(LOS ANGELES) — While you might not recognize actor David Dastmalchian’s name, you’ve definitely seen him work: among many others, he stole scenes as a psycho Joker follower in The Dark Knight, and the Elvis-coiffed Russian hacker Kurt in the Ant-Man movie series.

He can also now be seen in theaters and streaming on-demand in a very different project, the intense drama All Creatures Here Below, which he wrote. He and another Marvel movie veteran, Karen Gillan, play a troubled couple who go on the run to their hometown of Kansas City, Kansas, after setting in motion a devastating chain of events.

“They are trying to make a family with a child that’s not their own,” he explains, “And in order to start over, they have to go back to the place where they’re from, and confront the thing that they fear the most.”

Kansas City is also Dastmalchian’s hometown. As he explains, going home was the only way he could have pulled off the independent film, which deals with heavy issues including kidnapping, relationship and family abuse, and poverty. 

“Having my family there with me and being back in the home territory, an amazing crew and cast surrounding me — it’s a small team but a very close knit family — just surrounding myself with people who I trust and love, that’s the only way I think you can keep throwing yourself into the fire for three weeks straight and not just end up in critical condition.”

Dastmalchian says he’s “so blessed” to be able to pivot from small projects like All Creatures, to big studio films. “These are…giant movies where I get to play really fun characters, and I’ve worked with directors that have let me just go and get crazy, and then they’ve — God, given me such amazing opportunities!”

He adds, “I’m such a…fan of…all these franchises…[A]nd now I’m just sneaking in somehow by the skin of my teeth as a character actor, getting to be on these sets. It’s like I got the Golden Ticket.”

He admits he has to keep his inner fanboy in check, however. “…[I’ll] have to go do let’s say a really intense scene with Jake Gyllenhaal or Evangeline Lilly, or…Paul Rudd — Michelle Pfeiffer on Ant-Man and the Wasp, Michael Douglas! You show up to work and you have to be like pro and you can’t act geeky or nerd out.”

He’s not always successful at the latter, he admits with a laugh.

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