Peter Dinklage is best known for his starring role as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, but acting wasn’t always his bag. First it was literature, then theatre, then punk. But his skill and flair for storytelling and portraying the human experience would always shine through.
His new film, Cyrano, sees Dinklage take on the iconic role of Cyrano de Bergerac, an accomplished swashbuckler and wordsmith who believes his appearance is a barrier to winning the heart of the lovely Roxanne. In this week’s Letter To My Younger Self, the 52-year-old tells The Big Issue‘s Adrian Lobb that Hollywood’s idea of a romantic lead is slowly evolving – and he’s happy to be part of this overdue change.
Like a lot of teenagers, I fell victim to that spell where you go dark and get sullen and think you know more than everyone else. I was starting to get into Bukowski and Hemingway – all these darker male journeys, from the cowboys of Sam Shepard to Hemingway’s heroes, that had nothing in common with a kid from New Jersey. But somehow they still inspired me to live on the outside. I was at an all-boys Catholic prep school, which was an incredible education but I was on the periphery, socially. I had just a couple of friends and we put on plays.
I would definitely tell my 16-year-old self not to start smoking cigarettes. Because that’s when I started sneaking them from Dad’s ashtrays and from friends of mine – and it lasted way too long, deep into adulthood. Oh boy, and this was the ’80s. What a great haircut I had! It was feathered and fluffy and I’m also not sure about that gold chain I tried to rock for a few months, or the period where men’s cologne became a thing.
They say youth is wasted on the young but it’s truly not. The amoeba is forming itself, cells are dividing, everything is sorting itself out. At that time you are riddled with doubt but you also have an arrogance. It’s the time you’re supposed to make mistake after mistake and learn from them. I still wonder every day how many mistakes I will ratchet up, but as Beckett said: fail again, fail better. And there are no mistakes, especially in what I do for a living.
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Acting was not so inspiring for someone my size. So I thought, I’m not going to do that – I’m going to take creative control and write stories I want to see. Then you get a bit older, you meet actual writers and work with great writers and realise, ‘Oh, I wasn’t as good as I thought I was’. But I’m glad I tried my hand at it. Then you find your tribe of like-minded individuals, they start writing roles for you and say, “I know you don’t want to be an actor, but can you please act in this because I think we’d have fun? Let’s do this play downtown somewhere.” I was always a performer. And so they dragged me back into it.