I have blogged recently about the actors Elizabeth Moss and Terrence Howard, who came to my studio to be photographed doing a kind of improv for my monthly column in Vanity Fair. Here I’ll add the remarkable actor Peter Dinklage, famous for his central role in Game of Thrones. He came to be photographed for my book Caught in the Act.
As was usually the case with actors’ portraits (as it is with most of my portraiture), I began by interviewing Dinklage, to learn more about his work, and to give him time to get comfortable with me. (His revealing and thought-provoking interview is near the end of this missive.) I then suggested scenes and asked him to create characters to act them. The writer and my frequent collaborator, Owen Edwards, helped develop and write the situations.
Hearing his mother’s unusual sounds, a toddler opens his parents bedroom
door and sees what looks like his parents desperately wrestling.
Here, the actor was asked (directed) to play a brand new middle school teacher, confronting total chaos on his first day in a fourth grade class.
On the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, you’re cut off by a busily texting driver in a Chevy suburban.
There have been burglaries in the neighborhood. It’s 3 a.m., someone is moving around downstairs; the landline is dead, and your cell phone is in your car.
At the family supper table with your wife and children. Your 15y/o daughter defiantly announces she’s pregnant and “can’t wait to be a mother.”
At a Justin Bieber concert, the “Biebs” has just pointed at you, a tween girl, and beckons you onto the stage.
A three-year-old declares that he hates everybody, and that there’s no way he’s going to his room for a time out.
A bunny-level skier unwisely decides to run the diamond slope, sees a tree dead ahead, and has no idea how to turn or stop.
“To be! Or not!! To be!!!” A desperate young actor in a way over the top audition for a the lead in “Hamlet.”
At a crucial bowling match, you, the team captain, have just dropped your ball on your foot.
After a lifetime of seeing hundreds of cartoons about people slipping on banana peels, you’ve finally seen someone actually do it.
Peter Dinklage: I don’t know if I had had the wisdom to own my size at an early age, I just shut down as a teenager and got angry. I didn’t have a sense of humor about it that I should have had. I found that later, and maybe had as a kid, but I just didn’t have it anymore. I just got bitter.
I like the outcast community. No matter how famous or handsome an actor is, they are at their core a bit peculiar, because the profession is odd. In my 40’s, I still wake up going, “why do I do this for a living?” But then it has such beauty to it and I remind myself why I love it. But I think if you’re a little intelligent, you do question it often, or the good actors usually do find it a bit foolish. What else are you going to do? It’s a passion.
I know a lot of young actors who are very successful in their 20s who are great people. Some people know how to deal with it. I actually thank God I was lucky to get a modicum of success and a career later in life. I don’t know how I would have dealt with it if it came in my early 20s when I was acting the fool. You know, I don’t know what I would have done with that money. I don’t know what I would have done with that recognition. I think it’s dangerous. When you get older, you’re a little more centered.
I’m working, but it’s a double-edged sword. I obviously can’t play the roles that I wish I could. I still struggle too, but there are a lot of roles for dwarves in fiction for some reason and I seem to be getting work from those roles.
I don’t know why some people have more choices than others. I don’t want to be cynical, but there are some really lucky actors out there and there are some actors that are so much better that are really struggling. And it’s just luck.
A movie role is very solitary. There’s so much money at stake and there’s such pressure; you have very little time and you have to be so prepared. It’s a director’s art form and I love that. Also there aren’t enough artists anymore; the Fellinis and the Kubricks of the world have been replaced; it’s all about the actor. And it wasn’t about the actors in those movies; it was about the director and I loved that.
As an actor myself, it can be terribly boring, the time spent on set, unless you’re with an entertaining group, because you’re just waiting around most of the time. I love the filmmaking process, but the day to day….. people think it’s romantic and great, but it really is the opposite. It can be very tedious. And there are moments, little gems throughout the day – hopefully you get one a day – moments of truth and a great take and hopefully the director will pick that in the editing room. But it can be boring. Theatre on the other hand is alive and you are in on the process a lot more and you have more control as an actor because you are delivering the final result. And it’s being with other actors in one room all day long hashing it out and then presenting it. It’s a very different beast. From an actor’s point of view, I enjoy theatre in terms of craft and films I enjoy because of the intimacy of it, and because I’m such a movie fan that I love waiting to see what the director will do with it.
There’s acting before Brando and acting after Brando. He was all about sex. It was man, woman, … everything he did was, like, he’s going to fuck somebody. A lot of actors lead with their head and they start to overthink things. I think it’s better to lead with your groin than your head. We’re sexual creatures and I think all the great plays are charged to different degrees. You can’t deny the sexuality of acting. Obviously there are other things at play, but that’s a base. It informs I think, how you move.
I wish that I could fake it better. … I don’t know how these very good actors cry on a dime. I want to know their secret. For those emotions to come up, I need my environment to be really real and scary. I’ve worked on some films and theatre where you get to that level and it’s beautiful, but I wish I could fake that level. A lot of actors can, really well, but I just can’t. I’ve never been able to. Oftentimes with films there’s a pressure, you should be able to do that at the drop of a hat. I wish I could.
Every job you get better I think, hopefully; working with actors that are listening and don’t let you off the hook. And there’s a reason why the great actors are great, the really amazing ones, because they really listen. Unfortunately, that’s rare because people are very wrapped up in their performance.
Just because you had a great experience making a movie doesn’t make the movie any good. The Station Agent, that was both a really great experience because it took so long to get that movie made and we were all in it from the beginning. That was a sense of accomplishment. And, finally, people saw it, more people saw it than we ever dreamed were going to see it.
I think I’m so critical and I catch myself just being down on my acting too much, maybe because I’m a perfectionist. With acting specifically I want it to be amazing all the time and, so, I’m tough on myself when it’s not perfect.
I left time to create a portraits. He was so much fun and enthusiastic about collaborating with me that there were many images I felt worked wonderfully.
Here are a few.