Spiderman 2 : An Interview with Alfred Molina
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By Wilson Morales
Spiderman 2 : An Interview with Alfred Molina
Playing the villain in a film is probably the best character in a film. The character can go in different directions and still be likeable. When one plays the hero or the "good" guy, it can only be played straightforward. Alfred Molina, currently featured in "Coffee and Cigarettes, is playing Dr. Otto Octavius in the sequel "Spiderman 2" and let's just say that he makes the most with what he is given to work with. Molina spoke to blackfilm.com while promoting the film in LA about his character as well as role on Broadway as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof".
WHAT IS THE KEY TO PLAYING A MARVEL VILLAIN?
Molina: If Avi Arad is in the room, basically doing what your told. No. It's really like any role that you might choose to play. There's a certain degree of detective work that you have to do because the character has already existed I another media. So, you're not dealing in pure fiction. It's not something that's completely brand new. So there's amount of attention to what the character looks like or what sort of character he or she may have been in their original manifestation. But in the end, because it's a movie version of that character, of a comic book character, it has to change. It has to evolve in some way. So with a certain nod to what went before and with due respect to all the work that the comic book writers and all the artists did, you try and approach it with as much freshness and invention that you can.
BROADWAY SEEMS TO BE A GREAT SECOND CAREER FOR MARVEL CHARACTERS.
MOLINA: I'm not sure if Hugh [Jackman] or I would describe it as a second career. We both came to movies after a lot of years in the theater.
ARE YOU ANTICIPATING DR. OCT FANS AT THE THEATER?
MOLINA: They already are. At the stage door, there are two very distinct groups. There's the grandma's who are coming to see 'Fiddler on the Roof' for the umpteenth time and they're bringing their grandchildren who have never seen it or heard of it before, but they're interested because the actor who's playing Dr. Oct in it. I think that's how the grandmothers have gotten the kids interested in the first place. 'I don't want to go and see a musical.' 'But Dr. Oct is in it.' 'Oh, okay.' So it kind of spans the age range which is very gratifying.
DIDN'T THE CAST ALBUM COME OUT?
MOLINA: Yeah, the cast album came out last week. I'm glad to say, not in terms of quality necessarily, but in terms of a document of the show, it's the most comprehensive recording so far because our recording includes all the underscoring music which none of the other previous cast albums have. So it kind of makes it a bit special.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO PLAY DR. OCT?
MOLINA: Well, the money was great, and it was a chance to make a big film. I've never done a movie quite this big before. The last time I did a really a big film is, I suppose, when I did 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' which twenty four years ago was a state of the art movie. But in comparison to what's available technically now, it seems almost crude.
DID YOU HAVE EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT A HUGE MOVIE WOULD BE AND WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE?
MOLINA: The only expectation I had was that it would probably be a very, very different experience about, say, making a movie which is about three people sitting around a dinner table talking. It certainly lived up to my expectations and I think that the main difference was that the scale in which you work is very different. On a big movie like this where there's an amazing amount of special FX and technology, the actors role in a sense is not quite as crucial. So you have a different relationship to the material somehow. In a way, you have to surrender to that. You're suspended sixty feet up in the air, you've been up there for three hours, and all the shot requires is that you have to sort of react to getting punched in the head. It's not a good time to then suddenly say, 'Can I discuss the inner most desire? I'm a bit worried about my motivation.' You've got to kind of go with the flow a little bit. But it's fun.
DIDN'T YOU HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THAT FOR THE EARLY PARTS OF THE FILM THOUGH?
MOLINA: Oh yeah, of course. But my point is that overall, making a movie like this is a completely different beast. It's a different thing. You have to approach it differently. I mean, the analogy that I always use is that it's like a plumbers tool box. It's the same tool box, but one day you might be fixing a shower head and the next day you're working on some drains, but the tools come out of the same box.
SO IT'S NOT LIKE WORKING WITH PAUL MICHAEL ANDERSON?
