“Belfast was my home away from home. I miss it terribly ‘
When aspiring showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss pitched the idea to adapt George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones, they wrote their scripts with two actors in mind: Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage.
The latter, they noted, was “incredibly intelligent” and possessed a “core of humanity, covered with a dry, sardonic shell of mind, [that] fits the character quite well â.
The latter was also wary of playing “elves or goblins” – especially after he recently made an exception to play the dwarf Trumpkin in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian in 2008. Dinklage was quickly convinced that Tyrion Lannister was “a another kind of fantastic little person … No beard, no pointy shoes, a romantic, a real human being. “
“Having played Tyrion for so many years, I feel like this is the biggest part of my life. It meant so much to me to work on this show and live in Ireland.”
So began a decade in which the actor read his scripts backwards just to check if he was dead at the end. Tyrion remains his personal favorite in terms of performance. With a few caveats.
âI can’t look at myself on the screen,â he says. âI am my worst critic. I see it once through my fingers. Bite my nails. Just to put an end to it. I think it’s important to see what the director has done, more out of curiosity than anything else, because it’s a directorial art form. You are in their hands.
âBut you know, after playing Tyrion for so many years, I feel like it’s most of my life. It meant so much to me to work on this show and live in Ireland. It’s hard to distinguish the life of that and the role, and the show. So that’s definitely what had the most impact on me. Belfast was my home away from home. I miss it. terribly.
Game of Thrones is one of Dinklage’s fortunate exceptions to the rule. At the start of his career, he gave up playing roles that were usually offered to people with achondroplasia; the most common form of short-limb dwarfism.
He was even willing to stay in a rat-infested New York apartment to prove it.
He was just as keen on moving for notable exceptions like Elf, where his angry children’s author gets to beat Will Ferrell.
On the night of the London premiere of Cyrano – a wonderful new musical in which Dinklage plays the main character as a short man rather than a man with a bigger nose – the actor, who in 2012 joked that his ideal role is one in which “he gets the girl”, that’s just it. Although by proxy.
âI am a non-singer in the traditional sense of the word. So I do imitations of my favorite singers like Nina Simone or Freddie Mercury ‘
âIt’s a beloved tale. And the nose has gone down in history as the attribute of a very important and magnificent character. However, once the nose was removed, for me it was very liberating. Too often, Cyrano is a handsome actor and has a false nose. And that stuff gets me out of there. Because I know the nose was fake and the actor comes home at the end of the day and takes his fake nose off. And this film was able to speak to me personally because, not having a big nose but being of the physical stature that I am, I have to make Cyrano my own.
Inspired by Edmond Rostand’s vivacious 1897 Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano is a 2021 musical tragedy directed by Joe Wright from a screenplay by Erica Schmidt, based on his 2018 musical of the same name. The film – which is expected to fill a seasonal gap the size of the greatest showman – stars Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Bashir Salahuddin and Ben Mendelsohn. The songs are by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National.
âI haven’t really done a musical since I was a kid,â Dinklage says. âI did a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s really the only time you can go on stage when you’re a kid. You’re not really doing Long Day’s Journey into Night or Streetcar. Although, that I would like to see. Part of the joy of what I do for a living is changing it. Aaron and Bryce Dessner wrote the most beautiful songs and let me sing them with my own voice from my own heart.
âI am not a singer in the traditional sense of the term. So I do imitations of my favorite singers like Nina Simone or Freddie Mercury or Matt Berninger – the singer and lyricist from The National – because we have a similar baritone voice. I actually had to stop listening to The National for a little while. Or I would have ended up trying to emulate Matt in the movie.
Dinklage will tell you he may not be as finicky as his Game of Thrones tenure might suggest
The actor treats great affection for the onscreen predecessors GÃ©rard Depardieu (in the 1990s Cyrano de Bergerac) and Steve Martin in Roxanne. In common with these previous incarnations of the Cyrano material, sees the spiritual Cyrano (Dinklage) and articulate (Dinklage) expressing his love for Roxanne (Bennett) through the handsome Christian inarticulate (Harrison Jr). “
“The first time you swear around your parents, you are, you know, your words are very powerful things,” says Dinklage, who already tried Richard III and Rakitin, in a month in the countryside, before creating Cyrano off-Broadway.
