Feature by: Jack Foley
SPIDER-MAN 2 villain, Alfred Molina, got the surprise of his
life when he logged on to a fan site and found himself described
as ‘that fat bloke in Frida’, when it was first announced
that he would be appearing as Doctor Octopus in the sequel to
the hit movie.
Yet, he has since won over the admiration and respect of Spider-Man
followers across the globe, for his portrayal of Peter Parker’s
latest nemesis, helping the film to become potentially one of
the biggest of all-time.
"I knew there were a lot of fans out there, because I remember
reading stories about the reaction to the first movie, and how
Tobey and Kirsten were doing this world tour of publicity, being
greeted by crowds that they hadn’t seen since The Pope last
visited. Stuff like that," he recalled.
"But I wasn’t aware of it on any personal level until
a friend of mine called and told me to check out the fan websites.
"I logged on to one, and the first message was someone
saying: ‘what a good idea that Sam Raimi has stuck to his
game plan of hiring an experienced stage actor to play the villain.
It worked the first time, so it all bodes well, it’s obviously
a good idea’. You know, a very, very positive message.
"I thought this was good, so I carried on scrolling down,
and the second message said something like: ‘who the hell’s
Alfred Molina, I’ve never heard of him’. And then
the third one was, ‘oh, he was that fat bloke in Frida’.
"Then they got progressively worse, and less friendly.
I quickly logged off, so I stayed away from the fan sites after
It is all the more gratifying, therefore, to find that the fans
have since started to rave about his performance, while critics
are hailing him as the best Spider-Man villain so far.
"I’m very pleased, because the fans could have been
very mean about it, but the reaction has been very good, certainly
in the States.
"The real serious Spider-man fans, the comic book fans,
will go to see the movie three, four, five times. They’re
the reason these films make so much money when they’re successful,
because they’re laying out a lot of money on tickets.
"So it’s very nice for our efforts to be endorsed.
They’re really enjoyed the character, it seems, so I’m
very pleased for them. I’m very happy."
As for Molina himself, who has previously appeared in films such
as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Species, Magnolia and Identity, the
whole process of bringing Doc Ock to the screen was something
that he relished from start to finish.
Not even the technical aspects of filming such a complex character
proved too daunting, even though the demands were extremely rigid.
"I had a lot of fun working with the puppeteers who were
operating them," he explained, from the luxury of a suite
at London’s Dorchester Hotel.
"The preparation was really just before we started shooting,
we had about two months of prep and, in those two months, I had
regular rehearsals with the puppeteer team, because we had to
work out a sort of language, a kind of vocabulary of moves.
"For all the scenes where the
tentacles were strapped onto me, they didn’t afford very
much movement, they were quite restricting, because all the tentacles
were strapped up onto wires so all the movement had to choreographed.
"I couldn’t suddenly improvise in the middle of a
scene; I couldn’t decide in the middle of a scene that I
would turn round or lean back or stand up.
"I wasn’t able to do any of that sort of thing. So
we had a series of sequences that Sam Raimi needed that we rehearsed
basically. That was the bulk of the training, working out all
of that stuff to make it look plausible and authentic, and as
free and natural as possible.
"But I enjoyed the technical side of it, I’ve always
had rather a fascination with film-making on that technical level.
A lot of actors find it boring, or find it gets in the way sometimes,
or it irritates them. But I’ve always found it interesting."
However, Spider-Man 2 was not just about the technical side,
or the special effects, and much of its success lies in the film-makers’
collective ability to draw on strong characterisation, to provide
audiences with a film that is worth investing their time in, emotionally,
as well as visually.
"It certainly makes it more interesting to play, because
there’s a development in the character," he continued.
"He’s not relentlessly evil. It’s not like you
hear about the bad guy for the first 20 minutes in the movie and
suddenly he arrives, snarling and screaming his way to the end
of the film.
"That kind of diet would be one you’d tire of very
"So having the audience see the character before the transformation,
you see him in a more ordinary domestic context, it’s more
interesting for the actor, certainly because you’d got a
much broader, much wider character to play. It’s not all
twirling moustaches and looking mean. There’s a bit of heart
and some depth to it."
And it also fulfilled a childhood fantasy, as Molina has been
a self-confessed fan of Marvel Comics since his early teens, when
he would often favour reading Spider-Man and The Silver Surfer
over other super-heroes.
"The Marvel Comics were always harder to find, but so much
more glamorous somehow. Not that I was aware of that at the time,
but I do remember being much more attracted to them.
"I could never understand why no one ever recognised Superman.
He looked the same; Clark Kent looked like Superman, except he
had glasses on. He had the same haircut, the same build, the same
chiselled features. He just put on a pair of glasses and a suit.
I could never understand why people didn’t cotton on. And
Batman was always so dull."
As for the enduring appeal of Doctor Octopus, who has long-been
a fan favourite, Molina believes that it lies in the conflicted
nature of his character.
"There’s something very human about him, he’s
not like a fantasy villain. He didn’t come out of the sea,
or come from another planet, or anything like that. He’s
very much one of us, I suppose. Maybe that’s been part of
the attraction over the years."