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Hispanic Heritage

Alfred Molina

Birth: May 24, 1953 in London, United Kingdom
Nationality: British
Occupation: Actor

Career actor Alfred Molina, who has appeared on stage, television, and film since 1977, succeeded in disappearing into his characters to the extent that fans seldom recognized him. He played womanizing husband and artist Diego Rivera in the 2002 biopic of Frida Kahlo, Frida, and villainous Dr. Octopus in 2004’s Spiderman 2, but broke from his usual typecasting as the heavy when the Spanish-Italian actor appeared on Broadway as Tevye, the conflicted but ebullient Jewish father in the musical Fiddler on the Roof in 2004.

Impressed by Anthony Hopkins

Molina was born in London, England, in 1953. His Spanish father was a maitre’d at Les Ambassadeurs, an upscale show-business haunt at the time, and the young star-struck Molina was able to amass an impressive collection of autographs. He gravitated toward the stage himself during his teens when he began attending theater performances with the drama club at his school. The actor Anthony Hopkins impressed him greatly at the time. Molina was fascinated by, he explained to Back Stage West writer Laura Weinert, "the way he worked, his demeanor onstage--he looked like a regular guy. And I thought, People like me can do this. My dad was a waiter. My mother cleaned rooms in hotels. So it was a big sort of eye-opening moment."

After training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Molina became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1977. He appeared in a number of its productions as well as those at the prestigious Donmar Warehouse Theatre and other London venues. His first film part came in an uncredited role as a port official in A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, a 1979 British caper film that starred David Niven. But his big break came with the role of Satipo in 1981’s Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. In 1987, he earned favorable critical notices for his performance as the murderous lover in Prick Up Your Ears, the movie based on the life of slain playwright Joe Orton.

Broadway Debut Nominated for Tony

Mainstream audiences in North America came to know Molina as the oafish husband in Not Without My Daughter, the 1991 film starring Sally Field. Field played American Betty Mahmoody, who went to Iran with her Iranian-born husband in the 1980s and then was prevented from leaving with their young child. Molina went on to appear in several films over the next decade, including Enchanted April (1992) and Boogie Nights (1997). He made his Broadway debut in 1988 as Yvan in Art, the acclaimed play that became the hit of the 1998-99 theater season. Art’s dialogue-heavy plot pitted three opinionated friends against one another over a piece of modernist art, and Molina was nominated for a Tony award for his performance.

Molina has appeared in numerous films, but often as a supporting player. In 2002, however, he took a major, much-coveted role as Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in Frida, a portrayal lauded by critics for its intensity. Salma Hayek was cast in the title role of Frida Kahlo, whom the famous 43-year-old painter wed when she was 22. Their union was a tumultuous one, with infidelities on both sides, and they divorced when Rivera began an affair with Kahlo’s sister--though they later remarried. Molina admitted the part was indeed a challenging one in an interview with Daily Variety’s Kevin Maynard: "Here was a character who was hugely talented and charismatic, but at the same time woefully, infamously unfaithful and the worst kind of husband any woman can have."

Stepped into Classic Role

In 2004, Molina returned to Broadway in the highly anticipated revival of Fiddler on the Roof. It was the first full-scale production since the long-running original closed in 1972 after an eight-year run. Molina took the lead as Tevye, a role which became indelibly associated with actor Zero Mostel. Tevye is a milkman in a nineteenth-century Jewish shtetl in Russia and seeks three well-suited husbands for his trio of daughters. Some cultural critics asserted that the new production seemed to have been scrubbed of its original Yiddish tenor, but producers noted that they had simply eliminated some of the more biased stereotypes of Jews instead. Time’s Richard Zoglin found Molina "a younger, more down-to-earth, less clownish Tevye than Zero Mostel."

Later in 2004 Molina appeared in the sequel to Spider-Man as Dr. Octopus. It was yet another rogue role for the veteran actor, who claimed he enjoyed such characters. "I love playing the villain," he told Newsweek writer Marc Peyser. "The assumption seems to be that all actors are desperate to be the romantic lead and get the girl." Molina is married to novelist and former actress Jill Gascoine.

In 2006, Molina starred in The Da Vinci Code, which was released by Columbia Pictures. The film is based on a novel by Dan Brown.

In 2007, Molina starred in The Hoax, which was released by Miramax.

Futher Readings

Books

  • Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, Volume 44, Gale Group, 2002.

Periodicals

  • Art in America, December 2002.
  • Back Stage, January 5, 1996.
  • Back Stage West, October 24, 2002.
  • Daily Variety, January 8, 2003.
  • Newsweek, March 9, 1998; March 1, 2004.
  • New York Times, October 8, 1997.
  • New Yorker, November 11, 2002.
  • Time, April 20, 1987; July 17, 1995; March 8, 2004.

Source Citation

Biography Resource Center Online. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.

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