NEW YORK Once upon a time, Peter Dinklage would have turned down the role of the Red Dwarf Trumpkin in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian." Then his bohemian reverie met the reality of living in New York.
"I was very cautious to a fault," says Dinklage, the 4-foot-6 actor best known for "The Station Agent."
"I wanted to run a theater company. I wanted to be in Cassavetes movies. I had high expectations of what life would provide me artistically. ... I wasn't really interested in doing a movie like this because, I thought, somebody my size in a fantasy movie, I think it would be limiting or what have you."
He pauses. "The older I get, hopefully the more open-minded I am about things like that."
Consider Dinklage officially sold on big-budget fairy tales. At least this one, which opens today. He marveled at "Caspian" director Andrew Adamson's marshaling of forces to craft such a spectacle. He reveled in the thin line between where his three hours of daily makeup ended and his real face began. He got to talk shop with dwarf actor and original Ewok and "Harry Potter" veteran Warwick Davis, who plays the Black Dwarf Nikabrik in "Caspian."
"This is old hat for him," Dinklage says.
Dinklage's Trumpkin juggles cynicism and courage in a Narnia on the verge of extinction at the hands of an evil king. Trumpkin befriends the returning Pevensie children in their quest to save the realm. They succeeded the first time in the "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which grossed $750 million.
Dinklage, 38, has signed for the third screen installment of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" book series, having been told of an October start date. Until then, he plans to shoehorn in a few indies and play the title role in "Uncle Vanya" (directed by his wife, Erica Schmidt) in July at Bard Summerscape at Annandale-on-Hudson in New York.
So he gets his blockbuster work and Chekhov, too.
Dinklage's goals in show business have changed, although he is not consciously changing them, he says.
"It's getting older and knowing your priorities. It's good to have goals, but if you set those goals too specifically, you're going to be disappointed. And you're not going to be open to other things, I think."
He has done nearly two dozen projects since "The Station Agent," including "Find Me Guilty," "Underdog," "Death at a Funeral" and a recurring role on the FX series "Nip/Tuck," but his breakthrough performance as an isolated train buff in "The Station Agent" (2003) is the one people keep mentioning, he says.
It marked the first time a dwarf assumed the lead in a dramatic film released by a studio.
"It's a very simple story told very beautifully," he says. "Everybody can relate to loneliness, at least I can, and everybody in that movie could."
He discloses that his father died shortly after "The Station Agent." Informed that this is the Barbara Walters portion of the interview, he says, "And this is when I shut down. I don't talk about my family, man. He was a great guy. ..."
Dinklage's voice trails off. A brief silence takes over the room, and we enjoy the 52nd-floor hotel room view of the Hudson River and his native New Jersey. He graduated from Bennington College in Vermont before swearing his fealty to the theater scene in New York. He has never left, but he has moved on from rowdier days. He and Schmidt eloped to Las Vegas in April 2005. Marriage, he says, "makes you happier. It makes you complete."
An off- and off-off-Broadway regular, Dinklage nearly sabotaged his film career before it started when he hung up on director Tom DiCillo, who called to see if he was interested in playing a difficult actor in "Living in Oblivion" (1995). He got the part anyway, and the movie became a cult hit.
Despite his success, the actor professes no desire to be a flag bearer for the small in stature. If his performances inspire actors of all sizes, that's fine by him.
"I don't like to draw attention to myself," he says, then laughs. "I don't have it bad. It's hard for me to advocate something in that the conditions aren't that bad for me. What am I advocating? For little people. What does that mean? ... Every actor has it rough. I didn't have it rougher than anyone else. There's people my age waiting tables, and all they wanted to do was act, and here I am in a high-rise talking to you about 'Narnia.' It's sort of, 'How dare I talk about how hard it is and what to do."'
And sometimes it's saying "yes" to mass entertainment when the tortured thespian inside is saying no.
Says Dinklage: "When I was younger, I would have missed a golden opportunity."