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Actor Peter Dinklage

Dinklage Takes on Diesel in 'Guilty'

Peter Dinklage plays a defense attorney in the new Sidney Lumet-directed film Find Me Guilty, starring Vin Diesel as a member of the Lucchese crime family who represents himself on trial. Dinklage, a person of short stature, is perhaps best known for his award-winning film The Station Agent.

21:01

Other segments from the episode on March 21, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 21, 2006: Interview with Kevin Phillips; Interview with Peter Dinklage; Review of Danielle Trussoni's book "Falling through the earth."

Transcript

DATE March 21, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Kevin Phillips discusses his new book "American
Theocracy"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Kevin Phillips, has written a new book that was the subject of a
question put to President Bush by a member of the audience yesterday when he
spoke to the City Club of Cleveland.

Unidentified Woman: My question is that author and former Nixon
administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book "American
Theocracy," discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its
growing involvement into government and politics. He makes a point that
members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who
see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do
you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of
the apocalypse, and if not, why not?

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Mm. I--the answer's--I haven't really thought of
it that way. Here's how I think of it. First, I've heard of that, by the
way. I--I--the--I guess I'm more of a practical fellow.

GROSS: As you heard in that question, Kevin Phillips' new book "American
Theocracy" elaborates on his concerns about radical religion and politics. He
fears that the Republican Party has been transformed into the first religious
party in the US. But it's not just religion he writes about in "American
Theocracy". He warns about the dangers of our growing debt and dependence on
oil. His previous book, "American Dynasty," was about the Bush family's
impact on American politics and policy.

Phillips is very critical of the Republican Party but he started his career
helping to get Richard Nixon elected in 1968 and serving in his
administration. Phillips' first book, "The Emerging Republican Majority,"
which was published in 1969, was described in Newsweek as the political bible
of the Nixon era. I spoke to Phillips yesterday before the president
addressed the City Club of Cleveland.

Kevin Phillips, welcome to FRESH AIR. Your book is subtitled "The Peril and
Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century." Do
you see radical religion, oil, and borrowed money as being interconnected in
any way?

Mr. KEVIN PHILLIPS (Author, "American Theocracy"): Very much, and much more
after I finished the book than when I began it. To begin with the question of
radical religion and oil, what you found in the whole lead-up to the invasion
of Iraq, for example, is that George W. Bush with his constituency of true
believers was responding in part to their whole sense of an end-times and
Armageddon context in the Middle East. And as a result, they interpreted what
was going on there through a Biblical lens as opposed to an oil sensitivity
lens that might have been the case, say, in the upper echelons of Exxon in
Houston. And the upshot was that you couldn't talk about oil as a reason for
invading Iraq because so much of the constituency had a religious reason for
watching all of this, but yet the two are very much connected.

If you think in terms of questions of debt and oil, for example, again, very,
very much connected, because the more that we go into hock to foreigners in
order to pay for the imported oil--which is a very major portion of what we
import--the worse the whole crisis gets, because the bigger the debt, the
greater the strain on the dollar, and if the dollar starts go fade again, that
just raises the price of oil. So all of these things come together and it is
the triangle that Washington does not want to discuss.

GROSS: Why do you think Washington doesn't want to discuss it?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Too many bedrock issues and concerns and things for which
there is no obvious solution: to admit the debt has many, many consequences
in terms of what we have to do to get oil, where we may have to invade; to
admit that in Iraq we're not there for democracy, we're not there for all the
pretense. There may be trumpets of democracy but it's drums of gasoline. All
of this just raises too many issues about the fundamental mess the United
States has gotten itself in, really for 15 or 20 years, with the collaboration
of presidents of both parties. George W. Bush wasn't the only one talking
about weapons of mass destruction.

GROSS: But you do say that the Bush family has helped tie together finance,
national security, oil and the religious right. Would you talk a little bit
about the role you think the Bush family has played in connecting those
things?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Part of the reason why the Bush family is such a problem for
us at this point, and for the Republican Party, is that with the exception of
the election of 1996, there has been a Bush on the Republican ticket running
for president or vice president in every election since 1980. They have
really put a firm fingerprint on the Republican Party. And the three things
that they've been involved in doing that are so important to what's happened,
the first is that because of George H.W. Bush's difficulties with the
religious right, he developed the art of pandering to these people to a pretty
elevated degree. His son got into politics in the national vein in 1987, 1988
being his father's liaison to the religious right. So these two men together
have really pushed the Republican Party in that direction.

The second thing that they've done is that four generations of Bushes have
come out of the financial sector. They've been brokers, they've been
investment managers, they've been bankers. They have this attunement to the
financial sector. And the financial sector has become relentlessly more
important in this country in the last two decades, and the Bushes have helped
this find fruition.

