Exclusive Interview: Abduction's Alfred Molina

By Eric Eisenberg 2011-09-23 19:09:57discussion comments
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Exclusive Interview: Abduction's Alfred Molina image
For his first feature film following the end of production on the Twilight franchise, Taylor Lautner has found himself some seriously great co-stars. Just yesterday I posted my interview with Sigourney Weaver, who playís Lautnerís characterís therapist, and today I have my one-on-one interview with Alfred Molina to share with all of you.

Sitting down with the veteran actor, I took the opportunity to talk about the process that he goes through when selecting the projects he works on, his preference for working quickly and the contrast between working on television and in the movies. Also, with 2011 being the 30th anniversary of Steven Spielbergís Raiders of the Lost Ark, I asked Molina what is reflections are on the classic movie. Check it out!

When it comes to veteran actors, Iím always curious about the script selection process. How do you decide what projects to do and when reading a script do you focus on the script as a whole or just the character you might play?

Well thatís an interesting question. I think the way I read a script now is probably the same as ever. Although a certain amount of experience and a certain amount of knowledge helps you to read a script in a bit more detail. When I was a young actor first working on films I would read film scripts as if they were plays. It was always a frustrating and dispiriting experience because itís films, itís not a play. Itís completely different. It would be a bit like reading a film script like it was a novel. It doesnít work. You have to read it in a particular way, you have to understand cuts and why weíre going from one place to another. And so you start reading them and I think Iím a bit reading them now than, say, 30 years ago. But the joy, what gets you excited about a script is still the same: good story, good dialogue, things that literally make you want to turn the page. You want to get into it. So all of those things are just the same.

But the second half of your question is interesting because Iíve developed a way of reading scripts now where I basically try and read them twice. The first time is just to read them as a general, just read it as a script. The second time I just read the scenes that my character is in to see how the character develops from the beginning to the end, to work out the track. And I love this little trick when I was in drama school that one of our teachers gave us, and he applied this to play scripts, theater scripts. Itís an old Stanislavski or Strasberg, Iím not sure, but you write two lists: a list of all the things your character says about himself, and then you write a list of all the things that other characters say about you. And I remember him saying that the more contradictory those, and the more inconsistent those lists are, the better it is. If, say, your character says, ďOh, Iím really a quiet person; Iím really quite shy,Ē and someone else says, ďOh! Heís crazy! Heís a madman! Heís an animal!Ē Now, that might seem like a contradiction, but thatís where the drama is. Thatís where the juice is.

And you definitely get that in this film because you act like youíre the good guy but Taylor Lautnerís character never really trusts you.

Absolutely! Thereís a bit of detective work that has to go on, but itís fun. Itís the fun part of the job. I quite enjoy reading scripts. The only time that itís not enjoyable is when the writing or the plotting or the structure is so predictable that youíre way ahead of the story. Or that thereís just no life in it. The dialogue might be a bit pedantic or dull or obvious or the choices that the writerís making are so kind of ordinary. Sometimes scripts are very hard to read. Sometimes theyíre very obtuse or sometimes structure is confusing, but I always try to persevere because that often means, not always, but often means that thereís something else going on.

And the other thing, of course, about reading a film script, and this is why itís quite a skill and itís not one that Iíve conquered yet, but youíve got to think visually. When youíre reading a play or a book, somehow thatís all about the words, itís all about the language. But film is not. Film is about the visual image. So you read just as much into ďFade in Ė a large expansive desert. The sun slowly rising, the heat shimmering. We see a lone figure.Ē Maybe the only dialogue in that scene is the figure saying something like, ďHey, how you doing?Ē [laughs] Do you know what I mean? Now you might read that and kind of go, ďThereís not much going on here.Ē But you have to find a way of visualizing the description of where of where we are. Get a sense of what the writer is trying to convey.

