‘The Suicide Squad’: David Dastmalchian And Steve Agee Talk Bringing Polka-Dot Man And King Shark To Life, Meeting Viola Davis & More
The Suicide Squad is less than a month away.
Continuing our coverage from our set visit, I had the chance to participate in a roundtable interview with David Dastmalchian (Polka-Dot Man) and although it has been confirmed that Sylvester Stallone is voicing the character of King Shark, Steve Agee performed the motion capture on set! During the chat, the pair discussed what it was like to bring these characters to life.
Dastmalchian spoke about portraying one of DC’s most obscure characters ever created and what it was like preparing for the role. The two also discussed what it was like working with Viola Davis, what it was like working on the R-rated property and compared it to Game of Thrones.
Check out the interview with David Dastmalchian and Steve Agee below:
How did you become Polka-Dot Man?
Dastmalchian: I was in Scotland. I was in Glasgow, Scotland. It was like 2:00 in the morning, and I was doing a screening of this film that I had made, an indie called All Creatures Here Below. And I got this text through WhatsApp from James Gunn. And the thing is that having been friends with James for a while now, a lot of his friends ended up finding their way into his films because he keeps his circle of friends and compatriots really close.
So, to be honest, we never talked about work before. We’d been friends for quite a while. We’ve never talked about work stuff. We talk about other stuff when we hang out. And the one thing I kind of wanted to be like, thanks for not throwing me into one of your things. So when he did, I was like, “Oh…”
Then I called him and he started describing how it was going to work and all the crazy machinations he’d come up with for telling this story that he wanted to tell. Then I realized that I was going to get to play this Polka-Dot Man part of it, and I cried, man. I mean, I sat there. I was like, I’m going to get to be a part of the story that James is going to tell. And that’s something, I don’t know. Ever since I first saw his work, I’ve always dreamed about getting a chance to work with him.
Can you talk about the character itself?
Dastmalchian: So deep, deep, deep cut character. Literally voted like one of, I think, the least popular characters in all of the DC canon.
And I was embarrassed, to be honest because the name sparked a bit of memory, but anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been collecting comics since I was a kid. And I’m pretty devoted to the rogues galleries of each different superhero’s collection of villains, and thinking that I know…I’d be like, “Cool, who?” But I was like, “Wait, who, what? What does he do?”
So yeah, Abner is a really wonderful character. I feel like there’s some thread between myself and this character in that he’s never appreciated or thought that anything about what he had to offer, maybe was either cool or powerful or interesting. And then certain circumstances arose in my life, and probably my wife and my friends who’ve made me feel like that. There’s this kind of kindred-ness between me Abner in that sense.
Agee: After our first night of shooting, I went home thinking, “Oh my God, Dave’s going to steal a lot of scenes in this movie.”
Why? Could you elaborate?
Agee: I don’t think I’m allowed to. It was just…It’s really good on the page. But Dave just brought it some more depth, and we were shooting a scene with Cena, and Idris, and Daniela, and Dave and I, and you naturally would think that Cena is going to stand out. And he is very funny, but like Dave was really holding his own and it was just like, oh my god, he’s, he’s going to be hugely popular after this movie.
Steve, you’re doing King Shark. How do you prepare?
Dastmalchian: Eats chum all day.
Agee: I just come in, even on days I don’t work. I came to eat free catering. No, it’s weird, because I work more days than anybody on the movie, any of the rest of the cast, but I work less than anybody. I think my job is really easy. Like…I’m doing what Sean Gunn did for Rocket, as doing the motion capture. But it’s really easy. I come in and we run the scene, with me and my weird suit and headpiece. Then I get to go sit down and they keep redoing the same where they’re going to digitally put me in-
Dastmalchian: We always do it once with, once without, once with, once without. And if you guys have followed, and I’m sure all of you know, and are familiar with how much Sean has brought to the Rocket character, what’s really fun is because Steve is a great actor all across the board, but he’s also just a brilliant comedian and improviser. So what’s fun is when we’re shooting, I’ll allow it. It’s brilliant of James to think … It was one of the first, it was a very early casting decision because he knew that-
Agee: I was tall-
Dastmalchian: But to have somebody there, because that character is such an important part of things that are going to be happening with this plot. So, it’s been really fun.
And that’s another thing for me personally, like the stakes involved in this are really high, because of the property, the comic book, et cetera. But I do feel every day, like I’m going to, to work like we’re back at my house. Because Steve is part of our family. Like, it’s just weird that we’re now getting to be a part of a movie together. Because we hang out almost every day back in LA and in our real lives, and my kids he’s like an uncle to them. So, that’s really fun.
