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Alfred Molina on Abduction, Sniffing Out Bad Scripts, and Always Playing the Foreigner

Alfred Molina.

Alfred Molina has played Snidely Whiplash in Dudley Do-Right and Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, but this weekend he takes on a far less cartoonish villain role as CIA agent Frank Burton in Abduction. His job: to hunt down teen titan Taylor Lautner. We spoke with Molina, who is famed for playing ethnic heavies with heavy accents, about sniffing out bad scripts, watching all the Twilight movies, and getting pigeon-holed as the foreigner.

I’m going to quote you: You’ve said, “I’ve always prided myself in being able to sniff out a really bad script.”
A really bad script? Is that what I said?

You did say that.

What did Abduction smell like?
Abduction smelled like a really good script, I have to be honest. It sounds like I was having one of my mischievous moments when I said that. I think what appealed to me [about Abduction] was that the story was so intricate. There was an interesting balance between traditional suspense-espionage thriller and a rather interesting coming-of-age story. On top of that, I’ve been a fan of [director] John Singleton’s films and I admired his way of playing around with narrative — I once described it like this: If the plot of a movie is like a house, it’s very easy to go in through the front door. It’s relatively easy to go in through the back door. But it’s really interesting when someone tries to get in through a half-open window. That’s what John Singleton does.

You play an American in the film — but you once said you were in danger of becoming everyone’s favorite foreigner.
Nowadays if they’re looking for an Asian character they’ll use an Asian actor, but there was a time when that wasn’t always the case and I think I said I’ve played so many different nationalities that I was in danger of, “Oh, yeah, Freddy does that — he can do Cuban, he can do Hispanic, he can do Greek, he can do Irish.” I spent my life seemingly inhabiting one accent or another that wasn’t my own.

What would be really tough for you to play?
I suppose to play black. I think that would be a challenge. It would probably also get me into prison. I’d probably end up in a lot of trouble. No, hopefully anything’s a challenge in one way or another. When it comes to learning accents, that’s the make-believe part that can be a lot of fun. But the real challenge of course is once you’ve done all that work, not to display it in front of the audience. An old drama school teacher of mine always said the worst crime an actor can commit is showing off his homework to the audience. You don’t want the audience sitting there going, “Oh, wow, he really did a lot of research for this.”

Did you do a lot of research for your CIA character, Frank Burton?
Not a tremendous amount. Certainly I read some stuff about the mechanics of the CIA and the protocols. There are probably more books written about the CIA than almost any other government department.

Complete this sentence: Of all the young actors I have worked with, Taylor Lautner is …
One of the most hardworking, committed, and focused.

How many of the Twilight films have you seen?
All of them. I think so. There’s three of them, isn’t there?

Yeah, I’ve seen three. I was not a big fan to start with. I remember being rather snooty — “Oh, not another vampire film my wife wanted to go see” — but we went to the first one and what I was really surprised by and delighted by was that, yes, it was a vampire movie but there was a romance at the heart of it. It was a rather romantic film where these young people were desperately struggling with this innate tragedy in their lives. And I thought, Wow, that’s really interesting, and that’s what hooked me. The transformation into various animals and stuff really was of less interest to me than those relationships. I told myself off for being so grand about it. That was purely out of my own ignorance.

Is movie watching one of your hobbies? Or what are your hobbies?
We love the movies, we love the theater. Hiking. Road trips. But those are activities rather than hobbies; I don’t have a workshop where I make, you know, reproductions of eighteenth-century furniture or anything like that.

What a pity.
Yeah, what a shame — that’s where I’ve gone wrong!

Alfred Molina on Abduction, Sniffing Out Bad Scripts, and Always Playing the Foreigner