DAVID DASTMALCHIAN meets Cinema Therapy and talks iconic roles

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Harvey Dent: Tell me what you knowabout the Joker. Alan: I'm just fascinatedby what you're playing here. What is the psychology?How do you get into this? David: I'm working with, to this day,the 12-year-old me, the 7-year-old me. I put my hand on my chestand it's like he's still in there. And if I can do the workwith my therapist and my psychiatrist, I was able to bring that into the work.And it was healthy. Thomas: I don't know anything! I don't! Jono: But in its own way, and even withall the darkness that you have to look at,.

There's a wholesomeness to itand a beauty to it that I was very moved by. David: It was… it's so fun. I love it. Ava: The woods? Kurt: Baba Yaga! Alan: This episode was filmedbefore the writers and actors strike. Without their labor, our show wouldn't exist. We support their strike efforts. If you'd like to support them as well,go to www.EntertainmentCommunity.org and donate. Alan: Hello everyoneand welcome to Cinema therapy.

I am Alan Seawright,a professional filmmaker who needs therapy. Jono: And I'm Jonathan Decker.Licensed therapist who loves movies. Alan: And today we are joinedby a very special guest. You've seen him in The Dark Knight,the Ant-Man films. He plays Pieter de Vries in Dune. He plays a pivotal role in Prisoners… Jono: Suicide Squad – he's fantastic. Alan: And he is… Jono: THE Suicide Squadbecause there are two different films. Alan: He is a mother[beeping] superheroin Suicide Squad.

Polka-Dot Man: I'm a superhero! I'm a mother[beeping] supe– Alan: David Dastmalchian. Welcome, David. David: Hi, how are you guys? It's great to see you.Thanks for having me on your show Alan: Today we wanted to talk aboutthe psychology of an actor. The parts you play are so widely variedand always so interesting psychologically… Jono: And you're a passionate advocatefor mental health and mental health treatment. And so whatever you feel inclined to shareabout your own personal journey as we go along, I'm sure will be helpful for people.

David: I'm a dual diagnosis individualwho has struggled with mental illness as well as addiction,which they go hand in hand. But, um… I… Since I do feel comfortabletalking about it, I'm happy to do so. It's part of my journey and hopefullysomebody who is watching this will hear something that makes them feela little less alone. And then this whole thingjust elevated its purpose for all of us, you know. Jono: Love it. Alan: Am I right in this that your first rolethat you booked in a film was Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight?.

David: That is true. Jono: Way to come out swinging. David: [laughs] I mean, the universe is an incredible placeand life is an amazing journey. And for all of its hardshipsand all of the pain and doubt and suffering, I am so blessed and my cup runneth overwith these incredible, like, miracles. But that's a huge one. I get a chance to auditionfor a clown mask wearing bank robber. So I auditioned for and I prepared a characterbased on the scenes I was given.

And so I obviously knewit was going to be about the Joker, and I created a character based on that. And I went in and I was so nervousand wracked with anxiety. I called my mom. She said a prayer for me.I was just, Oh my God. I went in. David: Every actor in Chicago was theregoing to audition for this.Alan: Oh, of course. Yeah. David: The casting director's assistant…He said, Hey, you look interesting. And he had me read this scene for him in his officeand he said, I want you to come back tomorrow. Do all this great stuffthat you're doing with this character, but stop moving your body.Put it in your eyes.

Because I want you to meet Chrisand he is going to be looking at your eyes, and you're going to communicateall this stuff you're doing… here. And I went home to my littlestudio apartment in uptown Chicago, David: …and I figured out what that meant.Alan: Yeah. David: I came back the next day.I did it for Chris. That week they shot thatbank heist sequence with the clowns. Alan: Right.David: And I was devastated. I was crushed. Alan: Because you didn't get it.David: I didn't get the part. Alan: Right. Yeah.

