Peter Dinklage is one of the most talented actors of today, a face that he has proven time and time again with numerous memorable roles. His latest may well be one of his best, playing real-life actor Hervé Villechaize in a HBO Original Film, titled My Dinner With Hervé.
The film is based on an interview conducted by former journalist, Sacha Gervasi who was dispatched from London to Los Angeles to interview the French dwarf in 1993. Originally considered to be a puff piece, Gervasi’s interview would ultimately end up to be a wild ride, orchestrated by Villechaize.
The events of that fateful evening would lay the groundwork for My Dinner With Hervé, which sees Dinklage portraying the legendary actor. He reveals more in this interview.
They said you’ve been working on this for years with Sacha?
All my scenes took years. Since I first met Sacha, yes. He came downtown to see a play I was doing, Richard III, at the Public. We went out to dinner, the first of hundreds of dinners. He gave me the short script he had written – “My Dinner with Hervé” it was called back then as well. It was about 30 pages long, and most of it centred on the interview itself with some flashbacks.
And I thought it was a great idea. I didn’t really know too much about Hervé myself. I knew who he was, like everybody else: Tattoo, “de plane, de plane.” And I thought he was really fascinating, obviously, because of my size. I had a curiosity about this other guy, and of the life he led which was revealed through talking to Sacha, and in his short script, how interesting this guy was.
What were the aspects of him you had to study most closely to get him right?
His voice is probably more well-known than he is, so before I did anything else, I had to get that – for myself if no one else. And if I couldn’t do that, I don’t think I should have done the role. That was very specific. And then how he looked – we did many iterations of that as well, and then we decided on less is more for that.
Where do you think Hervé’s demons came from?
I think the drink brings out demons in a lot of people. Drinking is complicated. It changes personalities – for better and for worse. And sometimes there are people who have an issue with it—some people are fine with it. Some people are happy when they’re drunk; some people are really mean when they’re drunk. Obviously, that doesn’t happen for Hervé. I think it just derailed him. I’m not judging him, and I really want to speak with real respect to the man, and to his loved ones. But I think he followed this, this sort of fame balloon that floated by, and I think he derailed from what was important at times. And we tackle that in the film.
He was a very intelligent, very artistically driven gentleman. He was an incredible painter, and I know he continued to do that, but fame got the better of him. And fame is a very abstract thing, and it only results from good work, and when you just attach yourself to the fame part of it, and without the underlying reason for the fame, then you’re lost, I think.
What were the things in Hervé and his sort of experiences in Hollywood and in life that you related to?
I don’t know if it is all that different now. I think it’s different when you get a writer who’s willing to write a more complicated character for someone my size. But you know, if you turn on the TV around Christmastime, is it different? That’s some panto shit right there.
But I understand it, I’m not judging it. People need to work. People need to pay the bills. But that’s something that never interested me. I’d rather just work shitty office jobs instead. I just don’t think I would ever get anything from that doing that but, sort of, embarrassment. And that’s the way that I don’t want to feel.
I think actually Hervé had a more open philosophy about it, because he was okay playing Nick Nack and all these roles that were geared for his size.
Tyrion was written for somebody my size, but he sort of broke the walls of that, and became a much more complicated person, like I am, like anybody who is a real person.
But I had that moment on set, when the guy playing Roger Moore was shoving me into this suitcase, which was a scene in Golden Gun. And I wondered, as I was inside that big suitcase, if Hervé was okay with this. Because even playing that scene, there was a touch of humiliation to it. It was like, was he really okay? I don’t know for certain that he was.
But he had a great sense of humour. As do I, about myself. I’m the first one to take the piss, and that’s what he did, but there’s a difference. Maybe because I’m controlling it, or like he did with the “bionic midget” t-shirt, he’s controlling your opinion of him, in a weird way.
But there’s also some anger in there, and obviously, how Hervé ended his life, that’s a lot of pain there. And I can’t help but think a lot of that contributed to a certain amount of anguish, spiritually.
My Dinner With Hervé starring Peter Dinklage premieres the same time as the U.S. on Sunday, October 21 at 8am, with a same day encore at 11pm, exclusively on HBO (Astro Ch 411 / 431 HD).