You might recognize Peter Dinklage from his Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning role as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. Though it seems obvious that he would be winning awards for a great role like this now, Peter’s career trajectory was a lot less certain when he started out.
As much as he’d like to, Peter finds it hard to separate himself from his dwarfism when it comes to choosing acting roles. When he remembers early years in his career spent in an unheated Brooklyn apartment full of rats, he doesn’t despair at the lack of roles he was offered, but rather the types of roles.
In the early years… every November brought a wave of calls from casting directors with elf roles.
Jonathan Marc Sherman, a playwright who attended Bennington College with Peter, said having a support group made it easier to turn those down:
Having the group of friends helps you stick to what your instincts are telling you to do.
Saying no is okay
Peter wasn’t interested in playing roles that focused on his height, which led him to turn down many jobs that others might have jumped at. Jonathan doesn’t think he would have had the same resolve, though:
If they’d offered me those elf roles, I would’ve taken them in a second.
Peter got acquainted with the process of turning down roles perhaps earlier in his career than many actors would. He struggled early on, as he was unable to book commercial jobs because he wouldn’t play elves or leprechauns. The focus on his height in these roles was unacceptable for Peter.
It’s a constant reminder… Every single page, almost every single line, is geared towards your height. In my day-to-day life, in any person who is my size’s day-to-day life, it happens, but it’s not a constant.
He quickly got used to saying no, turning down well-paid roles on principle.
I think ‘no’ is a very powerful word in our business, that is very hard to use early on in your career… but I also think I was pretty arrogant when I was younger… I used that word maybe too much but it did help me with finding roles that I did like.
Saying yes to the right opportunities
Peter’s success in Game of Thrones adds a pleasing new chapter to his story. We rarely see people rewarded for turning down work based on principle, but Peter proves that “you can say no. You can not be the object of ridicule,” and it won’t necessarily mean your career is doomed.
Peter says that Tyrion Lannister is a well-rounded character, which is what every actor wants.
It does address the size issue, but it doesn’t knock you over the head with it. Because you don’t really need to.
Don’t be afraid to say no
Turning down offers can be scary—whether it’s one of your first or one of many you’ve received this morning. We often let the fear of what others will think of us (will I seem arrogant if I say no?) or a worry of lack of opportunities (what if I turn this down and don’t get another offer?) push us into saying ‘yes’ when we’d rather not.
Peter’s story is a great reminder of how well things can turn out when we stick to our guns and say ‘no’ sometimes. Keep him in mind next time you feel pressured to accept an opportunity that doesn’t feel right.