David: Yeah. Four months later, I got the callthat they had been saving me for a different role, and I was going to now be in The Dark Knight.And I went and… A much better role than I had auditioned for. [gunshots, screams] Harvey Dent: Ger outta here. Tell me what you know about the Joker. Alan: So I can see that note where it was,Play it all in your eyes. Alan: It's… Jono: And your little giggle tells the audienceyou're a disciple, you're an acolyte.

Alan: And then we jumpforward in time a little bit and… Harvey Dent is descending into madness here. Harvey Dent: You wanna play games? [gun fires] Harvey Dent: How does that feel? Thomas Schiff: You wouldn't… Harvey Dent: I wouldn't. You don't think I will?You don't think I will? No. No, I wouldn't!.

That's why I'm not going to leave it up to me. Heads… You get to keep your head. Tails… Not so lucky. So… You want to tell me about the Joker? Alan: I just… What you're playing hereis so incredible to me. Like, it's obvious there's fearand there's… Jono: Here's relief.Alan: …relief. Thomas: I don't know anything! I don't! Alan: Like, the terror and the almostjoy-like giggles that we're getting from you.

Almost like… I'm… Jono: This is fanaticism. Batman: You leave a man's life to chance? Harvey Dent: Not exactly. Batman: His name's Schiff, Thomas. He's a paranoid schizophrenic,former patient at Arkham. The kind of mind that Joker attracts.What do you expect to learn from him? Alan: I just love, like, in the edit,Batman walks in and says that line and then we cut to you and we get just that tiny hint of a grinbefore it cuts away from you.

Like, I'm just fascinatedby what you're playing here, so talk to me about, like,what is the psychology?How do you get into this? David: I had not seen this scene laterthat was, He's a paranoid schizophrenic. The kind of mind, the Joker attracts. Because that we didn't shoot until October.So all I saw was that scene in the ambulance. But the decision that I made washow great would it be for me as a character David: …to actually havea kind of psych disorder where…Alan: Yeah. David: …no matter what I'm trying to say,all I can really do 95% of the time is laugh, because I feel like that's a conditionthat I had seen in a documentary.

Where somebody couldn't stop laughing. And it reminded me a bit of the man who laughsand the sadness of imagine being under duress, being, like, mentally ill,and being forced to participate in activities that you really didn't necessarilywant to participate in. But because this person, the Joker, had…had forced me into these situations and was using me and I felt,like, there was moments that I wanted to play where I'm trying to actuallytell Dent what's going on. But the only thing I can elucidatebecause of my issues is just to giggle. And so that's what I played.

It gave me an opportunityto create a complexity to my character that the whole thing is so sad. And only Batman ultimately is the onewho can save me and go, What are you doing? You can't torture.You're not going to get anything valid from this. So that's how it all kind of happened. Jono: When Batman tells you to tone it down,you know you've gone too far. Jono: This week's episode is brought to youby Mended Light, my online trauma clinic. Many of you, like this week's special guest,have had your lives rocked by trauma. It could be that your world no longer feels safebecause of lost tragedy or abuse.

It could be that you used to feel confident,but now you're trying to control things because of fear, anxiety and panic. Maybe you don't know who or how to trust, and it's tough to form long lasting,healthy relationships. Perhaps you struggle to function or thriveat work, at school, or in social situations, and it's hard to believethat things can get better. You may even feel like you're worthlessand whatever light you had inside you is going out. If any of what I've just mentioned describes you,we've got a proven system that has helped thousands of peopleto heal and thrive again,.

And I believe it will help you. Our innate healing program offerstrauma recovery tools and support through a combination of online video coursesand one-on-one workwith a member of our clinical team. Our trauma specialists all haveadvanced degrees in clinical fields, like psychology, family therapy,and trauma recovery. I've hand-picked and personally trainedevery one of them in our trauma recovery program. They are experienced and skilledand will guide you step by step from fear to courage, from anxiety to power,and from darkness to inner light. They'll also guide you throughour Relationship Foundations program,.

