You might not know him by name, but if you’re a fan of superhero movies, you’ve definitely seen David Dastmalchian. This weekend, he’s appearing as the hapless supervillain Polka-Dot Man in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
But the actor began his career not too long ago, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Between then and now, he’s been featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a member of Scott Lang’s crew in both Ant-Man movies, appeared in Gotham and The Flash (as supervillain Abra Kadabra), and voices the villain Calendar Man in Warner Bros.’ animated adaptation of The Long Halloween.
As a life-long comics fan himself (he’s even written his own comic series), Dastmalchian says that his murderer’s row of comic book roles feels like “I won the lottery, and yet I didn’t win the lottery once. I’ve now won the lottery, probably if I counted up, a dozen times.”
Still, Abner Krill, the deeply down-trodden, (literally) dot-spewing convict of The Suicide Squad, has a special place in his heart.
“To meet someone so racked with self-doubt and so lost in the world,” Dastmalchian told Polygon by phone, “to me, was deeply appealing. I think it’s something that we can all relate to in such an intimate way. […] Abner doesn’t feel like he really has much to live for as you are introduced to him in this film, and and he doesn’t really have very much. He is kind of the butt of the joke. I’ve felt that way. We’ve all felt that way. We’ve all been at a place where it’s like, Why am I here? What am I doing? What is the purpose of what talents I have? And if I do have any, are they actually valid, viable, or of any use to the world?”
Polka-Dot Man’s talents have been tweaked a little bit from his comics incarnation for the film. Rather than each individual Polka-Dot on his costume hiding an ingeniously shrunken weapon or tool, Abner can launch a spray of polka dots from his hands that disintegrate anything they touch. And if he doesn’t shoot dots at least twice a day, he breaks out in a bulbous polka-dot rash and vomits them out instead.
But Dastmalchian is proud of his cosmically cursed character — to him, Polka-Dot Man might be the worst of the villain world, but he’s the best of what the story of the Suicide Squad has to offer.
“There’s some list out there somewhere [where Polka Dot Man is] voted like, the worst villain […] and man, what a badge of honor. What a wonderful character to be told a story about, because that’s who all these characters are. That’s the beauty of The Suicide Squad, the beauty of the [John] Ostrander run of it. That’s the beauty of what James Gunn can bring to it.”
And to Dastmalchian, we’re all on the Suicide Squad.
“These are characters that are throw aways. They’re discarded. It’s like, if you succeed in the mission, great. You might get a little time off of your sentence. If you don’t, you’re dead, and if you don’t do what we like, you’re dead anyway. That’s how so many of us feel in the world. How do you not be a part of the system that we all live in and have to exist in without feeling completely disposable? As soon as you’re a liability to the corporate structure, as soon as you’re a liability to the system, as soon as you’re a liability to, you know, the Man — I don’t mean that our heads necessarily get detonated, but we can be just discarded, as if we’re nothing in this society. And that’s a terrifying reality.”
As a mostly joking question, I asked Dastmalchian if The Suicide Squad being rated R for (among other things) nudity had anything to do with Polka-Dot Man.
“I can neither confirm nor deny Polka nudity,” he gamely answered, but even that sparked a strong connection between himself and Polka-Dot Man.
“I grew up with, and I have, an autoimmune disorder called vitiligo,” Dastmalchian shared, “which is a condition that affects the pigmentation in my body. I am covered from head to toe with polka-dots. I was teased and called nicknames as a kid, and as an adult, that made fun of the fact that I have these big, splotchy dots on my body. And James [Gunn] did not know this about me, but when I was cast as Polka-Dot Man I came to finally embrace my polka-dots. I’m proud of them now, and I have kind of turned what used to be a really debilitating insecurity about them into something that I think makes me unique and makes me different. I’m proud of them, and I try not to cover them up anymore. So that was also really cool for me to get to bring in that personal point of view into Abner.”