Peter Dinklage is playing the bad guy in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and he wants you to know he had a good time being bad. “He’s a fun character to dig into,” he says, referring to the habit his character – Bolivar Trask, creator of the mutant-killing robots the Sentinels – has of not so much lurking in the shadows as cosying up to power right out in the open. “Usually with these superhero villain roles, they work on the fringes like the superheroes do, they’re considered a bit mad and they want to lock them up. But this guy is right there with all the politicians and seated there next to the President being a big influence.
“That’s interesting to me because that’s much more realistic, that happens much more consistently – we had a few of those running for president in America recently, thank God they didn’t get any closer. But it’s scary stuff, at least from my point of view. Nothing gives away his villainy but what he’s proposing, because he’s proposing the mass genocide of our heroes.”
Dinklage is currently best known for his role as hard-drinking, hard-loving nobleman Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones. Despite an acting career stretching back to 1995’s Living in Oblivion, with a break-out role in 2003’s The Station Agent and a stay in Melbourne to film 2010’s I Love You Too, X-Men: Days of Future Past marks his first superhero work.
“It’s one of many reasons for their popularity,” says Dinklage when asked about the X-Men’s flexibility as a metaphor for both social struggle and individual isolation. “These comic books were written in a time when America, at least, was finding itself – there were mini-revolutions taking place within its borders and then there were wars we shouldn’t have been fighting outside our own borders, so it was a reaction to that. And it was done in a way these comic book writers knew how to do – write a comic book about it. They’ve always been relevant in a strange way, and this one was at the forefront of that.
“The mutants represent how we all have, to some extent, felt like an outsider to varying degrees – I can speak to that, being the size I am,” says Dinklage, who is 135cm tall. “Mine is just more physically apparent than some ‘mutations’. But we’re talking about anything physical, mental or emotional, anything to do with race, gender or sexual orientation, whatever it is. And especially in America, when these comic books were written, that was becoming more and more of an issue, and people – rightfully so – were becoming more brave about speaking their mind when it came to who they were, who they are.”
In the past Dinklage has often lightened even his serious roles with comedy. But while Trask is a serious guy, he doesn’t feel the lack of laughs in this role was a limitation. “I like to think I’m on to something when I’m uncomfortable in a role and something is challenging me. If you keep falling back as an actor on to your skill set, maybe you’re treading water a little bit and you’ve got to question that, or at least I do. And maybe it’s time to start swimming again and start looking for something you haven’t done before. I’d kill myself if I ever started getting comfortable and repeating myself.”
It’s not surprising, then, that when it comes to storytelling he prefers an approach that keeps things fresh. “I love Korean movies, because they’re never really tied down to their genre. Like a horror movie can be totally emotionally engaging and heartbreaking, but on the page it’s a horror movie. I feel this film does the same thing. Sure, it’s a summer blockbuster, with super heroes, people are flying around, and there are robots and there’s all this crazy stuff going on. 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 be surprised.
“Game of Thrones, I feel like it does the same thing. I was shocked at the audience’s response to the death of Ned Stark. It speaks to what we’re used to from a narrative perspective: wait, you don’t kill the hero. We’ve never done that before, why is that? We sort of follow this recipe for these genre pieces. I was surprised by how surprised people were, I guess is my point. And I think that’s because we don’t challenge [genre conventions] enough. We sort of serve the same recipe over and over again because it tastes good. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it gets a little boring after a while. Even if it goes down easy, sometimes things should be spicier.”
Release: X-Men: Days of Future Past is in cinemas now
Written by Anthony Morris