“A Lannister always pays his debts.” Actor Peter Dinklage, however, has few debts to pay.
The Jersey-born actor essentially bootstrapped his career, living as a self-described starving artist for years before reaching his “Game of Thrones” success.
Dinklage now ranks among Hollywood’s most-wanted actors — and just happens to be a dwarf. You can catch him on season 5 of “Game of Thrones,” which returns to HBO on April 12.
Peter Dinklage was born to a Morristown, New Jersey, couple in the summer of '69. He said his childhood was 'uneventful' -- his father sold insurance, and his mother taught music at an elementary school.
His parents never treated him like he was special, Dinklage says, despite being the only dwarf in his family. The chance of being born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that causes abnormalities in bone formation, is 1 in 25,000.
The Dinklages didn't even have a TV set in the house, or so he thought. In his teens, Peter discovered his parents watching a black-and-white TV they had purchased and hid in the bedroom closet. 'It was 'Three's Company' from then on out,' he says.
He attended the Delbarton School, an all-boys Catholic institution where he 'didn't really fit in.' But he picked up a passion for acting from an eccentric priest with an extensive VHS collection.
As a teenager, he decided to become a vegetarian. 'At the time I was doing it because of my love for animals,' Dinklage says, 'but also for a girl. Of course.' He's stuck with it through the years.
While a student at Bennington College in Vermont, Dinklage appeared in school productions, drank a lot, and rocked long-flowing hippie hair. Friends called him 'Dink.'
After graduating in 1991, he and a classmate moved into an apartment under the Williamsburg Bridge (back when you could live in that neighbourhood on the cheap). They dreamed of opening a theatre company.
He played in a punk-funk-rap band called Whizzy, which gave him a battle scar that runs from his neck to his eyebrow. He was once bouncing (and drinking) on stage, when he was accidentally kneed in the temple. 'I just grabbed a dirty bar napkin and dabbed my head and went on with the show.'
He worked nearly seven years at a company called Professional Examination Service. 'I still don't know what the company did,' Dinklage admits. 'I just like, plugged information into a computer ... I called in sick every Friday because I would go out Thursday night with my friends.'
Dinklage continued to pursue a career in writing and acting. Standing at 4-feet-5-inches, he refused to audition for or accept gigs that would cast him as a leprechaun or elf.
His breakout came in 2003, when a screenwriter-friend wrote a leading role with Dinklage in mind. 'Station Agent,' about an introverted train aficionado grieving the death of his friend, gave Dinklage his first Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.
Later that year, he appeared alongside Kate Beckinsale and Matthew McConaughey in 'Tiptoes,' about a family of dwarves. Gary Oldman played a dwarf by wearing a harness to shorten his arms and walking on his knees. 'There was some flak,' Dinklage says. 'I have my own opinions about political correctness, but I was just like: 'It's Gary Oldman. He can do whatever he wants.''
He played a pugnacious children's author in 'Elf.' Early in the movie, he beat up Will Ferrell's character for confusing him with the North Pole elves.
The next 10 years, Dinklage kept busy with small film roles and TV cameos. He voiced Captain Gutt in an 'Ice Age' film, dated Liz Lemon on '30 Rock,' and acted in both the American and British versions of 'Death at a Funeral.'
When 'Game of Thrones' cocreator David Benioff (right) approached him with a role in HBO's new series, Dinklage had one hesitation. 'Because of the fantasy genre, I told him I didn't really want long beard and pointy shoes.'
Dinklage was cautious after spending a seven-month shoot on 'Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian' in Eastern Europe and New Zealand, sweating under a long red beard.
'(The creators) assured me this character and this world wasn't (like) that,' Dinklage says. 'They told me about his complexity -- the fact that he wasn't a hero or a villain, that he was a womanizer and a drinker -- and they painted a flawed and beautiful portrait of him. So I signed on.'
His character, Tyrion Lannister, is the black sheep of a wealthy family, who responds to his physical limitations with wit and cunning. George R. R. Martin, who wrote the series 'GoT' is based on, says it's easy to see why Tyrion is a fan-favourite. 'My readers identify with the outcast, with the underdog, with the person who's struggling rather than the golden boy,' he says.
Dinklage won an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award for best supporting actor. In an acceptance speech, he encouraged viewers to Google search Martin Henderson, a 4-foot-2-inch British man who had been recently picked up and thrown by an unknown assailant.
He recently spilled a major show spoiler, accidentally. In an interview with Popsugar, Dinklage said if he could ask the author one question, it would be, 'Do I die? I just wanna know.' His response tells fans that Tyrion survives season 5, which premieres April 12.
In between seasons, Dinklage keeps busy filming movies. Last summer, he played the genius psychologist-villain, Bolivar Trask, in 'X-Men: Days of Future Past.' He revealed in a Reddit AMA that he thinks the comic books are 'just so super cool.'
In 2015, he will appear alongside Adam Sandler and Kevin James in 'Pixels,' a video-game-themed sci-fi picture, and indie flick 'Taxi,' based on Karen Duve's novel of the same name.
His wife Erica Schmidt, a director, accompanies him to many events. The couple have a house in upstate New York, a toddler named Zelig, and a 100-pound Labrador-Great-Dane-Pointer mix.
Dinklage's career shows no signs of slowing down. He once said in an interview that he wanted to reach a point in his career where he could be the lead and 'get the girl.'
He's since had a change of heart. 'The leads are often the boring part. Maybe I'll have to take that back. I like playing the guys on the sidelines. They have more fun.'
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