And then lastly with oil, you have George H.W. Bush, who was the first oil
man to be president. By the time we got to the 2000 election with George W.
Bush, he was not only himself an oil man--although a very unsuccessful
one--but he had a vice presidential running mate who was also out of the oil
business, Dick Cheney. So the extent to which the Bush family and the 25
years in which they've had a major imprint on the Republican Party has
emphasized pandering to the radical right, the religious right, the role and
importance of oil, and connections to finance help explain a lot of what has
happened. And the fact that these are central crises for the United States at
this point is not unrelated to the prominence of the Bushes.

GROSS: You write about what you describe as the oil/national security complex
when you're writing about the role that you think oil has played in foreign
policy. How influential was oil when you worked for the Nixon administration
in the late '60s?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, it was enormously important in the 1960s, partly because
you could see some clouds on the horizon, but even more because within the
Republican Party the great goal of realigning politics in the Republicans'
favor rested in no small part on Texas. Texas was a very important state, and
it was the great oil state, and Richard Nixon really wanted to take Texas.
And that was one of the reasons why he was very interested in promoting the
career of George Bush Sr., who was the first major Republican from Texas, and
that was part of a long-term Nixon strategy to sort of Texify the Republican
Party a bit.

GROSS: And you write that "The new battle regarding oil is defined in 1973
when Secretary of State Kissinger and others in the Cabinet promoted just
short of openly a plan for using US airborne forces to seize oil fields of
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi." What was the plan?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, the plan that was discussed pretty covertly with the
British was basically to take over those oil fields. Just use American power
bluntly and openly. You can say in retrospect that maybe it would have
worked, but we went instead, under Carter, towards a politics of trying to
conserve energy and reduce oil dependence, and that also worked. I think it
was a better option.

But there is a larger context, which is important to mention. And that's that
really for a hundred years now, the military focus on the Middle East has been
oil-related. The emerging oil fields of Saudi Arabia, of Iraq, of Iran, have
been targets. They were targets in World War I; they were targets in World
War II; they've been targets ever since. The notion that a war is fought in
that part of the world and it is not related to oil is a joke.

GROSS: So if you think that oil is really the motivating force behind the war
in Iraq, what about the neoconservatives who made the argument that the war in
Iraq would democratize Iraq, and a democracy in Iraq would inspire other
countries to become democratic and it would change the whole face of that
region? Oil was not their argument. Democracy was their argument. And so
how do you think that compares in the Bush administration's motivation for war
with the oil argument?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, back when George W.'s father invaded the Persian Gulf to
expel the Iraqis from Kuwait, he and James Baker, then the secretary of state,
were up front. They said it was about energy, and you couldn't have Saddam
Hussein controlling all the oil resources of the Gulf. Now, nobody was saying
we have to bring democracy to Baghdad. But because of the sort of odd quirks
of the second Bush administration--first the extent to which they had all the
Biblical-interpretation people in the Republican coalition, and then secondly
the neoconservatives who at least pretended to be more concerned about
democracy, but frankly I don't think that was what they were concerned about.
I think they were concerned about the geopolitics of the Middle East and
democracy was just icing on a geo-political cake.

GROSS: My guest is Kevin Phillips. His new book is called "American
Theocracy." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Kevin Phillips, and his new book is called "American
Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radial Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money
in the 21st Century."

You write that the last two presidential elections mark the transformation of
the GOP into the first religious Party in US history. No, I mean, no one
would argue that the Republican Party has strong support from the religious
right, but what way do you see the Republican Party as a religious party?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, let me start with a little bit further back chronology,
back after the 1988 elections. A political scientist in Ohio by the name of
John Green, who's subsequently become quite well known for putting together
religion and politics, suggested that because of the role of religion in 1988,
with Pat Robertson running for president and bringing more of the Pentecostals
and Southern fundamentalists into the Republican Party, that you were really
beginning to centralize religious people of all persuasions in the United
States in the Republican Party. By the time we got to 2000 and 2004, this was
much more clear than it had been back then, partly because Bill Clinton,
although a Southern Baptist, became anathema to the church-going Baptists and
many others in the South. And then in 2001, the whole role of religion came
to the fore after 9/11 because George Bush was structuring a fight between
good and evil.

So the upshot was that by 2000 and 2004, you were looking at a very, very
strong correlation between religiosity of people--more than church attendance,
but that was a fair part of it or religious services attendance. And you
wound up for the first time ever--I can't think of any precedent in American
history--where the religious Protestants, the religious Catholics and the
Orthodox Jews were all on the same side and strongly conservative and strongly
Republican. The only exception is that among religious blacks, they weren't
Republican, but they were more Republican than the other blacks and were
motivated very much by some of the church-related issues, including gay
marriage.

