Peter Dinklage is responding to criticism that his casting as “Fantasy Island” and “The Man With the Golden Gun” star Hervé Villechaize amounts to “whitewashing.”
In an interview published by Entertainment Weekly Wednesday, Dinklage clarified that Villechaize is not of Filipino descent, as many of Dinklage’s critics assumed, and that those people who have used the phrase “whitewashing” are unfairly jumping to conclusions.
“Personally, I would never do that, and I haven’t done that, because he wasn’t,” the “Game of Thrones” star told EW. “What they’re doing is judging and assuming what he is ethnically based on his looks alone.”
Dinklage said that Villechaize was French-born of German and English descent, but that he saw on Wikipedia that he was often considered Filipino. He further clarified that Villechaize’s specific dwarfism had to do with his appearance, which may have led to some of the misinformation.
“It’s strange these people are saying he’s Filipino. They kind of don’t have any information,” Dinklage continued. “I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or sense of justice because I feel the exact same way when there’s some weird racial profile. But these people think they’re doing the right thing politically and morally and it’s actually getting flipped because what they’re doing is judging and assuming what he is ethnically based on his looks alone. He has a very unique face and people have to be very careful about this stuff.”
He also said that his casting shouldn’t be compared to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which features a notorious example of Asian whitewashing in which Mickey Rooney portrays an Asian man.
Dinklage said he’s met Villechaize’s family, who knew him to be a “proud” person who would’ve been proud of his heritage if he were Filipino.
“Hervé would be laughing at this right now, and part of me is too,” Dinklage said. “But when I start to be accused of things that are not truthful and not real, that’s when you want to say, “OK, calm down.”
Dinklage stars as Villechaize in HBO’s upcoming biopic “My Dinner With Hervé” alongside Jamie Dornan. The film documents Villechaize’s career and hard-partying lifestyle leading up to his death by suicide in 1993.
As Dinklage describes it, “My Dinner With Hervé” is a film specifically about not judging a book by its cover. It delves into how Villechaize fought for equal pay as his “Fantasy Island” co-stars and was often typecast because of his dwarfism. For that very reason, Dinklage was initially reluctant to play Villechaize but ultimately could relate, describing in the interview how he turned down a role to play one of Santa’s elves in a commercial early in his career.
Dinklage also shared an interesting note saying that the word “midget” is like “the n-word if you’re a small person,” but that Villechaize once wore a shirt that read “Bionic Midget” and pushed issues as they related to language and representation.
“I can say the word. It’s not a great word. But he beat people to the punch with the word, and he had a big middle finger up to anyone who tiptoed around any issues they had. Which I also respect,” Dinklage said. “Sometimes I think we tiptoe around the issue so much we never address it. He was lovely in that way. He offended a lot of people, but that was part of his joy as well.
“My Dinner with Hervé” premieres on HBO on Saturday, Oct. 20.