Alfred Molina enjoys the Pasadena Playhouse, so it was natural for him to accept the lead role in the theater’s latest production, Florian Zeller’s “The Father.”
“It’s my local theater. I keep telling everyone it’s just a 12-minute commute,” Molina says with a laugh.
During a recent interview, Molina’s conversation is peppered with wisecracks. In “The Father,” he plays André, who is suffering from a memory lapse and, as Molina says, it’s clear as the play progresses his situation is worsening. But don’t let that description fool you.
“It’s full of expectations that get confounded somewhat,” Molina says. “He’s clearly losing his memory and sense of who he is and who other people are. It’s sounds depressing, but Florian has written in the style of a farce — a tragic farce.
“It’s a very funny play. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s so much more. It’s emotionally powerful and really packs a punch.”
“The Father” deals with a theme and ideas that everyone faces — aging and dying. Molina says when the cast was initially rehearsing around the table, they shared how they were affected by dementia.
“Most people have relatives who have it,” he says. “We were all working on a play and we were empathetic. We all have an empathy for this situation. It’s almost an epidemic. Within the next 25 years, 1 in 3 Americans will have been touched by the disease or suffering from it in some shape or form.”
Molina says he discovered the vast majority of research dollars around the world used to go toward finding a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Now, it’s going toward preventative measures.
“It’s a strange disease. It’s a cowardly disease,” he says. “Once it’s diagnosed, it’s already established a hold. As the body starts to break down, it ceases to send certain messages to the body. You’re finding it hard to swallow. You can’t eat. We were talking about how unfair it is.
“If you get a cancer diagnosis — God forbid — early enough, you can fight it, face the illness and do what’s necessary to fight it. Alzheimer’s, it creeps up and establishes itself and there’s nothing you can do. It’s a one-way street. The play’s dealing with a very, very critical and timely topic. It’s full of humor, empathy and love.”
The Pasadena Playhouse is just as excited to have Molina.
“Alfred Molina is one of the greatest actors of our time,” says Danny Feldman, Pasadena Playhouse producing artistic director.
“We’ve been searching for a play to do together here at the Playhouse since I started a few years ago. ‘The Father’ had a profound impact on me. I distinctly remember reading the script in my office and getting to the end and feeling breathless. I sent it to Fred and he quickly said, ‘This is the one.’ I think it will be a performance that people will be talking about for years to come.”
A Yes Man
Molina doesn’t like to say no. As a result, he’s worked in a variety of films that began with the landmark “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
“A big highlight was ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ even though it was the best part of 40 years ago,” Molina says. “It was my first movie and what started my film career. It’s a real highlight because it was the beginning of everything. I’ve been very fortunate. There hasn’t been anything I’ve done that has been a disappointment. Some things have been more successful and more satisfying. I haven’t regretted anything.”
He recalls a conversation between “Raiders” star Harrison Ford and director Steven Spielberg on the set.
“No one thought it was going to do anything,” Molina says about “Raiders.”
“I was sharing a lunch with Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford when we were shooting at the studios in Elstree in London. We were all having lunch in the commissary and they invited me to join. I was thrilled to be sitting there. I was sitting with the director and the star. I was just a nobody. I was just listening.
“They were having a conversation about the movie and the expectations for it. They said they had no idea what this was going to be like. It bucked the trend of movies of that time. It was a throwback to a much more innocent, much more romantic era in filmmaking. It was of the ’30s and ’40s. When the movie was such a huge hit, I think everyone was delighted.”
The London-born Molina has lived and worked in the United States since the early ’90s. His career spans over 45 years with more than 200 credits in theater, television and film.
After “Raiders,” he worked with directors as diverse as Richard Donner, Mike Leigh, Jim Jarmusch, Lasse Hallström, Mira Nair, Stephen Frears and Julie Taymor.
His theater work includes the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, London’s West End, and Broadway where he has been a three-time Tony Award nominee. He has also worked extensively in Los Angeles, with productions at the Mark Taper Forum, Geffen Playhouse, and The New American Theatre. This is his first full production with Pasadena Playhouse.
Molina doesn’t have a favorite project. He enjoys everything he does.
“If you’re lucky enough to choose what you do, then you read a play and it speaks to you or it doesn’t,” he says. “You see yourself in that role or you don’t.
“It’s not necessarily an intellectual or logical process. Sometimes the reason is very arbitrary — could be the director, another actor you really want to work with, the theater is beautiful. Ultimately, it’s all about what’s on the page. I also never say no. I’m a bit of a tart.” n
“The Father” will be performed at various times Wednesday, Feb. 5, to Sunday, March 1. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tickets start at $25. For more information, call (626) 356-7529 or visit pasadenaplayhouse.org.