“Or the first time someone says they love you, if you’re lucky enough to hear those three beautiful words. I think we underestimate the power of words these days. I think we have to. be careful with them, especially in politics. Because words have an effect, and they resonate and have a consequence. I thought I was a poet when I was younger, I still do it from time to time. that aspect of this piece, I love the poetry of it.
Dinklage will tell you that he may not be as temperamental as his tenure on Game of Thrones might suggest. (A famous scene in which he cuts off a knight’s leg required him to wield a blunt sword at a 70-year-old amputee.) He will also tell you that he grew up in a house where music was still played. Growing up, his mother was a music teacher who “was always, always at the piano,” he says. His brother, whom Dinklage calls “a true family performer,” is a violinist for Hamilton’s New York production.
His parents, he recalls, âloved the theater and the arts and were always very supportive about anything I shot; this should be true for all parents. The scar on the side of his face dates from his punk years when, as the lead singer of Whizzy, he knelt down to his head on stage at the CBGBs. Details like this may make it seem like Cyrano – a musical with swords – was written specifically for Dinklage. Indeed, it was. The original direction and film were written by Erica Schmidt, stage director and wife of Dinklage for 16 years.
âI have worked with Erica on a number of theatrical productions at this point,â the actor explains. âI think this is our fifth collaboration. So either I’m a punishment glutton or I really like it. And it’s definitely the latter, because we have such a shortcut with each other, and it creates such ease in the working environment. It’s also 24/7. Many of the actors who work with her have to return home after the show. But I can go home and continue the conversation about the room. I feel like I’m taking advantage of it. It is a constant evolution.
Schmidt and her husband are fiercely private individuals who keep their two children away from the cameras. He is pissed off by the current pressure on young actors to live their lives on social media platforms.
âI think it’s really difficult,â says Dinklage. âI mean, I’m an older actor. I have avoided all the pitfalls of the internet and social media. It all scares me. I’m not on any of this. Because it’s really putting you there. It makes you very vulnerable. And I think because it’s such a vulnerable place, people build that personality of who they’re online, just to make sure they look good or sound good, or whatever.
âI think we’re trying to meet the expectations of too many people and we’re profiling ourselves, especially online these days, trying to represent this best possible version of ourselves. And that’s not necessarily who we really are, and we shouldn’t be afraid of who we really are.
There is, however, one family member that Dinklage is happy to talk about. While filming Cyrano in Italy during the pandemic, he and his family “lived at the end of a dirt road” where a stray dog ââhad recently given birth to a litter of puppies. When the animal rescue arrived, Schmidt was on hand to make sure one of the dogs would return to Dinklage. A stray animal is a perfect fit for Dinklage, a longtime vegetarian who campaigned passionately for Farm Sanctuary, shared a video advocating a vegan diet on behalf of Peta and begged Game of Thrones fans to adopt Huskies looking like to wolves in shelters, rather than buying from breeders.
âShe’s a year old now. We adopted her when she was just a puppy a year ago. And she is in good health. She is my joy.
Dinklage’s career time frame hasn’t just avoided Instagram; he also joined the big American independent scene of the 1990s. After studying theater at Bennington College in Vermont, Dinklage collaborated with director Tom McCarthy on The Killing Act for Access Theater in 1995; the duo would reunite for the latter’s much-loved debut feature, The Station Agent, in 2003. Dinklage starred alongside Tupac in Julien Temple’s Bullet (1995) and worked for Sundance early darlings like Tom DiCillo ( Living in Oblivion), Alexandre Rockwell (13 Lunes), Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman (Human Nature).
âOh, it was a crazy time,â Dinklage recalls. âPeople always say it reminds them of the 70s. Over a decade since we went back to the roots of independent guerrilla cinema. I had the chance to start with a great film: Living in oblivion. It was a film about independent film making. So it was sort of a great introduction to the world of cinema with a great group of actors, and a great writer and director.
âI was lucky to find a tribe of fellow artists, writers, directors, actors. We have all worked together a number of times in New York and beyond. And I think it’s really important when you start out. Don’t go for strangers. Go with the creative forces and create your own pieces, rather than waiting[ing] for the phone to ring.
Cyrano opens January 14