Actor Alfred Molina, a La Cañada Flintridge resident whose parade of screen roles includes memorable appearances in “Spider-Man 2” and “Boogie Nights,” never stops trying to find the authenticity in every character he portrays.
“There’s always a process for every character,” Molina said in a recent phone interview. “You want to present a story that’s believable and a story the audience engages with. So yes, it’s more than just learning the lines. … It’s also about not misrepresenting the character. Even if you’re the absolute villain or a heroic character, you have to be honest to the nature of the character … you’ve got to play it like it is. Every choice you make has to be based on truth in the character or in the text.”
By that standard, Molina, who moved to LCF in 2017, has chosen his new role wisely — and the job is nearby. He is set to star as the lead in the Pasadena Playhouse production of Florian Zeller’s award-winning play “The Father,” which the Guardian has called “a savagely honest study of dementia.”
The play, which runs from Wednesday, Feb. 5-Sunday, March 1, is about Andre, who lives with his daughter, Anne. Andre begins to question whether he is losing control because he is wearing pajamas, can’t find his watch and does not know if Anne is living with her husband, Antoine, or her new lover, Pierre.
Upon reading the play, Molina had a telling reaction.
“You can almost taste a good play or smell it … almost like a physical response to it,” Molina said. “That certainly happened to me with this play.”
He described the production, directed by Jessica Kubzansky, as “very moving, very funny,” with tragic elements and “beautiful” human observational humor.
“What’s interesting about the play is it’s very much from the central character’s point of view,” Molina said. “All the confusion and the anger he’s going through. The audience experiences it from his point of view and it makes the play quite a unique experience.”
And there is another perk. Molina said he enjoys the short drive from LCF to the Playhouse for the role.
“It’s certainly advantageous,” he said. “I’m used to working miles and miles away from where I live. When I moved to La Cañada, I had lived in West Hollywood for years and years and years. That felt very central. Now, coming to La Cañada, I love it. It’s like having the entire California state literally down the road.”
Molina said he lives at the foot of the Angeles National Forest and loves the area.
“It’s just that being a little bit higher up,” Molina said. “You can tell the difference in air quality. It feels like the country, and that’s always been a nice thing.”
Molina described himself as a character actor rather than a leading man because people don’t go to movies just to see him.
“The advantage is you tend to get a wider range of characters,” he said. “You’re never quite the lead roles. It’s a supporting role. That means you’ve got a much wider range to play. I enjoy that. It wasn’t a plan or strategy on my part. I look back now on 45 years of work and see this incredible diversity of stuff that wasn’t planned. It was the way it happened. I just went through my professional life saying yes … Just saying yes to every job.
“Looking back, I have a crazy quilt of different roles, different characters, different personalities. I’m very happy with it. It certainly wasn’t a strategy; it was just the way things worked out.”
He said he’ll never forget one indelible role, as villainous Doctor Octopus in “Spider-Man 2” in 2004.
“That movie did a lot for me,” Molina said. “I’ve never done a movie quite like that before. When people remember me for it, I’m delighted. I don’t find that acknowledgement upsetting or irritating in any way … that’s what helped me put two kids through college.”
Another role that is meaningful to him was a small but notable turn as drug dealer Rahad Jackson in 1997’s “Boogie Nights,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. A transaction involving Jackson quickly goes south after characters played by star Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly and Thomas Jane try to sell the dealer baking soda disguised as cocaine.
“Mark and John and Thomas and I … we laughed a lot,” Molina said. “That whole thing was really crazy. We had a great time doing it. It was one of those moments where you go, ‘This is what filmmaking should be like.’ Just to be crazy and exciting.
“People say, ‘Oh my gosh, the tension must have had you on the edge of your seat.’ I’m thinking, ‘We laughed and giggled through the whole three days’ … it was fantastic.”
Molina said he doesn’t have much advice for young actors, acknowledging that some of the world has changed in a way he doesn’t fully understand.
“The younger generation has their own way of staying in touch with fans and communicating,” Molina said. “I still get the old-fashioned fan letters. I’m always flattered by people’s attention, but it’s not the reason for doing the work. I’d much rather people came and saw the work rather than wondered what am I having for breakfast.”
While Molina does have a Twitter account, it’s set to private. He doesn’t expect to change that anytime soon.
“I think I enjoy the level of celebrity where I can maybe get a table at a restaurant but still go to the dry cleaners and get breakfast and not be too bothered by that,” he said.
To learn more about the Pasadena Playhouse production of “The Father,” visit pasadenaplayhouse.org.