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Molina, Alfred (1953-)


Main image of Molina, Alfred (1953-)

Though his imposing form and dark, swarthy looks could easily have seen him typecast, Alfred Molina has played a huge variety of roles on either side of the Atlantic, his ability to seemingly transform himself physically complemented by a striking facility for accents.

Born to a Spanish father and Italian mother on 24 May 1953, he grew up in Notting Hill; seeing Spartacus (US, 1960) aged 11 inspired him to become an actor, and he later studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He followed a stint with the RSC with early screen roles as aspiring wrestler Nigel in shortlived sitcom The Losers (ITV, 1978), a brief but memorable appearance as Satipo, Indiana Jones' unreliable guide in Raiders of the Lost Ark (US, 1981), and episodes of Bognor (ITV, 1981), Reilly: Ace of Spies (ITV, 1983) and C.A.T.S. Eyes (ITV, 1985, which introduced him to future wife Jill Gascoigne). But it wasn't until Letter to Brezhnev (d. Chris Bernard, 1985) that he found his breakthrough role: a monosyllabic Soviet sailor on shore leave in Liverpool. He won more plaudits for his conflicted performance as Kenneth Halliwell, lover and eventual murderer of Gary Oldman's Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears (d. Stephen Frears, 1987).

His chameleon-like abilities were further showcased in a series of small-screen character roles: a chillingly amoral Mexican assassin in Ashenden (BBC, 1991) - a part played by Peter Lorre in Alfred Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936) - a morally ambiguous black market operator in Andrew Davies' 'A Very Polish Practice' (Screen One, BBC, tx. 6/9/1992), and troubled comic Tony Hancock in 'Hancock' (Screen One, BBC, tx. 1/9/1991). After two series playing retired detective Bernard Blake in likeable comic crime drama El C.I.D. (ITV, 1990-91) he left to concentrate on his film career, with three releases in 1991 alone: American Friends (d. Tristram Powell, 1991), The Trials of Oz (d. Sheree Folkson, 1991) and Enchanted April (d. Mike Newell, 1991), in which he impressed as stiff Londoner Mellersh Wilkins, gradually learning to unbend after relocating to Italy at his wife's behest.

From the mid-1990s he focused increasingly on Hollywood, eventually taking American citizenship. Film work included Boogie Nights (US, 1997) and Chocolat (US, 2000), but while he continued to demonstrate his range as a support in major vehicles, he got more attention in villainous roles, notably as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 (US, 2004). He was BAFTA-nominated for his performance as Diego Rivera, opposite Penelope Cruz's Frida Kahlo, in Frida (US, 2002), and won leading roles in TV sitcoms Ladies Man (US, 1999-2001) and Bram and Alice (US, 2002), before becoming a regular on Law & Order: Los Angeles (US, 2010-). On Broadway he was Tony-nominated for 'Art', 'Fiddler on the Roof' and 'Speed-the-Plow'.

He returned to Britain to appear alongside Dawn French in Roger & Val Have Just Got In (BBC, 2010), displaying a flair for understated comedy and again demonstrating why he is considered one of Britain's most versatile and talented actors.

Richard Hewett

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Thumbnail image of Letter to Brezhnev (1985)Letter to Brezhnev (1985)

Fresh, lively romance about love across the iron curtain

Thumbnail image of Prick Up Your Ears (1987)Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

Alan Bennett-scripted biopic of 1960s playwright Joe Orton

Thumbnail image of Song of the Shirt, The (1979)Song of the Shirt, The (1979)

Witty and inventive exploration of the position of women in the rag trade

Thumbnail image of Ashenden (1991)Ashenden (1991)

Spy drama adapted from Somerset Maugham's stories

Thumbnail image of Meantime (1983)Meantime (1983)

Memorably bleak Mike Leigh film about feuding East London families

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