Will ‘Game of Thrones’ be won by Tyrion Lannister?

Peter Dinklage talks dragons, fame and Donald Trump to superfan Maureen Dowd

The official trailer for the highly anticipated season six of Game of Thrones has been released. Video: HBO

 

I had many questions for Peter Dinklage. I wanted to know how he felt about being the first dwarf heart-throb. I was curious why his four-year-old daughter was named Zelig. I wondered what it was like to elope to Vegas. But first I had to ask about the dragons.

The Game of Thrones star is such a big animal lover that he’s a vegetarian who eats tofu masquerading as meat in the carnivorous, libidinous show.

So now that the global hit – the sixth season starts in two weeks – has brought his character, the wily and louche “halfman” and “perverse little imp” Tyrion Lannister, into the sun-baked realm of Daenerys Targaryen, was it fun to act with the dragons? Or were they temperamental divas who chewed – or incinerated – the scenery?

“They’re not real,” he says, looking at me solemnly with his big, droopy blue eyes. Whaaaaa? I am shocked, given the CIA-level secrecy around the HBO show – which has sometimes confiscated extras’ cellphones and this year declined to provide the press with episodes in advance – that Dinklage would let such a huge spoiler slip out. (On a less top-secret note, HBO plans to make a comedy pilot inspired by my book Are Men Necessary?)

“The dragons are just a projection,” Dinklage says in his melodious baritone. “Ah, working with something that is not there. Sometimes I work with some actors who aren’t fully there. The guys in the visual effects department show you pre-visualisations, pre-vis. It used to be just storyboards, but now they’re really well done on computers, and you see the whole scene with you and the animated dragons before you do it, so you get that in your head. It’s neat. It’s cool. I like it.”

Blaze of glory

Game of Thrones

“You can’t compare her to Eleanor Roosevelt, I suppose,” Dinklage says. “She’s so much cooler.”

I ask him about his comment to Entertainment Weekly that, given the propensity for very sudden deaths on the show, the pair could “go out in a blaze of glory – boom, boom, Bonnie and Clyde”. Would he prefer that to the Iron Throne?

“I think they should dismantle the Iron Throne,” he replies saucily. “Smelt it down and give it to the poor. It’s very uncomfortable. They would have let the queen of England sit down on it, but she didn’t. But, you know, she’s an elderly lady, and having sat on it myself, I could understand why. It’s made of swords. Sometimes your bum gets stuck for a second.”

Does he ever think about the show in terms of modern politics? “You think Trump will start using trial by combat?” he asks slyly.

I point out that Tyrion and Trump both felt compelled to dispel doubts about their manhood.

“Yeah, that was a classy debate, huh?” the actor laughs. “Wow. Life and TV are becoming like the big crossover episode.” (Dan Weiss, one of the Game of Thrones creators and writers, says Trump reminds him of Hodor, a gigantic dimwit who answers every question with one word: his name.)

I’m sitting with Dinklage, who’s sporting a vest over a black hoodie, black jeans, boots and a mop of uncombed hair, in the Blue Room atop the chic Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He has Patti Smith’s latest memoir with him. His idols are the cool people who don’t strive to be cool: Smith, Lou Reed, Tobias Wolff and Sam Shepard.

The 46-year-old says he lived five blocks away back in the 1990s, after Bennington College, when he was trying to make it as an actor and supporting himself with a daytime office job. Dink, as his friends call him, was a frontman and cornet player for a band called Whizzy and even boasts a scar from a wild night at CBGB’s. Band members wrapped themselves up in Bubble Wrap, handed out candy and played a song called Dwarven Funk Rap, where Dinklage ran around the stage yelling: “I’m no dwarf!”

“I was pretty angry back then,” he says. He comments on all the hipsters with beards, even though he has one, and all the tall buildings.

“It looks like Miami,” he says, staring out the panoramic window. “Even though I’ve never been to Miami. That’s not the life I live.” (Well, he has explored the Night’s Watch Wall and Meereen, and that’s more impressive.) “It was very toxic out here then,” he says. “The conspiracy theory was that they had all these spice factories to cover up the smell of the toxic chemicals. Everything smelled of nutmeg. It was rough going.”

Tricky adolescence

When I called his close friend Lena Headey, who plays his conniving, incestuous sister, Cersei, in Game of Thrones, she said his adolescence “must have been hideous”. But Dinklage downplays it now. “It’s called hormones,” he says. “That’s why in certain cultures, they send teenagers out into the woods for periods of time.”

He married theatre director Erica Schmidt in 2005 in Vegas.

“I was going there for a charity event,” he says. “And then while we were there, we just decided to do it. It was a bit lonely. We got a VHS videocassette of the wedding that no one will ever see, that we’ve buried in a box deep beneath the Earth’s core.”

When Dinklage first told his grandmother that he was going to play Tyrion Lannister, she thought he said “interior banister”. (His other grandmother was “sort of a Follies girl” who acted in silent film shorts.) Game of Thrones has since made him internationally recognisable. And unlike others on the show, Dinklage can’t simply change his hair and clothes and blend in. So he’s a target for every crazy Game of Thrones superfan (like me) in addition to those who stare, taunt or touch him for luck – a superstition about dwarves.

