Years in the making, this October will finally play home to the HBO release of Sacha Gervasi’s “My Dinner with Hervé,” which stars Peter Dinklage as trailblazing actor Hervé Villechaize, best known for his roles in “Fantasy Island” and “The Man With the Golden Gun.” The film follows Villechaize, described as both high-energy and hard-partying, during what end up being his final days, as he unexpectedly bonds with a journalist sent to interview him (played in the film by Jamie Dornan).
Dinklage has long wanted to bring the story to the big screen, but its imminent arrival has already been met with some criticism, including claims that Dinklage’s casting whitewashes Villechaize, who many believe was half-Filipino. In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, Dinklage addressed the criticism — HBO chief Casey Bloys was asked about it at the TCAs earlier this year — and talked more about his hopes for a passion project he’s wanted to make for years.
“The internet is the best thing and the worst thing,” Dinklage told the outlet. “The funny thing about the backlash is it addresses what we address in the film about not judging a book by its cover. Hervé was judged by how he looked, and cast and perceived to be who he is accordingly. … There’s this term ‘whitewashing.’ I completely understand that. But Hervé wasn’t Filipino. … I’ve met his brother and other members of his family. He was French, and of German and English descent. So it’s strange these people are saying he’s Filipino. They kind of don’t have any information.”
He added, “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 racial profile. But these people think they’re doing the right thing politically and morally and it’s actually getting flipped because 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.”
Dinklage was resolute, and referenced Blake Edwards’ classic Audrey Hepburn film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which co-starred Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, an Asian-American character. “This [movie] isn’t ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,'” he said. “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.”
The actor actually hopes that the film will help further break stereotypes in the industry. When asked about how both he and Villechaize rejected roles that were simply looking for dwarves — roles like Santa’s elves or baby New Year — Dinklage was reflective.
“Why humiliate yourself for something you love doing?,” Dinklage said to EW. “I didn’t want to be miserable doing what I loved. To be fair, Hervé lived in a very different time than I lived in. Hopefully, in 20 or 30 years we will be more enlightened as a society, especially from the time we’re living in right now, which doesn’t feel all that enlightened. There are people who break molds, break stereotypes, and in a strange way I feel like Hervé did that. He didn’t take any prisoners. He knew who he was and embraced it fully.”
“My Dinner with Hervé” premieres on HBO on Saturday, October 20.