Tuesday, June 15, 2004
SPIDER-MAN 2'S ALFRED MOLINA
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- The Continuum today begins it series of question-and-answer interviews from the Spider-Man 2 press junket with Alfred Molina, who plays the villainous Doc Ock.
Following is an edited transcription of a roundtable interview conducted last weekend on the Sony lot.
Question: You haven't been in a big special effects movie like this. Can you tell us what were the challenges for you?
Molina: One of the biggest challenge is always to match what you do with the material and in a sense to rise to the occasion and understand what the material is. When you go into a movie that has such a huge emphasis on special effects and so on, the relationship between the actor and the material changes. It's not like doing a little movie like Coffee and Cigarettes, which is basically two guys sitting around a table talking. Your relationship to the event changes. And you have to, in a sense, surrender yourself to that.
Question: Were you reticent to take on such a big movie?
Molina: No, I wasn't reticent at all, no. I was glad for the job. I was happy to do it.
Question: Did you pursue the role or did they pursue you?
Molina: I don't think I was pursued. It would be very flattering. It would be very self-aggrandizing for me to say they chased me all around Hollywood. I think I was on a list of possible candidates and the studio went through the process of elimination and I ended up getting it. The other actors would have been just as wonderful in the part.
Question: How did you lose your Freida weight?
Molina: I haven't lost it yet, quite. I'm still working on it. It took two weeks to put on it and it's taken me two years to lose it.
Question: This has to be the first time you've had an action figure. How strange was it to see that?
Molina: It's strange. It looks nothing like me. They've been very flattering. They've given me cheekbones, which I don't have. They've got my nose and they've given me a slightly higher brow, which I don't have. And also, they've given me pecs, which I've never had in my life. I've got middle-aged man-tits.
Question: What were the constraints in wearing the costume? As an actor, how tough is it to do the scenes?
Molina: It's only tough in the sense that it is constricting, but you have to find a way to deal with it. I very quickly discovered that I couldn't bend and turn and shift my weight and twist in quite the same way.
Question: And how about learning on interact with puppeted arms or CG arms?
Molina: It was a mixture of practical, puppeteered arms, CG and animation. We have a fantastic team of puppeteers: 16, 15 guys and one woman. And a wonderful choreographer, Eric Hayden, who essentially designed the movement in a way. The puppeteers and myself worked very closely over a series of weeks to try and develop sort of a vocabulary of movement, a language if you like. So we could do great big things like push a hole through a building but at the same time do delicate things like taking off a pair of glasses or lighting a cigar. Even one shot we did, and I don't think we used it, we actually had one of the tentacles come out and it actually wiped away a tear. So we really had a wide range of possibilities.
Question: The tentacle that wiped away the tear, was that animated?
Molina: No that, was puppeteered.
I think I'm right in saying that, as a general rule, all the times that you saw the arms in close or medium shots, they were puppeteered. The times that it was CG or animated, it was whenever you had big, wide shots.
Question: Like when you carried off Kirsten (Dunst)?
Molina: Stuff like that, yeah.
Question: Did the puppeteers ever have fun with you?
Molina: That's none of your business! (laughs) That will go with me to my grave.
We had a lot of fun, actually. We got very close because we working together every day. We actually gave the tentacle names.
Question: What were their names?
Molina: Let's see if I can remember. The two big ones down here were very kind of male; they broke through things. There was Harry, Larry, Flo and Mo.
Question: How long did they take to put on and take off?
Molina: Well, the whole thing, from soup to nuts, including all the makeup and everything was probably about two, two-and-a-half hours.
Question: For you personally, what do you get a bigger kick out of, reading the reviews for Coffee and Cigarettes, or being in a big popcorn movie like Spider-Man 2?
Molina: Well, it's a bit like ... if you love fruit, it's a bit like choosing between a really delicious mango and a really fantastic pear. You can enjoy both of them equally.
Question: Had you read the Marvel comics as a kid? Were you familiar with Doc Ock?
Molina: Yes to first question and no to the second one. I did read them when I was a kid. I collected them a bit.
