HBO Original Films' My Dinner With Hervé offers a different look at the tragic life of Hervé Villechaize – the French dwarf actor who became famous globally playing the part of Tattoo in the Fantasy Island TV series – who was often looked upon as a caricature.
The film is inspired by the true story of the unlikely friendship formed between Villechaize and struggling journalist Danny Tate.
Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage (who plays Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones) takes on the role of Villechaize, while Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades franchise) plays Tate.
In an interview transcript provided by HBO, Dinklage explained how he was approached by filmmaker Sacha Gervasi (who directed and wrote the screenplay) 14 years ago with a 30-page script called My Dinner With Hervé.
At that point, Dinklage did not know much about Villechaize other than his character from Fantasy Island (with his famous line: “De plane, de plane!”).
But he thought what he read in the script was really fascinating.
What were the aspects of him you had to study most closely to get him right?
“His voice is probably more well known than he is, so before I did anything else, I had to get that – for myself, if no one else.
“And if I couldn't do that, I don't think I should have done the role. That was very specific.
“And then how he looked – we did many iterations of that as well, and then we decided on less is more for that.”
Do you think Hervé's demons came from childhood trauma, or the fact that he'd been treated as something 'other' for most of his life?
And do you think his drinking and his womanising was a symptom of that, or exacerbated that?
“Yeah, I think the drink brings out demons in a lot of people. Drinking is complicated. It changes personalities. For better and for worse.
“And sometimes, there are people who have an issue with it – some people are fine with it. Some people are happy when they're drunk, some people are really mean when they're drunk.”
Watching the film, it shows that Hollywood has a dark side too.
“It wants to make money, like any business, and if you're not working for them to get you money, and you're not making them money any more – then they're not really interested in you any more.
“But that's true with any business.”
What were the things in Hervé, and his sort of experiences in Hollywood and in life, that you could relate to?
“I don't know if it is all that different now. I think it's different when you get a writer who's willing to write a more complicated character for someone my size.
“But you know, if you turn on the TV around Christmas time, is it different? That's some panto s*** right there.
“But I understand it, I'm not judging it. People need to work.
People need to pay the bills. But that's something that never interested me ….
“I just don't think I would ever get anything from doing that but, sort of, embarrassment. And that's the way that I don't want to feel.
“I think actually Hervé had a more open philosophy about it, because he was okay playing Nick Nack (in The Man With the Golden Gun) and all these roles that were geared for his size.
“Tyrion was written for somebody my size, but he sort of broke the walls [for] that, and became a much more complicated person, like I am, like anybody who is a real person.
“But I had that moment on set, when the guy playing Roger Moore was shoving me into this suitcase, which was a scene in Golden Gun.
“And I wondered, as I was inside that big suitcase, if Hervé was okay with this? Because even playing that scene, there was a touch of humiliation to it. … I don't know for certain that he was [okay with it].
“He had a great sense of humour. As do I, about myself. I'm the first one to take the piss, and that's what he did, but there's a difference.
Maybe because I'm controlling it, or like he did [wearing] the 'Bionic Midget' T-shirt, he's controlling your opinion of him, in a weird way.
“But there's also some anger in there, and obviously, how Hervé ended his life (by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1993), that's a lot of pain there. And I can't help but think a lot of that contributed to a certain amount of anguish, spiritually.”
My Dinner With Herve premieres on Oct 21 at 8am with an encore at 11pm on HBO (Astro channel 411 / 431).