Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Filmmaker James Gunn delivers the unexpected in THE SUICIDE SQUAD. Yet nothing feels more disarming than the gobs of gravitas and pathos instilled within two of the film’s indelible characters: Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher 2. David Dastmalchian and Daniela Melchior add distinguishable depth and dimension to their characters’ backstories, which diverge (often greatly) from their comic book origins.
They’re part of Task Force X, a team of elite supervillains who’ve been sent on a reconnaissance mission to the fictional country of Corto Maltese to bring back information on a potential mounting threat that would bring about the destruction of the world. Not only do they have their own personal issues to sort through, they must figure out how to work as a team.
At the film’s recent virtual press day, I spoke with the dynamic duo about how it felt to get the job and what it was like to bring these two misunderstood supervillains to life.
I’m sure you’re hearing this a lot today, but you both give such touching performances here.
David Dastmalchian: “Thank you. I always felt like Daniela’s Ratcatcher 2 was the heart of this film.”
Daniela Melchior: “You are!”
I’m curious what your audition process was like? Were these the roles you had auditioned for? And what was it like when you found out you got the gig?
Melchior: I was working in Portugal. I started self-taping and THE SUICIDE SQUAD was my third or fourth. For me, I thought it was my worst self-tape ever. But actually, some days later, my manager called me and said they wanted to fly me to Atlanta. I was like, “Why? Are they sorry for me?!” I flew to Atlanta and I had a meeting with Peter Safran and James Gunn the day before and they talked about the character, their vision and they asked me questions about me. The next day, I auditioned and James told me later, that once I started the first scene, he looked at Peter Safran, ‘Please tell me this isn’t me being desperate, but she’s the one.’ He said, ‘No. She’s the one.’
I had a camera test with Sebastian, with the rats. And in the end, Peter and James told me, ‘Look we like you, but we’re not the ones making the decisions. We’ll see.’ James took my hand and said, ‘Whatever happens, please stay a good person, because the world needs it.’ I was like, “Okay, this was a goodbye.’ A few days later, he called and I started crying. It was really interesting and emotional – the whole process.”
Dastmalchian: “That’s awesome. I’d never heard that story before. I love that so much. I feel like you were born for that role and that role was written for you. I was in Glasglow, Scotland and promoting a movie I wrote, ALL CREATURES HERE BELOW, which starred a James Gunn staple actor, Karen Gillan. I was sleepless because I had just recently found out I was doing DUNE and I was having to fly between Budapest and Scotland and Los Angeles to do makeup tests and promote my indie film. I got a message on my phone that read, ‘I want you to be a part of THE SUICIDE SQUAD,’ from James Gunn. I was like, ‘Whaaaat?!’
We got on the on the phone and started to talk about the film he was going to make and role he wanted me to play and that he was sending me the script. The thing that’s really funny is James knows that I’m a lifelong comic book collector and he said, ‘I want you to be Polka-Dot Man.’ I was really embarassed and said, ‘I have no idea who that is.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry! We’re doing a whole new thing with him in the movie. When I was writing the film, I said, ‘David is going to be Polka-Dot Man!’ I hope I gave him what he thought I was going to be able to do.”
It must’ve creatively freeing to build this character solely on the script and not have to be tied to the comic book portrayal. Were you both able to collaborate with James on what was on the page?
Dastmalchian: “For me, fortunately, everything I needed was there on the page. As far as the ridiculousness, the embarrassment of being Polka-Dot Man and seeing how silly he’s been in the comic books and the butt of so many jokes. But honestly, James gave me – all of us – all the clues we needed right there in the script. It’s very fun, for me, to go back and think up scenarios and anecdotes from Abner’s past that contributed to his life and I would talk about those with James. We’d talk about Gotham and the different locations and characters and significant things that might’ve contributed to the character. I love that! Talking about Star Laboratories with James Gunn was really fun.”
Melchior: “I had a conversation with James where I could imagine what would be the references for Ratcatcher. He told me that she would be really interested in art, and old French movies, and then it was all about working emotionally from the script. We talked about posture. Whenever we are tired and have to work, we’d stand up like this [mimics perfect posture]. But, no. If Ratcactcher doesn’t want to be there, she will be like this, [mimics laid-back slouching] – lazy. I had to explore all those postures we’d love to have and embrace it.”
Dastmalchian: “And, let me just tell you that Daniela truly can fall asleep anywhere and THE SUICIDE SQUAD set was not a safe space to fall asleep. I had hours and hours of footage of Daniela asleep and the rest of us, you know, like hanging a piece of pizza over her head, maybe getting some props and laying them on her. But she could sleep anyways.”
Melchior: “I caught you sleeping too, in Panama, with your comic books.”
Were y’all working with live rats on set?
Melchior: “All of them were CGI, but I had actual rats on set because James liked them and I like them too. We had three rats that were rotating all the time so they wouldn’t be tired. It was a nice thing for me to get into character.”
Dastmalchian: “I loved watching Daniela interact with her rat, which were different actors. She’s such a loving person in real life, and seeing her with animals, it was really adorable. And James is a massive animal lover, as am I and a lot of the people who worked on the film. In fact, we rescued a lot of animals when we were in Panama. There was a lot of crew and cast that adopted pets in Panama.
What’s beautiful about that is people have such strong opinions about rats and a reaction to them. But then when they see this film and see that even rats, these little furry creatures that people disregard, are beautiful. Daniela brings that to life in her interaction with the real animals. It’s such a fun thing to watch.”
THE SUICIDE SQUAD will release in theaters and will begin streaming on HBOMax on August 5 (if you’re in the non-ads tier) at 7pm ET.