Two of Key & Peele‘s most memorable characters are the valet attendants who love to geek out about their favorite movies and TV shows. They said a great deal of hilarious things over the course of the show, whether they’re talking about “Bruce Willy,” or lauding “The incomparable Liam Neesons,” or asking “Why everyone messin with the Batmans?” At one point, while concluding their discussion on Game of Thrones, the valets mention “The Dinkles.” Jordan Peele’s character explains “The Dinkles is my jam, my jelly, my peanut butter, and my peanuts.” And then, to end the sketch, they both jump out a recreation of Thrones’ Moon Door while screaming “the Dinkles is my shit!”
The Dinkles, or as he’s called professionally, Peter Dinklage, has risen to prominence as one of the foremost dwarf actors in Hollywood, starring in large productions, in such blockbusters as The Chronicles of Narnia, X-men, and Pixels (because no one’s perfect). Game of Thrones has given him such success that Honest Trailers joked that he’ll get every great dwarf role until he dies, or until Warwick Davis (from Harry Potter) kills him.
Dinklage, an American acting among an almost all-European cast in Game of Thrones, has risen to pop culture stardom, winning two Emmys for his performance.While he’s become known for powerful and nuanced performance, he’s worthy of more than just admiration; he’s worthy of profound respect.
Dinklage acted in minor role after minor role until gradually breaking out into major success. However, things were not always so great for Dinklage. Early in his acting career, it was difficult for him to find work on-stage in the New York area. Actors can often make easy money acting in commercials, but this was not the case for Dinklage, who was often asked to play little elves and leprechauns. However, Dinklage wouldn’t take roles that he thought were insulting to him as a dwarf. In an interview with the New York Times, he explained:
Dwarves are still the butt of jokes. It’s one of the last bastions of acceptable prejudice. Not just by people who’ve had too much to drink in England and want to throw a person. But by media, everything. … You can say no. You can [choose] not [to] be the object of ridicule.
He mentions how his work in the Narnia sequel made him feel uncomfortable, and how he made sure that Game of Thrones’ Tyrion Lannister wasn’t going to be the traditional fantasy dwarf: “he made a simple request: no beard, no pointy shoes.” And he got this. In short, we see that “saying no” in the early days of his career hasn’t stopped him from achieving success, but has instead enhanced it. This desire to “say no” to the people who laugh at dwarves comes through in many of Dinklage’s roles. Let’s take a look at a few.
The Station Agent
Dinklage acted in this independent film early in his career, in the year 2003. This quiet and minimalistic film, and really a career show case for the young Dinklage. Here, he plays Fin, an introverted train enthusiast with dwarfism who moves to a new town after his only friend dies. The rest of the film focuses on him getting to know two particular residents of the town.
Everyone in the town gives Fin skeptical looks, regarding him as some kind of oddity. In a climactic scene, while in a bar, Fin loses it and climbs on top of the counter and shouts, “Here I am, take a look!” Fin is tired of people looking at him and sneering, and his frustration comes to the surface. It’s a moment in which Dinklage truly has a moment to shine, and we see Fin as a man whose just trying to make his way in the world. And it’s nice to see that he makes his way past all the judgment, finding two worthwhile friends who love and accept him.
Game of Thrones
Tyrion Lannister is a fascinating character. In a world of dragons and ice zombies, there’s still time for a plot focusing on the trials and tribulations of a dwarf.
There are various moments when people draw attention to Tyrion’s height as a means of insult. Janos Slynt, one of the most despicable men in the realm, wrathfully says “I’ll not have my honor questioned by an imp!”(Tyrion has one of his best retorts, “I’m not questioning your honor, I’m denying its existence.”) In acknowledging his son’s wisdom, Tywin Lannister says “I always thought you were a stunted fool. Perhaps I was wrong.”
It’s difficult for the show to capture just how difficult being a dwarf in the Lannister family has been for Tyrion. On one occasion, he refers to himself as “the family insult.” In one of his most dramatic monologues, Tyrion says, as he’s being prosecuted for murder, “I’m guilty of being a dwarf. I’ve been on trial for that my entire life.” And it’s easy to forget that that whole trial takes place because Cersei decided that Tyrion was the easiest scapegoat, and assumed that accusing him of murder was the easiest way to dispose of him.
Dinklage’s character in The Station Agent is laughed at for being a dwarf, but his character in Game of Thrones is hated for it. In many scenes, he shows his genius, and he shows his compassion. In the Battle of Blackwater, Tyrion comes up with the idea that ends up saving the city from the imminent threat, and he gets no recognition for this. He’s one of the most brilliant political minds in Westeros, but is better known for his physical appearance.
Dinklage seems to do comedy just as frequently as he does drama, so it would be almost rude not to mention it. That being said, the last Dinklage performance I want to bring up is not one you might expect me to mention. His near-cameo performance in Elf. Yes, that’s right, the Christmas movie where Will Ferrell plays an elf. Dinklage, on the other hand, plays Miles Finch, a children’s author who is working with Buddy’s father. Buddy interrupts a very important business meeting between Finch and his father. Upon seeing Finch, Buddy exclaims, thinking that he has found another elf. Finch then beats him up. Harshly.
Now, you may be tempted to laugh off my mention of this Christmas comedy among Dinklage’s nuanced dramatic performances, but think about this: in a film where the first 15-20 minutes or so are peopled with dwarf actors playing elves, why is it that the most talented dwarf actor chooses to play a children’s author?
Sure, this is just a comedic scene for us, but how must it feel for a dwarf who is watching Elf? This must feel very empowering, like a revenge fantasy. Sure, Miles Finch is a bit of an antagonist, and resorts to violence rather quickly, but you have to understand where this character is coming from; he’s a well-respected children’s author, he has a way with the ladies, has more wealth than just about everyone he meets. But people still make fun of him and laugh at him because he’s a dwarf. My point is this: I’d bet that Peter Dinklage gets as many judgmental looks from people who don’t watch Game of Thrones or have no clue who he is. And that’s not okay.
I suppose that’s it for this post. There’s not much I have to say. My main goal was to highlight an interesting and meaningful pattern in an actor’s career and what roles they select. I just want to take this opportunity to say two things: 1) I have a great respect for Peter Dinklage and his commitment to picking roles with integrity and 2) if Tyrion dies this season on Game of Thrones I’m going to be so mad.