Award-winning actor Alfred Molina may be most recognized for the heavies he has played on screen: the treacherous Satipo during the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark (which marked Molina’s film debut); Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2; and Snidely Whiplash in the live-action version of Dudley Do-Right, among others.
In person, though, the British-born Molina is genial, complimentary and very funny. He co-stars with John Lithgow in the acclaimed drama Love is Strange, opening August 22nd. They play a longtime, recently-married gay couple, Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina), who finds their lives turned upside down when George is subsequently fired by his Catholic school employers. Molina recently spoke with us about his new film and other highlights of his career.
CC: Thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to speak with me. I understand you’re currently shooting a new TV series, Matador, in which you star. How is it going?
AM: Yeah, it’s on the El Rey network, the new network founded by (filmmakers) Roberto Orci and Robert Rodriguez. It’s gone quite well. I’ve done television shows before but I don’t understand everything about how TV shows are viewed and rated today. But I understand the audience anticipation was big.
CC: How did your new and excellent movie, Love is Strange, find its way to you?
AM: In the usual way. I got sent the script to gauge my interest. By page 20, I was thinking “Oh shit, I’ve got to do this” (laugh). Then, I had a couple of long phone conversations with Ira Sachs, the writer-director (who last made the gay-themed, award-winning Keep the Lights On), talking about his experiences that led him to write it. I just couldn’t refuse it.
CC: Had you and John Lithgow worked together before? How was it working together on this and playing a couple?
AM: No, we’ve been friends for some years but had never really worked together before. When this came along, we thought this would be a great opportunity playing a couple and the intimacy of a relationship. We had a lot of fun doing it. John’s a prankster and always making jokes. All in all, it was lovely.
CC: You have played gay characters a few times during the course of your career. What have you learned from them?
AM: I’m not sure there is something one can learn. The first point is always the character. A character’s sexuality is secondary, as a person’s sexuality is secondary. A lot depends on their circumstances when it comes to the characters I’ve played. In Prick Up Your Ears (1987), I played a self-loathing gay man who ends up murdering his lover. Love is Strange is really about a relationship. It’s very simple but deals with how quickly the things we take for granted can be taken away from us. Now, personally, one gay friend of mine taught me how to tie a double windsor knot in my tie, and another taught me how to avoid buying cheap Italian leather shoes, so I guess I have learned something (laugh).
CC: You have also been very involved in the fight against AIDS, for which I and many of my readers thank you. What fuels your advocacy or commitment?
AM: That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. I think it’s because all my life I’ve been surrounded by gay men and women. My mother worked in catering back in the 1960’s and 70’s with many with many such people and her acceptance of them impressed me. Working in the theatre, you meet many gay men and some have become great friends. I was once told by a gay friend that I’m the gayest straight man he knows, so something must have rubbed off (laugh).
CC: You were recently seen in the very well-received HBO movie of The Normal Heart. How was that experience?
AM: It was amazing. I lived through that AIDS crisis in the early 80’s while I was in London. There was something unique about the epidemic in New York. I’ll tell you a story: I was flying from London to New York, it was probably 1984, and I bumped into an American director I know. We were sitting next to each other and talking and I told him, “I’ve lost five friends to (AIDS).” And he replied, “Try thirty-five.” I couldn’t believe it. I saw the original London production of The Normal Heart with Martin Sheen as Ned Weeks. When the movie came along I said, “I’ve got to be a part of this.” It was quite the contrast playing a homophobe (Ned’s attorney brother) right after doing Love is Strange. At least I can’t be accused of being biased (laugh).
CC: If Wikipedia is to be believed, you decided to become an actor after watching Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) when you were 9 years old. True? What was it about that movie that inspired you?
AM: Yeah, I think so. I remember seeing it and remember going back to my mother and saying, “I want to be an actor.” Something about that film stayed with me, and I watch it every now and then. It seemed to me at that age to be about real people. I realized they were all actors but there was something very raw and real about that film. I didn’t come away saying “I want to grow up to be Kirk Douglas” but I wanted to be a part of what he was doing.
CC: Also, again if Wikipedia is to be believed, you are the only actor to have three Lego mini figures modelled after you (Satipo, Doctor Octopus and Prince of Persia’s Sheik Amar). Dare I ask how often you play with yourself?
AM: (Hearty laughter) Very often and hopefully for profit (laughs again). My daughter actually saw that on Wikipedia and asked “Dad, is that true”? Apparently it is. If that’s the best I can do with my career, that’s pretty good. I’ll live forever in toy boxes everywhere (laugh).
CC: Do you have a preference when it comes to working on stage, television or film?
AM: No, not really. I love theatre and I go back to it as often as I can. If I could make a living exclusively in the theatre I would, but all actors do TV and film because that’s where the money is. It’s our bread and butter, for better and worse. Doing theatre for less money is kind of a weird addiction, like a former girlfriend you never quite get over, and producers know this and exploit it (laugh).
CC: Are there any classic plays or roles you haven’t yet performed that are on your bucket list?
AM: Oh yeah, too many to mention. One day I’d love to play Willie Loman (Death of a Salesman). There are a couple of Ibsen plays, like Enemy of the People. I’d love to do more Tennessee Williams and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There are wonderful, wonderful parts out there, mostly in the theatre. I’m trying to learn to live frugally now so I can play them one day. I’m only eating a can of sardines and an apple each day (laugh).
CC: That’s good for weight loss too!
AM: Yeah, you’ve got your protein, your vitamin C and your fiber. I look fabulous! (Laugh) It’s the Molina diet!
CC: Thanks again so much for your time, and continued best of luck to you.
AM: Oh, thank you. Very nice meeting you. It’s been lovely.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.