There are few plays more well-known around the world than Edmond Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac. First written in 1897, it's been performed countless times in hundreds of countries – and was even responsible for introducing the word 'panache' to the English language.


Now, a new reimagining of the age-old story – told with much panache indeed – arrives in UK cinemas this week. Adapted by Erica Schmidt from her off-Broadway stage version, the film sees her husband Peter Dinklage turn in a fine performance in the lead role – perhaps the most accomplished of his impressive career to date. At the end of last year, sat down with Dinklage, who talked about taking on the role, the vital changes made for the new adaptation, and why he had to stop listening to The National.

"I mean, it's one of those classic stories," he explains, when asked about what the play meant to him prior to starring. "Even if we haven't read the script or anything, we know about the nose, and we perhaps know about the balcony scene."

Dinklage himself was well aware of Rostand's play before he initially took on the role, but he had never seen a version of it on stage. Instead, he was familiar with a couple of film adaptations – both the Gerard Depardieu version from 1990, and Roxanne, the more light-hearted Steve Martin film that reimagined the source material as a modern-day rom-com. And while he was a fan of both films, he was careful to put them out of his head during the rehearsal process, lest he found himself inadvertently adopting the mannerisms of those who'd played the part before him.

"I kind of sort of had to push all that aside, not cloud my head with different versions and just sort of make it my own again," he says. "So I didn't heavily research into past performances or anything like that, because those are some great actors and I didn't want to take anything that they did."

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As with any adaptation, there are a number of notable alterations in this new Cyrano that sets it apart from previous versions. For one thing, it's a musical – with a number of mellow ditties having been composed for the production by acclaimed rock band The National, several of them sung by Dinklage himself. Although he's proven himself as an extremely versatile actor several times over, this is something that was completely new to the former Game of Thrones star, but the opportunity to sing was one he relished.

"Having done the stage production already my familiarity with it was at a much better comfort level for me going into the film," he explains. "But everything was done very professionally. I had a vocal coach, and we really worked on the songs together.

"Plus there aren't really any big chorus numbers, they're just duets and solos and all of that – so I feel like it's more like a movie with songs rather than a musical. With musicals, people start to think about chorus numbers and big finishes and all of that stuff, and it's really not that. So that helped."

Dinklage is a big fan of The National – and says that frontman Matt Berninger is one of his favourite singers – but he made a sacrifice and stopped listening to the band in the run-up to playing the role, in order that he could make the songs his own without fear of being a copycat.

"I love the sound of his voice, and we have sort of the same baritone register," he says. "So I just didn't want to do an imitation of Matt, because we all sort of do imitations of our favourite singers, without wanting to sound like ourselves and subconsciously, I just kept doing an imitation of him. And I had to make it my own, as they say in the biz."

Aside from the music, the other crucial change is immediately notable from just a cursory glance at the poster. In every previous version of Cyrano, as referenced by Dinklage above, one of the character's most distinctive features has been his comically oversized nose – but for this version that is nowhere to be seen. For Dinklage, this was a key decision, and he thinks it will allow audiences to examine the work's themes in a more considered way.

"I thought that really opened up the whole show," he explains. "If you get rid of the nose, what are you left with? You're left with a guy who's just incapable of seeing himself worthy of love being returned to him, based on what he feels about himself.

"And with the original, it's all because of his nose. For me, personally, I always thought, what's the big deal? And when you see it in movies and on stage, you know it's a fake nose, you know it's an actor and a fake nose. So that sort of takes you out of it as well."

Dinklage is also quick to point out that his dwarfism is not "a substitute" for the nose." It just happens to be that I hitched myself to this production," he says. "As Erica said from the beginning, anybody could have played this part. Not anybody, but anybody that... it doesn't matter physically. It's just how you feel internally about yourself, and your insecurities.

"And I think that opens it up to having more and more universal appeal. Because when you see Cyrano with the big nose, you sort of stand like the rest of the characters do in judgement of it. Get rid of that, what are you left with? You're just left with what everybody goes through in the face of love, being terrified of it not being returned."

Photo credit: Peter Mountain © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Aside from those changes, Dinklage notes that Schmidt also stripped down Rostand's play – replacing a lot of the long monologues with the new love songs and ensuring it ran at a length that might be less off-putting to modern audiences. Clearly, the plan worked. Joe Wright – who directed the film – initially only attended the stage play to support his partner, Dinklage's co-star Haley Bennett. But he ended up falling in love with the show and insisted on adapting it for the big screen.

Naturally, that transition from stage to screen meant a few more changes had to be made, most notably for Dinklage in the way he pitched his performance. "Everything sort of changes," he says. "Not in terms of what your character is going through, but in terms of how you deliver, let's say a song.

"With film acting, less is more. So you just get in there with this Joe Wright close up, and you don't have to do really anything that you did on stage. And you could sing much more quietly, which was kind of nice for the more intimate pieces that are sort of almost sung out loud to myself in the show. You don't have to reach the back row anymore."

And one other thing that changed was the fight choreography – which went from being "super-stylised" on stage to a much more realistic portrayal of duelling in the film. This was something that Dinklage especially enjoyed – and he says that for the film to work at all, it was very important to get right.

"It was a lot of fun," he says. "Because other characters in the story talk about what a great swordsman I am, so you have to live up to the reputation. And so we rehearsed for a couple of months, they were very specifically choreographed, both the duel at the beginning and the fight with the 10 men and it was just great.

"You're not getting hit, but occasionally you whack them," he continues. "But they don't mind because they're tough stuntmen. And it's just there's real camaraderie on those days because everybody's looking out for each other. If you get it right it's really satisfying, job well done - and hopefully, you look a little cool in the process!"

It's been almost three years now since Dinklage's last appearance as Tyrion Lannister in the Game of Thrones finale, but he's hardly been lacking for parts since. Indeed, he's currently slated to appear in as many as four upcoming films, from a voice credit in the animated film Hitpig to the title role in superhero reboot The Toxic Avenger, and if Cyrano is anything to go by, it looks like he'll continue to go from strength to strength.

"It's sort of like the floodgates opened up a little bit," he says of the return to work after the pandemic shutdown. "Because a lot of things were backlogged and put on hold. And what's lovely is movie sets are the safest place you can be – because we're tested every day, everybody's in masks, we're really careful.

"So it was a very busy year, it was sort of back to back and I haven't been home a lot – from Cyrano straight through sitting here with you now!"

Cyrano is released in UK cinemas on Friday 25th February 2022. Looking for something to watch? Visit our Film hub for more news, interviews and features, or check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.


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