X-Men's new bad guy talks to Time Out about fame, villainy and truly excellent moustaches
Having been chugging along on the ‘X-Men, X-Perience’ worldwide publicity train for days already, you’d think that Peter Dinklage would be at least slightly less forthcoming when I meet him at the Melbourne press junket.
Dinklage lesson one: never underestimate the man’s ability to turn on the charm. Flanked by clipboard-wielding staff and looming cameras, the actor smiles warmly at yet another batch of journalists filing into the bright hotel room. He greets us in an American accent that takes a moment to adjust to, if (like me), you’ve been following his precarious journey as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones with white-knuckled concern.
But we’re not here to discuss the Iron Throne, dragons and trials by combat. Today is all about X-Men: Days of Future Past, and our allotted slice of junket time is already ticking away.
Directed by Bryan Singer for the first time since the highly-acclaimed X2 in 2003, Days of Future Past is the fifth instalment to the Marvel comic book adaptation. It’s also the most ambitious. The film opens on the original X-Men troupe – Ian McKellen’s Magneto and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier included – who are trapped in a brutal, dystopian future. Dogged by a race of virtually unstoppable Sentinels, they’re forced into hiding on an icy mountain range.
It is Dr. Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage, who is largely to blame for the imminent mutant extinction. We meet him in the anxious Cold War climate of 1973, where's he's pulling out all the scare tactics to convince President Nixon to fund his Sentinel research program. When the vengeful Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers the horror of Trask’s mutant experiments, she assassinates him, which sets off a chain of events that ultimately lead to the Sentinels waging war against not only mutants, but all of humankind.
Back in the future (try to keep up here), the team's last chance of survival is a risky trip back to 1973. As Hugh Jackman’s Logan (Wolverine) is the only character who can withstand the journey into the past, it is up to him to convince the younger, volatile Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) to prevent the assassination and find another way to stop Trask's Sentinel program. What follows is a war fought in two time periods.
It may sound more than a little bit gimmicky, but it doesn’t take long for Simon Kinberg’s screenplay to get away from the sticky details of time travel and deep into the complex ideologies and shifting moralities that X-Men is known for. Yes, Days of Future Past is a supercharged action blockbuster, a devious political thriller and a demonstration of superlative special effects (the slow-motion prison-break sequence with the young Quicksilver is an absolute joy) – but it also subverts the traditional superhero narrative of good vs. evil at every turn. Vibrating with grief and rage, the young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) cannot see a world where humans and mutants co-exist, and considers human (and mutant) death a necessary cost for peace. With him, as with the broken, watery-eyed Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), we’re so deep inside his internal conflict that the trope of movie-baddie is rendered obsolete.
And what of Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask – is the master political manipulator and fear-mongerer an evil genius, or just misguided? “Neither,” Dinklage explains. “He has an agenda. He’s very influential and he sees what he’s doing as something that’s definitely going to save mankind. But he’s not altruistic, he has a financial motive, and he’s very egotistical.”
Dinklage lesson two: the man chooses his roles wisely. After playing a series of complicated characters including misanthropic Finbar in 2003’s The Station Agent, you’ve got to assume it would have taken something exceptional to get him into the part of a Hollywood villain. In a recent interview, Dinklage mentioned that one of the reasons he took the role of Trask was that it wasn’t written especially for a person of his size. Singer simply believed that Dinklage would bring something unique to the character, which was originally created by Chris Claremont in the 1981 comic The Uncanny X-Men.
When asked how he feels about playing a character who persecutes a minority ostensibly out of fear, Dinklage speaks frankly. “We do address [my size] by the sheer nature of me playing the part,” he explains. “Trask feels like an outsider… I think there’s a lot of self-loathing going on there. And envy – why can’t I have these powers? I’ve felt like an outsider. I’ve had to struggle. That’s sort of how I approached it."
As an outer-circle intellectual inching his way into political influence, Dinklage’s portrayal of Trask is not dissimilar to his role as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. But while Lannister masks his self-interest (and pain) with flippancy and sarcasm, Trask pursues his agenda with ice-cold rationality.
I propose to him that it’s this matter-of-fact attitude towards (what is essentially) mass genocide that is the most chilling part of Trask’s character. But before I’m finished my question, he interrupts me, and questions whether the really spine-tingling part is his glorious handlebar moustache. Refer to Dinklage lesson one.
It was, incidentally, the moustache that first got fans speculating that at least part of the film was set in the ’70s. As an actor for whom fame found rather later than some of his younger co-stars, being snapped by paparazzi could have felt surreal. But Dinklage admits that for him, widespread recognition found him at a good time. “I was a bit of a mess in my twenties,” he says.
But we don’t have time to get lost in self-reflection – one of the clipboard-carriers is giving us the ‘wrap-it-up’ hand signal. With a minute to spare, I learn my last Dinklage lesson. Even at the tail end of a monster-sized junket, he’s still as gracious as ever when he asked to pose for a photo. He might just be acting, but something tells me that this guy – thoughtful, kind, charismatic – is real-deal Dinklage.
X-Men: Days of Future Past screens from Thu May 22.