“Game of Thrones” aside, Peter Dinklage is not one for epics — in his last two films, he largely starred opposite only one other person. “Obviously, it depends on who you’re working with,” he said. “But if you’re lucky to work with [Jamie Dornan] or Elle Fanning, it’s a joy. That’s all I want to do for the rest of my career, just two people,” he said.
Thus, he’s prioritizing working with a director like Reed Morano on the post-apocalyptic indie film “I Think We’re Alone Now,” or bringing to life the eccentric and fascinating Hervé Villechaize for passion project “My Dinner With Hervé,” the upcoming HBO original film about the days leading up to the death of the “Fantasy Island” star.
Jamie Dornan co-stars in the role of a fictional London journalist who serves as an analog for director Sacha Gervasi (“Anvil: The Story of Anvil”), who was the last to interview Villechaize in 1993 before his death at age 50.
“Anything that is basically a two-hander is always a bit of a risk,” said Dornan. “There’s a bit of a, ‘If I don’t get on with this person, it’s gonna be a tricky couple months.’ And often the work will suffer as a result of that.”
“I don’t think I’m good enough to fake any chemistry,” Dinklage added. “Really, I don’t think I’m a good enough actor to do that. To me sometimes, as I get older, what’s more important? The finished product, or 40 days on set with somebody? I’ll take the 40 days over the finished product. If the finished product is really good? It’s a perfect storm of greatness. But I’ll take the 40 days. I mean, I’ve had some great experiences on films, and the films were all right — but I’ll still always have those experiences.”
Gervasi first sought out Dinklage for the project in 2004, after he saw Dinklage star in “Richard III” at the Public Theater. “He was mind-blowing,” he said. “He just owned the place. It was like the ‘boom’ of his power as an actor, his voice… the whole thing. It was enthralling. Then we went to dinner. I said, ‘Listen. You’ve gotta take this fucking movie. That was amazing!’ I knew he had more than he’d had a chance even to show.”
The two began working then to develop the project, which represents the first time Dinklage portrays a real person. “He had said to me, all of his roles, including ‘Game of Thrones,’ or ‘The Station Agent’ — they’re all sort of versions of him,” said Gervasi. “This is the first character who’s someone real, but also totally different to him. There are certain obvious sort of superficial similarities, but Hervé and Peter, having known them both, are profoundly different characters in the way that they handle the same situation.”
This included the process of being interviewed. “Unlike myself, Hervé brought a theatricality to the whole event of his interview with Sacha,” Dinklage said. “He had set it up in such a way that made Sacha very curious, as to who he was. It was an ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ down-the-rabbit-hole experience for Sacha — the way Hervé presented himself.”
Meanwhile, Dinklage laughed, “I don’t even remember if I took a shower this morning.” (He looked fine.)
Dornan noted that Villechaize and Gervasi’s experience reflects those celebrity profiles in which the journalist and subject go out to do something than posing and answering questions. “The very diluted, very safe version of that is, you know, I say, ‘Instead of sitting and having lunch, can we go to the bar or go play arcade games?'”
“That sort of forced familiarity,” Dinklage said.
“Which, you know people do. I’ve probably done,” Dornan said. “But I guess this is a way crazier, more manipulative version of that.”
Here’s Gervasi’s memory of how Villechaize escalated their interview: “Out of the corner of my eye, there was a sort of rapid movement. I turn around, and Hervé’s standing right there, and he has a knife. Hervé has a knife, and he’s like, ‘I’ve told you the bullshit. Now, do you wanna hear the real story?’ I was like … I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m about to be shivved to death by the dwarf from fucking ‘Fantasy Island.’ What in the fuck? But it wasn’t a threat. It was like, ‘Wake up, pay attention. I’m not just the story you wrote before you even got here. I’m a real fucking human being. Do you wanna know that story?'”
Thus, Gervasi spent three days with Villechaize in Los Angeles, and “he just poured his heart out to me. When I met him, I could see that the fame and the success had, in a strange way, devastated him. He’d been chewed up and literally spat out… it was very hard. It’s like suddenly you’re walking along in your life, and then you get like a triple dose of heroin and then suddenly it’s cut off.”
Ultimately, Gervasi said, “you had all of these different personalities within Hervé, which was so fascinating, because you realize that the fame thing really had taken him down. He felt, in a strange way, cheated. He wasn’t quite willing to look at his role in it, but he had a big role in his own downfall by the way that he conducted himself. I think, when I met him, he regretted it. He thought, ‘Shit. I kind of had it!’ As they say, ‘The one piece of advice in TV is never quit the hit.’ You know? He kind of forced that upon himself.”
Both Dinklage and Dornan said the film’s exploration of “the fame thing” had a real impact on them. “There’s really no sort of right or wrong way to deal with that, with what happened to Hervé,” said Dornan. “Wealth, and fame, recognition and admiration and consideration. All the things that come with this job, if you do it to a point where there is recognition, you can’t fault someone for responding a certain way. We’re all very fragile as human beings. We all have different ways we can be destructive. Attention and scrutiny and pressure can be the catalyst to destruction. I think they were definitely for Hervé.”
Added Dinklage, “You have to prepare yourself, always be prepared for it not being what it is today. I think maybe Hervé — everything I say about him is said with love — I’m so afraid of talking about someone who is real. I don’t think he was prepared, he hadn’t prepared himself for it, for when the day would come when he just wanted to keep living on that wire. I think, maybe I’m lucky, the fame I had came a little later in life… It came later for me, which really, for me, helped me process it all. It’s weird, it’s abstract, and at the end of the day it has nothing to do with you — who you are. It’s something people see a version of you, they project on you.”
But for Gervasi, making “My Dinner with Hervé” went beyond the question of fame to a more basic place. “[The movie] starts with two characters who could not be more different visually and who seemingly have nothing in common, and the audience maybe has nothing in common with, and by the end of the second act, you realize that these two characters are the same person,” he said.
“By the end of the movie, if it’s successful — if you connect with it — you realize that person is you, that you can connect with a 3’10” French dwarf and you can connect with a stupidly beautiful former male model. But it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that we all struggle with the same shit, and we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day, look at the good and bad, and accept the imperfection of what it is to be a human being.”
“My Dinner with Hervé” premieres Saturday, October 20 on HBO.