A series of online courses in whichI teach you all of the conflict resolution, communication and connection skillsthat I've taught thousands of people in therapy. We also have an online membership sitewith new courses every month, live Q&As and podcasts with Alicia and Ito help guide you and give you additional support. It's time to step out of the darknessinto the light. It's time to get the help you need. It's time to replace fear with peace. Go to MendedLife.com/CT and schedulean 80-minute first session appointment with a member of my clinical team today. David: But my anxiety at that stagewas just beginning the process of treatment,.

And, you know, you want to utilizewhat energy you have to muster when you're creatingand performing a character, but you want to do soin a healthy and safe way as well. So it's like, for me, when I got to setand I didn't even know what I was doing, I'd never been on a film set. All of a suddenI'm in a hair and makeup trailer with people like Gary Oldmanand Heath Ledger and Christian Bale, and one of the wonderful thingsabout Christopher Nolan was his ability to set me at easeand get me to relax and help me.

Alan: There's something you're doing rightthat these incredible filmmakers just keep going, Alan: Oh, hey, yeah, I got a part for David in my next movie.Jono: Yeah. Alan: That's an incredible thing.You know, my primary work is as a director. And when I find collaboratorsthat I really get along with, it's like I'm always lookingfor ways to include them. And the fact that you've done that with,you know, lightweights like Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve and Peyton Reed and…It's pretty amazing. David: I'm very lucky. Very lucky. David: Oh, yeah. Speaking of Denisand frequent collaborators, here we go.

[knocking on the door] Jono: This is a child abduction, dramatic thriller. Jono: And you're a suspect.DT Loki: Morning. Jono: I just want to see how you react. DT Loki: Why did you run away from methe other night, man? Bob: I've never seen you before. You sure you have the right house? DT Loki: You doing some shoppingat the Value Mall lately? Bob: Yeah.

Why? Is it a crime to shop there?I can't afford to buy suits from Brooks Brothers. DT Loki: I know… You buy children's clothes. Bob: Did I? Must have been in a hurry. DT Loki: Do you have children? Bob: I don't… have… anything. Bob: [moans] Alan: So, the detective brings your character inand tries to interview you and doesn't get much. David: Yet another terrifying interrogation.

Alan: Yeah. Like, early in your careergetting interrogated by all these heavyweights, Aaron Eckhart and Jake Gyllenhaal,really bringing the heat. Jono: So children's lives are in danger right now.So that's… The gloves are off. David: Justification. Obviously, there's a lot of evidencethat would make it seem like my character is a very viable suspect. So… Alan: Absolutely. David: You put yourself in…Alan: The script sets you upas a red herring really, really well.

David: Really well.And the way that they shot it, between Roger Deakins and Denis Villeneuve'skind of vision for how you see me… DT Loki: Tell me what you're drawing. You said you were drawing a map. It looks like a [beeping] puzzle.You tell me what you're drawing, Alan: And the detective doesn't know it yet, but what has actually happened isyour character was kidnaped and abused by the people who are kidnapingand murdering these children. David: Exactly. Exactly.

Alan: And so… [shouting] Alan: …seeing what you're playing here. This… I want to talk to you about how difficultit is to play big emotion like this in the middle of technically difficultphysical scenes. What was your process getting into this?Because it's so beautifully played. David: Bob Taylor is the extreme version of a guy who suffered severely at the handsof some really psychopathic people when he was just a little boyand he's the one victim of theirs who got away.

And was now living a lifestill imprisoned by his captors because he didn't get the mental health carethat he needed in recovery, which is also somethingthat happened to me as a young person. I did not receive the treatment or helpthat I feel like would have… That I should have gotten. And that had a really detrimental effecton my mental health. The things that, you know,had a major impact on me, which, like, the revelations that my maternal grandfatherwas molesting kids in my family, that's a true story. Or the really tumultuous divorcethat my parents went through,.