GROSS: Your book is called "American Theocracy" which would imply that you
see our government now as being a religious government where religion--the
rules of religion apply to the country. I mean, why use such a strong word?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, I use a strong word because I think in a country like
this, as big as this, and as diverse as the United States, we've got about as
much right now as you can have in the direction of theocracy, and it's a major
problem. But let me give you a quick summary of why I think there really is a
major theocratic element here.

First off, we have this high correlation now between church attendance and
voting Republican. We have the Republicans in several cases openly caught
trying to organize the churches and get lists of congregational members and
communicants and what-have-you. We have a Republican rank-and-file--have two
pages of charts in the book that shows the theocratic inclinations of the
Republican electorate.

For example, should religious leaders try to influence politicians' positions
on the issues? The country as a whole says no, like, two to one. But white
conservative evangelicals say yes, by 62 to 37 percent. Another yardstick,
which is very significant, is you've got a president who, in the course of
years since 1999 and 2000, has often been quoted by people as saying he thinks
God chose him to lead the country. Now, you can say he believes this, but
he's even said and been quoted in Middle East papers, although the White House
denies it, that God told him to invade Afghanistan and told him to invade
Iraq. You have a Republican rank-and-file, approximately 50 to 55 percent of
whom believe in Armageddon and that the Antichrist is alive now. You have
Republican state conventions--one recently, the Texas state convention in
2004--that passed one of these platforms calling the United States a Christian
nation and getting into all the things about how religion and government have
to become closer and the sort of government agencies that they would abandon.
You've just got all these different yardsticks. This is a major
transformation of an American political party.

GROSS: My guest is Kevin Phillips. His new book is called "American
Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed
Money in the 21st Century."

Let's talk about the third leg of your argument here which is borrowed money.
Now, in your book, when talking about debt, you describe the credit card,
mortgage, auto loan, corporate debt, federal borrowing industrial complex,
which you describe in short as a reckless, credit-feeding financial complex.
Now there's been a lot of focus lately on the national debt, but you're
talking here in part about personal debt. So how does personal debt figure
into the larger picture that you're writing about about, you know, in terms of
America's predicament?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Let me take this question of debt and a debt-related industry
and the growth of that industry and put it in a quick context. In the 1960s
and '70s, by far and away the largest portion of the American economy, single
portion, was manufacturing. Its share of GDP was, oh, in the mid-20s, and
finance was pretty small. But as debt grew, both public and private in the
United States in the '70s and '80s and '90s, slowly but surely the industry of
handling debt and managing money has raised its share of the gross domestic
product so it is now far ahead of manufacturing.

Now, manufacturing gave a lot of lower, middle and blue collar people in the
United States middle class status. They got to have fishing cabins in
northern Michigan; they got to have good jobs. Well, that's all moving
offshore as we do the money thing now. The money thing is inherently so
favorable to the upper brackets, to the people who have capital and who
basically just move money around and have it aggrandized, that it erodes the
work ethic of the country and you get the money ethic rises to the fore. And
we have so much debt now, and we're so willing to borrow money overseas, that
at some point the people from whom we borrow--be they Asian central banks or
people in the Middle East with oil money--they're going to call it. And at
that point the dollar weakens enormously and for a lot of Americans that just
means instead of marginal middle class status, status that's no longer
marginal middle class. It's out of the middle class.

GROSS: In your book, you warn that US global supremacy could drain away more
in five to 20 years than most Americans would have thought possible. Exactly
what are you worrying about?

Mr. PHILLIPS: That's a triple warning. I'll trying to give a very, very
short version of the triple play. Essentially the United States, by trying to
reach too far as part of a global hubris and a sense of destiny and democracy
and everything like that, is at great risk of what historians call
overstretch, of trying to bite off more than it can finance and more than it
can afford, and without an intelligent blueprint for doing so. And lack of an
intelligent blueprint is a wonderful one-sentence description of Bush policy
in the Middle East. Nothing they've blueprinted has worked out. Debt is
mounting. As debt mounts, the dollar tends to weaken. As the dollar weakens,
the cost of oil goes up. As we are preoccupied with finance and debt, we make
less and less. We have to buy more of the things, the machinery and the
consumer goods overseas, and then that just puts us further in debt.

This is an enormous mess, the extent to which we have a government that has no
sense of proportion or history is a huge problem. But I would underscore
again that while the principle burden is on the Republicans, the Democrats are
so inept in understanding these same things that they don't know what to
criticize. Either that or they're basically funded by a lot of the same
industries anyway.

