Like many people worldwide, I’m a tremendous fan of HBO’s show Game of Thrones. One of the most compelling characters on the show is Tyrion Lannister, played by actor Peter Dinklage. A few nights ago, my husband and I were watching the latest episode when I got a text message from my friend Rich. When I told him what we were watching, he mentioned that he had met Mr. Dinklage recently. I must confess, I got a little gushy when I heard this, because Tyrion is absolutely my favorite character on the show. I’ve been thinking since then about both the character and the actor, wondering what it is about him that makes his screen time so much more compelling than the other actors on the show.
I had read an article recently on how to tell when a TV actor is any good, on Slate.com. The crux of the article’s argument was this: can you imagine the character having an inner life? They used as an example (of a bad actor) Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones. They were right; when I thought about Daenerys having an inner life, it was difficult to imagine, but it’s so clear that Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister has an inner life. He really seems like a real person.
So, what’s the difference here? Why can I see the brokenness, the psyche at the heart of the Tyrion Lannister character, when it’s so difficult to see with other actors, other characters? A large part of it is skill, of course; Dinklage is simply a better actor than most. But, I believe there’s more to it than that.
Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf, as is the actor who plays him, of course. He has known hardship throughout his life as a result of that condition. As a result, I would argue that Peter Dinklage has a connection to the shadow (in the Jungian sense) that most actors don’t have. This makes his performances exponentially more powerful than an actor who has only ever known what it’s like to be beautiful.
Take Brad Pitt, for example. He’s been beautiful his entire life, and most people he’s ever met have treated him accordingly. He can mimic the depths of pathos, but he’s never really felt it, at least not in the way that Peter Dinklage has. Mr. Dinklage has emotional tools at his disposal that Pitt has never dreamed of. He’s a better actor because of his hardship.