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Spider-Man 2 - Alfred Molina Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

SPIDER-MAN 2 villain, Afred Molina, talks to IndieLondon about the challenges of filming the sequel - and the pleasure.

Q. So when did you begin reading Marvel comics, as I always had you pegged for a Beano or Dandy kind of guy?
A. [laughs]
I think before Marvel Comics, I’m sure I did read the Beano and the Dandy. There used to be an English comic that had a great character in it called Alf Tupper, Tough of the Track. I used to love it because he used to work in a chip shop during the day and at night and at weekends he was an athlete.
He never had any money, so he was always running in borrowed shoes and tatty old vest and shorts, and he was always running against some glamorous bloke who was going to be in the Olympic team and he always won.

That’s indicative of a certain kind of English persistence, in keeping things the way they were. I remember loving him.
I started getting into American comics, I think it was my Dad who first introduced me to them. He used to be in the Merchant Navy when I was very, very young, and I think he brought some back or something.
That sparked off my interest. And then, of course, they started selling them, but they were quite expensive, so I don’t think I was able to get them regularly.
I guess I must have been about 12 or 13 when I started getting pocket money on a regular basis, I started lashing out on Marvel and DC Comics.
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.
But there was something about the Marvel characters, it must have had something to do with the artwork or something, but there was something very.....also I think it was something about the way New York was drawn, there was something really exotic and sexy about that.

Q. And they are all psychologically-damaged characters?
A.
I realise that now, but probably, at the age of 12, I wasn’t really thinking in those sort of sophisticated terms. Unconsciously, there must have been something, though. Now that I think about it, they all share that thing of being heroes and villains in a sense, reluctantly.
Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man almost by accident.

Q. Which one did you want to be?
A.
I tell you who I really wanted to be, there was a wonderful hero called Silver Surfer. I always fancied him, because I thought that was really cool. And Thor, I liked him.

Q. They’re going to make it as a film…
A.
Are they? Oh I loved Thor.

Q. It’s not too late, perhaps?
A.
I suspect it is.

Q. Let’s talk about the tentacles. What sort of preparation did you do, and how difficult was it?
A.
I had a lot of fun working with the puppeteers who were operating them. 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.
And lots of work with various prototypes of the costume, which went through all kinds of changes and developments as the weeks went by.
The prep was very, very technical. When it came to actually playing the role there was really no research to do really, it was just about making it up and being hopefully as imaginative 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.

Q. How familiar were you with the character of Doc Ock?
A.
I don’t remember him from when I used to read the Marvel Comics. I remember other villains, like Lizard, and Sandman and Green Goblin. But I don’t remember Doc Ock. I found out he first appeared in 1963, went through all kinds of different looks and changes, and, again, the design that we had for him was very different from anything that’s in the comic books, so I didn’t really have any childhood memories of him or anything like that.
So I was really starting from scratch really, basing it just on what was being created specifically for the movie. But I liked the way it was going, and I was involved in the design at quite an early stage.
On my first day at work, the designer said that now that they knew who was playing the part, they could move onto the next stage.
They didn’t know who they were designing it for. Was it going to be a short guy? A tall person? A well known actor? They weren’t sure what their parameters were. Once I was cast, they started working more specifically in terms of what the looks was going to be.
But I was very aware that Doc Ock is, in his various versions, was always one of the most popular of all the villains in that whole Marvel world.
Why, I’m not sure. 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.

Q. Does that make him more difficult to play - the fact that he is so normal and conflicted?
A.
It makes it more interesting to play, because there’s a development in the character. 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 quickly. 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.

Q. And how do you feel about the English always playing the villains? Are you pleased to be continuing the tradition?
A.
I find it very remunerative, and this is one particular stereotype I’m very happy to endorse. It’s a long tradition. I was talking about this earlier, that in the early days of Hollywood there were actors like Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains, and in the next generation there were people like James Mason.
But they all played their villains with English accents, so there was clearly about the accent that appealed to American audiences.
There was a certain style of playing those bad guys, they were always rather suave and urbane, there was some rather attractive about them. They were often played as ladies men, or slightly sardonic and rather witty. Cruel, in a very casual way.
But then, in more recent years, even though British actors have still played those parts, they’ve started widening in terms of ethnicity. Alan Rickman was German, in the Die Hard movies. Gary Oldman has played lots of villains, and he’s been every nationality under the sun. And Doc Ock is, to all intents and purposes, an American.
So that’s changed. I used to joke that the reason why British actors always played villains was because we were cheaper. They could hire us for a quarter of what they would have to pay an American actor. I used to say it as a joke, but like most jokes there’s a grain of truth in it. I was very pleased to be part of that tradition. It’s nice to be continuing it.