Throughout most of today, the main takeaway is that it’s completely standalone. You guys have existed in the DC Universe, but it is its own property. And I’m just curious if that’s somewhat freeing for you guys? That you really only have to worry about telling this one story. You don’t have to worry about setting up additional things or how does this connect to that. Especially coming over from the Marvel side too, where there’s a lot of threads?
Dastmalchian: So they’re trying to play down in the whole Polka dot, Shark universe that is their building. I understand that (joking) No, yeah, it’s great. I’ve always felt free in the jobs that I have because I always felt lucky to be there. And maybe who knows how many more I’ll be a part of if there’s a franchise or whatever. But it’s spectacularly dangerous in a wonderful, fun way, because James is just committed to making the best movie right here, and now for this particular.
So yes, there are threads that connect in some way or which, I don’t know how, to a bigger universe that is established with, or that’s been built, he understands that too, as a comic book collector himself, that even if you’re reading a variant on something, that’s totally a Squirrel Girl, that might be participating in the same universe as other characters, there is some fluidity somehow in the subtext. But he is making something that is this. And it’s a grand epic piece of cinema, that’s just this experience.
And I think that it’s fun. It’s fun for people and as for me as a fan and an audience member to get attached and excited going to watch or experience things, knowing that they’re part of something, just like the comic books I collect, that I know I’m going to be getting them every month. Then it’s fun sometimes to go to something and go, “Golly, they could all just blow up at the end of this.” The stakes are very high in this film in particular. And when I read it, that was something that…Many things about this script caught me emotionally unexpectedly. Yeah. That’s certainly one.
Speaking of heads blowing up and stuff. What kind of stuff have you seen on set that has lent itself to an R rating?
Dastmalchian: Heads blowing up.
In the script or anything that you guys have shot or anything. You don’t have to get to like whose head blew up. But like what kind of stuff?
Agee: Our second unit director, as well as the stunt supervisor, is Guy Norris who was the stunt supervisor for the Road Warrior and Mad Max Fury Road. And there were a few days where I didn’t get to finish some shoots, some scenes. So, I got to go and work with the second unit outdoors while they were filming stunts. And while I waited to shoot my weird little stuff, I got to sit and watch Guy map out these huge explosions. And like people die, just like Fury Road. I was like, “Oh my god. This shit has been going on the whole time. We’re indoor shooting, our weird little conversations. Guy Norris is out there on the back lot blowing shit up.” And it’s like, mind-blowing. I’m like, “Oh my God, this is really action-packed.”
Dastmalchian: And it’s visceral. And it’s James unbound, I think, with the freedom of … It’s not like he’s making an R-rated movie. I think he’s making just the movie that’s in his mind. And then they’ve taken the cuffs off in the sense that it can be whatever it’s going to be. So I don’t think he sat down and was like, “I’m going to make the first R-rated big franchise …” Well, Deadpool, I guess, was R-rated. But language-wise, I don’t know if there’s anything crazy or rough in it, but it’s definitely, there’s violence.
Agee: I think the F-word happens.
Dastmalchian: The F-word has happened. I don’t say it.
Have you met Viola Davis?
Agee: I was scared of Viola Davis.
Dastmalchian: I was like, “Oh man, I hope she remembers me because I had worked with her on Prisoners. And Steve was with me. We walked into where our chairs were lined up the first day we worked with her, and she was so cool.
Agee: I had rehearsed with her a couple of times prior. And oddly, I follow her on Instagram. And I was like, “I think we’re going to be best friends. I am going to win Viola Davis over.” And the first day I met her, she was so focused on rehearsal. And I was terrified of her. I was like, “Oh my God, she’s all business. She hates me.” And then yeah, by the first or second day of actually shooting with her-
Dastmalchian: That day in those chairs was really fun. They were really taking a minute to set some technical issues up with the shot that day. So it meant that Steve and I and Viola and a couple of the other actors were just kind of left to hang out for a bit. And we were out in a remote location where it wasn’t like, “Oh, we’re going to walk you back to whatever.” Because they’re always roving people out. So they try and keep us in places. So we got to hang on and she did a personality test on Steve-
Agee: The Myers Briggs personality test. It was like one of the first things she said to me. She’s just like, have you ever taken the Myers Briggs personality test? I was like, “No.” She was like, “I’m going to give it to you. Because I think you’re a lot like me. I was like, “Oh. We might just be best friends.”
David, having been in The Dark Knight, and a sort of obscure villain in The Flash, and now The Suicide Squad? Can you speak a little bit about what it’s like to be in a different DC movie?