MOLINA: No. Very, very different, but that's the way it should be. The material always, I think, governs the experience it seems to me.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TENTACLES AND WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO WORK WITH THAT?
MOLINA: Yeah. The tentacles and all of that stuff was partly CGI. It was partly animation. And partly just what we call practical. I had them strapped on and there were puppeteers operating them, and so on. It was sort of a mixture of all three really. We tried to use the practical tentacles as often as we could, certainly when we were either in close or medium shots because then the guys operating them could actually be out of shot and give them some life, but obviously the big set pieces like climbing up buildings and stuff, that was obviously all computer generated.
HOW DID THEY SCRIPT YOUR MOVEMENT, AND HOW WAS IT CONSTRICTING?
MOLINA: Well, it was constricting in the sense that you have to think about the certain amount of weight that you were carrying, but like everything else, one always just tries to incorporate that into what you're doing. The first couple of days of rehearsal, we were just rehearsing with them. I discovered very quickly that I'd have to adapt my own body language to this new circumstance. I couldn't sort of bend and turn and move in quite the same way. So I had to find a way that Dr. Oct could move with all of that stuff on.
HOW WERE THE TENTACLES ATTACHED TO YOU?
MOLINA: They were sort of attached to a big sort of big girdle that gets fused to Dr. Oct's spine. They were attached to that. So the idea is that they were actually physically fused with his spinal column.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT SAM RAIMI WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH WITH YOUR CHARACTER?
MOLINA: Well, he was very interested in a way of telling the story that was fresh and inventive, and at the same time capturing some of the essence that was already there with the comic book character. I started looking through, we both did actually, looking through old back copies of the comic. I think that Dr. Oct first appeared somewhere in the mid '60's. When he was first drawn, he was a rather big sort of brutish looking character. Then he became a bit more sleek, a bit more sophisticated and then he kind of became rather athletic, but the one thing that was constant through all of the different manifestations of him was this sort of rather sardonic, almost cruel sense of humor. We both felt that was a quite important thing to hold onto.
CAN YOU SURRENDER TO THE FACT THAT THIS AIN'T SHAKESPEARE, TO SAYING LINES THAT COULD BE CONSIDERED CHEESY?
MOLINA: Well, you could do that, but that would be selling this material short. I think that it would be disastrous to go into any project comparing it to something else that you've done before. I mean, of course it's not Shakespeare, but that's not a value judgment. It's just a fact. You approach it in a different way. You cut the cloth into what you need. So it's important. The worst thing that an actor can do is go into any project with a lack of respect for the material. You can have an opinion about it, but you have to respect yourself in doing it. You can't go in there and say, 'You know what, this is a pile poop, but I'll do it right now because I haven't got anything else better to do.' That's disaster. You've got to go in with the same kind of enthusiasm as if you were doing 'Hamlet.' Otherwise, it'd be disastrous.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE ACTION FIGURE?
MOLINA: I have seen the action figure and I'm glad to say that they've been very flattering. I've never had pecks like that. I have middle aged man breast.
DID YOU MODEL FOR THE ACTION FIGURE?
MOLINA: No. I can definitely say that I did not model for that action figure. I think that Brad Pitt modeled for my action figure.
WHAT DID YOUR WIFE SAY ABOUT IT?
MOLINA: She said, 'Honey, why can't you look more like that?'
CAN YOU REMEMBER A MOMENT WHEN YOU MASTERED ACCENTS?
MOLINA: Every job is different. I don't think that I've ever had that wonderful feeling when you've finished a job or where you feel like you've mastered it or sort of nailed it. I certainly never trust actors when they come off stage from a performance and they say, 'Oh, I nailed that tonight.' I always think that never happens. You never nail it. I went to see this movie and I sat there thinking, 'Oh, shit. I could've done that better. No. No. Oh, no. That was a bad choice.' You can never be satisfied. If you're satisfied, it's time to retire.
WERE YOU SATISFIED WITH 'COFFEE AND CIGARETTES?'
