Born May 24, 1953, in London, England; married Jill Gascoine (an actress and novelist); children: Rachel. Education: Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London.
Addresses: Agent—United Talent Agency, 9650 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Actor in television, including: The Losers, 1978; Reilly: The Ace of Spies, 1983; Cats Eyes, 1985; Casualty, 1986; Miami Vice, 1987; Nativity Blues, 1989; The Accountant, 1989; El C.I.D., 1989; The Trials of Oz, 1991; Typhon's People, 1993; A Year in Providence, 1993; Requiem Apache, 1994; The Place of Lions, 1997; Rescuers: Stories of Courage: Two Couples, 1998; Ladies Man, 1999; The Miracle Maker (voice), 2000; Murder on the Orient Express, 2001; Bram and Alice, 2002. Film appearances include: Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981; Ladyhawke, 1985; Number One, 1985; Water, 1985; Letter to Brezhnev, 1985; Prick up Your Ears, 1987; Manifesto, 1988; American Friends, 1991; Not Without My Daughter, 1991; When Pigs Fly, 1993; The Trial, 1993; Maverick, 1994; The Steal, 1994; White Fang II: Myth of the White Wolf, 1994; Dead Man, 1995; Species, 1995; The Perez Family, 1995; Hideaway, 1995; Mojave Moon, 1996; Before and After, 1996; The Man Who Knew Too Little, 1997; Boogie Nights, 1997; Anna Karenina, 1997; Scorpion Spring, 1997; A Further Gesture, 1997; Pete's Meteor, 1998; The Impostors, 1998; Dudley Do-Right, 1999; Chocolat, 2000; Frida, 2002; Coffee and Cigarettes, 2003; Spider-Man 2, 2004. Stage appearances include: Accidental Death of an Anarchist, London, 1979; Serious Money, Royal Court Theatre, London; Taming ofthe Shrew, Royal Shakespeare Company, London, 1985; Destry Rides Again, Donmar Theatre, London; Night of the Iguana, Royal National Theatre, London; Speed the Plow, Royal National Theatre, London; Oklahoma!, Palace Theatre, Greensburg, PA; Molly Sweeney, Roundabout Theatre, NY, 1995-96; Art, New York, NY, 1998; Fiddler on the Roof, New York, NY, 2004.
Awards: UK Royal Television Society, best male actor, for The Accountant, 1990; Imagen Foundation Award, for Frida, 2003; Visual Effects Society Award for outstanding performance by an actor or actress in a visual effects film, for Spider-Man 2, 2005.
Alfred Molina has more than 50 film, television and stage credits to his name yet remains a sideline figure in Hollywood. Moviegoers recognize Molina's face but can seldom come up with his name because he melds into each role so completely that his own ego and personality disappear. Over the course of his 30-year career, Molina has earned praise for his uncanny ability to nail character-driven roles. Show-biz insiders liken Molina to a chameleon for his ability to mold himself into nearly every character imaginable, no matter their nationality. Molina played the perpetually unfaithful Mexican painter Diego Rivera in the biopic Frida as well as a close-minded, fretful French mayor in Chocolat. Likewise, he mastered the role of a deranged drug-dealer in Boogie Nights as well as that of comic-book villain Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2. "He's great in just about everything," filmmaker Sam Raimi told the Detroit Free-Press, "but he disappears so completely in the roles you forget where you've seen him before."
Molina—friends call him Fred—was born on May 24, 1953, in London, England. His father, a Spaniard and waiter, left Madrid just before World War II. His mother, a cook and housekeeper, left Italy just after the war. Together, they settled in one of London's working-class, immigrant neighborhoods, providing Molina with a rich foundation of friends. His neighborhood friends hailed from all over Europe, the West Indies and Africa. Like Molina, most of his playmates were first-generation Brits. He said this exposure helped him master the different accents he has needed in his roles. "So I kind of grew up in this whole environment where I heard all these different rhythms and accents," Molina told Katherine A. Diaz in Hispanic magazine. "I think I just soaked it up unconsciously, and when I became an actor I had it all there stowed away."
Although Molina's parents were thankful for the opportunity to start a new life in England, they were mindful of keeping their heritage alive—both Spanish and Italian were spoken in the home. But no matter what language Molina was speaking, early on, he was a boisterous kid. "I think I was quite unpleasant," he told Eleanor Blau in the New York Times. "My father used to put me on a chair and make me sing. I didn't want to, but I did because I knew I was pleasing him."
Molina caught the stage bug at age nine after seeing a production of Spartacus, announcing to his parents that he intended to become an actor. Trips with the school drama club to see live performances solidified his desire. At first, his father was unsupportive, figuring it was just a phase. In 1969, Molina put his talents to the test and joined the London-based National Youth Theater company. He returned for two more seasons, then went on to study at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Next, he joined the repertory circuit before securing a spot with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1977. Molina also polished his skills as part of a street-corner comedy act. In 1979, Molina captured the attention of the play-going British public with his portrayal of The Maniac in a stage production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist.
Molina brought his skills across the Atlantic in the 1980s and made his Hollywood debut in spinetingling style, playing Indiana Jones' double-crossing South American tour guide Satipo in the 1981 action-adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark. Molina had his glory moment in the film's opening scenes when he led Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) astray in an ancient temple treasure hunt and uttered his famous line, "Throw me the idol, and I'll throw you the whip." Molina's character eventually leaves Indy for dead, only to come to his own demise, courtesy of a booby trap.
