Peter Dinklage is an award winning actor who is best known for his role as the quick-witted Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. He has completely re-defined what it means to be a leading man in Hollywood. Today, he has an estimated net worth of $25 million, and continues to book amazing gigs performing in blockbuster hit movies as well as indie films. However, life wasn’t always glamorous for Peter Dinklage. He struggled with poverty, discrimination, and years of self-doubt. Peter didn’t fully commit to starting his journey as a professional actor until he was 29, and had his first big break at 34. On top of that, he didn’t start making millions until he was in his 40’s.
SINCE HE WAS A BOY, PETER DINKLAGE KNEW WAS DESTINED TO BE AN ACTOR
Peter Dinklage was born in Morristown, New Jersey with achondroplasia, which is a form of dwarfism that shortened his limbs. He only grew up to be 4ft 5in (134 cm) tall. His father was an insurance salesman, and his mother was an elementary school music teacher. While they didn’t make a lot of money, his parents always tried to make sure he was enrolled in private schools where he could receive the best education possible. These schools also had great theater programs, and he was in his first play in the fifth grade. When he was a little boy, Peter and his brother Jonathan would put on puppet shows together, and their mother encouraged them to explore their musical talent.
Even though Peter’s parents had given him everything they possibly could to help him get ahead in life, he still resented being born a dwarf. Deep down, he knew that he wanted to grow up to become an actor. But as a dwarf, he was taught to believe that he could never be a leading man. In Hollywood, lead roles were always given to men who were tall, dark, and handsome. This caused a lot of angst for him when he was a teenager. But instead of giving in to the anger, he found a lot of joy in the arts.
After graduating from High School, Peter Dinklage enrolled at a private school called Bennington College in Vermont, which has an amazing theater program. Finally, he had a place where he felt that he could express himself and find lifelong friends. He had big dreams of running his own theater company where he could write plays and perform on stage as a leading man. For four years, he got to enjoy being surrounded by creativity. He had the freedom to write, perform, and be exactly who he wanted to be. For a brief time, he was surrounded by people who were equally as passionate about acting, and the future looked bright.
ADULTHOOD WAS A HARSH WAKE-UP CALL
After graduation, the fun was over. Peter Dinklage was on his own, and his parents no longer supported him financially. He moved to New York City and began going on auditions for acting gigs. At the time, he didn’t even have a bank account, or established credit. He was also still in student loan debt, so he was essentially starting at less than zero. Since he was completely broke, Peter Dinklage depended on the generosity of his friends. He would sleep on his friend’s apartment floors and couches for free, until he outstayed his welcome. At first, he was determined not to get a day job, because he knew deep down in his soul that he was meant to be an actor. However, the need for an income eventually caught up with him.
This made me very hungry... Literally. I couldn’t be lazy.
He found a job dusting the merchandise at a piano shop, and stayed for 5 months. Then, he spent a year working as a gardener. Yet another job was spent hanging art in a gallery. All the while, he went on auditions throughout New York City, but he said “no” to playing demeaning roles meant for people with dwarfism like elves or leprechauns. He wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, and be judged for his talent rather than his height.
Eventually, he made enough money from all of his part-time jobs to find a permanent spot on the floor of a friend’s apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Unfortunately, this also ended in disaster. His roommate had a mental breakdown, and ended up joining a cult. Now, he was all alone, and needed to get serious about finding work.
FOR 6 YEARS, PETER DINKLAGE WORKED A JOB HE HATED
When he was 23 years old, Peter Dinklage found a full-time data entry job at a place called Professional Examination Services. At the time, this felt like his dreams had completely died. In his mind, getting a full-time job was the same thing as giving up. For the next 6 years of his life, he worked this miserable job.
None of his co-workers enjoyed the job either, and they would all openly talk about who they drank all night and showed up to work hungover. Peter would call out sick on many Fridays, because he spent the night before partying to dull the pain. However, he was making enough money to pay rent and take care of himself.
Rent for his industrial loft in Brooklyn was only $400 a month. The apartment was cold, and there was no heat. In the shower, there was dirt with mushrooms growing on it, and rats infested the walls. Across the street, there was a chemical factory that made the air difficult to breath. Even though this apartment was less-than-perfect, he stayed there for 10 years, because it was all he could afford.
At this point in his life, Peter Dinklage had given up on his dreams. Even though he couldn’t see it at the time, everything he needed to succeed was inside of him all along. He had all the talent, experience, and passion to become an actor. The only thing holding him back was fear.
I waited a long time out in the world before I gave myself permission to fail. Please don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it. Do it.
At age 29, he finally had enough with living an unhappy life and ignoring his dreams. He decided to take the next acting job that came along, no matter what it paid. By taking this leap of faith, the universe rewarded him by giving him a part in a play called “Imperfect Love”. Soon after, the writer of the play had his script turned into a movie called 13 Moons, which was Peter Dinklage’s first film gig. One opportunity led to another, and he was able to find consistent work. Finally, he was able to say that he was an actor, and he could surround himself with writers, directors, and all of the people he truly felt he was meant to be working with.
AFTER YEARS OF WAITING, HE FINALLY FOUND MASSIVE SUCCESS
One of the biggest turning points in his career happened in 2003, when Peter Dinklage starred in a movie called The Station Agent. This won 3 different awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and he finally became a more well-known actor in the indie film scene at 34 years old. For the next few years, he would get roles in several movies and TV series. In 2005, he married his long-time friend from college, a writer and director named Erica Schmidt.
Raise the rest of your life to meet you. Don’t search for defining moments, because they will never come. The moments that define you have already happened. And they will happen again.
Getting the role on Game of Thrones in 2011 completely changed his life. Instead of being pigeon-holed into a stereotypical role of a dwarf, the character of Tyrion Lannister was a fully fleshed human being. Eventually, as the show became more popular, Peter Dinklage was able to earn over $1 million per episode. During the filming of the TV series, Peter Dinklage only had to work 3 months out of the year. He had the choice to relax, since he made plenty of money from Game of Thrones. But he continued to hustle and audition for more acting jobs. For the other 9 months of the year, he was able to work in smaller independent films and off-Broadway plays.
So...Does he regret the fact that it took so long for him to find success in his career? During an interview with The Guardian, Peter Dinklage said that he was actually glad that he only started making a lot of money when he was older, and already married. He believes that when actors make too much at a young age, it can lead to a lot of partying and other destructive behavior that might have ruined his life.
As they say, timing is everything. Sometimes, destiny has a way of giving you what you need, exactly when you need it. But during his commencement speech given at Bennington College, he encouraged graduates to pursue their dreams at an earlier age, so that there is no wasted time at a dead-end job they hate. Don’t wait until someone gives you permission to go after your dreams. Just do it.