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Ever since his emergence from the British stage, actor Alfred Molina carved out a prominent career as a chameleon-like character actor who occasionally emerged in leading man roles. After climbing the traditional ladder of British theatrical aspiration, moving from the repertory circuit to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Molina created a stir as The Maniac in "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" (1979). But it was his success on the big screen - starting with a small, but memorable role as a turncoat guide covered in spiders in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) - that spurred Molina to success. From there, his mixed heritage allowed Molina to play just about any nationality in a variety of roles - from a Russian sailor in "Letter to Brezhnev" (1985) to an Iranian in Western clothing in "Not Without My Daughter" (1991) to a Cuban refugee in "The Perez Family" (1995) and a Greek-American lawyer in "Before and After" (1996). Though often tapped to play villains - most notably as Dr. Octopus in the blockbuster sequel "Spider-Man 2" (2004) - he made his greatest impression as the pleasure-seeking artist Diego Rivera in "Frida" (2002), making clear to audiences that there were few roles Molina was not willing...
Ever since his emergence from the British stage, actor Alfred Molina carved out a prominent career as a chameleon-like character actor who occasionally emerged in leading man roles. After climbing the traditional ladder of British theatrical aspiration, moving from the repertory circuit to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Molina created a stir as The Maniac in "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" (1979). But it was his success on the big screen - starting with a small, but memorable role as a turncoat guide covered in spiders in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) - that spurred Molina to success. From there, his mixed heritage allowed Molina to play just about any nationality in a variety of roles - from a Russian sailor in "Letter to Brezhnev" (1985) to an Iranian in Western clothing in "Not Without My Daughter" (1991) to a Cuban refugee in "The Perez Family" (1995) and a Greek-American lawyer in "Before and After" (1996). Though often tapped to play villains - most notably as Dr. Octopus in the blockbuster sequel "Spider-Man 2" (2004) - he made his greatest impression as the pleasure-seeking artist Diego Rivera in "Frida" (2002), making clear to audiences that there were few roles Molina was not willing or able to play.
Born on May 24, 1953 in London, England, Molina was raised by his parents, both of whom fled their native countries - Spain for his father; Italy for his mother - because of World War II, winding up in London where they met and worked at a fancy hotel in the famed Mayfair district. Growing up in a working class neighborhood in Notting Hill, Molina decided to become an actor at nine years old after seeing "Spartacus" (1960) on the big screen. He performed with the National Youth Theatre company in London from 1969-1971, then later joined a children's theatre company touring the English countryside with a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1975). Two years later, he became a member of the famed Royal Shakespeare Company. Unlike most actors bucking to play the lead roles, Molina found comfort and inspiration in the low comic roles like Bottom or The Fool in "King Lear." In fact, he drew his greatest influence from British comedian Tommy Cooper, whom Molina impersonated during a production. The RSC declined to resign him to another contract.
Undeterred, Molina continued along his comic path, performing street theatre and doing stand-up, then starred alongside Leonard Rossiter as a dimwitted pro wrestler called The Butcher in the short-lived British sitcom "The Losers" (ITV, 1978). Three years later, he made a memorable screen debut as the treacherous guide, Satipo, in the opening sequence of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), who gets covered by tarantulas and then properly skewered for his betrayal of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). After small parts in Mike Leigh's "Meantime" (1983), "Number One" (1984), in which he played a detective constable, and "Ladyhawke" (1985), Molina had his big break playing a Russian sailor in the romantic drama, "Letter to Brezhnev" (1986). Despite making strides in film, Molina maintained his connection to the stage. He returned to the RSC to give a much-praised performance as Petruchio in "Taming of the Shrew" (1985) and earned an Olivier nomination for his work in the British production of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow." Back on the big screen, he was both amusing and tormented as Kenneth Halliwell, the lover of playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) in director Stephen Frears' grim tragic-comedy "Prick Up Your Ears" (1987).
After starring in the black comedy "Manifesto" (1989), Molina was a mild-mannered accountant whose helpful slight-of-hand gesture for a friend gets him in deep with the Mafia in "The Accountant" (A&E, 1990). He played the painter Titorelli - the only character capable of pleasure in David Jones's stultifying adaptation of Franz Kafka's "The Trial" (1991), then was perfectly flummoxed as the upper class husband lacking joie de vivre in "Enchanted April" (1992). Following a turn as a down-and-out jazz musician with dreams of making it big in "When Pigs Fly" (1993), Molina was a small-town poker player who gets taken for a ride by a smooth-talking cardshark (Mel Gibson) in the big screen treatment of the popular television show, "Maverick" (1994). In "Species" (1995), he was one of four specialists called in to help track down an escaped half-human, half-alien (Natasha Henstridge), then played a Cuban ex-con released from prison after 20 years who tries to start life anew in "The Perez Family" (1995).
The chameleon-like Molina continued turning up in surprising places, playing a Guatemalan exile in "A Further Gesture" (1997), before appearing in the Russian-set adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" (1997). Molina was wholly unrecognizable as a crazed, crack-smoking coke dealer in "Boogie Nights" (1997), which he followed with a return to comedy in the satirical take on spy thrillers, "The Man Who Knew Too Little" (1997). After decades on the stage, Molina finally made his Broadway debut, playing the good-natured Yvan in Yasmina Reza's "Art" (1998), co-starring Alan Alda and Victor Garber. Molina's virtuosity was on full display in a long rambling speech, which covered more than two pages of solid type. That same year, he remained busy at work, acting in Woody Allen's "Celebrity" (1998), Stanley Tucci's screwball comedy "The Impostors" (1998) and Jonathan Gems' sex comedy "The Treat" (1998). He also found time to appear in "Rescuers: Stories of Courage - Two Couples" (Showtime). Molina appeared as Snidely Whiplash in the best-forgotten live-action treatment of "Dudley Do-Right" (1999), then played a stuffy mayor whose French village is sexually awakened by the delights peddled by a mysterious woman (Juliette Binoche) in "Chocolat" (2000).
Molina made a rare foray into series television as star and producer of the sitcom "Ladies Man" (CBS, 1999-2000), which lasted only two seasons. In 2002, Molina co-starred in the independent bio-pic "Frida," an otherwise standard docudrama on the life of Frida Kahlo (Selma Hayek) which won the actor rave reviews for his portrayal of the hedonistic Mexican artist, Diego Rivera. Molina added several pounds to his already beefy frame to capture the artist's well-known girth. Back on series television, he was cast as a washed-up writer who is sought out by his estranged daughter in the dismal, quickly canceled sitcom "Bram and Alice" (CBS, 2002). Molina went on to play a terminal Sarah Polley's father in the poignant drama "My Life Without Me" (2003), then a physician among 10 seeming strangers drawn by mysterious forces to a hotel during a violent storm in the thriller "Identity" (2003). But the following year was truly a banner one for the actor. He appeared in one of the most appreciated sequences in writer-director Jim Jarmusch's vignette-minded "Coffee and Cigarettes" (2004), improvising a segment with Steve Coogan. Molina was then nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor in a musical for his much-heralded performance in "Fiddler On the Roof" (2004), which he followed as the super-villainous, multi-armed role of Dr. Otto Octavius - a.k.a. the evil Dr. Octopus - in the highly anticipated sequel, "Spider-Man 2" (2004).
Molina was next set to appear in one of the most controversial and anticipated movies to have come along in decades, "The Da Vinci Code" (2006), directed by Ron Howard from Dan Brown's mega-blockbuster book. He played Bishop Aringarosa, chief foil to a famed symbologist (Tom Hanks), who's called to the Louvre Museum where a curator has been murdered, leaving behind a trail of mysterious symbols and clues that lead to a secret society guarding a two thousand-year-old secret. Molina made two guest-starring appearances as the same character, crossing over from "Law & Order: Trial By Jury" (NBC, 2004-05) to "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ). Whenever time afforded it, Molina relished the opportunity to return to his Royal Shakespeare Company roots, playing the court jest Touchstone in Kenneth Branagh's take on "As You Like It" (2006), before returning to the small screen as an experienced CIA operative who takes a young true believer (Chris O'Donnell) in the well-made adaptation of Robert Littell's epic Cold War thriller "The Company" (TNT, 2007). Following the little seen "Silk" (2007) and voicing the pharaoh Ramesses in the poorly-animated feature "The Ten Commandment" (2007), Molina co-starred in the family comedy "Nothing Like the Holidays" (2008), then played Chief Inspector Pepperidge in the ill-received comedy "The Pink Panther 2" (2009), starring Steve Martin.
Overlooked by film critics since his 2002 portrayal of Diego Rivera, Molina again earned positive notice for his supporting role in "An Education" (2009), a coming-of-age tale set in 1960s London and based on the memoir of British journalist, Lynn Barber. Danish director Lone Scherfig cast Molina as the father of a teen girl (Carey Mulligan) whose aspirations for a career in letters is temporarily diverted by a taste of the moneyed, jet-setting life. For his efforts, Molina was nominated for a Satellite Award as well as a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor. The following year, Molina appeared in the family adventure film "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (2010), and re-teamed with that film's producer Jerry Bruckheimer to play a 6th century sheik and mentor to a young prince (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the big budget historic epic, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010). Meanwhile, filmmaker Julie Taymor recruited Molina for her highly anticipated adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (2010), with the veteran actor cast in the role of Stephano.
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CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
Molina earned a BAFTA nomination as Best Actor for "The Accountant" and a SWET Award nomination as Most Promising Newcomer for his Judd Frye in "Oklahoma!"
"I left in some disgrace, because, you see, my heroes aren't people like Olivier, Gielgud or Richardson, but comics. I've got a soft spot for the more vulgar end of the theatrical world, and my greatest hero is the [late] British comedian Tommy Cooper." [whom he decided to impersonate when it came time to deliver his line in a Shakespearean production.] "It got me a big laugh, but my contract wasn't renewed."---Alfred Molina on his difficulties with the Royal Shakespeare Company to NEWSDAY, January 21, 1996.
"When I was a kid, my heroes were all Americans, and even then I wanted to live there. But it was my secret, because saying that out loud to others wouldn't have been the coolest thing to do. Then, when I got to drama school, The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the only one that would take me. We were expected to do Shakespeare and the classics. But all I ever wanted was to be in Westerns. So, naturally, I wanted to live here, but I had to wait till I was in my 40s to do so. My wife felt the same way, too, fortunately. She'd had a hugely successful TV series in England, but when that ended, she decided to try writing, and that's something she can do anywhere. She's had three novels published so far, but none here as yet."---Molina quoted in DAILY NEWS, March 2, 1998.
"I've never been quite sure what the word 'career' means. If it means I want to be at this place by the time I'm 40 or 50, then 'no,' I haven't got a career. I've never planned it."
"I've got a career in the same way a gypsy has a career. I just go from job to job. Sometimes I've done jobs because it is the only job available. Other times, I've had a choice and I've gone for the one I like best. And that's the only criteria I've ever had."
"I'm a character actor. That's what I've always wanted to be. Character actors tend to have longer careers. Now I've reached the point where I can't do anything else. It's a bit late now. And hopefully I will be working until I drop."---Alfred Molina to THE NEW YORK TIMES, February 26, 1998.
"I'm very proud of the fact that I can play all these different nationalities. I've done it with varying degrees of success, but at least with the best of intentions," he says. Still, he acknowledges, "I think at some point you run the danger of becoming everyone's favorite foreigner."---Molina on playing a wide varitety of characters to CNN, March 3, 2004.
"Playing villains is always fun, there's no two ways about it," he said. "There's always a lot of freedom and room to be inventive. I could go to my grave playing bad guys. I love it."---Molina quoted to CNN.com, June 28, 2004.
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