MOLINA: No. I loved it. I was happy with it, but I wasn't satisfied. There's always something that you think you can fix, always. If we could do it perfectly every time, we'd all be in Hawaii right now.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT 'SIAN KI'AN?'
MOLINA: Yeah, that's an animated movie. I play villains a lot. I love playing villains. I only did a voice over for that. So I don't know very much about that film.
WHY DO YOU LIKE PLAYING VILLAINS?
MOLINA: Because there's a kind of freedom involved and there's a sense of, a requirement to be inventive. When you're the leading man in a movie, in a sense, audiences have a much higher expectations of you. What they're expecting, if you're a brand, they're expecting variations on that brand. So there's isn't the same creative freedom afforded you. So playing the villain allows for a lot more wiggle room, a lot more room to play.
WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE HAD IT SO THAT YOUR CHARACTER CONTROLLED THE ARMS ALL THE TIME AND NOT JUST ONCE IN A WHILE?
MOLINA: Oh, we're getting metaphysical now. No. I think that's the way the story is and I don't really have an opinion either way on that. That was the story and that's what we did. I think there are moments in the story when he's in complete control of the arms and then they control him and he controls them again. So I think that particular battle is kind of dealt with.
WERE YOU EVER IN ANY PERSONAL PERIL WHILE PLAYING DR. OCT?
MOLINA: Me personally, no. No. The great thing about these movies is that it looks perilous, but the great trick of course is that it's not perilous at all. That's why they cost so much money. There's a whole army of people looking after you to make sure that you're not in any kind of danger. I mean, even when you're up swinging off a wire, there's people there checking everything. Everything is double checked and triple checked before you go anywhere near it. I'm not one of those actors who gets any pleasure out of doing their own stunts.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING MORE OF A HOUSEHOLD NAME THEN YOU WERE BEFORE BECAUSE OF THIS FILM?
DO YOU THINK THAT IT'LL BRING MORE PROJECTS?
MOLINA: Let's hope. Yeah.
DID YOU HAVE FUN DOING THE VOICE OVER FOR THE VIDEOGAME?
MOLINA: I did actually. It was a lot of fun. I did two versions, I think. We did one version and I know nothing about videogames, but my friends who've got ten and eleven and twelve year old sons and daughters were terribly impressed.
IS YOUR TEVYE AND DIFFERENT TEVYE THAN ZERO MOSTEL'S OR TOPOL'S?
MOLINA: Yeah it is. Yeah, very different, but that's only because it's a different actor playing it. The show is happening in a different time. There's a different sensibility. We've gone back to the original text much more than previous productions. I think that what makes it so appealing is the universality of it. I had a friend of mine, an Indian film writer, who's just co-written her first Broadway musical, she came back stage and said, 'It's so Indian. It's so Indian because it's all about people struggling to hold onto an older way of life.' And that's something that anyone who's' had any kind of history of immigration in their family, my parents immigrated to England and they had the same issue. They tried very hard to hang onto values from the old country which were being challenged and refuted or questioned by their children. I think that it's kind of a universal story. That's what I think makes it so appealing.
INTER-MARRIAGE IS NOW A PART OF OUR CULTURE, I WONDER IF THAT HAS THE SAME RESONANCE NOW?
MOLINA: I don't know. Maybe it doesn't have the same kind of shock value, but I still think that it raises a lot of emotions in people about what those choices mean.
HAVE YOU COME CLOSE TO NAILING A PERFORMANCE OF TEVYE?
MOLINA: No. Nowhere near.
I'M SURE THAT THE LAST THING YOUR PARENTS WANTED YOU TO BECOME WAS AN ACTOR.
MOLINA: Well, I think that's rather presumptuous of you. You don't know me or them or me at all well enough to make that kind of call.
FORGIVE ME, BUT THAT'S USUALLY THE CASE.