The very private and low-key actor doesn’t have a personal publicist, and he’s not on social media. The internet falsely spread the word that his daughter’s name was Zelig. “I love that Woody Allen movie,” he says, “but why would you name your child after that character?”

When he’s out in New York walking with his hound dog and his daughter – whose name he prefers to keep out of the press – he’s bombarded with people snapping his picture, sometimes surreptitiously, which irritates him, and sometimes nonchalantly, which surprises him.

“The other day this teenage girl walked right up to me and put her arm around me and took a selfie and said, ‘Thanks’ and just kept walking,” he says. “It was almost forgivable because she saw nothing wrong with it. But if you’re sneaking pictures, you know you’re not doing something great. Oftentimes, they don’t want to meet you; they just want proof that they met you. I was watching that Steve Jobs movie on a plane the other day and I was like, ‘You started a monster, man’.”

Just cause

“Tyrion is the character that everyone loves,” says Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays his brother, Jaime Lannister. “I think he’s clearly fighting the just cause. Even when he kills his father, you instantly understand.”

David Benioff, the other creator and writer, thinks Tyrion has the most modern voice and relatable perspective. “We all love Jon Snow, but most of us aren’t heroes,” Benioff said. “Tyrion is a bit cynical and capable of breaking out of that cynicism.”

He also said there was now “a lot of Peter in Tyrion” and that they had drawn on his teasing friendships with Headey and Conleth Hill, the Northern Irish actor who plays the eunuch, Lord Varys. When I noted that Tyrion and Varys have a Humphrey Bogart-Claude Rains thing going, Benioff said: “That is not accidental.”

I asked him if Tyrion, the favourite character of Martin, US president Barack Obama, me and most fans, was unkillable.

“No one is immortal,” he said.

Dinklage laughs at that and says of Benioff and Weiss: “Oh, I try to keep them in my good graces, those two. Believe me, I keep them filled with liquor and joy.”

I mention that the internet overflows with comments about how sexy he is, to which Dinklage drolly says: “Hey, where were they when I was in high school? Too late, ladies.”

He became the first dwarf to play a romantic lead in a movie when he starred in the 2003 indie hit The Station Agent. Even with Coster-Waldau and Kit Harington (Jon Snow) as competition, Dinklage’s debonair reputation continues to grow.

“I don’t think he’s adjusting very well to being a sex symbol,” Coster-Waldau said. “He doesn’t like any fuss about him.”

Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) said: “His charm is absolutely irresistible. My mom came to the set once. She’s very English. I have never seen that woman blush until I turned around and she was talking to Peter. His wit is quicker than Tyrion’s.”

Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, agreed: “I’m lucky to be married to Peter Dinklage onscreen. I wish I was married to Peter Dinklage. He oozes natural sex appeal. Just watching him, I learned how to act with my eyes.”

Strong reactions

He says he was surprised by the “huge uproar about Sansa’s character being raped” by her next husband, the loathsome Ramsay Bolton. “You just love these characters and you don’t want to see anything bad happen to them,” he says. “But the same people are okay with all these prostitutes on the show being killed and raped.”

Asked about the anger the series has provoked among some for its treatment of women, Dinklage says: “I love strong reactions to things in what we do for a living. If it doesn’t boil the blood, especially in this genre, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

He pitched Headey for the role of the sister who despises him, after working with her a decade ago on a failed TV pilot in Canada about a cat-crazy maths professor and a messed-up chick. But on Game of Thrones, they turn their tie in to an “intimacy of hate”, as Weiss puts it.

“He’s a cool cat, Pete,” Headey said. “He’s not immediately warm. I like those people. He has a wicked tongue and is clever and informed. He’s on the other end of the phone if you ever need him. If he doesn’t like you, he doesn’t pretend.”

The two shared an apartment in Belfast, where much of the show is shot on sets constructed near the site where the Titanic was built. At the end of a long, gory day of regicide, patricide, homicide, husband-cide and mistress-cide, Headey and Dinklage would go home, pour some wine and watch Project Runway. “Well, who doesn’t love Tim Gunn?” Dinklage grins. “Make it work.”

He says he still has trouble pronouncing her character’s name Cer-see instead of Cer-say and ends up dubbing it in post-production.

Dinklage has long said he did not want to be a role model or spokesman for dwarves. (Dwarf is the term he uses, or dwarvy, as an adjective.) He made an exception when he talked about Martin Henderson, a British dwarf who was tossed in a bar, when he accepted his Golden Globe in 2012.

Though he refused leprechaun parts early in his career, he now hopes to make a movie about a leprechaun called O’Lucky Day.

“It’s a very different take on it,” he says.

As we leave, I reflexively repeat my standard goodbye line for women and men who are very charming in interviews. “Thanks,” I say. “You’re a doll.”

He shoots me a look and I freeze. But then he smiles. “I know,” he says, as he saunters off with his backpack. – (New York Times)

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