Peter Dinklage and ‘Cyrano’ enter awards season with acclaimed Telluride debut

Peter Dinklage has received no shortage of awards recognition in his lauded career. The actor won a record four Emmy Awards in the Best Supporting Actor category for “Game of Thrones” and has two Screen Actors Guild Awards for being part of the “Game of Thrones” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” ensembles. But despite the frequent honors over the last decade, Academy Awards acknowledgment has eluded Dinklage — something that very well could change this year thanks to his performance in Joe Wright’s new film “Cyrano.”

Made during the pandemic and set for release by MGM in theaters at the end of the year, “Cyrano” is a musical based on the stage play by Erica Schmidt, who is married to Dinklage. Featuring original songs written by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner, the film focuses on the prideful poet Cyrano (Dinklage) and his relationship with the woman for whom he holds an unrequited love, Roxanne (Haley Bennett). Their long friendship is tested, however, when a young soldier named Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) catches Roxanne’s eye and requires the words of Cyrano to help woo the young woman. Equal parts hilarious farce and devastating drama, Wright keeps the tones from crashing down and provides Dinklage with perhaps his best role to date.

“It was an extraordinary honor to get to work with Pete on this and this character,” Wright said at a tribute to Dinklage in Telluride. “What really makes a good film is the right actor in the right role, and story first, actor second. Pete is certainly the right actor in the right role. He was able to drop any kind of defensiveness and open himself to the love of the piece and that was really really special.”

Judging by the early response to “Cyrano,” Wright’s praise for Dinklage isn’t misplaced. “Dinklage plays every aspect of the character from comedic to dramatic without a missing a beat or the substance of this extraordinary man,” Deadline’s Pete Hammond wrote in his review of “Cyrano.” “Although Cyrano has been played by way too many actors to count over the years, Dinklage makes it so fresh, so alive, and so potent it feels like we are seeing Cyrano depicted for the very first time.”

Even mixed reviews of the film have hailed Dinklage so far. “Although he’s not the cast’s strongest singing voice, Dinklage’s acting is much more enjoyable. He brings a profound sense of passion and rejection to convey Cyrano’s inner turmoil on the screen. He relishes selling the difficulty of action sequences, bringing ferocious energy and a balletic quality to some of the fight choreography,” The Wrap critic Monica Castillo wrote. “It’s a performance that works well with Wright’s inclusion of contemporary dancers. Dinklage’s heartbroken expression when Bennett’s Roxanne tells Cyrano that she’s in love with someone else is quite the acting feat. As he tenses his face, his eyes begin to well up with tears, but instead of blinking and letting them run, he stays frozen, holding his shattered expression in every muscle.”

It’s still early in the season but Dinklage enters what’s shaping up to be an already crowded Best Actor field. On Thursday evening at Telluride alone, two other top contenders — Will Smith in “King Richard” and Joaquin Phoenix in “C’mon C’mon” — also debuted, just after Benedict Cumberbatch wowed audiences with “The Power of the Dog.” But based on the emotional response to “Cyrano” — at both of its Telluride screenings, multiple viewers were in tears by its conclusion — Dinklage could emerge as a serious threat to add an Oscar to his Emmys.

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