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David Dastmalchian's new film is set in 1970's late-night TV with a supernatural twist

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The new film "Late Night With The Devil" takes place in the 1970s on a fictional late-night show called "Night Owls."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL")

DAVID DASTMALCHIAN: (As Jack Delroy) Interest in the occult has seen a major revival in recent years. This is true. You open any newspaper today, you're going to see hundreds of ads for psychics or fortune tellers, exorcists even.

(OOHING)

DASTMALCHIAN: Ooh. As you know, here on "Night Owls," we think it's very important to keep an open mind.

RASCOE: A very open mind, because show ratings are on the line.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL")

DASTMALCHIAN: (As Jack Delroy) Ladies and gentlemen, please stay tuned for a live television first as we attempt to commune with the devil.

RASCOE: That voice is David Dastmalchian. He plays Jack Delroy, the host of the fictional TV show "Night Owls" and the star of "Late Night With The Devil." David Dastmalchian joins us from our NPR bureau in New York City. David, thank you so much for being with us.

DASTMALCHIAN: I am so excited to be here. I've always wanted to be on the show, so thank you. This is a big moment for me.

RASCOE: Well, I'm glad to have you here and glad to have you talking about a movie called "Late Night With The Devil." So you know what you're getting, right? Like, it's not subtle, but I like that (laughter).

DASTMALCHIAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The packaging definitely is not deceptive. You are getting 1970s. You're getting horror...

RASCOE: Yes.

DASTMALCHIAN: ...Late night talk show. It is all that we promise to be and hopefully a side of extra chips.

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah. So you have described yourself as a horror hound and a lot of movies you've been in - they're pretty dark. I'm thinking of "The Dark Knight," "The Boogeyman." What attracted you to "Late Night With The Devil" specifically? What stood out?

DASTMALCHIAN: There are so many things about this film that made me want to be a part of it. From the way that the directors, Colin and Cameron Cairnes had presented their vision, to the script being so incredible and giving an opportunity for me to play a guy who's in front of the camera one person and then behind the camera someone totally different, which is something I can relate to personally. But at the end of the day, the biggest reason why I needed to say yes to this was because it scared me.

RASCOE: Was it Jack Delroy the character that scared you or what he was facing that scared him?

DASTMALCHIAN: Yeah, two things that scared me, the first thing being just the fact that I have experienced a lot of, I think, the anguish and the struggles that Jack faces mentally, psychologically going into this fateful night when everything did go the way it did in October of '77. But the other thing that scared me the most is a late-night talk show host, you looking at Johnny Carson and David Letterman and other people that inspired this performance in me were charming and witty and quick-witted and comedians...

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah.

DASTMALCHIAN: ...And they were all of these things that I don't feel I possess as just David.

RASCOE: You had to really do some tough things here, but you've been in some really big movies. "Oppenheimer" - people might have heard of that. You played...

DASTMALCHIAN: I had a little thing. Yeah.

RASCOE: (Laughter) You played William Borden. You were in that movie "Dune."

DASTMALCHIAN: A little thing called "Dune." Yeah, you know.

RASCOE: Yeah, a little thing. Like, did that change your approach here? Like, being the lead in the movie?

DASTMALCHIAN: The only thing that changed for me was this pressure, this fear that if I didn't rise to the occasion of what the film demanded of its Jack Delroy, you can't cut around that, with a film like "Late Night With The Devil," and you're playing Jack Delroy, who is front and center of every frame of this film. I was so scared. Again, I'll go back to that word because I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of in being scared of things. And I don't care if you're listening to this, if you're not looking at some acting role, you're maybe considering a new relationship or getting out of a relationship, or taking on this job, or moving to this new city, or doing this thing that you're so afraid of, and you got to listen to that fear. You've got to really, like, try and ask yourself, are these thoughts that I'm having useful? And for me, it was just a fear of failure, which is not a good enough excuse, I think, for us not to try things.

RASCOE: Well, you got to do it scared. I mean, that's what...

DASTMALCHIAN: Yeah.

RASCOE: ...I tell myself and what I can - tell my kids sometimes. Sometimes you just got to do it scared. And...

DASTMALCHIAN: Yeah.

RASCOE: ...That's what you realize as you get older. You actually have your own horror comic book series, "Count Crowley," and I noticed that the main character of those comics - she hosts a late-night horror movie show at her local TV station. And this movie, "Late Night With The Devil," was also about late-night TV. Like, what interests you about media and monsters?

DASTMALCHIAN: Are we seeing a theme here? Yes.

RASCOE: Yes.

DASTMALCHIAN: I grew up in Kansas City, very conservative upbringing, and I was drawn - secretly sneaking down to watch late-night Friday night, the Crematia Mortem Nightmare Theater (ph), where our local horror host would introduce me to all of my favorite horror films and heroes of cinema. And then as I grew up and became a fan of people like Svengoolie - I always loved that stuff. But, you know, interestingly for me, we've seen how the media has been weaponized, how people have obviously, like, really tried to manipulate truths, facts, and really anybody that is reporting information out there, especially coming from vetted news sources, can still be maligned by the overwhelming voices that would rather err on the side of shock. So I started writing and wanting to tell stories about how dangerous that power is.

And so for "Count Crowley," which is the comic that I write for Dark Horse I'm so proud of, a news reporter, who is under the complete self-destruction of her alcoholism, gets an opportunity to be a late-night horror host. She's humiliated by the job, but finds out monsters are real. They've been manipulating news and media and filling us with, quote-unquote, "fake news" for years. And so she has to learn not only how to combat her addiction, but also how to fight monsters.

RASCOE: Back in the '70s, like, there were mediums and psychics on TV often. And there was this shock factor, right?

DASTMALCHIAN: Yes.

RASCOE: And this movie really takes it up a notch. Do you remember seeing that? And do you think that - like, did you feel like with this movie that there's also a statement on what we will consume and what we will sit and consume as entertainment?

DASTMALCHIAN: Yes. I've always loved, you know, the Carsons, the Lettermans and all the hosts of the past. But one thing that you'd notice if they brought on anybody that had an air of the supernatural about them, it was usually for good fun or, like, even humor, sometimes to make fun of that person for...

RASCOE: Yeah.

DASTMALCHIAN: ...In a way. What's wonderful in "Late Night With The Devil," much more like the Don Lane late-night host, is Jack Delroy has this genuine curiosity and a kind of respect for that space. I do think that we, as consumers, often are drawn to the loudest, the zaniest, the brightest object in the room. And therefore we saw how that overtook media going from the '80s forward, when shock talk shows and shock TV started to really springboard. And as you see when you watch "Late Night With The Devil," sometimes bending those little internal guides that we have for our ethics, even our morality, can lead to really, really terrible consequences, even if we think it's going to draw more viewers, it's going to get us more acceptance, it's going to get people to really tune in. And as you see in "Late Night With The Devil," Jack pays a very heavy price for that.

RASCOE: That's David Dastmalchian. He stars in the new movie "Late Night With The Devil." It's out in theaters March 22. Thank you so much for joining us.

DASTMALCHIAN: Thank you so much. And tune in, night owls. You never know what you may see.

RASCOE: You never know. You'll never be the same.

(LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.