Tag Archives: Stan Lee

Interview: David Dastmalchian talks ‘Ant-Man,’ Marvel, DC

Dastmalchian in 'Ant-Man' (photo: Disney-Marvel)

By Tim Lammers

David Dastmalchian is one of those rare performers in the film business who can stake claim to something not many of his acting counterparts can: Not only has he been a part of both the Marvel and DC movie universes, he’s effectively been preparing all his life to help bring their stories to life as a lifelong comic book fan.

“As an actor, you try to absorb and feel the tone of the material as best you can, and I’ve always found that always comes from the director and the material itself,” Dastmalchian told me in a call this week from Los Angeles. “So I think knowledge of comic book mythology and the history of it has been helpful to me as an actor. Also, the directors of these films that I’ve worked on have had very strong visions, and have been very good about communicating and setting up the tone.”

Dastmalchian’s first big-screen gig, of course, came in a small but haunting role as Joker thug Thomas Schiff in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 DC blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises.” On Friday, though, he’s on the side of the good guys helping Paul Rudd save the world in Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man,” the latest installment in the expansive Marvel Universe that’s led to the assemblage of the Avengers.

Dastmalchian stars in “Ant-Man” as Kurt, a Russian computer hacker sporting an Elvis Presley-inspired pompadour who, along with Luis (Michael Pena) and Dave (T.I. Harris), joins forces with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Scott is an ex-con who has to resort to what he thinks will be a big score when his past as a burglar limits his options outside prison walls.

As it turns out, the score was actually set up by the mark, legendary scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), as a test to see if Scott would steal a specially designed suit that decreases his size down to that of ant, yet greatly increases his strength and makes him as resilient as a bullet. Dubbed “Ant-Man,” Scott and The Crew need to devise a heist — along with Hank and his estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) — to break into the corporation he’s no longer in control of to steal a similar suit dubbed “Yellow Jacket.” Ant-Man must break into an ultra-secure facility and steal the suit, designed by Hank’s protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), before the technology falls into the hands of the wrong people and puts the world in peril.

The irony for Dastmalchian in “Ant-Man” is that unlike his role in “The Dark Knight,” Kurt is not dark and twisted. It’s probably a good thing, since Dastmalchian has long been split on which comic book company has traditionally provided the best heroes and villains; and in the case of “Ant-Man,” he happens to be on the right side.

“My favorite villains were always the DC ones — I’ve said that to everybody, including Stan Lee,” Dastmalchian said. “But interestingly, my favorite superheroes were always on the Marvel side. The DC villains embody darkness — including the film that I got to be a part of — perfectly. On the other side, here in the Marvel world, Peyton has brought to life is a vibrancy and brightness in a very high-stakes adventure, which happens just the right amount of humor and irreverence. I feel like I’ve gotten the best of both worlds. In the Marvel movie I worked on, I got to be somebody playing for the hero, and in the DC one, I got to be on the side of the villain. It’s a dream.”

Dastmalchian’s involvement in “Ant-Man” has been interesting, since there was a period of time when he didn’t know if he’d be in the film despite being cast in January of 2014. The actor, who’s made indelible impressions in recent years with frightening roles on both film and television, said he was originally cast in “Ant-Man” by writer-director Edgar Wright, yet didn’t know where he stood when the filmmaker left the project and was replaced by Reed.

“My concern was that they were going to let go of me,” Dastmalchian said. “Of course, Paul was on-board, as well as Michael Douglas, and Evangline Lilly, because they’re movie stars. But when you’re an actor like me, there’s very few assurances when a situation like that comes up. When I tested during auditions, I want to say in the original script the crew had eight or nine guys, and they cast all of us.”

The uncertainty came on the heels of what Dastmalchian called a “crazy, awesome time” time for he and his wife, Eve. The couple’s son, Arlo, was born, and the actor/screenwriter’s deeply personal addiction drama, “Animals,” won a Special Jury Award at SXSW. Suddenly, Ant-Man’s Crew began undergoing some changes and Dastmalchian became a bit nervous.

“Originally, I was just going to sit around a month before ‘Ant-Man’ got started, but then I started to see that actors were leaving or being let go from the film — and they were all the guys from ‘The Crew,'” Dastmalchian recalled. “The script was being changed and I knew the crew dynamic was changing, as well as the number of people in it. But ultimately, I was very, very lucky that they kept me and Pena, and then T.I. came on board later, so we ended up with three of us.”