MOLINA: Yeah. It's usually the case, but why would you assume that it's always the case? My father thought it was a stupid idea, but my mother was very, very supportive.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ROAD TO SUCCESS, HOW YOU HAD TO SUPPORT YOURSELF AND YOU DECISION TO DO IT AND YOUR PARENTS?
MOLINA: Yeah. My mother was very supportive. But my father though it stupid. My father was a waiter basically, and when I got my first professional job as an actor, I left a job that he found me for half the amount of money. So anyone would think that they're stupid, that that would be a stupid move. But I've just worked, and I don't think that there's such a thing as a career. I think that career is a myth. A career isn't what you have ahead of you. A career is what you've got behind you. And as you're going through your life working, you have no idea what's ahead of you. A career is simply what you see behind you after ten, fifteen, or in my case thirty years as an actor. That's my career is what I ended up doing. But I never made conscious choices. There were times in my life that I chose the first job that came along because I was broke. I think that there were maybe a handful of times that I had a choice. In recent years, I've had more of a choice and it's been very nice to have that choice, but most of the time, you just hope that there's another job after this one.
ARE YOU AT A PLACE NOW WHERE YOU THINK THAT THIS IS THE GIG FOR YOU?
MOLINA: Well I think that it's totally the gig for me whether there's another job or not because I can't do anything else. I'm not qualified to do anything else. So there better be another job. I'm kind of stuck now. I'm enjoying my life and I'm enjoying my work and I'm enjoying the fact that the work I'm doing is garnering some interest and that's great. I just hope that it continues.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
MOLINA: I live here.
DO YOU THINK THAT DR. OCT WILL COME BACK AT ALL FOR ANOTHER FILM?
MOLINA: There's no way of knowing. I think that really depends on the audiences. I mean, if the audiences come back and say, 'We love Dr. Oct.' Then I'm sure the way things are in comic books and in this particular Marvel universe you never die. You just disappear for a while. You may very well comeback. If audiences say, 'Who is the weird guy with the tentacles? I could've done without him.' Then he probably won't comeback.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE CHARACTER ONCE YOU SAW IT ON THE SCREEN?
MOLINA: I always loved the character. I always thought that it was a really interesting character. Although, I don't remember Dr. Oct as a kid when I was collecting Marvel comics. But he's a really interesting character and sort of complicated. I hope that audiences dig it.
DID YOU KEEP A SOUVENIR FROM DR. OCT?
MOLINA: No. I wasn't allowed to. Well, I've got my script and couple of photographs of me in my tentacles by the craft service table. That's about it.
WHEN YOU'RE ONSTAGE, DOES IT STRIKE YOU THAT THE BEST PERFORMANCE YOU MIGHT EVER GIVE WILL ONLY BE IN FRONT OF A FEW HUNDRED PEOPLE IN A THEATER?
MOLINA: Oh, yeah. Just the other week, we had a first off, I can't remember why, but we had a really very small audience and we've been having big audiences all this time and we had this really small audience. So the whole cast was feeling a little bit concerned. We though, 'Well that's odd. Midweek, a tiny house,' and we had two understudies on. Two of our lead characters were off with bad colds, and the mood in the theater was a little bit despondent. We were a little bit concerned. We went out and we did, I think, probably the best show that we've done. Something happened, I don't know what it is. It's some chemistry. I can't define it. There's no scientific reason for it, but something happened and we all came off thinking, 'Well, that's the best we've done. That's the best we've done.' That's the great thing about theater and that's why you do it eight times a week because you think, 'The next one is going to be it. The next one is going to be the defining moment,' but it never is [Laughs].
ARE YOU CHALLENGED TO DO GOOD WORK?
MOLINA: I think on some level, yeah. To be challenged means to strive. I'm almost certain that's true.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE 'SPIDER-MAN' PART, DID YOU GO AFTER IT, DID THEY COME AFTER YOU?
