How Alfred Molina’s Never Say “No” to Work Outlook Has Led to His “Crazy Quilt of Experiences”

Alfred Molina explains why he does not turn work down -- and how even bad projects add to his "crazy quilt of experiences."

Alfred Molina in The Water Man

“I’ve had more than my fair share of good luck and good fortune. And I’m no more talented than anybody else really.” – Alfred Molina

Ever since his first film role as an unscrupulous thief in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Alfred Molina has performed in dozens of critically acclaimed roles. Part of that comes from the sheer number of projects that he has appeared in, sometimes amounting to a half-dozen movies per year (or more!) When speaking about one of his more recent projects to The Mary Sue, Molina explains why he does not turn work down — and how even bad projects add to his “crazy quilt of experiences.”

Molina had a small part in the 2020 drama The Water Man, which was directed and starred David Oyelowo. Though the part amounts to just a cameo appearance for Molina, he points out the inherent advantages of being a prominent actor in a small role in a movie. He explains, “There’s a wonderful thing the late Bob Hoskins’ once said was ‘The great thing about playing cameos is by the time you arrive on the movie, everyone’s so sick of everyone else, they’re delighted to meet you. Second, they treat you like the crown jewels. And thirdly, most importantly, if the movie is terrible, nobody blames you.'”

With that in mind, Molina shares his own advice about acting: “Never say no to a job.” He explains why he has this outlook on an actor’s work ethic:

“I stick by that. That’s what I did. I never said no. All I did was focus on… My dad, who was a bit of a no nonsense kind of guy, immigrated to the UK from Spain, worked all his life as a waiter. And I once was complaining about something that was happening at work. And my dad just looked at me and said, are they paying you for this job? I said, yeah. And he says, well then shut up. And at the time I kinda thought, Oh, that’s not very nice, but I thought about it. And I suddenly realized that it was, I was complaining about, you know, a situation that really is a blessing more than anything else.

“I mean, the idea of actually working and just working at something you just love doing is something my father never knew, he never experienced that. So I think I’m very careful to kind of, you know, give anyone advice about jobs apart from that. You know, I always say, never say no, because it’s what’s your career. A career isn’t what’s ahead of you. A career is something that’s behind you and it’s too late to do anything about it…

“What you notice is there’s a kind of crazy quilt of experiences that you’ve accumulated. And in that seeming chaos is actually something that makes sense in terms of where you are now. It’s what’s made you who you are and what you are as an actor, as a craftsperson. And I think saying no cuts off all those possibilities, which is why I always, you know, I’d say, I still say it to students these days. Anyone says what, you know, people often say “Is there… What one single thing would you do? Well, it’s a myriad of things, but one single thing. I wish they’d never say no.”

Of course, Molina has performed in roles that have been nominated for Emmy BAFTA, Tony, and Olivier awards, and few remember his roles in far less popular projects (1999’s Dudley Do-Right or 2009’s The Pink Panther 2, for example). As Molina puts it, the cream of your career rises to the top — but he’s proud of the whole package. He reflects, “I’ve just been lucky enough to have got work and, you know, I’ve had more than my fair share of good luck and good fortune. And I’m no more talented than anybody else really. We’re all, you know, we all do different things. We all have different shades, you know, but I’ve been really lucky, but when I look back on things, I’m delighted with what I’ve done. Not delighted in the sense that I’m like ‘look at me’ like I’ve done some crap too. You know, I’ve been a journey, but, I’m proud of everything that I’ve done because I went into it with always… I like to think anyway, always with the best intentions.”

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