David Dastmalchian was one of the best parts of the first two Ant-Man movies. He played Luis’s partner in crime Kurt, a cybercriminal with a memorable accent and fear of Baba Yaga. But despite the character’s popularity, Kurt and his crew didn’t appear in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. That didn’t stop Dastmalchian from getting in on the fun, though. He not only voiced Veb, the Quantum Realm’s friendly pink goo, he actually played the character on set. We asked Dastmalchian about bringing that sentient ooze to life, why he keeps appearing in superhero stories, and more when we had a chance to discuss Quantumania with him.
And if you thought you couldn’t love either him or Veb anymore than you already do you were wrong.
Nerdist: This is your fourth role in your fifth major live-action superhero movie. Combined with your appearances on The Flash and your voice actor work, you’ve now been in a whole lot of these. What is it about the superhero genre you enjoy so much?
David Dastmalchian: I know this interview isn’t on camera, but you and I are talking through Zoom. You look around my office and you see the giant stack of long boxes that are only growing over the last 30 some years. [Note: His office is completely covered in comic books and comic paraphernalia.] Ever since I was a kid getting lost in the pages of comic books—exploring the outer reaches of the genre and superheroes, and the storytelling you find in comic books—I always felt a sense of both escape and introspective reflection. They were a perfect place for me to live out some of my greatest fantasies.
They were also a place for me to really hitch myself onto characters. I especially always loved the anti-heroes and troubled characters who were maybe wrestling with issues I could relate to. And [I also loved] figuring out how these things in one frame of mind isolate people as superheroes, or make them seem weird or outcast, but in another perspective can become special abilities to help solve problems.
So when the renaissance of superhero cinema took hold … and by the way, there’s always been killer superhero movies. From Tim Burton’s Batman back to Superman. I mean, there’s so many great superhero movies over the decades, but I feel like we entered this renaissance when Christopher Nolan took his camera and started telling superhero stories in a new way. I just wanted to get a ticket to take a ride. Little did I know I was going to actually get to be part of the ride! It’s crazy.
This time you get the call for Quantumania, but they say you’re not playing Kurt. What’s your reaction?
Dastmalchian: It was insane, because [director[ Peyton [Reed] has become a very dear friend of mine over the years of making these films. Paul [Rudd], the rest of the cast, they’re people I love. But I knew from talking to Peyton he was trying, but he couldn’t figure out a way when constructing the plot of Quantumania to tie things back to characters on Earth. So I just made peace with the reality I wasn’t going to get to be a part of this film. But my heart was with them and I was there with them in spirit.
So I was in a pretty bad way that summer of 2021. I was exhausted, I was overworked, and I had to get separated from my family because of travel and COVID stuff. I was having to deal with some family tragedies. Peyton called me and he said, “David, Jeff Loveness is this incredible writer I’m working with on the film. We’ve got this character. I swear, I think you’ve got to do this.” He sends me some pages. Immediately this light started to grow in me. This little bubbling oozy red glow of Veb’s heart. And Veb just came through me like ooze. Truly.
I’m laughing a lot lately because when we went to the premiere, I was there with my wife and several of our closest friends, and as we were exiting the theater, they said, “You know, Veb is more you than probably any character you’ve ever played before.” And I was like, “You’re damn right! I love that.
William Jackson Harper told me you were on set playing the part hunched over. What kind of physical challenges did that present and how did that shape your performance?
Dastmalchian: It was so great. I’ve gotten to be friends with Peyton and producer Stephen Broussard over the years, and they said, “We want you to do this thing.” A lot of times, for many reasons, it makes sense for the actor to just perform the voice only in a booth in L.A. But I said, “Is there any way I could be there? I would really like to be there on set and figure this out.” Because to me, the voice comes from the body.
The voice grows through how I move and how I interact with my environment and my scene partners. I wanted to be there in case maybe I had something to give my scene partners, which I think I did. I mean, there was a whole bond that formed between Veb and Cassie I don’t think was originally in the script. And I just kept gravitating towards her and wanting to hold her hand and call her “friend.”
Then with Scott, [as Veb] I just think he’s so fascinating and wonderful. So, even though I’m a pretty tall guy, it was really helpful for me to crouch. I came up with this little butt wiggle walk I felt represented the gelatinous oozy flow of Veb’s being. I didn’t know exactly what he was going to look like because they were still developing the art. And so, in one of the million ways that make it such a gift to work for Marvel when you’re a creative, Peyton and the rest of the folks there said, “Do what feels right to you. We will figure out how to bring that to life.”
That’s why to me wearing a mocap suit was so liberating. It meant I could just do what my body needed to do. They were going to capture that all, and then they could generate stuff to flow with that when it came to bringing him to life. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I loved being present. And I hope I can do a mocap performance again, because it felt like being back in Chicago and doing black box theater where you have no budget for costumes or anything. It’s all your imagination and you have so many discoveries when you get to use your imagination.
While you’re making the movie, was it obvious to you that Veb was going to be a beloved breakout character?
Dastmalchian: No. It’s funny, when filming you have to remove your ego as an actor. Because if you don’t, you’re going to get in your own way. You’re going to not be as good a scene partner. You’re not going to be able to bring your director’s vision to life. So my ego was saying things like, “Ugh, is Veb annoying? Are the other actors annoyed by him?” But as I started performing and discovering him and really moving with him, I felt like he was this warm source of love for the Freedom Fighters. And he’s a good friend. So I just tried to remove any projected assumptions about what audiences would think of that. But I will say, if anything, [my expectations were] not positive. I was definitely nervous.
But I trust Peyton. He told me he was happy with what I was doing. Paul was happy with what I was doing. I just trusted them. And I was so happy when I got to see it with an audience. I’ve seen it a couple of times now with audiences, and it’s been a joy to hear people laugh and seem to really respond to Veb. Makes my little gooey heart warm.
They’re obviously very, very different, but Veb screaming, “I have holes!” had a lot of the same energy as Polka-Dot Man screaming, “I’m a superhero!” Was that intentional or just a happy coincidence?
No, it’s was not intentional. And I didn’t clock it [while filming]. When I was watching Quantumania, I went, “Oh my God. Oh my God! This feels almost like a kindred, connective kind of moment for me as an artist.” I love the fact that either way… obviously how things turned out for Polka-Dot Man in that moment and how things ended and turned out for Veb in that moment are quite different…either way, it’s a really joyful, beautiful moment.
I’m so humbled, I’m so grateful. I’m just a kid, a comic book monster kid from Kansas who finds himself in the middle of some of the greatest superhero stories being told with the greatest filmmakers. I can’t believe that I get to be a part of such incredible moments in these films. And both of those moments I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life. I’m so proud when I think of that moment of shooting that scene with James [Gunn] down in Panama and how much we gave for that and how hard we worked together to create that moment.
Then thinking about this Veb moment with Peyton and being on that set in London feeling like I was on the set of a Star Wars movie. I mean, it was the most incredible experience. I couldn’t believe it. And there I was getting to turn into Veb in his full capacity. Oh man, it was awesome.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.