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Arts & Life

Review: 'My Dinner With Hervé'


In the 1970s and '80s, actor Herve Villechaize was considered one of the world's most famous little people for his roles in movies and TV. Tonight, HBO airs a film about his life called "My Dinner With Herve," and it stars Peter Dinklage. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans says the movie will surprise those who are tempted to write off Villechaize as a pop culture oddity.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "My Dinner With Herve" could have been a disaster. Its subject was so outrageous and unorthodox in real life that a movie about his life runs the risk of looking like an unintended parody. But the biggest reason HBO's film avoids that pitfall can be summed up in two words - Peter Dinklage.


PETER DINKLAGE: (As Herve Villechaize) A life without risks is not worth discussing. To eat, to feel, to touch, to make love (laughter) these are the purposes of my life.

DEGGANS: Dinklage is best known as Tyrion Lannister in "Game Of Thrones." Here, he offers a sensitive, fearless take on a performer best known for playing diminutive sidekicks on both a "Bond" movie and the classic TV drama "Fantasy Island." Dinklage doesn't look much like Villechaize, but he does capture his spirit and unique voice in a way that feels more like an interpretation than simple mimicry. As the story begins, Villechaize is trying to convince a newspaper reporter from England sent to do a light piece on him - played by "Fifty Shades Of Grey" star Jamie Dornan - that he has a better story.


DINKLAGE: (As Herve Villechaize) I have a real story for you, Junior, a story that will be printed around the world. And this story will be the one that make your name.

JAMIE DORNAN: (As Danny Tate) Really?

DINKLAGE: (As Herve Villechaize) What if I tell you you have the final interview with Herve Villechaize? Ooh, I got you (laughter).

DEGGANS: But Villechaize isn't kidding. He convinces the reporter to spend a wild night with him and tells his life story, from the horrific medical treatments his father tried to counteract his dwarfism to his early training as a painter. He landed a role as Nick Nack in the 1974 "Bond" film "The Man With The Golden Gun." Then, after a long dry spell, he played mysterious assistant Tattoo on "Fantasy Island" in 1977.


DINKLAGE: (As Herve Villechaize as Tattoo) The plane, the plane.

DEGGANS: But Villechaize drank too much, spent too much and cheated on his then wife, though he has trouble being honest about that.


DORNAN: (As Danny Tate) Why did everyone say you became a nightmare the moment you got famous?

DINKLAGE: (As Herve Villechaize) "Fantasy Island" is a vehicle for Ricardo Montalban. He is the star, but Tattoo steal his thunder. He jealous. Now, that is the real story, Junior.

DORNAN: (As Danny Tate) Why on Earth would he be jealous of you?

DINKLAGE: (As Herve Villechaize) This wretched little freak almost as famous as he is. He eat at the best restaurants. He's - he almost makes the same amount of money.

DORNAN: (As Danny Tate) A guy like Montalban doesn't exactly strike me as the jealous type.

DINKLAGE: (As Herve Villechaize) You weren't there.

DEGGANS: As the movie progresses, we see Villechaize forced to face the reality of his own impulsive, self-destructive habits and Dornan's journalist, who's struggling with alcoholism, learns to face his own demons. It's a compelling story made more poignant by the fact that it's told by Dinklage, a performer who seems to be the exact opposite of Villechaize. Dinklage has avoided roles that might marginalize him as a novelty, proving his mettle as an actor. His performance allows us to see Villechaize as a tragic figure.

The movie is based on a real incident when Sacha Gervasi, who directed this film, interviewed Villechaize in 1993 just before his suicide. It's a poignant reminder that behind even the most outlandish Hollywood stories are real people grasping for meaning and fulfillment in a difficult world. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.