One scene required Molina to endure tarantulas crawling on his body. Before filming the tarantula sequence, Molina was told that tarantulas, though venomous, were really harmless creatures who had earned a bad reputation for their size and hairy facade. Two suitcases of tarantulas arrived on the set and were let loose. The creatures refused to move, stunned by the bright lights, so the film crew paired up two female tarantulas on Molina's back and a fight ensued. Recalling this first introduction to Hollywood filmmaking, Molina told the New York Times' Blau that director Steven Spielberg kept calling out, "Look scared, Alfred." Molina put on a scared face, but it had nothing to do with acting.
Molina returned to Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985 and appeared in a production of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. He received high marks for his portrayal of Petruchio. He followed up with several minor film roles through the mid-1980s, then really turned up the heat in 1987, playing Kenneth Halliwell, the homicidal lover of playwright Joe Orton, in Prick Up Your Ears, a film based loosely on Orton's life. Bald and deranged, Molina's Halliwell was both terrifying and pathetic at the same time, even as he hammered his lover to death. Speaking to the New York Times Molina acknowledged the sympathy he felt for his horrid character, noting he understood "what it's like to be jealous, to feel betrayed, to be lonely. I really latched on to those feelings."
Over the next several years, Molina gave solid film performances playing characters with accents from all over the world. In 1991, he played a tyrannical Iranian husband to Sally Field in the heart-churning flick Not Without My Daughter. In 1995 he appeared in The Perez Family, as the patriarch of an immigrant Cuban family trying to find its way in Florida. In 1996 he played Panos Demeris, a Greek-American attorney in Before and After. In a New York Times review, Janet Maslin had nothing but accolades for Molina's performance. "In his showiest screen performance, Mr. Molina turns this wily, entertaining figure into something more than just another legal eagle."
In each of these roles, Molina nailed the nationality of his character with an impeccable accent. "I have always enjoyed working with different accents," Molina told Diaz in Hispanic. "It's become sort of a trademark of mine. It's not because of any special skills; it's a happy accident of nature and nurture that I am able to do it."
Though he was busy with film productions, Molina also kept up his stage acting and moved as fluidly between stage and film as he did in his varied roles. Molina's New York stage debut came in 1995 in Molly Sweeney, where he played a gentle companion to a blind woman. In 1998, he made his Broadway debut alongside Alan Alda and Victor Garber in playwright Yasmina Reza's Art, earning a Tony nomination. This dialogue-driven play revolved around three friends in conflict over their disparate views surrounding a piece of modern art.
Because he appears in both film and stage productions, Molina often finds himself acting two roles simultaneously—playing one character during the day for a film and appearing onstage at night in a completely different personality. In 1996, for instance, he was busy filming on the streets of various New York boroughs during the day for A Further Gesture, which was released in 1997. At night, he appeared on stage in New York City in Molly Sweeney. "I was playing an Irishman in the evening and a Guatemalan dissident during the day," he recalled to the New York Times. "That's the usual for me. I think I've been almost every nationality under the sun now. Well, I haven't been a South African yet."
For the most part, Molina enjoys pushing himself into new territory with new roles. "I always look for something that is as different and as diametrically opposed to what I did last time," Molina told Diaz in Hispanic. "I try to make each job as different as I can from the last job. And that's really my only criteria."
The summer of 2004 found Molina appearing in several places at once. At the box office, he was featured in the movie Spider-Man 2 and also appeared onstage in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. Molina's role in Fiddler was quite different from the villainous men he had been portraying on film. In Fiddler, Molina played the mild-mannered Jewish milkman Tevye who is on a mission to find suitable husbands for his daughters in pre-Revolutionary Russia. He was successful in the role even though he had not done a musical in nearly two decades. "I know it sounds perverse, but in the 20 years that I haven't been singing, I think my singing has improved," he told Entertainment Weekly. He joked that this improvement was not because he had improved, but because he recognized his limitations.
In Spiderman 2, Molina tried a new role—that of the maniacal comic-book super-villain Dr. Otto Octavius, Spider Man's latest onscreen nemesis. Octavius is a gentle genius who makes a mistake in an energy fusion experiment and ends up permanently attached to an octopus-like apparatus he created. With four independent-thinking tentacles bonded to his body, Doc Ock, as he becomes known, loses his mind and becomes an enemy foil to Spider Man, bent on blowing up New York City. Much of the film's success was linked to Molina's over-the-top character.
Playing the role required Molina to act with a 75-pound tentacle costume strapped onto his back. It taxed even Molina's rugged 6-foot-3 frame. Molina required the assistance of a team of more than a dozen puppeteers in order to maneuver the hulking suit. Speaking to Stephen Schaefer in the Boston Herald, Molina said that over the course of filming, he and the team developed their own language of movement so they could make his character do destructive things like "push a hole through a building." At the same time, they had to work in concert with each other to do smaller movments, like removing a pair of glasses. "In one shot—and I don't think that we ever used it—we actually had one of the tentacles come and wipe away a tear."
For the most part, Molina has been successful because he approaches each new role with a sense of wonder. "I'm always scared," he told Newsweek."Any actor who doesn't walk into a job without a certain sense of trepidation is either lying or very highly medicated."
Boston Herald, June 25, 2004.
Detroit Free Press, July 5, 2004.
Entertainment Weekly, January 23/30, 2004, p. 76.
Hispanic, July/August 2004, p. 46.
Newsweek, March 1, 2004, p. 14.
New York Times, May 15, 1987, p. C11; March 3, 1996, p. B11.
"Biography," Alfred-Molina.com, http://www.alfred-molina.com/bio/html (February 26, 2004).