Alfred Molina has made a career out of playing supporting movie roles, often as a “foreigner” of any country instead of his native England, though he’s done quite well for himself since making his screen debut in the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark (playing a Latin American character, of course).
Molina, who is of mixed Spanish-Italian heritage, harkens back to an era where nearly every “ethnic” character was played by some vaguely ethnic white man often in heavy make-up, with more success than others.
Molina recalls his success in this area to New York magazine, explaining, “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.”
Of course, Molina does have some fun with his ever-shifting on-screen nationality when asked if there would be any ethnicity that he couldn’t pull off. He answers, “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.'”
Nonetheless, there are a few things Molina can’t pull off. He claims that he “always prided myself in being able to sniff out a really bad script” and that his current film, Abduction (in which he plays an American) smelled like “a really good script.” Considering Abduction got torn apart by critics, it appears Molina’s accent is better than his nose!