In James Gunn’s upcoming The Suicide Squad, a bevy of classic DC villains — like Bloodsport, Peacemaker, and King Shark — all make make their big-screen debuts as part of the latest incarnation of Amanda Waller’s morally suspect black ops team. Most everyone on the squad has skills that make them recognisably invaluable to the team, but then there’s David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man.
If you’re not familiar with his name, you probably know Dastmalchian’s face. He’s already made appearances in DC Comics adaptations The Dark Knight, Gotham and The Flash TV series, as well as the recently animated Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One. On top of that, he’s also spent time in the MCU in both of Ant-Man’s films. When Gizmodo visited The Suicide Squad’s set in Atlanta back in the fall of 2019, we got a chance to speak with Dastmalchian and producer Peter Safran about the thinking that went into bringing Polka-Dot Man to the big screen, and how practical effects play a key role in the movie’s spin on his strange powers.
In the brief appearances that Polka-Dot Man’s made in The Suicide Squad’s trailers so far, the character’s been presented as your typical c-list villain who Waller recruits with the assumption that he’ll die while other, more competent characters rise to the top. But between the film featuring a relatively more grounded story compared to its predecessor and some of the details about how the movie handles his powers, there’s a bit more to the character than meets the eye. In DC’s comics, Abner Krill (Polka-Dot Man’s legal name) is one of the first Gothamites who turns to a life of ridiculously themed crimes in the hopes of orchestrating a battle with Batman early into his career as a masked vigilante.
According to Dastmalchian, some of that same kind of desire for human contact is a part of The Suicide Squad’s Polka-Dot Man, both in terms of what led to him becoming a criminal, and what makes joining the team something of a dream situation for him. “I think that he’s somebody that hasn’t ever found much connectivity with people because of certain things that I can’t discuss today, but also just because he’s the Polka Dot Man.” Dastmalchian explained. “I mean, that was the thing that worked for him, or he thought would work, and so it’s interesting.”
Throughout the movie, Abner finds himself paired up and bonding with King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone, and physically portrayed by Steve Agee in a shark suit) as they journey to Corto Maltese to destroy a secret laboratory. That friendship, Dastmalchian elaborated, makes it easier for Abner to slip into a familiar posturing with his teammates, but he can’t help like feeling as if he’s part of something meaningful. “You have a group of exceptionally gifted or talented people at different varying degrees of strength, or whatever their particular specialty might be, which might be useful,” he said. “But there are also people that are disposable, in a sense to the bigger scheme of operations, and I think he’s always felt that way. So even if it’s this big fish, he’s starting to feel like maybe there’s an alliance with some people, it’s a new feeling for Abner.”
While Dastmalchian wouldn’t go into detail about the specific nature of Polka-Dot Man’s abilities, we were shown a few clips of test footage of the character that revealed a bit more about how The Suicide Squad’s taking him in a different direction. Unlike the comics version whose whole stick is pulling dots off his suit that transform into different gadgets, Gunn’s version instead has to live with massive, glowing tumours that painfully emerge from various parts of his body if he isn’t wearing the suit.
The gruesomeness of it all, Safran explained, was Gunn’s intention, and precisely why he wanted the effect achieved using practical effects and makeup. “What you’ll discover in the movie is that these things you saw, the glowing pustules on his face and his body, he basically has to release those twice a day, otherwise they’ll eat him up from inside,” Safran detailed. “But that look is all done practically. Each [pustule], is lit from within, wired down on a controllable [console with] all the different colours and everything, and it looks unbelievable.”
Given the movie’s title and the way Polka-Dot Man’s powers are a bit more destructive than his codename suggests, there’s a very good chance that he’ll be spotlighted in some of The Suicide Squad’s flashier scenes when it premieres on August 5.
Whether he ends up making out of the movie alive, however, is still up in the air.