Peter Dinklage was never very interested in playing the lead role in “Cyrano de Bergerac” — until a new musical adaptation of the story got rid of the fake nose that has come to define the character in the minds of many.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
“It didn’t really speak to me,” said Dinklage of the original 1897 Edmond Rostand play. Speaking on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast, he explained, “It was very theatrical and it was all about a guy and a nose, and inevitably the nose was a fake nose, and [the role] was played by a handsome actor… I always thought, What’s the big deal? It’s just a handsome actor in a fake nose. He gets to take it off after each show.”
The part only caught his eye when the writer-director Erica Schmidt (also Dinklage’s wife) started work on a musical that imagined a Cyrano sans prosthetic schnoz. The adaptation, with songs by members of the band The National, premiered first as a stage musical in 2018 with Dinklage playing Cyrano — a role he’s now reprised in “Cyrano,” the movie version directed by Joe Wright with a screenplay by Schmidt.
With the nose gone and Dinklage in the role, the actor’s height becomes the physical difference that makes Cyrano so wary of declaring his feelings for Roxanne, the woman he loves. This version of the character, Dinklage said, “really spoke to me because it still had the same heart to it and the same vulnerability of this character. He still had the same complexity, because he’s so brave in one aspect of his life, fighting and war and all of that, but he’s totally nervous and doesn’t know what to do in the face of love.”
Wright decided he wanted to make a movie version of “Cyrano” after catching that initial stage production, but when the pandemic intervened the challenges and obstacles multiplied. Still, producers and creatives persevered, and shot the film — with a cast that also includes Hayley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. and Ben Mendelsohn — in Sicily in the fall of 2020.
“In a weird way I think COVID and the pandemic gave us a rebellious quality of [being] really hungry and really wanting to get it made, and get people paid so they can feed their families again,” Dinklage said. “It infused the filmmaking with a real outsider, guerrilla aesthetic, in terms of getting it done.”
Also on the new episode of Stagecraft, Dinklage reminisced about filming on the side of an active volcano, revealed some of the great roles he’d like to revisit, and explained why the enduring story of Cyrano, in which the character ghost-writes love letters to Roxanne for the handsome soldier Christian, resonates so strongly today.
“He has an avatar speaking for him,” Dinklage said of Cyrano. “With profiles online, the internet has created a heavy gauze between ourselves and who the world thinks we are. [‘Cyrano de Bergerac’] was written 120 years ago, but it reminds me of today’s catfishing. That’s what it is. It’s catfishing.”
To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.