“I was looking for something different,” Peter Dinklage says of why he signed on to I Think We’re Alone Now. He certainly got his wish.
Director Reed Morano’s new film (in wide release today) is a post-apocalyptic saga like you haven’t quite seen before — one where the cause of the apocalypse doesn’t matter, where you can count the characters who appear in the film on one hand, and where silences dominate instead of explosions. You could call it the anti-disaster movie.
I Think We’re Alone Now is also a showcase for Dinklage, featuring perhaps his best film performance since his initial breakout in The Station Agent in 2003. Here Dinklage plays Dell, a man who’s seemingly content living completely on his own, with the human race having been wiped out. In his small, empty town, he develops a routine in the solitude, the utopia he’s created for himself. Morano’s touches are particularly lovely in the movie’s beginnings: We watch Dell make a meal for himself, watch him relax with a glass of wine. “It’s cool that you can keep people riveted just watching this guy do his thing,” Morano muses.
As a result, Dell barely speaks early on — but Dinklage communicates so much, so complexly, with his eyes, his movements, even his breaths. “Dell was a really complicated character for me, with very little dialogue,” he admits. Adds Morano, “Peter is one of those rare actors who’s just fascinating to watch. His facial expressions do so, so much. I find him magnetizing on screen, and when I look at him, I feel these emotions.”
“I’m so happy this movie doesn’t have a voice-over,” Dinklage says. “Just leave it to the viewer; that’s what Reed’s gift is. And that’s what film should be.” The film is complemented by lush imagery and exacting cinematography, and eventually develops into an intimate two-hander. Dell is discovered by Grace (Elle Fanning), a young interloper whose past — and motives — are unclear. To Dell’s great chagrin, she wants to stay in his company; to his great surprise, they develop a connection, a deeply loving one at that.
“We’ve certainly had our fill of both good and bad movies and TV shows about the apocalypse and how writers often see it: There’s zombies or something scientific, and there’s always a team of scientists trying to solve it or superheroes trying to fix it,” Dinklage laments. “What would happen if there were two people who didn’t have any answers, and one of them didn’t want any answers? I thought that was really interesting.”
Dinklage came aboard the project, of course, in between his Game of Thrones filming commitments. Despite the (much) smaller budget and (much) stricter time constraints for I Think We’re Alone Now, he found the experience freeing. “You have to trust your director, and your director has to trust you and give you the freedom that you’re giving them to express themselves and try new things,” he says. “It’s not always like that. It makes it much more naturalistic.… It keeps you on your toes, and [there’s] not a lot of time sitting around between takes.”
As to how it compares to Game of Thrones specifically, which he’s been working on for nearly a decade? Let’s just say Dinklage doesn’t mind moving back and forth, especially for an experience as artistically invigorating as the one Morano provided. “The joy of TV is you have that slow burn — the luxury of really not playing the arc too quickly,” he says. “But it’s 90 minutes versus 80 hours — it’s quite different, in terms of what I do, what [I] reveal and what [I] don’t.” In addition, he notes, “You have to follow a long-term narrative [on TV], and that has its own set of complications that, when you’re doing 90 minutes, you’re free of — which I like.”
As Dell and Grace grow closer, I Think We’re Alone Now goes in surprising directions. “It is meant to be his own little paradise — and it becomes her paradise too,” Morano says of her visual approach. “It’s meant to be a happy place; that’s how they feel about it. So I was visualizing it through the lens of how they’d see it.”
It’s not often how we think of how post-apocalyptic movies should look. But as Dinklage says, it’s a movie meant to make you feel things you aren’t used to from the genre. He says of what he hopes viewers take away, “We’re social creatures, the whole human race — we need each other desperately, even if we think we don’t.” He calls the film a love story, one about optimism and with a beating heart that speaks nicely to darker times. It’s why he’s proud to call himself a producer on the film.
“Dell has convinced himself he’s not worthy of love, or the world is not worthy of his love,” he concludes. “And that’s just not true.”