David: …the death of a good friend in childhood.These moments in my childhood.Jono: Yeah. David: So as an adult now I have integratedand I'm working with to this day the 12-year-old me who suffered in that, that 7-year-old me. I put my hand on my chestand it's like he's still in there. And if I can do the work with my therapistand my psychiatrist and my own spiritual practice and working with my wife, and working with my friendsand my family and myself and my journey of mindfulness,then the wonderful thing is integration, healing, not denying, but actually,like, embracing those moments of trauma, those things that set my course off,that jacked up the wiring.

The 7-year-old… If as an adult,I'm not doing the workand I haven't gotten the help, the 7-year-old all of a suddenis steering my ship, is running my brain and is behaving in a waythat a 7-year-old would when they feel threatened. Now, here's the extreme version of that,Bob Taylor, because he never got the help he needed, the 7-year-old Bob,who was traumatized in those ways, is steering the ship 24/7, because he's constantly in fear that those peopleare going to come back and get him. I was able to bring that into the workand it was healthy. You know, it was a very healthy…

Difficult, but, you know, being with Denis,who cares very deeply for his actors and is very, you know,loving and supportive, was fantastic. There was a moment with the suicide scene David: …because I am someone who has a historywith suicide that was triggering and difficult for me.Alan: I was going to ask about that. David: I wish if I was to playa suicide scene again, I would have askedfor a little more support and help because there was one moment in shootingthat I think I got a little bit off track, felt a little lost. David: But luckily we kind of stopped for a momentand I was able to get back, um, and yeah…Jono: Yeah.

David: Um, and we do that… I do that in art. I can write really intense storiesin my comics or my films that… I am now getting the opportunity…It's empowering and I'm able to reclaim things, tell stories, use my imagination and… And I'm not… There's…It's just a fine line. I want to make that clear to the audience that,like, what I'm not doing is the work on set. Like, I'm not going to set, or I'm not going to write a script for other actorsto perform and going, I am doing my therapy Alan: This is how I will achieve my catharsis.David: This is therapy. Yeah. No.That I have to do with the therapist.

That I have to do with the psychologist,the psychiatrist with my wife, my partners. You know, my children, the… my family. The work that I'm doing in life,that's all its own thing. Jono: Yeah. Just because creating artcan be therapeutic, doesn't mean it is therapy. David: That's a quote that is…Make a bumper sticker. Because I think that's…Because I have seen the opposite. I've seen where people have come inand brought their trauma baggage to work and it just goes off the railsand it's not healthy. And I don't think it's good for anybody.And it doesn't always lead to productive art.

Alan: It's not good for youand it's slowing down the work for everyone else and making everyone else… Like,there's a weird discomfort with it and stuff and it's like, I'm glad you're processing,but there's a… This is a professional setting and… Jono: Yeah.Alan: There's a different setting. Jono: The only thing that is therapy is therapy, because I know therapists who treatbeing a therapist as their own personal therapy and that's not what it's there for. David: If you've got a 10-year-oldwho's written a suicide letter.

And is preparing their attempt,yes, you want to get in that support and be there and comfort and love them. David: …but you need to get that kidto a licensed psychologist. And…Alan: Yes. David: Right? Like, that was…Looking back now as a grown up, I'm doing a lot of like, Hey, kid,I love you, man. I'm sorry that happened. I'm sorry you didn't get the supportthat you needed at that time. And I think there's tons of peoplewho are going to watch this who… It's not maybe that they had a suicide attempt,but maybe they had a bad accident. Maybe they lost somebody important.Maybe their parents had a bad divorce.

Maybe they were bullied.Maybe they had body dysmorphia. Maybe they just hated themselves for what–All those things. But you didn't… Most of usdidn't get the proper supportthat we needed at that time, and… Integrate that now and do the work now.And you'd be amazed. I am so proud of the workthat my wife and I have been doing and I've been working at this journeyfor a long time. Like I said, I'm 21 yearsinto my journey of recovery. But like, the more I can do that work, the more I, as a grown ass man,middle-aged dad, can drive the ship.