GROSS: As we've mentioned, you started your career as a Republican strategist
with the Nixon administration. How do you define yourself politically now?
Republican, Democrat, none of the above?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, I'm an Independent, and I really do like the idea of
"none of the above." I think if we could ever have "none of the above" on the
ballot, it'd elect two thirds of Congress. But some of my politics is still
somewhat conservative. I don't relate to the across-the-board liberalism, and
I don't think of myself as being liberal when I critique the Republican Party.
I would say you've got a mix of radical religion, you've got radical oil
dependence, which isn't sufficiently acknowledged or recognized. And you've
got a radical extension of debts. So maybe I'm the conservative and maybe
they're the wild-eyed people and they're conspiring to keep their incompetence
from being noticed. But you know, it is being noticed.

GROSS: Kevin Phillips, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, thank you..

GROSS: Kevin Phillips is the author of the new book "American Theocracy." You
can find an excerpt on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

Next week, I'll speak with Fred Barnes, whose new book, "Rebel-in-Chief"
praises President Bush. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

(Sound bite of music)

GROSS: Most of the roles Peter Dinklage gets focus on the fact that he's a
dwarf, but not his role as a defense attorney in the new film "Find Me
Guilty." Coming up, we talk with him about his movies, including his starring
role in "The Station Agent." And Maureen Corrigan reviews the new memoir
"Falling Through the Earth."

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Actor Peter Dinklage discusses his movies and the roles
he gets because he is a dwarf
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Peter Dinklage, is best known for his starring role in the
independent film "The Station Agent." He played a man who feels shut out by
others because he's a dwarf. Dinklage is four and a half feel tall. He had a
very funny scene in the Will Ferrell movie "Elf." His new film, "Find Me
Guilty," is a departure from roles that focus on his size. He plays the lead
defense attorney, Ben Klandis, in the trial of the Lucchese crime family.
Against his recommendation, one of the 20 defendants, played by Vin Diesel,
insists on representing himself. The movie is based on transcripts from the
Lucchese trial which lasted 21 months between 1987 and '88. Here's Dinklage
making his opening statements to the jury.

(Sound bite of "Find Me Guilty")

Mr. PETER DINKLAGE: (As Ben Klandis) I have the fate of Carlo Marscapone in
my hands. There he is, sitting near his brother Gino. They didn't join the
Lucchese family because they already had one, the family created by Mr. and
Mrs. Marscapone. It's called biology. You'll hear a lot about my client's
flamboyant lifestyle. His wife, Roselyn, sits in this court room, married 17
years, four children. That's a lifestyle. He goes to St. Lucy's Church.
His wife teaches CCD. That's a lifestyle. Many of these defendants are
related. Some are friends or neighbors that have known each other since
playing Little League Baseball together. That's a lifestyle. They are a
family, not the kind of family the government talks about. They would twist
it. They would make it evil. But all we're asking for, ladies and gentlemen,
is to let justice be done, though the heavens may fall. Thank you.

(End of sound bite)

GROSS: I asked Peter Dinklage how he prepared for his role in "Find Me
Guilty."

Mr. DINKLAGE: A couple years ago, I had served on a jury for a murder case,
actually. And we found the kid not guilty. And I kind of loosely based my
defense attorney on this defense attorney that this young man had, a
court-appointed attorney. And he was so good and he was so persuasive and
almost like an actor. There's not much difference, I think, besides their
knowledge of the law, between and an actor and a lawyer when it comes to
presenting their case in front of a jury. They can become showmen. And
sometimes playing a lawyer, you feel like you're overacting. But that's kind
of what they do. And remembering this guy really helped me. And so that was
sort of the research I had done.

GROSS: Now, how'd you get the part in the film?

Mr. DINKLAGE: Sidney Lumet had seen a movie I did called "The Station
Agent," and he really liked that film and the job I did with that. So he was
kind enough to offer me the role. Which I didn't even read the script when he
offered it to me, and I said yes because it's Sidney Lumet. You don't really
turn down Sidney Lumet if you're an actor. He's the greatest actor's
director. He understands actors, and you rehearse for a couple weeks before
the cameras roll, and he makes you feel very well prepared as an actor.

GROSS: The only reference in the movie that I can think of to your height is
at point while addressing the jury, you stand on a little box to...

Mr. DINKLAGE: Right.

GROSS: ...to lift you up a little bit. So was the role written specifically
for you?

Mr. DINKLAGE: No.

GROSS: Or for...

Mr. DINKLAGE: For someone my size?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DINKLAGE: No. No. Not at all. That was Sidney's idea. Which what I
love about the film is it doesn't address it. I mean, it does and it doesn't,
which is so true to life. And I think, with the thing with--that was Sidney's
idea, to wheel out this podium. But like I was saying before about the, sort
of the drama of it all and to sort of--I think that was Sidney's intention, to
sort of have this almost--it gave Klandis a little bit more power in a way and
a little bit more persuasiveness, and maybe even a little sympathy, which you
utilize all of that. Lawyers utilize everything at their disposal to gain the
sympathy of the jury, especially in a criminal case like this.