Question: Which ones?
Molina: Marvel comics. Whatever I could get my hands. But I don't remember reading any Doc Ock stories at the time. I don't remember him as a character when I was actively reading.
Question: Did you read the books for this?
Molina: Yeah, I went back and checked them out. I was curious to see how he was drawn. Because he's changed. I think Doc Ock first appeared in the mid-60s, and depending on who was drawing him, he changed. He went through various changes.
But one thing that stayed constant was this wonderful kind of slightly sardonic, almost sort of cruel, sense of humor that he had. And we tried to maintain that in the movie because both Sam (Raimi, director) and I thought that was a really interesting quality.
Question: You've been in all these high-quality films. Is it frustrating that you're going to get your biggest audience with a popcorn type of film?
Molina: No, I'll take it any way it comes. A journalist once said to me, "Over your long career in films, you've studiously avoided these kind of popcorn movies." And I said, "No, I haven't. I just never got offered one before. (laughs)." I would have done one of these movies at the drop of a hat; I just never got offered them before.
Question: You were in Raiders of the Lost Arc, though.
Molina: One little scene. That was like my first film. That was 24 years ago. When you look back at that movie now, it was state of the art when we made that film. Compared to what's available now technologically in movies, it seems positively crude.
Question: Any important stuff in this film that didn't make it and will be on the DVD?
Molina: Oh, my nude scene! (laughs) In that scene, I had five tentacles! We lost the nude scene. (laughs)
There wasn't anything that was important. Pretty much everything was in. There were a couple of little linking sequences, a couple of little linking shots that got cut. But nothing that made me go, "Oh my God, they've torn the soul out of my character."
Question: What was it like working with Tobey Maguire?
Molina: Tobey's certainly one of the best actors of his generation, in my view. It is that quiet, rather intense, very clean, very economical way he has of just telling the story, which is so attractive and so compelling. He's not a busy actor. He's not one those actors who is intent on showing you that he's acting. He just is. He's more interested in being, which is a wonderful quality to have, particularly on film.
Johnny Depp has a similar thing. Of that generation of actor, Tobey is certainly one of the best of the bunch. He's got that wonderful simplicity, economy. I love it.
Question: When you watched the first Spider-Man film, what worked for you?
Molina: I think what worked for me in the first movie is the same thing that works for the second: Sam Raimi's ability to weave together a love story and the back stories of J.K. Simmons' character, for instance, with all the action and all the set pieces that are part and parcel of this kind of movie. Sam clearly understands the simple premise that a movie that would be just a series of action sequences would be a very rich diet and ultimately one that audiences would get bored by, I think. So you have to season it with something else.
What was so successful in the first film was the balance between those sort of elements. So you got interested in them equally. The love scene or the quiet talking scene wasn't like, "Well, we'll go over that for a couple of minutes, and now, yeah, then we're back." They carried equal weight in the telling of the story.
Question: Was there any thought of using a British accent. I can't see why they wouldn't want that.
Molina: Except for the fact that he's an American character. We did discuss it very briefly, whether he should be British, but we then very quickly realized that there's no suggestion in the comic-book history of the character that he's anything but of that place, presumably New York. Also, my feeling was that if we gave him a British accent, that's a bit like giving it away right from the start. It's bit like carrying a great big sign above you head that goes "MOVIE VILLAIN!" (laughs) And under that, "Alan Rickman wasn't free."
Question: The tentacles seemed like a character apart from you. How did that feel?
Question: I'm glad you felt that. That's very much a tribute to the puppeteering team that worked on the tentacles. They were so inventive. What they did is they managed to infuse these lumps of resin and fiberglass and metal and plastic with real life. They gave them character and personality, which I think is even more important.
There's a wonderful moment -- I think it's wonderful because I saw it so brilliantly done -- where one of the tentacles, the female tentacle Flo, she comes in and I mumble something and she does this wonderful thing she tilts like she's cocking an ear because she can't quite understand what I've said. The way puppies do that. And I thought that was so brilliant, that kind of detail makes them completely full of life. That's a great tribute to them.
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