Interview: Cameron and Colin Cairnes on Late Night With the Devil, Don Lane inspiration, and not auditioning David Dastmalchian

After breaking out at last year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival, where our own Peter Gray heralded the film as one that “enjoys melding the modern sensibilities of the found footage genre with the bold mentality of horror movies gone by” (you can read the full review here), Late Night With the Devil is finally gracing Australian screens with its nasty, unbridled presence this week; it’s scheduled for an April 11th release locally.

To coincide with the film’s release, which details a live television broadcast in 1977 that goes horribly wrong, unleashing evil into the nation’s living rooms, directing siblings Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes – the Australian duo behind such genre fare as 100 Bloody Acres and Scare Campaign – spoke to Peter about the Australian light night show incident that inspired their film, how “not auditioning” David Dastmalchian worked in their favour, and the freedom they were gifted in casting locally.

I’m so excited to talk about this movie! I saw it back in March last year as part of SXSW, so I’m so happy to see it coming to theatres now.  I’ve been barracking for this movie for so long.  I feel like, growing up in Australia, we didn’t have that “late night” television culture.  Where did the inspiration come from for the movie?

Colin Cairnes:  You’re right.  We grew up, and it didn’t matter what generation you are, with so much American popular culture.  We’ve been lucky enough to have our own interesting stuff (too), so, in a way, we’ve been spoiled.  When you go to America no one has a clue what you’re talking about if you mention Don Lane or Graham Kennedy.  But we know who Johnny Carson is.  We know their guys.  So, I think, we more than pretty much anyone in the world have been recipients, or fans, of English speaking pop culture.  I think no one knows it better, or there are no greater aficionados of that than Australians.

I think that’s partly why our actors do such great American accents (too).  I’m not really answering the question (laughs), but yeah, for us, because as kids in the late 70s and 80s, we weren’t getting a lot of the talk show stuff until maybe the 90s.  Of course, we watched our own guys, like Graham Kennedy and Bert Newton, and, of course, the great Don Lane.  That definitely fed into the writing and the making of Late Night… in terms of the aesthetic and the vibe and the reverence.

When we were writing we were looking at Dick Cavett.  He was the thinking man’s, or thinking person’s…what am I trying to say?

Cameron Cairnes: Thinking woman’s sex symbol!

Colin Cairnes:  But he was a bit more cerebral than Johnny Carson.  And we wrote with Dick Cavett in mind.  We were hearing his voice.  When we started sharing all of our online material, and the archival stuff and YouTube clips, with our producers and, more importantly, David Dastmalchian, they just fell in love with that guy, and I don’t think we realised how much he’d influenced the screenplay.

I feel like Don Lane really leaned into the ridiculous, the supernatural.  Was there any one story that you read about, or anything that you saw personally, that inspired what takes place in the film?

Cameron Cairnes: Oh, for sure.  I think we both recall that infamous episode where James Randi came on Don’s show, James Randi being the ex-magician turned professional debunker – our Carmichael the Conqueror character – and I guess the producers invited him on thinking it would probably be good television.  And, sure enough, it was because James Rando proceeded to show Don how Uri Geller (Israeli-British illusionist and magician) was bending spoons.  Don could sort of pick up that Uri was doing something dodgy, and he was pointing out that it was a trick.  Don didn’t want a bar of it, and he wiped the spoons off the table and stormed off his own show, leaving Randi just sitting there.  That experience stuck with us, and I think anyone of a certain age remembers that.  That just felt like fertile ground for us to explore this seemingly together talk show host who would lose it over such a matter.

Colin Cairnes:  He would take things so personally.  The American guys were so polished, so slick, and quick with one liners.  Don Lane was not the one liner guy.  He was earnest and he wore his heart on his sleeve, and you always knew what he thought about a guest.  He couldn’t hide his emotions.  And it made it really fascinating to watch.  I think that’s why he was so successful for so long.  Everyone latched on to that.  I think with our Jack Delory (Dastmalchian’s character), you see that he’s a complex, emotional human being with a slightly troubled history.  He may or may not have made a pact with the devil.

Speaking of David, it’s so great seeing him in a lead role here.  I feel like he’s never really had that chance.  Was he someone you were immediately thinking of for this role? Or was it a case of him coming in and you thinking, “Could we actually have this guy?”

Colin Cairnes:  We were never going to ask David Dastmalchian to audition (laughs).  No.  I mean, we can sort of summarise by saying we knew what a great actor he is.  Like you say, he’s been in these massive tentpole films, but it would be a cameo or a small part.  But he would always nail it.  And that is the toughest gig for an actor to come in, have two minutes of screen time, and basically steal the scene.  He’s got that ability because he’s such a great actor.  He completely immerses himself in the role.  Polka-Dot Man (in The Suicide Squad), for example.  He created a whole backstory to that character!

We knew we were in good hands, as far as the acting stuff went.  But we also knew he was a mad, keen horror fan, you know.  He’s written about regional television horror hosts in America.  He writes his own comic books, Count Crowley, which is the horror comic.  It’s just a matter of getting to him, and the only way that happened was when a producer called Roy Lee got involved with the film.  He’s a pretty big name in the horror world.  He’s produced the It films, The Ring remake, Barbarian from a couple of years ago…he has the biggest little black book in Hollywood.  When we pitched David, he said “I’ll call him tonight”, and the next day (David) was reading the script.  A week later we’re Zooming with him.  A few weeks later he’s signing on the dotted line.  Pretty wild.

Oh yeah, just one of those classic “That happens all the time” moments…

Colin Cairnes:  We were in development hell for, you know, four or five years.  We had different people attached and interested.  They all say how much they love your work and the project, but until you get the right cast, it never gets greenlit.  Unless you make (your film) for $300 (laughs).

Cameron Cairnes:  And the great thing was once we had David, our producers were happy for us to just cast whoever, like locally.  There was no pressure on us to get another big name from the States, or anywhere else in the world.  We have some great actors here at home in Melbourne.  That was great, you know, that we had that freedom.

That’s so great.  After SXSW I went and saw this at the Sydney Film Festival because this is definitely an audience movie.  You could really sense how much love there was for it with an audience who recognised the local talent.  And after Shudder picked it up, to know it was getting a theatrical release made me so happy, because horror has always been a communal experience.  I can’t say congratulations enough on this.

Colin Cairnes:  For us, it’s all about the audience.  We make the films we wanted.  We do it for the experience.  That communal experience you’re speaking of, that’s why we do it.  There’s some self-expression there to some degree, and I don’t know if we necessarily have a vision, but we’ve got taste and sensibility, and the sense of humour to know what works, and then it’s all for the aim of entertaining people.  That’s so gratifying you say that, because we’ve been in those rooms where you can feel the love for the actors.  I love Ingrid Torelli, who plays Lily.  She’s incredible.  Stunning performance.  And then you have Rhys (Auteri) who plays Gus, who’s never really been in front of a camera before.  And then Josh (Quong Tart), who plays the backstage producer.  He probably only did like four days work, but he’s such a presence throughout the film.  We love them all.  We love our cast dearly.

Late Night With the Devil is screening in Australian theatres from April 11th, 2024.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.