GROSS: Was it refreshing for you to get a role that wasn't built around your
size?

Mr. DINKLAGE: Always. I mean, I don't want to be in denial about roles that
are written for my size, I mean, because I think that's important, too. I
mean, a good role is all about the writing and who's there to direct you and
guide you through it. Obviously a movie like "The Station Agent" dealt with
it, but it didn't hit you over the head with it. It's only part of who a
character is, just like it's a part of who I am as a person. But it's not
everything. And I think the fault of a lot of writing is--with scripts I've
read that I don't end up doing is it's the entire character. Everything,
every other line is referring to the size, or everybody's referring
to--around--the other characters are always referring to the size of the
person, and that's just not good writing. It just doesn't happen, you know?
It's, once in a while something will come up on a day-to-day basis, but that's
the more realistic version of what life as a short-statured person is.

GROSS: Well, in "The Station Agent," which you starred in, you played a man
who inherits an abandoned station agent house on an abandoned railroad line,
and you decide to move into it.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Right.

GROSS: And you're so lonely and withdrawn, largely because of your size in
the film, but it makes you feel different from everyone else.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Right.

GROSS:; And after you've removed yourself to this, like, isolated, abandoned
place, you end up making actually really close friends from nearby who have
their own issues that have left them feeling lonely and disaffected.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Right. Right. That sort of--yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Tom McCarthy wrote the script. That sort of--he illustrated
that so well and so subtly and yeah. We had a great time making that movie.

GROSS: Now you say that you don't like the kind of role where every line is
about your height, you know?

Mr. DINKLAGE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: I want to play a line--like, it's a couple lines--from "The Station
Agent," and I'd like to play this, like, short scene, and then tell me what
you like or don't like about this scene, and what made you feel comfortable
about doing it. I should say that your character in this, in the outside
world is always--people are always just saying exactly the wrong thing and
mocking him. Kids call him Sneezy and people meet him and they do, "De plane!
De plane!"

Mr. DINKLAGE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And then this is one of the friends that he's made. This is, like,
the hot dog guy who runs the stand right outside of your home, and--and he's
talking to you about really personal stuff. So here's that little clip.

Mr. DINKLAGE: OK. Mm-hmm. OK.

(Sound bite of "The Station Agent")

Mr. BOBBY CANNAVALE: (As Joe Oramas) Can I ask you a personal question?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Finbar McBride) Sure.

Mr. CANNAVALE: (As Joe Oramas) You've had sex, right?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Finbar McBride) Yes.

Mr. CANNAVALE: (As Joe Oramas) With a regular-sized chick?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Finbar McBride) Yeah. With a regular-sized chick.

Mr. CANNAVALE: (As Joe Oramas) You ever had it with someone your own size?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Finbar McBride) No.

Mr. CANNAVALE: (As Joe Oramas) Do you want to?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Finbar McBride) I don't want to talk about this, Joe.

Mr. CANNAVALE: (As Joe Oramas) Why?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Finbar McBride) I just--I just don't.

(End of sound bite)

GROSS: Peter Dinklage, what works about that scene for you and did anything
about it make you uncomfortable?

Mr. DINKLAGE: Well, yeah. What I loved and especially what Bobby Cannavale
did, what he brought to it, was almost like aggressive, his questioning. And
I just love how Bobby plays that scene. It really helped me, like, get
uncomfortable, actually. Not just the way it was written, but how Bobby sort
of forced these answers out of me, his character. And, you know, that's
something that, I mean, Tom and I had a lot of long talks about, you know,
stuff related to my size, and the day-to-day issues, and he used that in the
script and it was really interesting working that way.

GROSS: Is this the kind of question people actually ask you? Inappropriate
people, people who shouldn't be asked? People who don't know you well enough
to ask anything so presumptuous?

Mr. DINKLAGE: Right, well what I find in that scene is it should be a little
uncomfortable, but it's also really important. I think it really brings those
two characters closer together because it's sort of--it's an honesty that
Bobby's character had, Joe has, that he's very forthright and doesn't see
anything really wrong about asking me those questions, as a lot of people who
are very politically correct or something would. And the question is, what's
worse? Being sort of forthright and not seeing anything wrong about asking
questions like that or being sort of politically correct and very reserved.
And I think being very reserved about stuff in life in general--not even stuff
with people's differences--can be damaging, being too reserved.

