Richard III may be one of history’s most complex despots, but Peter Dinklage’s explanation of the deformed king’s evil sounds more Dr. Phil than Shakespeare. “I don’t think he’s ever been hugged,” Dinklage says without irony. “Anybody who becomes a serial killer or dictator, I don’t think they were shown any affection as a child.” Dinklage will be able to explore all sorts of childhood issues next month in the Public Theater’s Richard III, directed by Peter DuBois, where he’ll take the title role. Although coy about the rest of the production, the four-foot-six actor is decisive about his portrayal. “I am playing a role appropriate to my size,” he says. “But I’m not going to do that with the whole hump and twisted arm and the cane, the tying-the-girl-to-the-railroad-tracks way.”
It was his turn as a quiet train enthusiast in The Station Agent that made the 35-year-old actor a surprise sex symbol—and candidate for lead roles. “George [Wolfe, the Public’s producer] came to the premiere,” Dinklage says, “and in the middle of the movie leaned over to his assistant and said, ‘He’d be good as Richard III.’ ” Had he done Shakespeare before? “A lot of sidekick guys carrying somebody else’s luggage.” Richard, he adds, comes with its own baggage. “I’m actually quite nervous. It’s a lot of lines.”
Richard III, Public Theater; opens September 21.