Alfred Molina: An Appetite for Extremes In Lasse Hallstrom's new film The Hoax, Alfred Molina plays reluctant co-conspirator to the literary huckster Clifford Irving (Richard Gere). He talks to Michele Norris about friendship, hoaxes and being drawn to the edges of human experience.
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Alfred Molina: An Appetite for Extremes

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Alfred Molina: An Appetite for Extremes

Alfred Molina: An Appetite for Extremes

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A wreck of a man - easily bullied. That's how Bob just described Alfred Molina's portrayal of Clifford Irving's loyal friend and researcher, Dick Suskind.

When Molina came to our studio earlier this week, I asked him how he worked himself up into that state.

Mr. ALFRED MOLINA (Actor): It was quite easy to get into that mood, because he starts that way. I mean, almost the very first exchange that Clifford and Dick have concerning this idea of this book is when Clifford says, I'm writing what could be the most important book of the 20th century. And the immediate reaction from Dick is, couldn't you have said the decade?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLINA: You know, so right from the get go, you know, that there's this sense of Dick's already being very anxious about what's going to happen.

NORRIS: Now, to listen to you now, you sound nothing like Dick Suskind, who speaks with - if I have this right - is it a New York or a New Jersey accent?

Mr. MOLINA: It's New York accent, or East Coast.

NORRIS: And people who live on the East Coast are very precise about - they can tell a New York accent from a New Jersey accent from a Boston accent...

Mr. MOLINA: Yes.

NORRIS: ...from a Connecticut accent.

Mr. MOLINA: Yes.

NORRIS: So how'd you nail that? How did you get...

Mr. MOLINA: Well, I've been living in the States for, you know, 13 years now, so it's becoming easier. I've always had a pretty good ear for accents. You know, my parents were immigrants to England from Spain and Italy. I grew up in a part of London that was full of immigrant families. And also, the other thing was that when I was growing up in the late '50s and '60s, a lot of TV in England was American. So we got used to playing in the street. We play cops and robbers, and we would sort of copy the accents that we heard on TV.

So, you know, we - there'd be little Fred Molina running around sort of shouting out, head them off of the pass, you know. You got me, copper, and all that sort of thing, you know.

NORRIS: It's on thing to learn how to speak with a certain accent - it seems like it maybe quite another to learn how to emote, to display emotion, to sort of go on the outer edges of your emotions and do that in an accent that is not completely natural to you.

Mr. MOLINA: Yeah. Well, it does - it sort of follows on logically, because I think after a while, when you're inhabiting the character and you sort of, you know, you start to take on certain rhythms and certain - things become very familiar to you. And so when you start having to hit like an emotional moment or whatever, you already sort of - you're kind of thinking in that sound. The gap between you and the character becomes sort of - hopefully - smaller and smaller.

NORRIS: May I make an observation?

Mr. MOLINA: Well, it depends on your observation.

NORRIS: Well, here it is.

Mr. MOLINA: That sounds very ominous, the way you said that.

NORRIS: You seem to be quite effective at playing characters that are on two ends of the spectrum. You are quite good at playing deliciously evil characters, and you're quite good at playing characters who are wounded. Why do think that is?

Mr. MOLINA: Maybe because I'm wounded and deliciously evil.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLINA: Maybe that's it. I don't know. I suppose extremes of human behavior are always the most attractive areas to inhabit, you know, because that's where all the dramatic juice is to be found. But I think - I don't know, maybe it's something to do with the way I look, you know. I'm a big guy. I'm stocky. I'm tall. I'm dark, you know. I - maybe it's that, or just perhaps a predilection on my part to go to those edges, you know. The - I've always enjoyed, you know, people are often, sort of - are a bit apologetic about mentioning the fact that I play a lot of villains. And, of course, I'm not apologetic about it at all. I love playing villains.

NORRIS: In the end, based on all you learned in the course of doing research and all you experienced in the course of filming "The Hoax," what did you come to think of Clifford Irving and this ruse that he pulled off almost successfully?

Mr. MOLINA: Well, I think part of me really admires it. Not because he broke the law or because he ended up really wrecking other people's lives, but the beginnings of it, the root of it. I mean, you know, it started off as an intellectual prank, and I think there's always something wonderful about, sort of, you know, people in the high places being sort of slightly ridiculed. You know, the sight of seeing sort of the grand and the great sort of collapsing is always very attractive. But I think he was a very charismatic figure, and so he still remains rather attractive in that sense. I don't think he was an out and out villian, certainly.

NORRIS: How did they ever think they would get away with this?

Mr. MOLINA: Well, I've got a theory. I think that somewhere along the line, I think they realized that they wouldn't. And I think he sort of knew that this particular house of cards was going to collapse at some point, but he had to see it through. He had to, you know - he built it so he had to be there for its collapse, somehow, because he's too intelligent a man to have diluted himself that he would get away with it completely.

NORRIS: So it's a car that you know was going to crash, but it's a heck of a ride until you get there?

Mr. MOLINA: Exactly. Yes. Yes.

NORRIS: But you're in the passenger seat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOLINA: Yes. I'm in the passenger seat, desperately trying to see if we can stop somewhere to have a pee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Alfred Molina, it's been a pleasure to talk to you.

Mr. MOLINA: Likewise. Thank you.

NORRIS: Alfred Molina. He was speaking to us about his latest film, "The Hoax."

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