I've kept a close eye on Peter Dinklage ever since he played a diminutive hitman in the underrated indie comedy Safe Men (if you've never seen it, rent it). But finding roles for Dinklage is simultaneously easy and challenging. Dinklage was born with a condition called Achondroplasia, which causes dwarfism—so whenever a script calls for a little person, an elf, or anyone else who's only as tall as a nightstand, Dinklage usually ends up on the casting agent's shortlist. For every other role, things aren't so simple.
Aside from 2003's The Station Agent, for which Dinklage was showered with praise as the star, roles written for little people are few, far between, and often one-dimensional. That's why, when HBO first announced its plans to adapt Game of Thrones for TV, Dinklage came up as a must-have for the role of Tyrion Lannister.
Tyrion isn't a dwarf—he's an intelligent, cunning, and humorous member of royal nobility who just so happens to be a dwarf. Big difference. Game of Thrones is bringing many actors into the public eye for the first time, but the first name to roll off everyone's tongue is Dinklage's, because he's satisfied newbies and Game of Thrones superfans alike with his depth, charm, and command of the screen.
Dinklage belongs in the running for Best Supporting Actor nominations this year, but if he's going to make a splash, he'll have to overcome new prejudice, one that's not related to his size: He also faces the challenge of being a sci-fi/fantasy actor.
Since 2000 (let's say that's the year sci-fi started to be considered "cool"), only two actors from sci-fi/fantasy shows have won a Lead or Supporting Emmy: Terry O'Quinn (2007) and Michael Emerson (2009). Both men won for their supporting roles on Lost, a spectacle that transcended its genre and still had a difficult time going mainstream. But that show was contemporary and didn't involve characters in full doublets, drawing swords, and talking about dragons.
After years of doubting that Emmy voters will ever consider anything that might be deemed "nerdy," I think this is the year things could change. And it all starts with Dinklage. It doesn't matter whether someone is playing a 1960s ad man or a dwarf who loves whores—he's still acting. Dinklage has faced one of the most challenging tasks of the year so far—turning a little person into a formidable foe in a world dominated by brute strength and fear—and he's nailed it without blinking an eye. That's an acting job that deserves recognition.
My favorite Tyrion scene so far is from Game of Thrones' third episode, when Tyrion and Jon Snow got to know each other by the campfire; I think Dinklage simply owned that scene. But Tyrion's most memorable moment so far is the one in the video below, when Tyrion punked Lysa's court.
If we hear Dinklage's name when the 2011 Emmy nominations are announced on July 14, it will signal a big step toward focusing on an actor's performance instead of the program he's performing in. And if he wins, it will be even better.
Do you think Peter Dinklage will earn an Emmy nomination this year? If not, why?
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Margo Martindale, Justified for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom