Alfred Molina can do anything from the villain in Spider Man to Tevye in the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Now he joins a stellar cast in Ron Howard's controversial Da Vinci Code, has two other films in the can and is returning to Broadway in the new year. Full of humour and upbeat, Molina talked excusively to Paul Fischer.
Question: Another year another Alfred Molina / Sony Pictures summer blockbuster.
Molina: Well, yeah, that'd be a nice way to look at it wouldn't it. But funnily enough they never use that wording, I don't know why.
Question: I'm stunned quite frankly.
Molina: Yeah. I don't know why, as Tom Hanks has never said this is my first Alfred Molina movie. He's never said it.
Molina: And, you know, I'm a little hurt actually.
Question: As well you should be.
Molina: I'm stealing Paul Bettany's line. Paul Bettany when he was doing the press for Firewall, the movie he did with Hsrrison Ford, was on Jay Leno in the States and Jay Leno said to him what was it like working with Harrison and he said, well, you know, Harrison was very nervous but I can understand it because it was his first Paul Bettany movie.
Molina: He said Jay Leno laughed but the audience in the studio - complete silence.
He thought it was a very funny joke. Jay Leno's audience, complete silence, like who the hell does he think he is?
Molina: So you can understand me not walking around saying, yes, this is another Alfred Molina blockbuster. Bur I saved Sony once again.
Question: Now when you get offered Da Vinci Code, with Ron Howard directing, famous bestselling book - blah, blah, blah - do you just take it at face value or do you really have to think about it?
Molina: Well to a certain extent I think there is a certain level where you do kind of take it at face value because you think, well, these people are serious. They're dedicated, they're talented, they've got proven taste and you think, well, yeah, the chances are this is going to be something worth getting involved in. But this particularly seemed to have everything going for it. I mean it was not just Ron Howard directing and Tom and Ian and Paul and Audrey and Jean, they were all involved in it, but also a fantastic screenplay by Akiva Goldsman who is like probably one of the top three screenwriters actually working right now in films in the States, and based on one of the most successful books. So in a way it would have been almost perverse to have said no. I think if I had gone home and run down that list to my wife and said 'you know what I don't think I fancy it...' I think she would have divorced me on the spot.
Question: For the three or so people who have not read the book...
Molina: Are you one of them?
Question: I've read bits of it...
Molina: Okay - [laughter]. Well saved.
Question: Could you give us a breakdown of your character? I mean how would you describe him?
Molina: I suppose I would describe the character as the fixer. The word... his name, Aringarosa, actually means... in Italian actually means red herring, and this is going to be interesting. Because the book is full of little tricks and sort of word plays and everything like that. But he's basically... you go through the story thinking that he's the villain but then it turns out of course he's not, he's just a middle man, like a fixer. He's the contact between the power and action really. And so he's a rather shadowy figure. So very ambivalent. There's a lot of ambiguity about him because, you've got this man who has his vision and he's obviously very devout and very serious, but there's something going on. And I guess the ambiguity around him kind of keeps that going, keeps that rolling through the story.
Question: How important was it for you to use the book as reference or do you kind of put that aside and just rely on the screenplay?
Molina: Well in the end, you have to because ultimately what you're filming is the screenplay, because the book has been rendered into a screenplay. But all good screenplays share the same quality, which is that the book has been rendered in an accurate and respectful and sort of cohesive way so that you're not in a situation where a screenwriter thinks, well, that's a good plot line but all the rest of it is crap. You know... let's not make him a Bishop he should be a cocktail waitress or whatever, which happens, but once I realised that - because I had read the book and then I read the script, I kind of went backwards and forwards and I finally thought, wow, this is a really accurate rendering of the book. So then I felt very confident in just putting the book aside and just concentrating on what was required by the screenplay.
Question: Are you surprised by the almost ridiculous and farcical amount of controversy that this movie has attained?
Molina: I think the way you describe it is actually accurate - ridiculous and farcical is absolutely true. I think it's a real sort of storm in a teacup And now that hasn't played; there's no real legs to it. Now apparently the other thing is there's this heated discussion on the length of Tom Hanks' hair in the movie, which has just got everyone up in arms.I mean, forget Iraq... it's Tom's hair.
Question: Now having had the pleasure of seeing you do Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway I'm just wondering how important is it for you to return to the theatre and do you have any plans to do so?
Molina: Well I do, yes. I try to do at least one piece of theatre at least every 18 months, and I'm going back to Broadway for the American premiere of Patrick Marber's last play which is called Howard Katz. It was done at the National Theatre in London about three weeks ago. And the Roundabout Theatre in New York have the rights to it. And they very kindly waited for me to be free, which I was very flattered by. So we start rehearsing in January and we open February 2nd.
Question: What kind of run is that?
Molina: It's very short. It's a short run, it'll be about three months. A small theatre on 46th Street.
Question: And what about movies? Is anything coming up?
Molina: I have two more films coming out this year after The Da Vinci Code. I did a movie with Lasse Hallstrom and Richard Gere called The Hoax, and I did Ken Branagh's film version of As You Like It...
Question: How is it doing Shakespeare on film?
Molina: Ken's another wonderful example of someone who really knows how to render original material. His approach is really just to kind of keep it as cohesive as possible. It's actually a lot of fun doing Shakespeare on film. It's remarkably kind of realistic. I use that word dreadfully. I don't mean realistic in a sense that's it's real but it's incredible how plausible or how authentic you can make it, you know. And when he plays the camera rather than just film something, which is on a kind of theatrical scale - do you know what I mean?
Question: Is there a Shakespearian character that you would like to play on film that hasn't been done yet?
Molina: Well I think before I get too old, before I hit 60 - I'm 52 now, my big thing is I would love to have a go at something like maybe King Lear on film.
Question: Ian McKellen is doing Lear at the RSC.
Molina: I know. I know. I'm sure he'll have a go at it on film before I do too, but you know...
Question: Well I know that even Anthony Hopkins was talking to me about wanting to try and do a film version of Lear.
Molina: Yeah. Well there's all these heavyweight actors who are in their prime and, you know, and that's the role for them. When you're in your 30s it is Hamlet and Lear is, for those in our dotage so I would love to do that.
Question: Well I'm sure you'll get around to it.
Molina: I'm sure, yeah. Well one of us will.