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.