Dastmalchian: It’s so surreal you guys. Like you can imagine somebody who’s been collecting comic books, and obsessed with, or fascinated, I shouldn’t say obsessed with. That’s a weird word. But fascinated by all of this, and really love it so much.
Each time one of these big moments, or opportunities has happened in my life, I feel, you just want to savor every moment, and you want to be as grateful as you possibly can, because every time something like this has happened, I’ve said “You can’t do more. Like it’s not going to, you can’t go any further in this world of things.
So just enjoy it. Because this has been so incredible.” And now here we are. I’m back at Warner Brothers, back with DC. And I don’t know, it’s hard to put it … It’s just at the beginning of this journey. So it’s hard to even put into words how elated I feel when I walk onto the set. When I get a text from James about something that we shot that day or when I sit down and I look at the script and I think about what I’m doing.
Do you have to get in a different mindset to be in The Dark Knight as opposed to on The Flash?
Dastmalchian: Every single time, it doesn’t matter what it is, every single role to me is a totally fresh new beginning. So tone, tonality, the world in which things exist, and how things move and operate, the way that the source material is being brought to life, and the way in which the source material is being brought to life.
All of that absolutely plays into my approach to creating a character. And none of these journeys have been the same, and yet it’s amazing to me that like The Dark Knight so epically, cinematically, revolutionarily lifted the spirit of like the Miller-Loeb kind of world into cinema, whereas what I think that the guys have done with The CW and with The Flash, that was so fun. And that totally felt to me like that 83, 85 runs of JLA when I was really getting into those DC characters.
And then you think about Ant-Man, and Peyton [Reed]’s creation of that universe. And I mean, all of those are so true to the world in which they were telling the story. So when I cracked open this script, when I first got to look at this, and I knew James was so true to the darker edges of Taskforce X, what’s happened with Suicide Squad, what The Suicide Squad is about.
He understands the source material so implicitly, that my approach is this is going to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done as an actor because there are all of the elements and tones influenced by the comics themselves. And that means the eighties runs as well as the early runs. He’s brought all that into this. It’s really challenging. And I find it through physicality as well. And the physicality is really well defined by James with this character. So that’s been really helpful for me.
Speaking of the physicality of your character, we saw in the test footage that the polka dots are emerging from your face. So, can you describe to us how your powers work?
Dastmalchian: Sure. If the abilities that my character has been…They could be looked at in two ways, either as an ability or as a disability, as something that can cause excruciating amounts of pain and embarrassment. So, building out and fleshing out a character who, as I said to you guys earlier, something that I immediately found is like a kindred connection with Abner was this sense of how that would weigh me down. How pain can cause a person’s body to kind of come inwards, and how shame can become a person’s body to come downward. So it was inward and downward was kind of like finding all my physicality for Abner. And the voice grows out of that. So when I start thinking about how to build the character, to think about how his voice would work, and think about how all those mechanisms happened.
And then as you saw with the dots, and the way that when they can get out of hand, they can be literally like, almost look like sores on my body. It’s really intensely painful. So that absolutely helped shape how I was going to move and fight and sit, and do all the things that I’ll do in the film. And then again, how a disability or something that is considered that you’re embarrassed by, or that hurts you, finding a way that you can then suddenly do something with it that’s more than just suffers. Maybe it even could have a purpose. Then that changes the way you move, the way that you sit, the way you talk.
So that’s been really fun too. And remember when you shoot a movie, you shoot the end here, you shoot the beginning here, you shoot this year. So it’s been a really great and challenging journey to try and track that.
So is his suit kind of like a containment suit then, in a way?
Dastmalchian: I would say it is a focusing mechanism for certain. And elements, elements of the costume, which will be fun to discover, because that is a neat plot reveal, are weaponized in a really cool way.
Would you say that not only both of your characters, but all the characters on the team have individual arcs? Including the arc of the movie?
Dastmalchian: James Gunn does not write throwaway characters. If you’re going to know a character’s name in this film if you’re going to meet a character-
Agee: You have a purpose.
Dastmalchian: That character has somewhere to go. Which again, raises those stakes. Because you don’t know — and in an environment, like the one that our characters are entering — whose head could blow up at any second? So, it’s, it’s really intense.
Agee: It’s almost like Game of Thrones.
Dastmalchian: Yeah. It feels that way sometimes. I always have to check when we get the rewrite emails.
As per James Gunn’s other famous super-team movie, can you tell us whether King Shark has more than one line of dialogue?
Agee: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, I have sentences!