Peter Dinklage

The Station Agent

Interviewed by Tom Dawson

“The word to call me is my name, Pete ”

The New Jersey-born actor Peter Dinklage landed his first film role in 1994, in Tom DiCillo's filmmaking satire Living In Oblivion. Since then he's gone on to appear in the likes of Human Nature, Elf, and the forthcoming Tiptoes. In the award-winning character study The Station Agent, he stars as a train-spotting dwarf, who inherits an abandoned railway depot and makes some unexpected friends.

How did you become involved with The Station Agent?

I was involved from pretty early on in the production process. The director, Tom McCarthy, is a friend of mine and he wrote the part of Fin for me. Previously in films I'd done these supporting roles, which tended to be scenery-chewing. Tom, though, wanted me to do something different and to challenge me as an actor. And because Tom is an actor himself, I could be really open with him. A lot of directors straight out of film school are very technically minded, but they don't have an understanding of actors or how to talk to them.

What interested you about Fin?

He's both a complicated character, and a simple, stoic person. You often equate lonely people with shyness, but although he chooses to be alone, he's not shy and he's very direct with people. There's a subtle shift in his character: he doesn't go from A to Z, more like A to D. There isn't the moment when he sees the light, and says "I've been lonely all these years".

Was it hard to pull off such a subtle performance?

Well I didn't have the usual actors' tricks to fall back on, unlike my co-star Bobby Cannavale, who gets to do so much of the talking! I think the film as a whole underplays the moments that might have been sentimental. Even the end of the film is a sort of beginning of a friendship. The story isn't wrapped up into a neat little package. It's a non-ending, which is true to life.

Have you been taken aback by the film's success?

Me and Tom made this movie for no money and shot it in 20 days with a small crew. We all loved it, but it wasn't until we took it to Sundance that we realised that other people loved it. None of us are celebrities, so it's a testament to the film that it's gone down so well in festivals all around the world. It shows that you don't have to talk down to your audience and fill in all the gaps for them.

You are very upfront in describing yourself as a dwarf...

I don't like people being cautious and tentative and choosing their words carefully around me because I'm a dwarf. There are a lot of people in a lot worse shape than me. I'm 4'5" and it's part of who I am, just not the whole part. I guess the word to call me is my name, Pete.