And own my decisions and my choicesand my behavior in a way that I can be the the version of myselfthat I want to be all the time. Does that make sense? Jono: It does.Alan: For sure. Brenda: So what happens to cowboy in your story? Alan: So this is your character has been…addicted to heroin, living in a car. Jude: …no matter what, so… Alan: And, um… Jude: …was out on this big bender.

Jono: He's in an inpatient clinic right now. Alan: Finally getting treatment. Jude: And… He comes in this alley where these guysare brutalizing this poor young girl. Jono: Talking about his writing. Jude: He goes completely animal,tears them apart. And then… there's this guylaying there bleeding to death. And then this girl is looking up at himlike he's her savior or something, but he's not. And…

He climbs on top of herand he's going to kill her. But they get him. The police. He's got this tear running down his faceand their machines plucked him out and they haul him awayto the trash compactors. Alan: This character obviouslyloves a good sci-fi yarn. Jono: Well, you've got… The film is aboutyour character and his girlfriend who both come from more upper middle class but whose lives have devolvedinto poverty and homelessness because you're just running scamsto feed your heroin addiction.

And there's a bit ofa Bonnie and Clyde element to it, except for you're not…you're not physically hurting other people, but you're going arounddoing scams and everything. And I love this scenebecause it speaks to his self-loathing. Right? He rescues her, but then he hurts her. And she sees him as a savior.But he's not. He's really a monster. And the police haul him offto the trash compactors. And in the context of the film,it's so heartbreaking because her character,I mean, she just adores him.

And he knows he's not good for her. And he knows that if she stays with him,she's going to keep being hurt because he sees himself as broken, as trash. David: And there's a moment therewhere he's writing a story. And in the writing of that story,he realizes he is writing a reflection of himself through a sci-fi lensand how he feels about himself. And it kind of dawns on him.And that's a big breakthrough moment for Jude. I always thought it was so fascinatingthat you can love somebody so much, even though it's a terriblydestructive relationship.

And there's that point where you either go, We're just going to keep doing this foreverand do this dance until we're dead, or somebody gets in the lifeboat,which in the film one of the characters has to do. Jono: Yeah.Alan: Yeah. David: And that's the story I wanted to tell. And I was able to drawupon my experience as an addict and as somebody who is, you know, suffered with some of the similar strugglesas these characters and bring that into the narrative, but hopefully make it a more,you know, cinematic kind of story.

So I created, you know,rhythms to it and stuff, but it's very much inspiredby my own real life. Jono: Well, and if you don't mind my saying so,it's hard to watch… in the right way. It's not hard to watchbecause it's bad or poorly made. It's hard to watch becauseit's meant to be hard to watch. It's meant to make youstare things in the face. And I think your character,through a lot of the movie, it's not love. It's affection, it's attachment. And as he starts to, you know,he writes this story.

And he starts to seewhat he's doing to her, what being with him does to her. And I think it transitions into actual love,which is, I want her to be at peace. I want her to be healthy,and I want that morethan I want her with me, right? And it's this beautiful… It's not your classic love story. It's a completely different type of love story,but in its own way, and even with all the darknessthat you have to look at in this film, there's a wholesomeness to itand a beauty to it that I was very moved by.

Alan: Yeah, it's a lovely film. I… I like to think of movies as, you know,there's sort of popcorn, candy movies, which are the movies we all love,and they're fun to just consume and they're great. And then there's vegetables moviesthat are, like, really good for you movies. And Animals, to me, was likereally nicely seasoned, roasted vegetables. It was not unpleasant to watch.I really enjoyed watching it. But it definitely is not… Ant-man? Alan: Ant-Man, which we're gonnatalk about right now.

Kurt: Ant-Man is in the building. Alan: “Ant-Man is in the building”. Scott: It's a Carbondale. It's from 1910. Made from the same steel as the Titanic. Alan: So the Ant-Man moviesare really fun and really silly. There's good emotional stuff,but your character is not playing a lot of that. Scott: …iceberg did?Luis: Yeah, man. It killed DiCaprio. Dave: Killed everybody.

