'My Dinner with Hervé' director Sacha Gervasi reflects on the history he shares with the film and his titular character
The film starring Peter Dinklage in the titular role shows Herve's painful childhood where his parents had him undergo barbaric treatments hoping to cure their son's dwarfism.
By Nicki Gostin
In 1993 British journalist Sacha Gervasi was dispatched to Los Angeles to interview author Elmore Leonard and for a bit of light entertainment, also speak to Hervé Villechaize - the diminutive actor famous for his role as baddie Nick Nack in the Bond film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and appearing in “Fantasy Island.”
What was originally supposed to be a quick chat morphed into hours long conversations in which the actor bared his soul and opened up about his tumultuous life. Gervasi says that after their initial conversation in which he asked mundane questions, Villechaize pulled a knife out.
“He wanted to get my attention,” he explains. “He wasn’t threatening me. He was like, ‘You were judging me. Everyone thinks I’m a punchline. And he presented a real human being. Yes, he was 3”10, yes he was pretty unusual. And he spent the next two meetings pouring out his heart.”
Just over a week after their final conversation, Villechaize shot himself and died at age 50.
Gervasi was gutted when his interview was cut from 12 pages to 4 and vowed that he would one day turn their encounter into a film. More than two decades later he has succeeded. “My Dinner with Hervé” starring Jamie Dornan as journalist Danny Tate and “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage as Villechaize. It’s a deeply moving mediation on the vicissitudes of fame, pre-conceived ideas about people and friendship.
Gervasi, 52, says that the film which (also stars Harriet Walter, Mireille Enos, Oona Chaplin, David Strathairn and in a brilliant comic turn Andy García as Ricardo Montalbán) closely follows their real-life meetings although for cinematic continuity he condensed three nights into one wild and crazy night. Other than that, Gervasi, who won raves for his first foray - a documentary called “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” in 2008 and helmed "Hitchcock" starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, says that the film closely follows real life.
“The newspaper office scenes are almost exactly as they happened,” he explained during an interview in the lobby of the Bowery Hotel. The final sequence, a heartbreaking scene between the two characters saying their goodbyes is especially faithful.
“We recreated the dialogue, the stun gun, the fan mail on the bed, the pills, the conversation, the box of photos, the goodbye in the lobby. Hervé’s final line, ‘Tell them, I regret nothing.’ We shot it in the same place it happened.” Days late on September 4, 1993, Villechaize was discovered by his longtime girlfriend Kathy Self dead from a gunshot wound. Gervasi met Dinklage about fifteen years ago after he had won rave reviews for his turn in “The Station Agent.” The duo doggedly persisted with the project despite receiving withering criticism.
“I remember Peter and me had this meeting with one studio head and he said, ‘Guys, you have to understand you could not come up with a more uncommercial concept for a film - a suicidal dwarf picture set over five decades.’ It’s f..king ridiculous. You guys should just give it up. This was before “Game of Thrones” and then that kicked in and then suddenly it happened.”
Via flashbacks, the film shows Villechaize’s painful childhood where his parents had him undergo barbaric treatments in the hopes that they could cure their son’s dwarfism. Villechaize was a talented painter who studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and became the youngest artist ever to have his work displayed in the Museum of Paris. He moved to New York and taught himself English by watching TV and really made a name for himself as the Bond villain in “The Man with the Golden Gun” opposite Roger Moore.
Of course, he achieved widespread fame for his turn as Ricardo Montalbán’s sidekick in Aaron Spelling’s cheesy drama “Fantasy Island” where he would excitedly announce the arrival of the resort’s guests by proclaiming “The plane! The plane!” By all accounts, Villechaize was a nightmare to work with on the show. He continually propositioned women and was eventually fired for demanding a salary on par with that of his co-star Montalbán. Gervasi sees Villechaize’s troubles as a “matter of character.”
“If you’re looking for the fame and success to fill you up and solve deep conflicts or wounds, then basically you’re f..ked. But if you recognize it for what it is, an opportunity to do interesting work or make money (then it’s okay). The problem is if you buy into it and I think because of Hervé’s history and how tough his life had been… when he came to L.A. and suddenly he was on the show and getting recognized, he couldn’t get enough of it.”
Ultimately Gervasi says his character mirrors the audience, “coming in with cynicism and then getting turned around and peeling the layers and realizing, ‘Oh my God, this guy is not that different from me. We’re all f..king human which is really what the movie is about.”