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The Truth About How David Dastmalchian Delivered A Great Performance In The Suicide Squad

It's possible that no one was more surprised by David Dastmalchian's scene-stealing performance in "The Suicide Squad" than the actor himself.

Dastmalchian has a long history with comics. He became a fan of superheroes and their stories as a child and still wears that fandom proudly. His first credit was as Joker henchman Thomas Schiff in "The Dark Knight." He appeared in "Ant-Man" and its sequel as Lang Gang member Kurt, in "Gotham" as Joker –– sorry, Jerome Valeska –– henchman Dwight Pollard, and in "The Flash" as the villainous Abra Kadabra. But as the actor told NME, even he was stumped when "The Suicide Squad" director James Gunn approached him about appearing in the film as The Polka-Dot Man.

"I can't believe I'm getting offered an opportunity to work with James Gunn on a superhero film, and I've never heard of my character!" Dastmalchian recalled. Gunn assured him that was okay; that Gunn had written the role of Abner Krill with him in mind. But as Dastmalchian explained in the interview, it's possible Gunn had no idea just how close to home he was hitting.

How David Dastmalchian's own mental health battles informed his performance as Polka-Dot Man

"No matter the genre or style of film that I'm working on – and yes, it may be a larger than life, bombastic, zany, crazy project – I always look at the work and find something I recognize," Dastmalchian told NME.

In the case of Polka-Dot Man, he found two big struggles from his own life mirrored in the character. "The first was his struggle with morbid depression, which I have battled the majority of my life," Dastmalchian said. Dastmalchian's own past experience with suicidal feelings let him empathize with the character's eagerness to sign up for the squad's suicide mission. Polka-Dot Man's whispered "I hope so" after Bloodsport (Idris Elba) complains that "We're all going to die" in a briefing is played for laughs, but it's at the heart of the character.

Polka-Dot Man gets a form of catharsis for his pain in the film's final battle against Starro, as he uses his explosive dots to cripple one of Starro's legs (and, in his mind, exact revenge against the tyrannical mother whose experiments on him and his siblings gave him his abilities and ruined his life). His final, triumphant cry of "I'm a superhero!" just before Starro fatally smushes him represents maybe the first time in his life he's felt comfortable, even happy, in his own skin.

For Dastmalchian, it's been a longer — but more successful — story, featuring fewer smushes. "Getting the mental health treatment I needed is my greatest accomplishment," he told NME. "But I'm still working at it, you know, there's no victory flags or anything like that. It's a daily journey."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Why David Dastmalchian empathized with Polka-Dot Man's condition

But there's another aspect of Dastmalchian's past that plays into Polka-Dot Man, as he revealed to NME. "I have an autoimmune disorder called vitiligo in which my body destroys its own pigment," he said. "It means I'm incredibly vulnerable to the sun and I have these large white spots like a leopard all over my body."

In "The Suicide Squad," Polka-Dot Man's spots are a result of the experiments performed on him by his mother, growing on his body as pustules and glowing in different colors before he releases them, where they become explosives. His spots, Dastmalchian explained, showed up in elementary school and served to isolate him from his peers. "Growing up as a kid going to the pool, others would bully me and call me things like 'polka dots,' or 'spots' or 'Dalmatian,'" he told the CNET podcast "I'm So Obsessed." "It was powerful and cathartic for me to get to be Abner and be this guy who's kind of humiliated and has this ridiculous getup."

That kind of closeness to the character made it easy for Dastmalchian to step out of his usual character actor, henchman-type role and into a part as one of the emotional centers of the film. "It's given me the opportunity to play a character who is in many ways so different from any character I've gotten to play before," he explained to NME.

"The Suicide Squad" is currently showing in theaters and on HBO Max.