When we caught up with Peter Dinklage for a group interview during last June’s visit to the set of X-Men: Days Of Future Past, he was dressed impeccably in a crisply-pressed 70s suit. With large shades, a handsomely curved moustache and voluminous hair parted to one side, he’d fit right into the cast of Anchorman. Instead, Dinklage is playing Bolivar Trask, who comic book readers will know is one of the key players in the Days Of Future Past story.
As the shoot of Bryan Singer’s forthcoming X-Men movie rumbled on not far from where we were sitting, Dinklage talked enthusiastically about his role in the story – while keeping specifics of the plot firmly under wraps – meeting the fans of Game Of Thrones, and lots more. Before that, though, there was a brief mention of Peter Dinklage’s birthday, which the cast and crew were celebrating between takes that day…
Happy birthday, by the way.
You guys have some cake? I want a big cake. With a big creamy filling. That sounds wrong. [Laughs] Taken out of context, that sounds very wrong.
How did you end up in the new X-Men movie?
Bryan Singer called my people and blah, blah, blah, and set up a phone call between myself and Bryan.
Were you into the movies before [you were cast]?
Yeah, I loved them. These and the Batman movies are, for me, top of the heap. It’s the complex storytelling. Great characters.
Did you ever read the X-Men comics?
I didn’t. I never was a big comic book fan. Obviously I’d heard them growing up from my friends who did read them, but I never was a big comic book reader. I’ve been reading Days Of Future Past, and it’s wonderful. Simon [Kinberg], the producer-slash-writer, gave me a copy of the original comic. It’s great.
Can you tell us more about who you play?
Yeah. I play [sings, dramatically] dum-dum-dum! Wolverine. [Laughs] You may have heard of him. We just have Hugh around for show. No, I play Bolivar Trask, who is very smart. I don’t know why they asked me to play him, but he’s a great character.
What’s his mission?
Well, his mission is… He takes issue with the mutants. The world is a very complicated place at the time of the movie – it’s Vietnam. He sees the good he can do at the expense of some other things. Is that vague enough?
How does he fit into this story thematically? Is he a mirror for another character in the movie or the modern era?
That’s a good question. It’s set at the time of Watergate, and Richard Nixon is a character in the movie, who I share several scenes with. So that sets the tone for nefarious doings, politically. Trask’s agenda… he’s very good at what he does. How can I be more vague? He sees humanity threatened, and he has the ability to protect it, so that’s what he chooses to do.
You’re well known for your part in one ensemble [Game Of Thrones] but you’re coming into an ensemble that’s made up from the old X-Men movie and X-Men: First Class…
I’m the new kid on the block. The new kid in school.
Yeah. So how does that feel?
Oh, you know. There are wedgies. Threats in the bathroom. No, they’ve been great. This is the seventh time Hugh’s done it, including an appearance in Iron Man, was it, that appearance? Avengers or something? What was it, the one-line thing?
X-Men: First Class.
Yeah. So this is the sixth or seventh time he’s done it. It’s a thrill to be part of a scene where he knows exactly what he’s doing, and I’ve just got to keep up. Everybody, including the crew, has worked together before on these movies. I’m on Game Of Thrones, and every time we have someone new coming on our show, we welcome them with open arms and get revitalised by this new presence. Then we kill them off very quickly. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen here.
Your character in the comic book invents the Sentinels. Does that happen in this movie, and what happens when he meets Charles Xavier?
To answer your first question, we might be changing some things from the comic book to the film, so to anyone who read the comic book, Trask is the one who created the Sentinels. But we’re going to keep that one a mystery. What happens is really exciting. I don’t want to reveal too much because it’s really a spoiler.
Does Trask meet Xavier?
I haven’t met him yet. They’ll have to give me new pages if I do meet him. I’ve met James McAvoy, but I haven’t met Charles Xavier.
Does Trask have a presence in the future timeline?
Well, Trask’s presence is felt all over because of what he does, so sure. But can I travel in time? I’m going to pass on that one. It’s so hard to talk about this movie. I still have yet to get into costume, by the way [Laughs].
I was born in 1969, believe it or not, so I was a child in the 70s. But it was an incredible decade for cinema and music, and it would have been nice experienced that Dog Day Afternoon era of adult filmmaking.
What’s your approach to getting into a role, and this one specifically?
My character likes to talk, so he’s very Shakespearean. He likes a platform and an audience, so I have to learn a lot of lines. One tricky part, because the film takes a while to shoot, is finding the continuity of the character. You jump all over, so that’s something that’s really important to me. In a play, you’re in the moment, but here, you don’t know where you’re at. It’s a bit confusing.
Who’s your favourite X-Men character, and did you have a favourite superhero growing up?