Kurt: Did not kill the old lady.She still threw the jewel into the oceans. Luis: Oh, you know what? I heard stories.Like, what happened to you? Like this crazy, creepy cat who,like, walks through walls and stuff like. Like a-a ghost. Kurt: Like Baba Yaga. Alan: I… Kurt: Baba Yaga. The witch. They tell stories to children to frighten them. You know Baba Yaga?.

Hope: Whoever stole it, we need to find it. Dave: Oh, you don't find someone like that.They find you. Kurt: [whispers] Like Baba Yaga. Alan: All right. What is the work process liketo be sitting in a room with all those heavy hitters and, like… I'm going to be really silly.Here we go. David: Here's what I've learned with that stuff.I just got to say the lines. Just give it what I…you know, just be there, be present,.

Play the intentionthe way that you would anything else. I will say that I'm proud of…with the line about the old lady and the oceans. I made that up.That was an improv and that… Alan: Oh, dude… David: Whenever… whenever you improvise a lineand then Paul Rudd thinks you're funny… Man, there's really no better feeling than that. Sonny: Well, where is Scott Lang?Literally speaking. Luis: Oh, the woods. Ava: The woods?.

[screaming] Kurt: Baba Yaga! Ava: What do you mean, “the woods”? Luis: The Muir Woods! The second fire roadoff the Panoramic Highway! Ava: For God's sake! Sonny: Whoa. Whoa! Kurt: ♬♬ Baba Yaga Come at night,Little children, sleepy tight ♬♬ Alan: Oh, my gosh… David: I did make up the…I made up the little song. I made up the song.

Alan: Mmmm! I knew it!I knew it. Oh, man… Okay, so this is going to soundlike the silliest thing. What is the prep work to be, like… …in a Laurel and Hardy Spookhouse movie. Baba Yaga! Like, what is the prep to geta character believably into that space? Because it's believable.It doesn't feel like you're acting. Jono: But it's so big. Alan: But it's so huge.

David: You just, you just…It's about the director, and the way that they establishthe tone of the world that you're playing in. As long as it's authenticto that world that you're creating, and the given circumstancesthat we're creating, where, Yes, I'm friends with a guywho can shrink down to be this tall. And yes, this is a world of superheroes. I created a characterwho was obsessed with Elvis, who grew up in a small villageoutside of Siberia, who got involved with the mobat a young age and was caught up in crime,.

And ended up coming to the United States with the dream of hopefullygoing to Graceland at some point. Like, you create all that stuff. Fits into the world, and then you imagine,Okay, what would Kurt do if he really saw somebodymaterialize in front of him? And, you know, it's just…Oh, man, it was… It's so fun. I love it. Alan: The thing I loved about it,I have a weird personal connection with Kurt. I lived in Russiafor almost 3 years growing up, and I have met… 50 Kurts.

Super smart, super educated Russian people. You know, I literally know a guywho is a computer scientist, like a Russian computer scientist guywho also believes in UFOs and Baba Yaga. Like, straight up. David: Oh, totally. Yes. Alan: Like, I know that guy. And it was just…David: Me, too. Alan: It was so fun to see it on screen.And just the way you did it was amazing. David: Thank you. Alan: David, I think what we're going to have to do.

Is we're going to have to ask you to come backand talk about more of your films. Jono: There's so much,there's Polka Dot Man, there's Dune, there's All Creatures Here Below. But those who are watching…David's got all these films. Check them out. They're fantastic. David: Thank you so much.This was really, really awesome. And I love that you guys have this showand let's do it again. Alan: Awesome. Thank you so much. David Dastmalchian,Psychology of an Actor.

The most psychologically fascinating actorthat I can think of. Jono: Yep. Alan: And…. thanks for being on our show. Jono: So until next time… Watch David Dastmalchian movies. Jono: SThere you go.David: Yeah, please.Alan: That's it. [♬♬]

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