I mean, like, when I'm walking down the street, and a child points at me and
questions who I am, and a mother or father tells them to look the other way, I
don't find that to be healthy at all because those people are going to grow up
to be sort of people who look away. You know, and that's just, you know,
there comes a point where it's, let somebody be curious. And it comes--you
know when it's coming from the right place.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DINKLAGE: And I think with a character like Joe and the stuff I've dealt
with with friends and my own personal life, honesty and so forth, being
forthright can be really healthy for a relationship.

GROSS: My guest is Peter Dinklage. He co-stars in the new film "Find Me
Guilty." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Peter Dinklage. He co-stars in the new film "Find Me
Guilty." He's best known for his starring role in "The Station Agent" as a
dwarf who's lonely and alienated.

I want to play another scene, and this is a kind of famous scene from the Will
Ferrell comedy "Elf." And again, this is another scene that's about your size.
And this is--it's a scene at a kind of business meeting. You're an author,
you're at the publishing house, and there's a bunch of people sitting around
the table. One of them is Will Ferrell's father. In the middle of the
meeting, Will Ferrell walks in...

Mr. DINKLAGE: James Caan.

GROSS: Yes. And in the middle of the meeting, Will Ferrell walks in, sees
you sitting at the table and assumes you're an elf.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Right.

(Sound bite of "Elf")

Mr. WILL FERRELL: (As Buddy) I didn't know you had elves working here.

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Miles Finch) Oh, boy. You're--you're hilarious, my
friend.

Mr. JAMES CAAN: (As Walter) He doesn't--get--get back to the story, please.

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Miles Finch) So, on the cover above the title...

Mr. FERRELL: (As Buddy) Does Santa know that you've left the workshop?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Miles Finch) You know, we're all laughing our heads off.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Buddy) Did you have to borrow a reindeer to get down here?

Mr. CAAN: (As Walter) Buddy, go back to the basement.

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Miles Finch) Hey, Jack Reed, I get more action in a week
than you've had your entire life. I've got houses in LA, Paris, and Vail.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Buddy) Oh.

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Miles Finch) Each one of them with a 70-inch plasma
screen. So I suggest you wipe that stupid smile off your face before I come
over there and smack it off. You feeling strong, my friend? Call me "elf"
one more time.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Buddy) He's an angry elf.

(Sound bite of scuffle)

(End of sound bite)

GROSS: And that's a little scuffle as you beat up Will Ferrell.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Yeah. Unfortunately I have to beat up Will Ferrell.

GROSS: I mean, that's a funny scene, and it's a scene--and you have a couple
of scenes like this in movies where you play the dwarf who's really annoyed at
all the stereotypes and really annoyed at how people see them. And you're
really funny about it.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Well, it kind of--yeah. Well, thanks. I mean, I like that
stuff because it kind of turns it on its head. I love comedy, and I really do
have a sense of humor about myself, or I try to at least on good days. And
obviously with that, like, sense of humor about my size. And movies like
"Elf" and "Living in Oblivion" do as well. And if it's like that, then I
really have no issue with it at all. I find it to be fun to be a part of.
And I love turning things on their head, and flipping them around like that,
which is what these movies do. And Will Ferrell I think is a comic genius.
So...

GROSS: Well, you mention "Living in Oblivion," and that's an independent film
that Steve Buscemi starred in as a director.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Right. A film within a film. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, and there's a great scene...

Mr. DINKLAGE: That was actually the first--I got really lucky. That was my
first film that I was ever in.

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. DINKLAGE: I was actually spoiled. I thought they would all be as good
as that, and they aren't. But you're lucky to be a part of something like
that.

GROSS: Should we play your scene from this film?

Mr. DINKLAGE: Sure. If you want.

GROSS: OK. So, this is "Living in Oblivion."

Mr. DINKLAGE: God. I'm going down memory lane.

GROSS: Memory lane. And Steve Buscemi plays an independent film
director--not a very good one--and this is like his big dream, surreal dream
sequence. And Catherine Keener is the actress in the sequence. And then
there's like lots of smoke and then you walk in...

Mr. DINKLAGE: In a powder blue tuxedo, I'm wearing.

GROSS: Yes. You walk in in a powder blue tuxedo, and...

Mr. DINKLAGE: Mm-hmm. Bad prom date.

GROSS: Yeah. And you really hate the scene and you let Steve Buscemi know
this--know it. And here's what he has to say.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Right.

(Sound bite from "Living in Oblivion")

Mr. STEVE BUSCEMI: (As Nick Reve) Look, Tito, it's not that big of a deal.
It's a dream. Strange things happen in a dream. All I want you to do is
laugh. Why is that such a problem for you?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Tito) Why does it have to be a dwarf?

Mr. BUSCEMI: (As Nick Reve) What?

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Tito) Why does my character have to be a dwarf?

Mr. BUSCEMI: (As Nick Reve) It doesn't have to be a dwarf.

