Growing up in Shawnee, David Dastmalchian wasn’t allowed to buy the movie posters that beckoned from a display rack at the Spencer’s store in Oak Park Mall.
Instead, the future actor was forced to improvise.
“Movie studios would take out these big advertisements in The Kansas City Star on Sundays. Sometimes they were quarter pages, sometimes a sixteenth of a page. The longer the film ran in the theaters, the smaller the advertisement got. I would cut out every single one,” he recalls. “When ‘Blade Runner’ was in theaters — and when it was re-released — I remember cutting out those ads and taping them to my wall.”
Eventually, he persuaded his dad to buy a real poster, which turned out to be the Harrison Ford hit “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
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Now Dastmalchian is collecting another Ford poster for a different reason.
Ford stars in the sequel “Blade Runner 2049,” opening Oct. 6. And in the film, Dastmalchian plays a forensics expert named Coco. It’s one of a half-dozen high-profile projects the flourishing performer appears in this year.
“I can’t say anything about my character. But I feel like it’s something that’s different for me. It’s a different look and a different role,” says Dastmalchian, who hadn’t yet seen any footage but was attending the premiere this week.
He says it’s a career highlight to be in the same picture with his childhood hero. Ford is reprising his role from Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, playing blade runner Rick Deckard, hunter of renegade androids — or replicants. Plus, Dastmalchian got to work alongside star Ryan Gosling, who plays a young blade runner in search of the long-lost Deckard.
“Ryan couldn’t be more lovely, humble, cool and handsome,” he says. “And my wife was awfully excited that I got to meet Ryan.”
A young blade runner's discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who's been missing for thirty years.Warner Bros.
The sci-fi blockbuster also reunites Dastmalchian with French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Sicario”), both veterans of the 2013 mystery “Prisoners.”
“When I stepped foot in Budapest and onto the sets and saw what Denis and his team were crafting, I thought, ‘There’s no one else who could be making this movie right now,’” the 40-year-old actor says.
“I trust him so implicitly that if he told me to put on a bunny suit and eat dog food out of a can, I would do it gleefully because he’d have some genius idea up his sleeve.”
For more than a year, Dastmalchian hasn’t been allowed to discuss “Blade Runner 2049” — or several of his other ventures, which include Showtime’s recent “Twin Peaks: The Return” and next year’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” starring fellow Kansas Citian Paul Rudd.
Is there more pressure when he’s not allowed to talk about a role?
“There is and there isn’t,” says the Shawnee Mission South graduate. “It’s a paradox. The gift in it is you don’t have to sound foolish by saying the wrong thing. The curse is you are so excited about something you’re a part of you want to shout it from the mountaintops.”
Ever since his first cinematic role — playing one of the Joker’s henchman in “The Dark Knight” — Dastmalchian says he’s been saddled with projects surrounded by a culture of secrecy.
“I didn’t know at first what NDA meant,” he says of the non-disclosure agreement so pervasive in contract-wary Hollywood.
But the dark, wiry and intense Dastmalchian learned many years ago how to keep secrets. Big secrets.
In his early 20s, he spent five years addicted to heroin. It became severe enough that he lived in a car off Shawnee Mission Parkway. He eventually cleaned up permanently and turned the harrowing experience into the award-winning 2014 feature “Animals,” which he wrote and starred in.
“Part of the conditioning that goes along with the disease of addiction is the evasion of the truth,” he says. “What starts to become sown is this Pandora’s box, hellraiser-type thing you open where one lie and denial begets the next. Unfortunately for me — because I’m a capable enough actor — it probably wasn’t as difficult as it would have been for others to fleece people out of money or places to stay or any of the other things I did to support my habit.
“That being said, it informed the actor I am today.”
Yet secrets proved almost impossible for Dastmalchian to keep when he was cast as a casino pit boss in David Lynch’s relaunch of the iconic series “Twin Peaks.”
“As soon as I left the set, I wanted to hop on Facebook or Twitter and say, ‘Holy (expletive). This is legitimately going to be game-changing television.’ But I couldn’t say anything. Finally at the premiere, they took my gag order off,” he says.
