Name: Peter Hayden Dinklage
DOB: 11 June 1969
Place of birth: Morristown, New Jersey, USA
Mr. Dinklage, is the rise of television changing the kinds of leading characters we are seeing nowadays?
Yes, there is a different definition of the leading man now. It’s fantastic. You look at the leading men of the past and you look at them now and they are very different. Hollywood is finally opening the door wider to more realistic portrayals of who people are, not just beautiful Hollywood stars. In the past people had a very limited imagination in terms of character – the size was defining the role for me.
I can imagine. But even in your first film, Steve Buscemi’s Living in Oblivion, you played an actor who was annoyed to be cast in a dream sequence, saying, “Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it?”
My size does not define me. It’s just part of who I am, so why would it define a character? The roles I choose, it’s part of who they are but it does not define them. Especially nowadays, a black actor doesn’t play a black actor. He plays a character, who also happens to be black. It doesn’t define you; it’s just part of you. But that’s just bad writing… (Laughs)
But even when you were a struggling actor you refused to play parts like elves or leprechauns out of principle.
It’s tricky, but it’s important to say no – especially earlier in your career – because life is short and you want to be proud of things that you have done, not ashamed of them. I thought I was going to be eating canned soup for the rest of my life and I worked a variety of other jobs to supplement my income, but I’d rather be doing that than working on certain acting jobs. I loved acting, so I didn’t want to tarnish it with bad experiences. You just want to feel comfortable with who you are at the end of the day, if you can. I was always attracted to great writing and storytelling and the stuff for people my size was limited.
Your character in Game of Thrones turns the image of male strength on its head. What do you think it takes to be a real man?
I think just confidence is a big one. 9 times out of 10 women run much deeper than we do and they respond to things that aren’t just on the surface, like a sense of humor. And their definition of sexuality and attractiveness is much different from ours – thank God. Women respond to confidence in oneself and a sense of humor. That’s always been my go-to defense and/or flirtation.
Did you always have self-confidence?
No. I am actually not that way at all. I am pretty shy. I am just in a profession where it’s hard to be. You throw yourself into roles that aren’t shy, like the character in Game of Thrones. Or it’s great to get the girl, so you sort of throw yourself into those roles. But I am not an external person. I love my privacy. I like my peace and quiet.
Isn’t that a contradiction between your shyness and your extroverted profession?
It does not go together well, especially in the days we are living in with all the cell phones and cameras. I miss the days when people went‚ “I wish I had a camera.” Everything is on the Internet. I live in New York City, which is a very external place to live. Part of the reason I used to love New York is the anonymity factor. I am four and a half feet tall, but nobody looked twice at me. But now they are looking twice because I am on a TV show. I miss the anonymity. But it’s a bourgeois problem at the end of the day, because it’s usually just people enjoying your work and the show or the movie they saw you in.
Your popularity also has its advantages. For example, at the 2012 Golden Globes you brought attention to the unjust injury of fellow dwarf Martin Henderson. Do you feel comfortable as a spokesperson for things like that?
No, and I don’t want to be. I am only an actor. There are people that are much better equipped for this, be it politicians or activists. I just heard about that guy on the way to the Golden Globes, so I was thinking about it and then it just popped out. But the world can be a fucked up place at times and we shouldn’t accept that. Whatever you can do to contribute to a better awareness and make the world a little bit better of a place, sure, I’ll get in line. But there are other people that do it much better than I do.
Although some people argue that the explicit portrayal of sex and violence on Game of Thrones is detrimental for society…
If people concentrated their disapproval on the world we live in and not on a fantasy TV show that has dragons, then I would understand. But people are having issues with a show that is fantasy. There are dragons in it. There are White Walkers. In life there is much more violence, there is much more sex. These puritanical views on the arts, that it contributes harmful things to society… It really doesn’t.
Well, that depends on the material.
True, but not if it is good storytelling. And Game of Thrones is incredible storytelling. I think people respond and react so vehemently to these things because they have grown close to these characters that meet their demise.
It’s different than just seeing random violence with characters that you don’t care about.
Right, that sort of washes over you and has no effect on you. And in terms of sex, especially, people should get the fuck over it. People have sex. We have such a puritanical view of sex in most of the world. We are all here because somebody had sex! Everybody should relax a bit. When there is sexual repression in a society, it will find its way out in more dangerous ways. The more sexually repressed a culture is, the more violent and dangerous it becomes. So shame on people for taking issue with sex on violence on a fantasy show.
“I am just the TV actor that pays the bills.”
Do you enjoy returning to the real world and working on other projects after shooting a season of Game of Thrones?
I do. I love to vary my choices, especially with the smaller movies. I am fortunate to do Game of Thrones, which I guess I can consider my day job. That is an incredible project, a big project, and it affords me the opportunity to work on smaller films. Lower budget films are very important because people are not there to make money, but to create things for other reasons. I always really appreciate that. It keeps it fresh. It keeps me in touch with the earlier part of my career.
Back when you supposedly lived in a rat-infested apartment in New York…
Well, I don’t know if it was “rat-infested.” It was very cold and there was a rat one night. But it sounds much more romantic the other way. As a 46-year-old I would not be able to live in those environments now and I am glad my comfort level is higher, but that is part of being young. For me it was part of this struggle. It sort of fed your hunger. And it made you fight harder to get better. I feel the struggle is all. The fight is all. I wish I had the hunger and the fight in me still as much as I had back then. But I have other priorities. I sort of miss that it was okay to be broke. But it’s no longer okay to be broke now.
Because you have a family to feed?
Exactly. But they’ll be fine. They can take care of themselves. Unlike me. I am an actor. I am a big child. Everything is done for you. You don’t even need to make your own coffee in the morning. It’s absurd. But I am not allowed to be a diva at home. That keeps everything in perspective. My wife is brilliant. She is definitely the artist of the family.
And you are not?
I am just the TV actor that pays the bills.