I kinda dig Magneto, I’ve got to say. I understand his anger, and that’s a very original idea. My favourite superhero? I have a soft spot for Batman, because he doesn’t have any super powers – he’s just a person. And he’s pretty dark. But I probably shouldn’t say that because he’s not an X-Man. [Laughs]. My hero growing up was Toad! Don’t ask me why. Moving on!
Given that you were a child of the 70s, and Star Wars was the birth of the blockbuster era, is there excitement that comes with being a part of a film like this?
Yeah. Especially with Bryan. I said yes without even having read the script. That was partly because I wasn’t allowed to read the script until I said yes [laughs], so there was that. But yeah, I was very excited.
Did they tell you what role they wanted you to play?
Yes. Wolverine [Laughs]. He [Bryan] told me the story – enough to get me interested.
How did he describe the character?
Bryan’s really interesting, because he doesn’t approach heroes as heroes or villains as villains. He doesn’t describe them in a judgemental way – I think that’s partly because he has a hand in writing them, and writers don’t judge their characters, and that’s true of actors as well. He was very fair about my character, who’s got up to some things that are a little dicey, morally, if you’ve read the comics. He described him as a very smart man who has a very clear mission.
You mentioned about being a fan of 70s movies. I wondered if you spoke to Bryan about movies and whether this movie will be steeped in the sensibilities of those dramas you described.
I think it’s happened a lot with the casting. I think during the 80s – and no offence to Stallone and all those guys – but they were big, heroic types of actors. Now they’re casting people like Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man. That was a really off-the-map way to go, but it really worked. Now people want actors like Robert Downey Jr for their hero movies.
It’s unusual casting when you think about it [on this movie], but they’re such great actors: McAvoy, Fassbender, Hugh – maybe not guys that would have been cast in the 80s type of hero movies, but are now people are thinking outside the box. But they’re brilliant actors, and these roles should be filled with brilliant actors. Not just movie stars, you know?
Following on from the 70s movie question earlier, is there a conspiracy thriller element to this film? Because a lot of the films around the Nixon era were conspiracy films – Parallax View, Capricorn One, that kind of thing.
Oh yeah. Well, that’s a great question. It’s hard to have a conspiracy when there’s people controlling metal [with their minds], so it’s hard to go ‘Is that really happening?’ [Laughs] So conspiracy not so much, but there are different points of view in the script. Lots of different agendas, and conflict amongst the heroes. Which we’ve seen before in these movies, but I find that really fascinating.
Is there any element of comedy in this film? Do you get to twirl your moustache at all?
Bryan won’t let me do that. But I can’t help but bring a certain amount of levity to things, even when I shouldn’t. I think it gets a little dry if you can’t have a smile and a wink now and again. So yes, definitely. He’s very egotistical, I can say that much about my character. And he amuses himself, you know? All my clever friends are like that. My genius friends are all like, “I’m so clever.” They never stop smiling.
What’s your connection to Bill, who may become Stryker? Are you a mentor to him? Are you friends in this movie? How does that work?
He’s definitely my military right-hand man. Josh Helman plays the role very well. But it’s not clear, what you just said.
Do you have a sense of why your character does what he does? Do you have a back story for him in your head?
He has a chip on his shoulder, definitely. They do address they my size a little bit – no pun intended – there’s a ‘need to prove myself’ element to Trask that’s really a good, complicated thing to play. Not too much, though – he’s always the smartest man in the room, so he doesn’t have to prove himself too much.
But they’ve crafted the character for you in a way.
Right. Well, thank you Bryan. I mean, he was thinking outside the box. And I think people need to take more risks in our profession, and they don’t, unfortunately. Not that I consider myself a risk, I just think of myself as an actor.
You’ll be familiar with the voraciousness of Game Of Thrones fans. Have you had much contact with X-Men fans since you’ve been cast in the role?
No, because the season of Game Of Thrones was happening when it was announced I was playing a part in X-Men. And the Game Of Thrones fans that I’ve run into don’t give a shit about anything but Game Of Thrones [Laughs]. They don’t even know who I’m playing in this. It’s all about Game Of Thrones. They’re fun. They like it.
Have you had any weird experiences with fans?
Weird? Sure. Yes. I ran into this woman who had her two little daughters with her, and she named them Arya and Sansa. That’s always a little different. But they dig it. It’s a great job.
Now you get to find out how weird the X-Men fans are as well. It’ll be a whole new world of weird for you.
I wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for the fans, so I’m going to Comic-Con with Game Of Thrones in July. So into the mouth of madness there! It’s a lot of fun though. They’re so great. Really, really lovely. And so much more knowledgeable than I am about my character. They’re a resource. They’ll be the same with Trask – they’ll know more than I know. They’ll be a great resource.
You’re going there for research purposes.
Yeah! I’m taking a notebook.
Peter Dinklage, thank you very much.