Full disclosure: "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl has wanted to interview Peter Dinklage for years … but he's a hard man to get in the chair
"You're famously private," she said to the actor. "I'm told you really don't like to talk like this?"
"Well, if I was truly private, I wouldn't be here, you know? I'm not Salinger!" he laughed.
"I mean, I'm an actor, so I'm selling cars here, you know what I'm saying? But no, yeah. But I think privacy is something that's really getting chipped away at these days. Especially with actors. The more you know about an actor's personal life, you see it on screen when they're playing a character. And I feel that, subconsciously, it kind of chips away at the fabric of what you're watching, who you're seeing."
"I wanna say to you, 'Get over it, because this is the way it is,'" Stahl laughed.
"I know, but I'm a cranky old man and still railing against it!"
The vehicle this charmingly cranky 52-year-old is selling is "Cyrano," a new movie based on an old play.
"Cyrano de Bergerac" was written by Edmond Rostand in 1897. It's the tale of a man ashamed of his appearance who helps another man by ghost-writing love letters to woo Roxanne, the woman both men love.
Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.): "With women, my whole life I've been useless, silent. What's the word for when you're bad at expressing yourself?"
Christian: "That's it!"
The character of Cyrano, who is traditionally bedecked with a large and repellant nose, has been played by everyone from Jose Ferrer (who won an Oscar for his portrayal) to Steve Martin (who didn't). Peter Dinklage's Cyrano is certainly a contender.
This "Cyrano" was filmed in a small town in Sicily last fall at the height of the pandemic. The movie set was isolated and safe … most of the time. Director Joe Wright almost had a disaster movie on his hands when Mt. Etna exploded.
Stahl asked Wright, "What made you decide to shoot a sequence on a volcano?"
"Well, it seemed to be a good idea at the time!" he laughed.
"It exploded while you were there!"
"Yeah, that was unforeseen. It hadn't exploded for 18 years. It was bad luck, really. On the last day the volcano erupted, literally spitting, you know, lava at us as we ran down the hill."
"Literally ran for your lives?"
"Yeah, pretty much, yeah," said Wright.
To watch a trailer for "Cyrano' click on the video player below:
That was the cliffhanger finale of the film shoot in Sicily, but our story really began calmly in Connecticut, three years ago, with Goodspeed Musicals. Two days after wrapping "Game of Thrones," Dinklage started rehearsals on the musical version of "Cyrano." Erica Schmidt, an award-winning dramatist (and Dinklage's wife), wrote and directed the stage adaptation.
"I love the character of Cyrano," said Schmidt. "I love how uncompromising he is, that he is unwilling to be bought. I don't think he would post much on Instagram or Twitter. He really is his own person."
"And yet, he's insecure?" asked Stahl.
Stahl asked Dinklage, "Erica told us, that you begged her for the part?"
"'Begged'? Yeah. I mean, essentially, yes, that's true."
"But why? What was it?"
"Well, for an actor, you always wanna do something that – for me at least – that scares you. I know that sounds very valiant of me, but it's true. I just never had sung since I was a kid."
Joe Wright came to see the play; his girlfriend, Haley Bennett, starred as Roxanne on the stage as well as in the movie. He asked Schmidt to write the screenplay. Some scenes are taken almost directly from the play. "The last act is almost word-for-word," said Schmidt.
But Wright did ask her to make changes: "She had cut all reference to the nose, and made no reference to Pete's height," he said. "And I felt that it was important to make some reference to how others might perceive Cyrano."
At the very beginning one character calls Cyrano a freak. "And so we understand what the deal is, and then we can get past it," said Wright.
Stahl said to Dinklage, "Your wife, she said she didn't write the play with you in mind."
"But I wonder if she did subliminally? Because it fits you so perfectly."
"Oh, you – perhaps she did subliminally. I think with the stage version, I like to think that it allows it to speak more universally and not just specifically to someone my size, or someone who is differently abled. That we all have that kind of insecurity when it comes to the person that we are."
"In the movie, you forget it."
"Well, that's my gig. It is who I am. So, let's get beyond it, and that's not all who I am. I mean, I've read scripts where I say no to these characters that they're trying to get me to play because it's just my height, and it never scratches anything deeper."
Stahl said, "You had a rule, it is said, that you wouldn't play Santa's elves, and you wouldn't play a leprechaun?"
"They're not real people," he replied. "No. I mean, if it was a really well-written leprechaun who had complexity and, like – but, no!"
"'Game of Thrones' – because of that, you're totally famous. Can you walk down the street without being swarmed?"
"Depends. Depends on the day."
"Do you hate it?"
"Yes. That I do, because I'm not working. I'm just walking down the street!"
Schmidt said, "We lived in Chelsea for a while, and we had a dog, a very big dog that had to be walked a lot. And this was probably season three of 'Thrones.' And he started walking down the street, and all of these people came – I don't know where they were coming from, from the restaurants – and it was, like, 30 people, you know, 'Peter! Peter! Tyrion!' coming towards him. And I see, walking towards me, Leonardo DiCaprio with a baseball cap and sunglasses, and he just walked right by. Nobody even blinked. But it was, I mean, he can't hide, Peter. He can't put on his sunglasses and a hat and disappear."
Stahl said, "What's intriguing is that you have spoken about how you don't wanna be stared at, you don't wanna be looked at. And then, you choose a profession that's all about people staring at you?"
"But I own that stare," Dinklage replied. "It's because I've flipped it, maybe, and they're staring at me for a different reason."
"Well, what about when you were growing up? You've said you had a happy childhood …"
"Oh, here we go …"
For a moment Stahl thought this would be the abrupt end of the interview. But…
"No, I mean, I grew up in town in New Jersey and we didn't move. I wasn't the New Kid. I imagine if someone like me comes into a new school, there's a bit of getting used to it, a social dance there. But I grew up in the same town. So, it was just what it was."
Stahl asked, "Are you as balanced as you come off?"
"No," he laughed. "I'm a mess!"
"You're giving me a little bit of acting thing?"
"You think I'm acting now?"
"Well, a little bit!"
"No, really? Well, then turn off the cameras. Then I won't act anymore," he laughed. "No, no, this is me. I'm balanced!"
For more info:
- "Cyrano" opens in select theaters January 21
- "Cyrano" cast and creative team, Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam, Conn.
- Thanks to The New Group
- Thanks to Goodspeed Musicals
- Goodspeed photos by Diane Sobolewski
Story produced by Richard Buddenhagen. Editor: Ed Givnish.
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