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Tito) Then why is he? Is that the only way you can make
this a dream? Put a dwarf in it?

Mr. BUSCEMI: (As Nick Reve) No, Tito. I...

Mr. DINKLAGE: (As Tito) Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it? Do
you know anyone who's had a dream with a dwarf in it? No! I don't even have
dreams with dwarfs in them. The only place I've seen dwarfs in dreams is in
stupid movies like this. `Oh, make it weird. Put a dwarf in it.' Everyone
will go, `Whoa, whoa, whoa. It must be a...(censored by station)...dream.
There's a...(censored by station)...dwarf in it!' Well, I'm sick of it. You
can take this dream sequence and shove it up your...(censored by station).

(End of sound bite)

Mr. DINKLAGE: Angry. God, so...

GROSS: That's Peter Buscemi and my guest, Peter Dinklage in a scene from
"Living in Oblivion." That's a very funny scene, and I'm wondering--go ahead.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Oh, sorry. No, go ahead, please.

GROSS: No. You.

Mr. DINKLAGE: I just hadn't heard that in a very long time. But there's
also this weird thing, like, about anger, about angry dwarfs. People always
think, like, dwarfs are very angry people, and I also just like that about
that scene because I'm actually angry. But, yeah. Another stereotype, I
guess. Although, you know, sometimes I get mad.

GROSS: Whenever I hear that scene, I think of "Twin Peaks."

Mr. DINKLAGE: Yeah, I mean, God. That's what I was afraid of because I love
David Lynch so much. And the stuff Michael Anderson did in "Twin Peaks," the
backward talking and the dancing. But yeah, you can't help but make the
comparison between those two. I--you know. But it's not really--it's more
the frustration about you need an image to be weird, put somebody in it like a
dwarf or something.

GROSS: Your first film was "Living in Oblivion," which we heard a scene from.
So what was the audition like for your role? Because, you know, you played a
dwarf who's cast in this surreal dream scene. So what was the casting call
like for that?

Mr. DINKLAGE: I read for Tom DiCillo, the director.

GROSS: Did he know you already?

Mr. DINKLAGE: No. Actually, when he--the funny story is when he--I was
working in an office job at the time. And he called me, Tom DiCillo did
personally, to invite me to come and read. And I thought it was--he called me
at this office. I was in a cubicle, miserable, working a temp job. And I
answer the phone, and he introduced himself. And I laughed. I was like,
`Yeah, come on, man. Don't bother me at work,' and I hung up on him, thinking
it was a friend of mine because, you know, friends have a tendency to, you
know, mess with each other's heads. And as soon as I hung up on him, I kind
of froze. My hand just froze into the phone and was just thinking, that
didn't really sound like anybody I know. But thank God he called back and I
apologized to him. And I got the role, so it worked out well.

GROSS: Lucky he called back.

Mr. DINKLAGE: It's not really a funny story, Terry. I'm sorry.

GROSS: It could have been a tragic story.

Mr. DINKLAGE: It could have been a tragic story.

GROSS: Your whole career could have been blown. One anecdote.

Mr. DINKLAGE: I'm sorry. Jeez. Based on that one--I could have probably
still been in that cubicle today.

GROSS: So did that movie change your life?

Mr. DINKLAGE: Mm-mm. No. Not--I don't believe in big breaks. I think it's
a myth. I mean, there's roles that you do that really affect a lot of people
and lead to other work. But I would--I did that movie and then I went back to
working part-time jobs. And, you know, I didn't get another movie after that
movie for about eight months. And that was a brief role in some
straight-to-video movie. And no, it was tough going for many years. I wasn't
able to really pay the rent as a working actor until I was about 30. So, no,
all through my 20s--and I made that movie probably when I was about 25, so for
about five years there after "Living in Oblivion," I struggled along and, you
know, working odd jobs and getting plays with friends downtown and
occasionally appearing in some movie. But, you know, having one--a couple
scenes in an indy film, you know, doesn't break the bank.

GROSS: So, now, we heard a couple scenes in which you play a dwarf who's
really angry and sarcastic about the way somebody sees him. Have you ever in
real life been that angry and sarcastic a person in response to somebody
saying something really stupid to you?

Mr. DINKLAGE: Yes. Yes. I mean, we all have our bad days where our
patience is not even--doesn't even exist. Yeah, I mean, catch me on a bad
day, and I'm--I mean, it was different when I was younger. You know, as a
teenager, it's pretty, you know, surly, wearing a lot of black and, you know,
hating the world and all that it stands for. And it sort of heightened a
little bit if you're, you know, four and a half feet tall. That sort of
anger. But yeah, I mean, I still have bad days where if somebody does a laugh
or a point and I just confront them and sort of just say to them, `Really?
Does that really make you a better person or something doing that?' But, you
know, I try not to because that's just going to put me in a worse state of
mind, and it's not your issue, it's theirs and, God, I just try and have a
sense of humor about who I am. And the older you get, like anybody, you just
sort of let that stuff roll off your back.

