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Former reporter Sacha Gervasi conducted a series of interviews with Fantasy Island and The Man with the Golden Gun actor Herve Villechaize in 1993, days before the 3-foot-10 Frenchman killed himself. The Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine, Gervasi’s then-employer, never published his lengthy tribute. So within two years, the writer completed a 34-page short film script.
Stifling laughter outside the Paramount Theatre — where HBO premiered his resulting feature, My Dinner With Herve — Gervasi told The Hollywood Reporter, “Someone said to me, literally, ‘You’ve come up with the single most non-commercial idea for a film: a suicidal dwarf picture, set over five decades.’” Yet Oscar-winning Schindler’s List scribe Steve Zaillian read the same script and correctly foresaw Gervasi helming a full-length, semi-autobiographical movie (both number among My Dinner With Herve’s executive producers, along with star Peter Dinklage).
Around 2004, Gervasi watched Dinklage transform into Richard III at the Public Theater, and they began collaborating on the Villechaize project. “Then, of course, Game of Thrones happened and slightly changed the game for him and, of course, for this film,” deadpanned Gervasi, now a Film Independent Spirit Award-recognized director (2009’s Anvil). “People are just like, ‘Jamie Dornan’s playing you, are you fucking kidding?’… It’s ridiculous. I said, “The guy from Tears for Fears was not available.’”
Dornan traded more faux barbs with Gervasi as they walked down the geometric carpet (backed by chairs, tables, candles, fruit bowls and a sage wall of expressionist paintings), but agreed, “HBO came in and saved the day, really,” elaborating to THR, “A lot of that timing’s due to Pete being the lead in the biggest show of all time.”
Executive producer Ross Katz joined the film when it landed at the network, but is aware that “there were many attempts to get it made, and it came seconds away multiple times … I just think that people were afraid of the material, and that’s why it took so long.” The finished product also attracted Andy Garcia — who accepted the role of Ricardo Montalbán after Gervasi expanded his storyline — plus David Strathairn as agent Marty Rothstein, and Wallace Langham as Fantasy Island producer Aaron Spelling.
HBO Films president Len Amato introduced the screening, after which guests including Margot Robbie; Frances Fisher; Dinklage’s Thrones co-star Emilia Clarke; Dornan’s Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson and her husband, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron); Won’t You Be My Neighbor? director Morgan Neville; Empire co-creator Danny Strong; Veep’s Matt Walsh; and Anvil frontman Steve Kudlow remained on the Paramount Pictures lot for a no-expense-spared afterparty. Also in attendance were Villechaize’s girlfriend of 14 years, Kathy Self, and Montalbán’s grandson, Alex.
Most of the decor, from hibiscus flowers to bamboo-bedecked couches, channeled Fantasy Island. A replica of E.J. Baldwin’s Queen Anne Cottage — the landmark seen in the show’s opening credits — hovered in the distance as revelers traipsed between Montalbán and Villechaize’s Airstream trailers, nibbling on lobster mashed potatoes and shellfish scooped from a wooden boat. Waitstaff wore Hawaiian shirts, and a life-sized cutout of Dinklage in Tattoo’s white suit smirked from the hood of a white limousine. Meanwhile, the theater lobby conjured Villechaize’s off-set excesses, with pole dancers twirling underneath a disco ball.
Of his alter-ego, Dinklage told reporters, “He enjoyed himself, I wish I enjoyed myself more, sometimes. He would have a lot more fun tonight, I think, than I’m having.” Recalling a time before he had garnered three Emmys, Dinklage admitted, “As somebody my size, [and] to be honest, as a young, angry gentleman, I was in judgment of the man, [wondering] why would he take these roles that sort of seemed to be sidekick-y and demeaning and everything, without knowing who he was or why he would do anything like that. And that’s on me. And then when you get to know who he was through his loved ones and through Sacha, there’s more to the story.”
My Dinner with Herve is set to premiere Oct. 20 in HBO.
— Jenna Marotta (@jennamarotta) October 5, 2018
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