Peter Dinklage: "I’d kill myself if I ever started getting comfortable"
Junkets occupy a strange, timeless space.
You turn up at a fancy hotel and, with your colleagues, drift around the corridors of a designated floor - all the while keeping the noise down - until it's time to press 'record' on your Dictaphone. Perhaps you pause for a moment at the long-since ravaged food cart and consider whether or not you can insert an entire danish into your mouth in order to avoid spraying your top with crumbs.
As it turns out, though, Crown Towers was the perfect place to interview Peter Dinklage, X-Men: Days Of Future Past's Bolivar Trask, as the hotel's smoke-and-mirrors interior is intensely reminiscent of Trask's own swinging 1970s lair in Bryan Singer's stylish film.
"It's not really my thing," Dinklage winces, regarding the massed chandeliers and gaudy decor, as we pile in for a roundtable with the actor, who has flown to Melbourne alongside costars Hugh Jackman and Fan Bingbing as part of the X-Men Xperience that Michael Fassbender seemed so thrilled to announce.
Indeed, Dinklage is such a down to earth guy you get the sense he'd prefer to discuss the movie while walking his dog to the pub. But here we are, and chandeliers or no chandeliers, it's full steam ahead. "We’re trying to make it as uncomfortable as possible," Dinklage says with a smirk as we're instructed to ask our questions via wireless microphone.
That trademark Dinklage levity, so present in his work as Tyrion Lannister on HBO's Game Of Thrones, is a far cry from his matter-of-fact portrayal of Trask, who isn't so much a villain - at least in the traditional movie sense - as he is an ideologue, whose work just happens to be nightmarish in its intent. He found that aspect of the character appealing from an actorly perspective.
"He’s a fun character to dig into. All those elements serve to make him a more complex character," Dinklage says. "Usually with superhero [movie] villain roles they work on the fringes, like the superheroes do, and they’re considered a bit ‘mad’. This guy is right there with all the politicians and seated right next to the President. For me, that’s much more realistic, because that’s what happens consistently; we had a few of those running for President recently in America. It’s scary stuff, at least from my point of view. Nothing really gives away his villainy [until] you flip over what he’s proposing, which is the mass genocide of our heroes."
Like many of its big screen predecessors, Days Of Future Past works especially well because - like the X-Men comics it draws its story from - it can be read as an allegory for a variety of causes, historical and current. I ask Dinklage if he thinks that's what's contributed to the series' ongoing popularity and he agrees.
"They’ve always been, in a strange way, relevant, and this one’s definitely at the forefront of that," he says. "The mutants represent how at one point or another, all of us have felt like an outsider to varying degrees. I can speak to that, being the size I am, but mine is just more physically apparent than some other--" he throws up some air quotes "--'mutations', whether they be physical, emotional, mental, or race, gender, sexual orientation; whatever it is. And especially in America, when these books were written, that was starting to become more and more of an issue, and people - rightfully so - got a bit more brave about speaking their minds about who they are."
The film - with its stirring mix of an appropriately-'70s-esque political thriller mood, dazzling special effects sequences, and an offbeat sense of humour that sets it apart from other post-Nolan Serious Comic Book Movies (Quicksilver casually pushing aside bullets to the tune of Jim Croce's Time In A Bottle is glorious) - also subverts some of the megaplex franchises we've come to expect from much of the rest of the Marvel film universe.
Dinklage, a fan of Korean horror movies' ability to defy genre-based expectations, appreciates the heady mix. "Sure, it’s a summer blockbuster: people are flying around, creating storms and there are robots and there's all this crazy stuff going on that you'd not see in real life," he offers. "But then it has these intimate moments of complete internal character conflict that are so dramatic and gut-wrenching, that you rarely see in these types of films. And I say, why not combine the elements? Because that’s how you’ll grab an audience. I don’t want to know what I’m watching. I want to explore it, and to be surprised. We follow these recipes for genre pieces, and we don't challenge it enough. Even though it goes down easy, sometimes things should be spicier."
To the casual observer, Dinklage's decision to join the cast of a mega-budget blockbuster franchise might seem at odds with his more serious work (those observers would likely also think Shakespearean actors Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart have been slumming it all these years), but he's adamant that working within the green-screen realm allows him to broaden his creative horizons.
"I like to think I’m onto something when I’m uncomfortable in a role and something is challenging me," he says. "If you keep falling back, as an actor, to your skillset then maybe you’re treading water a little bit. And maybe you have to question that a little bit, and start swimming again, and looking for that authenticity in something you haven’t done before. I’d kill myself if I ever started getting comfortable, repeating myself, and not challenging myself for the viewer."
Fortunately for us, his family, and the future of acting, that doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon.
Besides, Hollywood needs more actors who, when it comes time - in a rare treat, offered as a sweetener to offset the relatively brief interview - to take photos with the attending journalists, burns through precious minutes discussing with me our respective dogs (my tattoo of the late Pickles; his ageing best pal Kevin, whose dog-sitter he famously thanked at the 2011 Emmys).
And who, best of all, when the camera is whipped out agrees to some Acting™ - "A bravura portrait of crushing boredom" - inspired by the hurry-up-and-wait nature of junkets:
He is in this way, and many others, a hero.
X-Men: Days Of Future Past is in cinemas nationally today.