And that took me a while to learn that. It took me a while of reading scripts before I finally got that. And it was actually another actor who told me. Because I remember saying, ďGod, I donít think much of this script,Ē and he was like, ďWhat do you mean? Itís a great script!Ē ďWell, yeah, but itís just sort of boring.Ē And he said, ďYeah, but look at the pictures! The pictures are fantastic!Ē And I didnít get what he meant. And so I went and looked at it again and, of courseÖ then what I started doing is I started reading the stage directions, as it were, the descriptions. I started reading those aloud. Thereís a skill to it. I have a friend who was a script reader. For years and years and years thatís what she did, she worked for HBO and Showtime and that was her job. She read scripts. And she got paid quite well too if I remember right. And she would read scripts and then write these little reports on character and plotting and so on. She was a creative writing major at university. Bright woman. And she would read scripts and she had a real skill for it because she could completely visualize these moments. And the moments in the scene where the writer has described what the audience is going to see. Thatís a skill.

You mention that there are scripts you read that you have a hard time getting through. Do you always read scripts all the way through to the end?

Well, I have to say, to my shame, I have to say there have been occasions where Iíve gotten a third of the way through a script and itís been so impenetrable or so boring that Iíve just left it. The reason I say Iím ashamed to say is because usually itís a failing of mine and not a failing of the script. One of the films that Iím most proud of, the first draft of the script I actually through across the room because I thought it was soÖ

What was it?

Well, Iím not going to say [laughs]. I donít want to offend anybody. But the director told me off. Actually, it wasnít the director originally, it was one of the actors who was also producing. And I said, ďThis is terrible!Ē And he said, ďRead it again. Read it again. Youíre going to make a terrible mistake if you turn this down.Ē ďYeah, but the script is so borÖĒ ďRead it again.Ē And I did and I went, ďOh yeah.Ē And Iím glad because it was a good little script, it was a really nice story, very funny. A little film I made back in England years ago. But my first reaction was, ďOh, this is rubbish!Ē And I literally threw it across the room! And I was so embarrassed, because, at that time, I hadnít learned that knack of reading.

You also have a wealth of experience in television, so is there a different approach to those scripts?

Itís kind of the same thing. Screen work always boils down to that moment between the camera and the actor or the actors. It always boils down to that ultimately. You serve the camera. The only difference Iíve found with film and television is that, I mean there are a few technical things Ė the scripts are made out slightly differently Ė in television scenes tend to be more dialogue heavy, and also the time youíve got to work on it. Youíre working on it at a bit of a clip on. Ultimately the gig is the same.

To talk more about speed, I know John Singleton worked quickly on the production of this film and usually only had between two to four takes.

Yeah, he worked fast.

Working on television, is that kind of a mirrored experience?

I love working fast. I donít relish the director who wants to do 25 to 30 takes, or the actors who insist on doing 25 or 30 takes. I can do without that. But I love working fast because I think the longer you work on a scene, the longer the takes, the more takes there are, I think I reach the point where it becomes a game of diminishing returns.

Line recital as opposed to performance.

Basically, yeah. Some actors take longer, maybe. Iíve worked with actors who treat the first two takes like rehearsals. And thatís okay. If the camera is on you and weíre doing a scene where Iím off camera, Iím treating that as a rehearsal. Iím working things out for myself as well. So thatís not a bad thing, but I think when it comes to Take 15 or Take 20Öyou know what? Thereís a finite number of times you can pick up a cup of coffee, take a sip and say, ďIím leaving you.Ē [laughs] Do you know what I mean? In the end, thatís often a sign that no one knows what they want.

I know Iím running out of time, but I would be remiss if I didnít ask: this year is the 30th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Is it really? Is it this year?

It is.

Good lord, yes, of course it is.

Iím curious about your reflections on the film.

Well, it was my first film. I knew nothing about movies when I made that. My overriding memory is that that movie, thirty years ago, was cutting edge technology. It really was cutting edge technology. When I compare it to whatís available now, it looks positivelyÖthe movie doesnít look [laughs], the technology that we had seems, now, positively Neanderthal - compared to whatís available now. At the time we were absolutelyÖthis movie was like ďThe Business.Ē And it still stands up beautifully! Iím always citing that scene shot from above when Harrison [Ford] is lowering himself into the snake pit. Those were real snakes! And when he let go of the rope he landed in a sand pit and those were real snakes separated only by an invisible pane of glass. Nowadays it would just be green screen.
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