The great actor on Spielberg, Spidey and snakes…
Alfred Molina is much more than Doc Ock.
London-born Alfred Molina was already a renowned stage actor when he made his film debut in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. But it was Prick Up Your Ears that was his true breakthrough, leading to a career spanning four decades and working for the likes of Sam Raimi, Paul Thomas Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. His new play Red is being beamed into cinemas…
Red was a play you couldn’t resist…
I started reading it and by page 10, I thought, “Oh shit, I’ve got to do this.” It’s not a punch-the-air moment. It’s actually rather depressing. You feel all your other options falling away.
When playing a real-life character such as painter Mark Rothko in Red, how much is on the page and how much do you have to research?
It’s both, really. You do have a certain responsibility not to misrepresent them. It would have been foolish if I’d walked in and said, “I’m going to play him Irish, with a limp, because I think that’s artistically interesting.”
You’ve moved between film, TV and theatre. Do you have a preference?
It’s all work. My criteria throughout my
life has always been: stay employed. I’ve never been one of those actors who have any grand notions about certain parts they want to play. I just think, “I want to pay my bills.”
Your film debut was Raiders Of The Lost
Ark. How was working with Spielberg?
Amazing. Spielberg was a star director. Harrison Ford was a star actor. I was very excited to be a part of it. I knew nothing. My training was specifically for the theatre. I never hit my marks. They put this tape down, and I completely ignored it. I didn’t realise it was for me. Dougie [Slocombe, DoP] must have been really frustrated. Eventually he came around from behind the camera and spoke to me very quietly. He said, “What you’re doing is lovely. And it would be great if we could actually see you do it.”
Another classic is Stephen Frears’
Prick Up Your Ears. On set, did you and Gary Oldman feel like you were capturing something special?
I remember feeling, “This is good.” But whether or not my feeling translates into something that will stand the test of time? I’ve no idea. I’ve had that feeling of ‘this is good’ on movies that have turned out to be a piece of shit.
Your Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2 is an iconic baddie…
I was very proud of it. I’d never worked on a film with that level of technology before. When I compare what they were doing with the way we shot Raiders? You know that scene where Harrison is lowering himself into the snake pit? That was real snakes in a pit. The only thing separating them from Harrison was a very thin piece of glass. Now it would just be a green circle on the floor and they’d put it all in afterwards.
Was shooting the firecracker scene in Boogie Nights as mad as it looks?
It was minutely choreographed. Paul [Thomas Anderson] created this atmosphere in a very subtle way. The young actor who was playing my kid was lighting full-strength crackers. They were really bursting. But in order to create this weird mood, my ears were plugged up. All I could hear was a muffled ‘phoooof’ because Paul wanted me to be wandering through all this madness and not jumping at the sound of the crackers. The guys on the sofa were hearing it full bore.
Finally, how was it playing Robert Aldrich in the TV series Feud, caught between Susan Sarandon’s Bette Davis and Jessica Lange’s Joan Crawford?
Very exciting! The chance to work with Jessica and Susan? It was a no-brainer. And it was a great role. Luckily, I almost matched Robert in physique. I’m a little bit taller than he was, but I’ve certainly got the right girth. I didn’t have to put on weight – I’d already done it.
ETA | 7 NOVEMBER / RED SCREENS IN CINEMAS FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY IN NOVEMBER.
‘i’ve never had grand notions. my criteria has always been: stay employed’
seeing red (top to bottom) molina with harrison Ford in Raiders Of The Lost Ark; as villain dr. octopus in Spider-Man 2; as painter mark rothko in Red.
artist in residence molina returns to both theatres and cinemas with new play Red.