callers or guests that he would have on the show. Because he always spoke in a way, he took them very seriously, even if they were talking about something that most people would laugh about, like alien abductions or something. There was a lot of time thinking about how a presenter, a host, or a showman like that is going to nail the language and the rhythm of the language. And I wanted it to come out of my mouth in a way that felt authentic to people who watched those shows back in the day. If it could fall on the ear in a pattern that echoed that, I would be really happy.”

If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, Dastmalchian adores horror. When asked what type of horror draws the actor to a role, the answer is more complex. He gives teases on the variety of horror contained within Late Night with the Devil.

“There are sixteen different things that draw me into a film like this from the horror angle,” he tells Bloody Disgusting. “I knew from early conversations with Colin and Cameron and the producers that they would employ the magic of practical makeup and special effects on the film. They were going to be threading some classic horror motifs into the film, especially regarding 1970s occult and exorcism type of stylistic choices.

Anyone who loves horror loves a good twist. There were going to be some mind-bending twists in the story where we were going to get the audience going in a certain direction and make them feel like they were getting a handle on what was happening before we would crash that train and totally send them in another direction. Some major body horror elements that I thought were going to be exciting for audiences, and they pay off because watching it with the crowd last night did. Then the thing to me, as much as I love all forms of the genre, and I mean that like, from B to Z horror to camp, to comedy horror, to just excessive gore, slasher, bull in a China shop horror films. This is still a character-driven story and a drama. That is the most exciting kind of genre storytelling to watch at the moment. That’s what I’m really into, and that’s why another reason I was excited about the project.”

If none of this sells the originality of Late Night with the Devil, Dastmalchian leaves us with a promise: the film’s subtle moments and clues are rewarding upon re-watches.

He explains, “The boys layered in things that, upon second viewing, I started to catch, especially in the background because Jack is so haunted by elements of his past, and there are moments in the film where that comes crashingly, terrifyingly into his face. But there were moments as I re-watched the film where I noticed how they were subliminally piping in little whispers and images of things from the past that do such a good job of just creating attention subconsciously with the audience.

“Just like Friedkin did in The Exorcist by planting in subliminal messages and sound effects and things like that. It’s an old trick, but it’s a good one.”

Meagan Navarro

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