What would you do to save your job or be #1 in your career field? If you’re a late-night ‘70s talk show host, you create the most bizarre and sensationalist episode of television in existence. And during this time, nothing gets the people going more than talking about supernatural happenings and the Devil himself. That’s exactly what we witness in Late Night with the Devil, an absolutely stunning horror film by brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes starring David Dastmalchian. He portrays Jack Delroy, a TV personality whose final effort to save his show turns into a live broadcast disaster. 

Nerdist caught up with Dastmalchian to talk about his immense love for the genre, Late Night with the Devil’s themes, and shaping his character’s persona. 

Nerdist: Before we start, David, I just want to tell you that I absolutely love Late Night with the Devil. Your performance is amazing. It makes my horror-loving heart super happy that this film exists in the world.

David Dastmalchian: Thank you. Yes. Yay! I am a monster kid, a horror nerd deep in my dark and twisted little heart. I was so excited when I first heard about and read this script. And I can’t tell you how much it makes my monster kid heart sing every time someone like yourself, who I know loves the genre and loves this space, responds so positively to it. It’s wild. It’s a great feeling.

I’m so glad you get to experience that joy! I recently learned the Cairnes brothers approached you about the role of Jack Delroy after reading a post you wrote for FANGORIA about TV horror hosts. What inspired you to write that post? 

Dastmalchian: So I’ve always been obsessed with horror hosts. I grew up in Kansas City in a very conservative and religious household where horror films were not something to be celebrated. My mother, who was so dear to my heart and who I love so much, didn’t like scary movies, so I’d have to sneak down away from her to watch Crematia Mortem, our local horror host of Creature Feature on Friday nights. I was smitten immediately with Oliver Reed in The Curse of the Werewolf, and Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera, and Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man, and Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee and all these people who became some of my biggest heroes. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, as we were all so riddled with fear and anxiety, I sadly lost my mom. And it was a devastating moment in my life because it happened so suddenly and so quickly, and I was so sad and scared. I thought about how much she had helped me through my life, through the scary moments, and how horror hosts had helped me entering into and then coming out of the scary moments of watching a scary movie. I saw the parallels between those relationships, finding those people in our lives that help safely transport us across scary things. 

And so I wrote this article, which Phil Nobile Jr., the editor of FANGORIA magazine, read and loved, and he published it in the magazine. The Cairnes brothers ended up being these horror nerds down in Australia who read the article and they said, “Oh, we like that guy’s acting, but this article and what he said here lets us know that we want him to be our Jack Delroy.”

Late Night with the Devil poster showing a man in a suit with fire instead of a head
IFC Films

That’s such an interesting and full circle journey. And I do extend my condolences for your loss. It’s one that I intimately understand. Right now, we’re in this really interesting space within the horror landscape. You’ve got sequels and reboots of long-running franchises along with really wild and inventive original offerings. Where does Late Night with the Devil fit into today’s horror landscape?

Dastmalchian: One of the things I’m most excited about with Late Night with the Devil is that it has its own specific place at the table. The table right now in the horror renaissance in which we are living is a buffet of great and awesome material. You’ve got the revolution that Jordan Peele has led in mainstream horror cinema, being able to get wide audiences to experience these incredible stories and films that are absolutely 100% genre stories.

You’ve got movies like Poor Things breaking the mold. Barbarian and Talk to Me completely shattered all expectations because they connect with audiences in such a specific way. And here’s a movie like Late Night with the Devil, a very small, independent, low-budget film that is about a character and his relationships with other people, and this pushing of the boundaries of ethics in the effort to try to save his career, the jobs of the people he loves, the legacy of the person he’s lost, his own mind, and in doing so, cracks open something that cannot be contained once it’s unleashed.

It is a very unique story. I think that also, in the film, there’s this parallel between the concept of possession and the grip that it has on the body, and the grip that sensationalism and watching proverbial train wrecks take place in entertainment has on us as a collective. How do you think this film addresses those concepts in a way that resonates with viewers?

Dastmalchian: We are collectively our own body as humanity. We are one being when you step back far enough. And when you think about the way in which we’ve allowed screens, projected images, videotaped and filmed moments to penetrate our consciousness, you see the power of media and not just over-shaping politics, culture, art, and society. On the deepest level, it has the potential to both connect and rupture the human psyche, the human spirit, if you will. 

So here’s this movie set in the—for all intents and purposes—innocuous, fun, silly world of late-night talk shows. These are springboards for musicians and entertainers to get on and yuk it up and hopefully have a little bit of fun. And yet at the center of it all is this very broken, very frayed man who has so many boulders of unprocessed trauma, grief, and unwellness brewing within him that in his effort to entertain people, to boost his ratings, to save his show, he makes some errors in judgment, and the horror that is unleashed is the consequence.

IFC Films

Yes. There’s also this level of desperation among some to be seen and gain attention through views and comments. And when you’re in desperate times, you’ll often resort to desperate measures. Late Night with the Devil takes this to the extreme.  

Dastmalchian: A whole ‘nother level. A hellish level.

Indeed. When it comes to Jack Delroy, there’s some obvious influence there from folks like Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson, but where else did you find inspiration to bring together the layers of this character?

Dastmalchian: There was a late night talk show host in Australia who was American. Don Lane was actually from Chicago and a big influence on me. He was this great interviewer, and he ruled late night in Australia during the same time that our movie takes place. But what I loved about Don Lane was he had this genuine and sincere interest in wanting to believe elements of the supernatural. And so he would bring on people who profess to have psychic or media, mystic powers, or spoon benders or whatever. And he did so with an open mind and always wanted to give them a chance, as opposed to maybe, say, making them the butt of a joke.

Wow, that is Jack Delroy to a degree for sure. I’m going to have to dig up YouTube videos now. Final question for you. If you could describe Late Night with the Devil in three words, which ones would you choose? 

Dastmalchian: Funny, shocking, and horrifying. But the horrifying part I think is on a level, hopefully after people see the film, that isn’t just splatter and shocks and jump scares. It’s a different kind of horrifying.

IFC Films

For sure. Even with the typical horror scares, the practical effects take them to a new level. They are excellent and capture horror from that time period so well. 

Dastmalchian: They are a great homage to John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and the films of even Cassavetes with the way that violence gets pulled off on camera in our movie. I know it was a very conscious choice by Colin and Cameron.

Horror fans making horror films is special. Cronenberg was one of the first names who came to mind when I saw how the violence played out. Thanks so much for speaking with me! 

Dastmalchian: Yes, it was great to see you! I really appreciate it.

Tai Gooden is the Features Editor at Nerdist and a horror fan who fell in love with the genre as a kid literally living on Elm Street. She frequently writes about the Scream franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, indie horror flicks, and Black-led horror TV shows and films.