Even though Ford represents the pinnacle movie star of his childhood, Lynch remains the most esteemed filmmaker.
“Going to work on the set of ‘Twin Peaks’ was like I reached the Emerald City, and I’ve been ushered into the hall of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. It was everything what you’d expect it to be. I mean, I was standing on the set with Kyle McLachlan in his Dale Cooper suit,” he says.
“Then I started watching Lynch work. It was like peeking behind the curtain. But instead of realizing the Wizard has all these knobs and buttons to pull a bunch of shenanigans, you realize what he’s doing there is even more metaphysically mind-blowing.”
While many found the series to indeed be that kind of creative game-changer, others viewed it as cryptic and impenetrable. Time magazine criticized it as rendering “surrealism less of a tool and more of an objective.”
“It made all the sense it needed to,” Dastmalchian counters. “It spoke to me in a very personal way. It was incredibly challenging, insanely trippy and, at times, frighteningly tapped in.”
Not all of his endeavors were crafted in such far away lands. Last summer, Dastmalchian shot a drama in Kansas City he wrote called “All Creatures Here Below.” Described as his “outlaw couple movie,” the feature pairs the actor opposite Karen Gillan (“Guardians of the Galaxy” and TV’s “Doctor Who”).
Currently, the picture is finished and courting distribution.
“Kansas City looks so glorious in this film. I can’t wait for people to see the cinematic nature of our city,” he says.
But he’s not done with that nature. His next indie, a horror effort titled “Hide Your Eyes,” is slated to be shot here next year. Dastmalchian — who lives in Los Angeles with wife Eve, young son Arlo and newborn daughter Pennie — brought his director and two producers to town. Then he and KC film commissioner Stephane Scupham worked on convincing them the hometown was a perfect place for the shoot.
“We did a crash course for my team — none of whom had ever been to Kansas City — showing them why it was going to be such an awesome location. Oh man, were they sold,” he says.
“David has a big heart and very clear intentions about who he is and how he wants to treat others,” Scupham says. “(He’s) a major supporter of Kansas City and the entire film industry here.”
Scupham predicts the performer will inevitably be considered among the city’s most cherished entertainers.
“I believe he will be one of the native KC talent we all know and love, just like Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis. He even came home to participate in Big Slick (Celebrity Weekend) this year with those wonderful guys. It’s a matter of time — and his continued dedication to his craft — that will keep his star rising for a very long time.”
Speaking of Rudd … Dastmalchian began shooting “Ant-Man and the Wasp” two months ago in Atlanta.
“Almost all my stuff was with Paul,” he says.
“We jumped right in with the ‘ant-ourage,’” he says, referring to the reformed criminal trio of Dastmalchian, Michael Peña and T.I. who support Rudd’s size-shifting superhero.
“It’s always a little scary for me because I look up to Paul so much,” he says. “I’ve gotten to become friends with him. But his game is so ‘A.’ He’s so good at what he does. I get this lump in my throat and stomach because everyone at Marvel encourages (improvisation). So we’ll start shooting a scene, and Paul will just go ‘somewhere.’”
He adds, “Ultimately, I’m the one who always ruins takes since I can’t keep from laughing.”
Because he doesn’t have enough to do, Dastmalchian also expanded his fan base in 2017 through villainous roles on television. He portrays the technology-enhanced sorcerer Abra Kadabra on the CW’s “The Flash.” He plays the murderous cult fanatic Dwight Pollard on Fox’s “Gotham.” Additionally, he’s the unstoppable assassin Murdoc on the CBS reboot of “MacGyver.” (“I’m much more fun to root for than the good guys,” he quips.)
“I don’t know if my performances are getting better. But I do believe my ability to deliver the work in the most efficient and repeatable way is,” Dastmalchian says.
“I’ve got a bag of tricks. I started filling that bag of tricks onstage at Oak Park Elementary School, and Shawnee Mission Theatre in the Park, and Shawnee Mission South High School. It continued with me to Chicago at DePaul and the theater scene there, all the way to ‘The Dark Knight’ and where we are now. I just keep filling that bag up. And sometimes I’m learning to take some of those tricks out and leave them behind.”
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”