In an upcoming HBO film, Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage portrays Hervé Villechaize, the hard-living/trail-blazing little person who played Tattoo on Fantasy Island in the the ’70s and ’80s and later committed suicide after “a downward spiral of diminishing roles and chronic physical pain.” (according to Entertainment Weekly)
It was a passion project for Dinklage who spent years trying to get My Dinner with Hervé made along with writer-director Sacha Gervasi. In it, a young journalist (played by Jamie Dornan) “spends three wild days with Villechaize just before the actor’s death. The film chronicles Villechaize’s final hours, with flashbacks from throughout his turbulent life.”
Now, though, both the actor and the film are getting blowback from fans who accuse Dinklage of both whitewashing the character (who until recently was described as being half Filipino) and of wearing “brown face” in the film to portray him.
Now Dinklage is addressing those issues in a new EW interview.
Since the film’s announcement there has been some criticism claiming Hervé was half French and half Filipino and that your casting amounts to whitewashing.
I’m glad you brought that up. The internet is the best thing and the worst thing. The funny thing about the backlash is it addresses what we address in the film about not judging a book by its cover. Hervé was judged by how he looked, and cast and perceived to be who he is accordingly. It says [Villechiaze was half-Filipino] on Wikipedia. Family members can’t change information on there. My daughter’s name was “Zelig” on Wikipedia for a long time. Her name is not Zelig. I don’t know who is able to put information up, but there are so many things on there that aren’t true.
There’s this term “whitewashing.” I completely understand that. But Hervé wasn’t Filipino. Dwarfism manifests physically in many different ways. I have a very different type of dwarfism than Hervé had. I’ve met his brother and other members of his family. He was French, and of German and English descent. So it’s strange these people are saying he’s Filipino. They kind of don’t have any information. 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. This [movie] isn’t Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Personally, I would never do that, and I haven’t done that, because he wasn’t. People are jumping to conclusions based on a man’s appearance alone and that saddens me.
I tried to figure out where the claim originated. It wasn’t in any obituaries or archived stories about the actor that I found. I did find a spin-off version of his Wikipedia page that sourced the claim to a now defunct site called “Notable Filipinos.”
Maybe people were thinking of The Man with the Golden Gun, which was shot in Southeast Asia, and Fantasy Island, where he’s on an island, and that, compounded with how he looked, made some think he must be from that part of the world. But that’s also part of the mystery and fun of this movie. He was so many things and he was proud of the myth of himself as well. Everybody I met — his brother, his girlfriend, people who worked with him — said he was “so proud.” If [being Filipino] was part of his heritage he would have been very proud of that. Hervé would be laughing at this right now, and part of me is too. But when I start to be accused of things that are not truthful and not real, that’s when you want to say, “Okay, calm down.”
That settles that then, I guess. Watch the trailer below.
My Dinner with Hervé premieres on HBO on Saturday, Oct. 20.
(via EW; Photos: Avalon Red)