Best of 2018: Paul Feig Talks Sacha Gervasi’s My Dinner With Hervé

The director of Spy, Ghostbusters and A Simple Favor singles out one of his top films of the year.

I’m in London at the moment directing a new movie, and I recently saw the HBO movie My Dinner with Hervé at a screening at the Soho Hotel, right before it aired. I was really blown away by how good it was, and how emotional it was. It’s based on the experiences the writer-director Sacha Gervasi had interviewing the actor Hervé Villechaize, and when I first heard about it, I had no idea what it was going to be like. But it was really great, and checked a lot of boxes for me: it was funny, but it was also heartbreaking and felt very real.

I was especially impressed by the performance of Peter Dinklage, who plays Hervé – it’s really hard to pull off that kind of role, to not make it a comedic impersonation but really find the soul in the character. Sadly, I’d never previously thought about Hervé Villechaize as anything but a funny side character from an old ’80s TV show and one of the James Bond movies, who apparently was out of control, but Peter makes him into a truly complex character and brings such humanity to his performance.

When we first meet Hervé, he’s in a restaurant smoking cigars and drinking and eating huge amounts of food, and you assume this is going to be a story of ridiculous star excess, a crazy, funny story – not about some rock star, but instead the guy who played the sidekick to Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island. But then we flash back to Hervé’s childhood, and it’s just absolutely heartbreaking. We become emotionally invested in his story because of what he went through – how his mother rejected him and how his father tried so hard to cure him of endocrine disorder, but couldn’t.

The challenge with biopics like this is that we all know the main character is ultimately heading for a very well-publicized fall. But seeing anybody as a kid humanizes them so much, so that when you see them going through health issues and personal issues, you’re in. If we were just mired in Hervé’s story the entire time, constantly worrying he’s going to go off the deep end, it might become too much, but Jamie Dornan’s character – this reporter who is dealing with his own problems – functions as a great counterpoint.

Knowing that this was a personal experience that Sacha went through made the film special for me. I love stories that are based on things the person telling it really went through, because they are so unique and so personal. When I saw Sacha after the screening, I went up and hugged him. He was very emotional, as it took him 20 years to get My Dinner with Hervé to the screen, and I was very emotional, too – the film really got me. I told him how much I loved the movie and how blown away I was by it. A day or two later, I couldn’t stop thinking about the film, so I wrote him an email saying how much the movie had really stuck with me. I wanted to make sure he knew that I wasn’t just saying I loved the film because we’re friends and I was being polite. Sometimes, you have to say to people, “Listen to me, I’m not just being nice, this was actually fantastic!” It was really important to me that he understood that.

Paul Feig is a director, writer, producer and actor working in film and television. He is the creator of the beloved TV series Freaks and Geeks, and has directed episodes of numerous shows, including, The Office, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Mad Men. His recent films as director include Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy and Ghostbusters, all of which star Melissa McCarthy. His latest feature, the thriller A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, came out in September. He lives in Los Angeles.