Once Reed started on the project, not only was Dastmalchian thrilled to discover that his new director had the same tastes as when it came to the Marvel Universe, but the sorts of filmmaking sensibilities to properly execute it.

“Peyton was made to make this movie. He’s as big if not bigger a comic book geek than I am, he loves the obscure characters like ‘Ant-Man.’ It’s a character he’s read and been devoted to for a very long time,” said Dastmalchian. “Plus, he has this real flair for bringing a good story to life, while utilizing action and comedic elements. So, as difficult as the starts and stops of the film process was, it ultimately all happened the way it was meant to be.”

One particular thing that Dastmalchian said he loved about working in the Marvel Universe was the involvement of talent on many different levels.

“Marvel is proof positive that the formula that massive kinds of collaboration can lead to effective filmmaking and really great story-telling because this is an all-hands-on-deck kind of process that the company has,” Dastmalchian observed. “The producers who have developed this sprawling cinematic universe have input on the film because they’re connecting the threads to the comic books that Stan Lee oversaw. He oversaw all of the different comic characters, even the ones he wasn’t writing or producing month to month.”

Once Dastmalchian settled into the role and was on-set, he got to experience things only a comic book-lover could dream of: hanging out with Lee, the Marvel icon and “Ant-Man’s” co-creator.

“Me, Rudd and one of our producers, Brad Winderbaum, would hang out in Stan’s trailer and just talk,” Dastmalchian marveled. “It was about 1987 when ‘Avengers’ No. 240 became the first comic book I ever bought. It was a from a spinning rack at a Seven Eleven in Kansas City, Kansas, and ultimately I’ve kept every comic book I’ve ever collected, including that one. It’s all tattered now, but I brought it to work and Stan signed it, ‘To my good friend Arlo,’ who is my son. I almost cried.”

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Another legend Dastmalchian got to encounter, of course, was Douglas, who shares some screen time with The Crew. And while Dastmalchian is a professional who’s shared the screen with some pretty impressive talent, there was something about being on-set with Douglas that made his stomach gurgle.

“We only have a couple scenes together, which are very funny, but I am the least comfortable doing comedy,” Dastmalchian said. “I’m more comfortable with doing dramatic stuff, especially with the likes of Michael Douglas or Paul Rudd, for goodness sakes. It was very nerve-wracking, but Michael and I immediately hit it off. He’s a wonderful guy and the nerves went away pretty quickly. We talked a lot about Karl Malden (Douglas’ co-star on the classic TV drama ‘Streets of San Francisco’), who was a huge mentor to him, and to me, one of my all-time favorite actors. He’s right up there with the kind of actors I aspire to become. He had a reputation for propelling scenes and his scene partners.  It was amazing to talk about Karl’s legacy and Michael’s amazing history.”

The bonus for Dastmalchian in “Ant-Man,” though, is that amid all the laughter, cool special effects and engaging action, tucked within is a poignant storyline about family. In two completely different circumstances, Hank and Scott are trying to reconnect with their daughters: Hope, fully-grown and angry at Hank over her childhood; and young Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), holding out hope for Scott in the hope that he can go the straight and narrow so he can be a good dad to her.

“The thing I love about ‘Ant-Man’ is there’s a theme that runs throughout the whole movie, that even families that have been frayed, or have been through the ringer or have really been tested — ultimately love can win out,” Dastmalchian said. “That’s something that’s really special about ‘Ant-Man’ that I don’t think I’ve seen in other big superhero movies really be as intimate.”

While the fun of his experience of “Ant-Man” will soon end, you get the feeling that the warmth he got from the family angle of the film will always remain with him. After all, he’s living it every single day of his life.

“I don’t know how to properly put it. When you go home at night after being in a film like ‘Ant-Man,’ you can say, ‘It was incredibly satisfying,’ but then you’re just another guy walking down the sidewalk,” Dastmalchian said. “But then you see your wife holding your kid at the end of the block and get to go and be with the people you love. If you have someone that you can love and share the experience with, it’s all that matters, man. It really is.”