GROSS: Well, now let's say you're at the airport and somebody's staring at
you. It's probably because you're in movies, not because of your height.

Mr. DINKLAGE: That's the rationale I use now. They're not looking at me
because I'm four and a half feet tall. They're looking at me because I'm a
famous, famous movie star. No, yeah, you know, I don't know.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. DINKLAGE: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Peter Dinklage plays the lead defense attorney in the new film "Find
Me Guilty," directed by Sidney Lumet.

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews a new memoir by Danielle Trussoni about
her attempt to better understand how her father's life was changed fighting in
the tunnels of Vietnam. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Maureen Corrigan reviews the book "Falling Through the
Earth" about her father's damaging legacy of service in Vietnam
TERRY GROSS, host:

Danielle Trussoni's just-published memoir is called "Falling Through the
Earth" and in it she explores the damaging legacy of her father's service in
Vietnam. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says the memoir is also an unusual
testament to the father/daughter bond.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:

Daughters and their fathers' wars. Now there's a subject that hasn't been
strip-mined yet in literature. For my generation, the wars were World War II
and Korea. As a kid, I remember standing out on the sidewalks of Queens, New
York, and having shouting matches with the other neighborhood girls about
which was the best: the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. All of our fathers
had served in the armed forces, and we were fiercely proud little female
partisans on their behalf.

Their wars bestowed a larger-than-life luster on our dads, most of whom
otherwise were just working stiffs. For Danielle Trussoni, the war she
inherited was Vietnam, which partly explains why, in her striking new memoir,
"Falling Through the Earth," her evident pride in her father's service is also
shot through with anger and bewilderment. The other complicating factor here
is that her dad, Dan Trussoni, seems to have been troubled even before the
Vietnam War further messed up his life. And Trussoni points out, it takes
that kind of man--two parts stubborn, one part insane--to fight in a tunnel.

Serving in Vietnam in 1968, Trussoni's father volunteered to be a tunnel
rat--one of those soldiers who crawled underground through a network of
tunnels and rooms searching for the Viet Cong. The tunnels were often
booby-trapped with explosives, urine-soaked punji sticks or scorpions rigged
into bamboo cages. It was virtually a suicide assignment, but Dan Trussoni,
unlike a close buddy of his whose gruesome death he witnessed, made it out by
the skin of his teeth.

Back home in Wisconsin, he married three times, fathered a bunch of kids, some
of whom he cruelly refused to acknowledge, and escaped into drinking binges,
fights, and obsessive overtime construction work. Vietnam was always present,
burdening the emotional atmosphere of the Trussoni home, sometimes even making
its presence felt tangibly. When she was a girl, Danielle Trussoni found a
human skull and trophy photos of dead Vietnamese soldiers hidden in the
basement of her family's house.

"Falling Through the Earth" is Danielle Trussoni's messy but compelling
wrestling match with her father and the legacy of his war. I say "messy" in
the sense of "not perfect," because Trussoni sometimes overwrites, like when
she describes Vietnam as "an amorphous monster that would grab hold and pull
us into it, kicking and screaming. It came to live in our house, eat dinner
at our table, sleep in our beds." Trussoni is much more winning as a writer
when she sidesteps melodrama and sticks to the gruff understatement and rueful
humor that surely must be the tone she inherited from her tough-love father.
Writing, for instance, about a bar called Roscoe's that became a second home
to her and her father, Trussoni comments, "At Roscoe's if you hadn't had the
short end of the stick most of your life, if you hadn't been screwed over in
some form or another, there was surely something wrong with you."

Trussoni's memoir splits into three alternating stories. There's the
recreation of her father's wartime experiences in Vietnam alongside her own
recollections of growing up, which include her parents' divorce and the
division of the family. Danielle Trussoni at age 10 chose to live with her
father for whom she was named and to become, as she says, his "accomplice"
while her siblings stayed with her mother. And interspersed with these two
narratives, there's also Trussoni's hypnotic account of travelling to Vietnam
as a 24-year-old woman, trying to find the source of her father's rages and
depression. Trussoni even goes so far as to take a tour down into one of the
old Viet Cong tunnel systems, squinting through the dark, desperate to figure
out what propelled her then-young father deep into this claustrophobe's
nightmare.

Crawling down into the earth, excavating deep into her own memories, Trussoni
is intent on a reconnaissance mission as foolhardy and admirable in its way as
any that her tunnel-rat father ever pulled off.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Falling Through the Earth" by Danielle Trussoni.

(Sound bite of music)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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