Sacha Gervasi Details His Real-Life Connection to Hervé
By Allie Waxman
The writer-director opens up about the interview that inspired the film and the message he hopes audiences take away.
HBO: How much of the story in My Dinner With Hervé is inspired by your own experiences?
Sacha Gervasi: A large part of it. In the summer of 1993 I was a young journalist who was sent to L.A. to do several interviews for a British newspaper — the least important of which was a quick “Where are they now?” piece about Hervé Villechaize, who played Tattoo on the show Fantasy Island. After our interview, as I was packing my things away, he walked around the table and pulled a knife on me and said, “Now I’ve told you all ze bullshit stories, would you like to hear the real story of my life?” Things were never the same for me after that.
HBO: Are you reflected in the character of Danny Tate?
Sacha Gervasi: It’s a very personal film. The basic facts are true. A few days after I came home, Hervé’s girlfriend, Kathy, called me to say Hervé had shot himself a few hours before. I was the last journalist to interview him. That said, the personal details about Danny Tate and the relationship with his ex-girlfriend have been dramatized to increase the stakes for the character. In real life, I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time.
HBO: Hervé Villechaize is sometimes treated as a punch line. Were you consciously trying to change that, and present him as a three-dimensional person?
Sacha Gervasi: Yes. I just wanted to tell the truth about the person who I had actually met, rather than the persona he had from the show. I went into the interview having pre-judged Hervé. I thought our encounter would be no more than a good dinner party story for my friends back in London — I mean how could this surreal Fellini-esque creature be a real human being? But he was. The film is about how dangerous it can be to judge. Who is this person you are looking at once you knock down the wall between you and see them as they really are, rather than just seeing the color of their skin or how tall they are?
HBO: What would you like audiences to take away from My Dinner With Hervé?
Sacha Gervasi: If the audience connects with the film and ends up caring about these two characters who look so incredibly different but are ultimately so similar, I hope they are provoked into thinking about how we all sometimes rush to judgment without thinking, without knowing the full truth. Perhaps some will consider their own lives and ask, “Is there something in my life that I am not taking responsibility for?” That would certainly be wonderful. But if the audience just ends up having a great time, Peter, Jamie and I would be more than thrilled with that too!