Dastmalchian will have many more film experiences to share — and very soon. He just finished filming the James Gunn-penned horror-thriller “The Belko Experiment,” and is prepping “All Creatures Here Below,” another film drama he wrote and will star in. Also coming out soon is the drama “Chronic,” in which Dastmalchian stars opposite Tim Roth.

Dastmalchian’s SXSW award-winning “Animals,” meanwhile, is streaming now and coming out on DVD Aug. 25.

Interview: Russo brothers talk direction of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

Never mind the thrilling and intense action scenes, the story’s well-rounded characters or the “Iron Man,” “Thor,” “Captain America” and “Avengers” films that came before it: When it came to making “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the brother directing team of Anthony and Joe Russo said it was the cameo by Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee that had them fretting the most.

“Directing Stan was totally surreal, especially as comic book fans. It was mind-blowing,” Joe Russo, accompanied by Anthony Russo, told me in an interview Tuesday. “We grew up with him with comic books and cartoons, and suddenly, here we are in a room with him. It’s always impactful when you meet people who had an influence you as a child, and you couldn’t ask for a bigger influence here. Of all the things we pressured ourselves on because Marvel has raised the bar so high with the other films, the Stan Lee cameo was up there.”

Anthony and Joe Russo on the set of 'Captain America The Winter Soldier'
Anthony and Joe Russo on the set of “Captain America: The Winter Solider” (photo: Disney-Marvel).

New on Blu-ray and DVD (Walt Disney Home Entertainment), “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” finds the World War II-bred Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) after the events of “The Avengers,” still trying to adjust to the modern world. Trying to live a quiet life in Washington, D.C., Rogers suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the organization has been greatly compromised by unknown forces — and millions of lives, including his own, are at stake because of it.

With little time and few people he can trust, Captain America embarks on a perilous trek with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) in an effort to ferret out the mystery, even if it means destroying the very organization that the Avengers were built upon. Worse yet he’s forced to face off against an old friend, who has been molded into the villain dubbed “The Winter Soldier.”

The interesting thing about the Russos’ experience in the business is that it’s mainly in the comedy genre, whether it be films like “You, Me and Dupree” or comedy series like “Community” and “Arrested Development.” And while the brothers adapted to the high-octane action genre quite well with “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” it’s clearly their sense of being storytellers first that landed them the highly-regarded Marvel gig.

“We were known for a very strong sense of story and character in our comedic work, mainly because it’s the sort of storytelling we most enjoy,” Anthony Russo said. “We like to laugh, but we also like something else going on at the same time that audiences can feel. So, we brought that same work ethic to making an action film. Every beat of the action has to be imbued with very strong storytelling and very strong character moments, otherwise the action gets boring.”

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Both in their early 40s, the Russos say they want to maintain childlike sensibilities making films like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” because they vividly remember how similar, fantastical films impacted them as youths. Ultimately, the brothers want to do the same for today’s kids.

“As a kid, when I went to ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ I got to the theater at 11 in the morning and left at 11 at night after seeing the film six times in a row in the front row,” Joe Russo recalled. “Whether it’s in a theater or in a living room, we want to pass that experience on to other kids. We want to have a cultural impact, otherwise why do it? It takes two years of your life to make a movie like this, we wanted to reach people in a way that they could have an emotional experience and that they remember it for a long time.”

The Russos, of course, will have a chance to create more lasting memories for moviegoers for the yet-untitled sequel “Captain America 3,” which is due out in May 2016. And while rumors are running rampant over which “Avengers” members will assemble for the film, the Russos hint at least that there will be more of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who in his earlier life before the evil forces of Hydra got hold of him, was Rogers’ best friend, Bucky Barnes.

“As storytellers, we always felt that the relationship between Steve and Bucky was not resolved by the end of ‘The Winter Soldier.’ We love that relationship. It’s so complicated and tragic,” Anthony Russo explained. “The relationship is so important to who Cap is, especially since he’s feeling so isolated in the modern world. It’s his connection to the past. The relationship with Bucky now isn’t exactly reliable and trustworthy, but it’s something that Cap has faith in nonetheless. That’s definitely something we want to continue dealing with in the next film, because their relationship remains critical, important and rich.”

While he couldn’t name anyone specifically, Anthony Russo added, “There are other characters very specific to the world of Cap that will also have a big role in the coming film.”

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