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Happy birthday, Peter Dinklage!

HBO / Today
Peter Dinklage

George R.R. Martin created one of modern literature's great characters when he invented Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is a dwarf in a world where strength and size mean survival, and in a family where power and appearance is everything.

HBO's "Game of Thrones" TV series had to rise and fall on whether Tyrion onscreen could be the witty, intelligent charmer he is in the book series, all while managing to remind viewers that he's someone who's had to struggle from birth against a condition he has no control over.

The show succeeded because of the great talents of Peter Dinklage, who turns 43 today.

You may know Dinklage from "The Station Agent," "Elf," or other appearances, but it was as Tyrion that he became known to a wider audience.

Dinklage was born with achondroplasia, a common cause of dwarfism. He stands 4 feet 5 inches tall, and naturally, he had trouble dealing with his size growing up, he told the New York Times. But thanks to a strong family (all are regular height), he persevered in a field that's difficult for anyone, but especially for someone Hollywood wanted to cast as a leprechaun wearing curled-up shoes and a long beard.

The Times profile notes that Dinklage was wary even of the Tyrion role, but soon realized that his character was by far the fans' favorite, and not because he is in any way a cute mascot or stereotype. Tyrion is, the Times notes, "the only modern man in a muddy, violent, primal world."

He's also a lone American in a world of British actors, and he stands toe-to-toe with them, his proper diction and accent never letting you know he was born in New Jersey, not Nottingham.

Tyrion gets all the best lines, and Dinklage knows how to deliver them. "I chopped wood once," he says, then rethinks. "No, I watched my brother chopping wood."

And he and he alone gets to stand in for the viewer and deliver a smackdown to horrendous child king Joffrey Baratheon, storming, "We've had vicious kings, and we've had idiot kings, but I don't know if we've ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king!"

Dinklage doesn't dwell on his size, he doesn't need to -- it can't ever be changed. But he chooses his moments to address it carefully. After winning a Golden Globe, he delivered a brief but touching mention of Martin Henderson, a British man who was injured by a bar idiot who thought he'd do some dwarf-tossing.

It's the perfect melding of role and actor, and both are outstanding. Peter Dinklage and Tyrion Lannister both fight against those who judge them on their looks every day. If the land of Westeros is a tough place for those who look different, perhaps only Hollywood could be seen as tougher.

Happy birthday, Peter Dinklage!

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