Q. So it must be very gratifying to have attracted such a positive critical reaction, from both the fans and critics?
A.
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.

Q. How aware were you about the fans’ obsession? And did it add any pressure?
A.
I wasn’t really aware of it, though 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.
So I was aware that there was going to be a lot of interest, a big circus was about to hit town, 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.
This was just when it had been announced that I was playing Doc Ock, although the announcement came after we’d started work.
I logged on to one of these websites, 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 that.
But, ultimately, it’s what you end up on the screen with, and I think it’s pretty decent. And fans are obviously enjoying it, which is all well and good.

Q. Did you keep any memorabilia? A tentacle, perhaps?
A.
I didn’t, I couldn’t get it out the studio gates. The security was phenomenal on this movie, it really was. We had to sign for rewrites when we got them; they were really paranoid about the internet and stuff.
I remember I made a gift to the puppeteers, there was a team of about 16 of them, and I had some T-shirts made up.
We began to refer to ourselves as the ‘octourage’, that became our little in-joke. So I got some T-shirts made up saying ‘I’m with......’ on the front, and on the back it said ‘the octourage’, with a silhouette drawing of Doc Ock.
It was just a little private joke, and I gave these out to the puppeteers and a couple of the crew. About three days later, there was a photo on the internet of one of these crew guys wearing this T-shirt.
The photograph looks as if it was taken at ground level, so it must have been one of the extras or another crew member who took the photo and then slipped it onto the web. I remember the producers asking if I took it, but I said I only got the T-shirts made as a gesture of thanks.
They were very concerned about security and secrecy, so there was not nearly the same level of relaxation in that regard, precisely because of that. This is a multi-million dollar endeavour, and they take this kind of thing very seriously. But we still had fun though.

Q. Did your involvement in the designing of the character appeal to the ‘gadget geek’ in you, or ‘girly-man’?
A.
Kind of both. I was interested in all the technical stuff because films of this nature are, by definition, feats of technology. The actors relationship to the material therefore changes. It’s not like doing a movie where the bulk of the action is talking, or having a conversation over dinner. Or walking through parks, having intense relationship issues with each other.
So the actors relationship with the material is different, and I’m always in those points where the actor’s creativity meets and crosses paths with the film’s technical requirements. Even on the most simple, banal level, like walking through a door and having to hit a certain light because the director wants you to be lit just so.
Gary Cooper was a brilliantly technically accomplished actor by all accounts, he used to love that side of the movies. He’d have to arrive and be lit just here, or just a profile, and he would always hit it. He was always interested in that technical side.
I’ve always enjoyed that equation, contributing to solving those little problems.
And on this film everything was so much more complex with green screen work, and having to do the same movement over and over again. It can get really tedious, but there’s something really interesting in conquering the technology, so you find yourself using it rather than it using you, or you being dictated to by it.
I took a certain amount of pride in that, because I quite enjoyed the process from that point of view.

Q. Did you work out beforehand, to prepare for the role?
A
. I worked out essentially not to get myself all built and cut, I was actually working out to lose the last vestiges of all the weight I put on for Frida.
I turned up for my first interview for Spider-Man carrying a good 10 or 12 pounds more than I should have. It took me two weeks to put the weight on and two years to lose it.
I walked in, and I was still picking the last bits of quesadilla out of my moustache. Sam said he didn’t need me to be all buff, he didn’t need that, he just wanted me to get a bit firmer, because I was still quite overweight from that movie.

Q. The Victor Mature look?
A.
At one point when I was trying on the harness – we called it a harness, but it was more of a girdle – he said I looked like a 1950s bodybuilder. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but he said that was great, it was the look they wanted. He didn’t want me to look lean and chiselled, because that’s a terribly modern look, which was already covered by Spider-Man.
Spidey’s got that look, he didn’t need the villain to look like that. Thank goodness, speaking as one of nature’s big boys.

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