The Sorcerer’s Apprentice star talks us through his varied CV, and why he gets so many obscure film roles
What are your memories of working on Raiders of the Lost Ark? Very fond, and a little bit embarrassing. I was so naive, and it was my first movie. I’d been trained for the theatre. But I was lucky that, although it was only a tiny part, I did all my scenes with Harrison Ford, who was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge. I found myself asking him question after question, and he was always a real gent about it.
Films like Meantime, Letter to Brezhnev and Prick Up Your Ears came out of the struggles of the ’80s. Were you political at the time? I went on some marches, got arrested a couple of times. There was something in the air. And it was a golden period for independent film in England, there was a lot of public money around. Lots of young directors kicking up dust and a whole generation of new actors: Gary Oldman, Ray Winstone, Tim Roth. It was a terribly exciting time.
You made a huge impression in a tiny role in Boogie Nights. I love to play those small cameos. You get to work with interesting people, to play a part with some bite to it. But Boogie Nights was a real accident because another actor had been cast and had dropped out. The producer phoned and asked if I was free. And I said, ‘Well, what is it?’ And he said, ‘Well it’s not a big part. It’s a fiend on a shotgun rampage.’ And I remember saying to my agent, ‘Jill, have I ever played a fiend on a shotgun rampage?’ And she went, ‘Don’t think so.’ So I said, ‘Okay.’
Spider-Man 2 came out of nowhere. Yes, I’d been chugging along, playing respectable parts in respectable films, respectable leads in respectable plays and suddenly this big, all-out commercial thing comes along. It did change things. Up until then I’d been an arthouse regular, then suddenly 12-year-old boys know who I am. But Sam (Raimi) was very keen to give Doc Ock life and depth. So even though I was the comic book villain, it was multi-layered.
Did you enjoy playing a pantomime villain in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Nicolas Cage said on the first day, ‘It’s all a game, right? It’s fantasy and fun.’ I think his philosophy is to take the work seriously but yourself not at all. And that’s a very healthy way to approach it. There was a lot of giggling going on, and a lot of fun to be had.
Do you thank your parents for giving you the face and skin tone of someone who could just as easily play a Russian sailor as a Persian camel racer? That’s the way it was even right back when I was at drama school. I played the East German heavy, I played the Greek guy, the Arabic guy. The genetic pool that I’m from is so mixed, I give good foreign. That’s got to be on my headstone: ‘Fred Molina. He gave good foreign.’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is showing in UAE cinemas now.