Sacha Gervasi, the writer and director of “My Dinner with Hervé,” was working at the U.K Publication, “The Mail on Sunday,” as a journalist, in 1993. Among other stories he worked on that year, he was tasked with interviewing a former television star. The star Gervasi was sent to interview was Golden Globe nominee Hervé Villechaize, best known for his work as Tattoo on “Fantasy Island.” The series ran from January 14, 1977 through May 19, 1984 on ABC Television (American Broadcasting Company). Initially dismissive of Villechaize as nothing more than someone who spoke the lines “da plane – da plane,” as well as a memorable turn in the 1974 James Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” which starred Golden Globe winner Roger Moore, and BAFTA winner Christopher Lee, Gervasi was less than thrilled about having to conduct the interview. Gervasi discovers, however, over the course of the five days that the interview takes place, that there was a great deal more to Villechaize’s life, outside of his famous catch phrase. (As an aside: The teleplay Gervasi wrote for the movie was based on a story he had co-written with Sean Macaulay (Eddie the Eagle).
Portraying Villechaize in the movie is Golden Globe and multiple Emmy winner Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones). In the role of Gervasi, who in the film is referred to as Danny Tate, is BAFTA nominee Jamie Dornan (The Fall). The film begins when Tate meets Villechaize in Los Angeles; it is the first interview the actor has given in a decade. The story was assigned to Tate by his editor, Mrs. Baskin (Harriet Walter), as more of a joke, than a serious assignment. In fact, Baskin informs Tate that she wants him to write a humorous, five hundred word story, on the most famous dwarf in the world, in order for it to coincide with the 20th anniversary of “The Man with the Golden Gun.” The primary purpose, however, for Tate being sent by his London publication to Los Angeles, is to interview Gore Vidal (Michael Elwyn). The piece, which Tate is assigned to write, he is told, will be a hatchet job, something which Tate objects to, but if he wants to stay employed, he is not in a position to turn it down. In fact, Tate has very little else going for him. Tate’s wife, Katie (Oona Chaplin) has left him, and taken their child with her to stay at her mother’s (Sabina Franklyn) house. Additionally, Tate is a recovering alcoholic, and has only recently been allowed back to work, after managing to remain sober for one month.
Villechaize makes the most out of what will be his final interview. He talks for so long that Tate winds up arriving late at the restaurant where his interview with Vidal, was scheduled to take place. Vidal is dismissive and unconcerned with Tate’s excuses, and is not accepting of Tate’s apologies, and rather than proceeding with the meeting, simply leaves the restaurant. Tate feels dejected, knowing that he has blown, what perhaps is, his last chance at redeeming himself to his employer.
Once back at his hotel, he struggles to fight off the urge to drink the alcohol contained in the mini-bar; alcohol which he had politely asked hotel staff, to remove hours earlier. Tate is on the verge of giving up his sobriety, when he receives a phone call. The call is from Villechaize, with whom he didn’t part company on the most pleasant of terms. Villechaize wants his story to be told, and is waiting downstairs for Tate. He is going to reveal the truth of all that has been rumored over the years, as the two are chauffeured around in a white stretch limousine.
Throughout the course of the wild night, Villechaize discusses a wide variety of topics pertaining to his life, which are shown to the viewer via flashback. His story begins with his birth in Nazi occupied Paris, France, in 1943, as the ambulance that is carrying his pregnant mother crashes, while trying to avoid bombs that are being dropped from the sky. As the story continues to unfold into the early post World War II years, the viewer is made aware that Villechaize’s mother (Félicité Du Jeu), rejects him, in favor of his brother, Patrick (Tommy Beck). His physician father (Alex Gaumond), however, is shown to be very loving toward him, and is seeking out every possible experimental procedure to help Villechaize combat his rare condition of dwarfism. Not everything that is revealed in flashbacks about Villechaize early life is tinged with sadness. For example, he was a successful painter, who was respected by his peers. Additionally, he was determined to go to New York City, learn to speak English, and become a working actor; a goal which through his determination, and unconventional ways, doesn’t take long for him to achieve.
As the evening progresses, Villechaize delves into his life, once his fame took off with “Fantasy Island.” He falls, however, into the category of an unreliable narrator, revealing only that which he wants to reveal from his point-of-view. The viewer, however, will learn the whole truth of what took place. Villechaize’s story, in essence, serves as a cautionary tale to Tate, who, unlike his subject, still has time to turn his life around, and get his ego in check.
“My Dinner with Hervé” premiered on HBO on October 20, 2018. In addition to the aforementioned actors, the 110 minute film featured, amongst others, the following: Emmy winner David Strathairn (Temple Grandin), as Villechaize’s agent, Marty Rothstein; Golden Globe nominee Mireille Enos (The Killing), plays Kathy Self, a production assistant on “Fantasy Island,” who wound up falling in love with Villechaize, and becoming his girlfriend. She cares for him, and looks out for him, like few others in his life. Furthermore, there is Oscar nominee Andy Garcia (The Godfather: Part III). He portrays Emmy winner Ricardo Montalban (How the West was Won), who played Fantasy Island’s host, Mr. Roarke. Additionally, Wallace Langham, plays a small role as prolific television producer, and two time Emmy winner, Aaron Spelling (Charlie’s Angels). While “My Dinner with Hervé” is a standard biopic to be sure, it was none-the-less interesting, and Peter Dinklage, per his usual, was excellent.