MOLINA: I was on a list with a whole bunch of other actors. I was asked to come in and read for Sam. I thought that it was a meet and greet. I didn't think that for a minute they'd be interested in me just because this isn't the kind of film that I'm associated with. Then we had a second meeting where I read again. I was very relaxed. There was nothing at stake. Then by the third meeting, I realized I could smell something in the air. I thought, 'Something is up here.' Of course when I realized that, the stakes were a bit higher. The third meeting, I sucked. I read very badly because I was nervous. The first two meetings, I just walked in like, 'Oh, hi everyone. How are you doing?' because there was nothing at stake. By the third meeting, I was nervous and sweating and I just fell apart making stupid jokes. Avi Arad handed me a pair of sunglasses and said, 'Try these on,' and I tried them on and they put me on video with these sunglasses and I said something stupid like, 'Oh, is this my screen test?' No one laughed. I thought, 'That's it, I've screwed this up,' but as it turned out, that's what got me the part, the sunglasses.
DID YOU GIVE 'SPIDER-MAN' YARMUCHLES TO THE WRITERS ON THIS?
MOLINA: No. Laura Ziskin gave me some 'Spider-Man' Yarmuca to give to the writers, but then when I was packing my bags to go to New York, I left them behind. So I'm going to give them to them as a closing night present.
WERE YOU JOKING ABOUT THE SUNGLASSES?
MOLINA: No. Dr. Oct wears sunglasses. Avi just gave me a pair of sunglasses to put on. He just wanted to see what I'd look like with sunglasses. So I made a joke about this being my screen test, but no one laughed and so I guess it was my screen test.
DID YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TO ACT IN FRONT OF THE GREEN SCREEN?
MOLINA: No. I didn't because I love the sound of my own voice and there's no one else there to give you notes. It's great. When I'm on my own, I think that I'm Lawrence Olivier. It's when I'm working with other people that I realize how bad I am.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT COLLECTING COMICS WHEN YOU WERE A KID?
MOLINA: Oh, yeah. When I was a kid, I had quite a nice collection. I mean, I think that I had a nice collection. I lost it along the way somewhere. I do remember being a fan of the Marvel characters and not liking the DC characters at all. I hated 'Superman.' I could never understand 'Superman' because I could never understand how no one recognized him when he was Clark Kent. He had the same haircut. The same glasses. The same build. I could never understand that. I could never understand why people couldn't recognize the hero who didn't have a mask on. 'Batman' was so bleeding moral. The DC world was so moral. Everything was good. Everything was bad. Marvel had ambiguity. Peter Parker is a perfect example. He's a very reluctant hero. He becomes Spider-Man practically by accident. That spider could've landed on anyone. Dr. Oct is a reluctant villain in a sense and that's something that applies to all the Marvel characters. That's a really interesting quality. It makes them much more intelligent and much more sophisticated as characters. I'm going to get letters from the DC people, 'How dare you bad mouth our characters.'
THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW 'RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK,' DID YOU STAY FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE?
MOLINA: I did. Yeah. Oh yeah. Why? Because I died before the credits? [Laughs] No, that wouldn't have put me off. Of course I stayed. You're joking. I'd never seen myself on film before. I couldn't believe that I was a part of that. I'd never been to a movie premiere before. It was great. I loved it.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WORKING WITH SAM?
MOLINA: Fantastic. Sam is a real gent, a real gentleman. He's very courteous, very respectful. He gives everyone room to work. He creates a fantastic atmosphere on set. He's not a shouter. Some directors are real screamers. And we worked hard. We worked long days, but because he treats people with courtesy, everyone is willing to put the hours in for him. He has a fantastic eye for storytelling. He's got a great sensibility for this kind of material which he quite clearly loves. I would say that he's just got a very intelligent and sophisticated way of telling a story which doesn't talk down to anyone.
WHAT ABOUT TOBEY?
MOLINA: A fantastic and wonderful actor.
DID YOU KNOW HIM PRIOR TO THIS?
MOLINA: No. We'd never met before. I didn't know anyone on this movie. I hadn't worked with any of the actors before on this film.
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