Peter Dinklage, most widely known for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones, tried for years to get a movie about the life of dwarf actor Herve Villechaize made. Now My Dinner with Herve is scheduled for release on HBO in October, and Dinklage is facing backlash from some who have seen the movie’s trailer. They charge “whitewashing” because Dinklage is a white man portraying Villechaize, who they say is part Filipino. Entertainment Weekly recently talked to the actor about the movie and those charges.
Dinklage said that he had no desire to play Villechaize initially because he was afraid of portraying a real person. It was a conversation with journalist-turned-writer/director Sacha Gervasi 14 years ago that changed his mind. Gervasi spoke to him after seeing his performance in a New York play. They talked about Villechaize’s experience in Hollywood in the 70s and 80s and the difficulty faced by actors and actresses who wanted to move from movie acting to television acting or vice versa. Gervasi met Villechaize in the ’90s when things were a bit easier, but still difficult. Dinklage described Villechaize as “still holding onto his Fantasy Island heyday” in the ’90s. Dinklage changed his mind about playing the dwarf actor after Gervasi “peeled back the layers of the onion.” He now sees it as “a brilliant story.”
Peter Dinklage says #MyDinnerWithHerve isn't whitewashed: “Personally, I would never do that, and I haven’t done that, because he wasn’t. People are jumping to conclusions based on a man’s appearance alone and that saddens me.” https://t.co/PfRV6ir6Ls pic.twitter.com/rqLeUGJCnw
— IndieWire (@IndieWire) August 30, 2018
So how does he feel about the backlash? That’s a bit complicated. To start with, while he understands that those attacking him have good intentions and admirable motives, they aren’t dealing with facts. Herve Villechaize was not half-Filipino. He wasn’t even part Filipino. Dinklage explained.
“I’ve met his brother and other members of his family. He was French, and of German and English descent… I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or sense of justice because I feel the exact same way when there’s some weird social profile. But these people think they’re doing the right thing politically and morally.”
He goes on to explain that the backlash is directly related to what the film is about — “judging a book by its cover.”
“What they’re doing is judging and assuming what he is ethnically based on his looks alone. He has a very unique face and people have to be very careful about this stuff. This [movie] isn’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Personally, I would never do that, and I haven’t done that, because he wasn’t. People are jumping to conclusions based on a man’s appearance alone and that saddens me.”
Asked what he hopes people take away from My Dinner with Herve, Dinklage said he hopes it makes them realize that they really have no idea who the people around them are. You don’t know who the people you walk next to every day are. You don’t know their life experience or their secrets. “And that’s,” he says, “the fun of life.”