Alfred Molina and David Oyelowo stand next to a truck in the Water Man

Interview: Alfred Molina Talked to Us About The Water Man, Acting, and More

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Alfred Molina is one of the few living icons that we have. From playing Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2 to an illustrious Broadway career and beyond, Molina is the kind of actor who you have seen in countless projects and are delighted each time he appears onscreen. His lastest adventure comes from the brilliance of David Oyelowo in the film The Water Man.

Focused on Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis) and his struggle to come to terms with his mother’s (Rosario Dawson) cancer, the film follows Gunner’s search for the Water Man, a legend in their new hometown that tells the story of a man evading death and searching the woods for his long-lost love time and time again.

Molina plays a man who knows of the legend and went searching for the Water Man himself, and tells Gunner where to search and how he left markings for where he went. The character, which is a small part for Molina, does pack a powerful punch in the movie because he’s helping Gunner on his quest, and it’s wonderful to see the actor in a role like this!

Talking with Molina, I tried to keep my fangirling at a minimum (look, we all know how I feel about all the Spider-Man movies) and talked with him about the film, his process, his performance of Red that I saw years ago, and his approach to Hollywood in general.

THE MARY SUE: I really like this movie because I think it’s a really interesting look at grief from a child’s perspective in a lot of ways and with your character, it’s interesting because he’s talking to a child about an urban legend and doesn’t really think much of it at the time, but I really liked his journey in the movie and how he kind of comes back and realizes like I didn’t, I was just talking to a kid about a legend. And so when you’re approaching a smaller role like this that does pack a lot of the weight to the movie, how do you approach that as an actor?

ALFRED MOLINA: Well, I approached it in a very much the same way as any other kind of role. Because very often these kind of small kind of, you know, cameo parts, which really I love doing them, I must say because there’s this … a quick sidebar, 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.”

And I think that’s a wonderful story because this film, I would have walked across cut glass to do this movie because David’s a friend, but also I just love the script. It reminded me very much of those kind of big family movies that you used to have back in the eighties, you know, like, Stand By Me, Goonies, E.T., all those movies it’s got, it’s got that kind of quality where you’ve got this sort of … I’ve come across this new phrase cross-generational appeal it’s got CGA and, you know, because you’ve got this great story about this young kid desperately trying to get onto this quest to find some of the answers to save his mother. You’ve got, you know, he goes off, cause he’s obsessed with that.

He’s focused on that. His father’s looking for him because there’s tension in the family already. Um, you know, the father has some tension, you know, the mother worried about what’s going to happen to her two men when she goes, you know, it’s full of very, very appealing things for youngsters, but also very grownup things, you know, the whole notion of loss and grief, all of that, so you’ve got in a sense, something for everyone, you know, I was being facetious about cross-generational appeal, but it’s a serious point.

It’s, you know, there is, there’s something to be said for that, you know, something to be said for those movies. And I think, I think Dave, you know, I would say someone, I’m not sure if it’s an, homage to those movies. I know he was a fan of those films, but I think what it is is there’s a genuine love for those movies. Not just for people who want to make them, but also for audiences who want to see them.

THE MARY SUE: I think as we continue on it’s those that appeal to those movies from the eighties, it’s very much there with like shows like Stranger Things and stuff like that. And you’re right. This fits in that perfect little bubble of those emotionally charged movies that kids are leading. And that’s why I think what is really interesting about this movie is that like, it’s very sad. Like it’s about a mother and like her last couple of months, but it’s about this child trying to come to terms with it. And I really like how your character plays into that. And David Oyelowo, well, he directed it, but also like his dad, and I like how it all weaves together and is still like this child story.

ALFRED MOLINA: Yeah. Very much so. I mean, there’s something really beautiful about seeing the movie almost strictly from Lonnie Chavis’ character’s point of view. From Gunner’s point of view. I think that’s what gives it a kind of innocence, you know? You’re on this journey with him, not with anyone else. And so in a sense you’re perceiving everything and imagining what right for him. I know this there’s something magical about that.

THE MARY SUE: Yeah, for sure. And so I, I have to ask, I saw you in Red years ago, and I was in college and what you said to me, because I was studying acting and I asked for advice, you said, never say no to a job. So I wanted to know how that has been going? (Laughs)

ALFRED MOLINA: (Laughs) Not bad actually, thanks for asking!

THE MARY SUE: It was just very funny. I knew this was coming and I was like I have to bring up Red.

ALFRED MOLINA: I think I’m one of the few people that actually does take his own advice, but where did you see it? Did you see it in New York?

THE MARY SUE: No, I saw it in Los Angeles when you did it with Jonathan Groff.

ALFRED MOLINA: So did we do some sort of Q&A thing with you and you asked the question directly or?

THE MARY SUE: It was, I think it was at like the stage door part of it. And I had flown out there from college to see it. And then like you signed my playbill and offhandedly, I was like, “Oh, I’m studying acting. Do you have any advice?” as like a 19 year old girl.

ALFRED MOLINA: Well, I hope I wasn’t an asshole to you.

THE MARY SUE: (Laughs) No, it was great! I’m such a little nerd that I was just like “Oh my god, I’m talking to Alfred Molina. I’ve got to be COOL about it.” And I was not.

ALFRED MOLINA: (Laughs) Well, if I may say so…I said never say no to a job?


ALFRED MOLINA: Well, 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. But when you look back after, you know, a number of years where you said yes, and you’ve done as many jobs as you can, and you haven’t really been too fussy.

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. And I hope you’ve stuck to my advice young lady.

THE MARY SUE: I did!! But, going off of that, what’s so interesting…I know we can’t talk about it, I’m a huge Spider-Man nerd. So I got very excited to talk to you just in general, but also like my editor brought up that you are one of our greatest actors because you were in all of these different projects. You’re constantly playing different things. You can go from being like a cameo in Promising Young Woman to Tevye and like all these characters across the board. And so when you’re looking back on your career, as you said, and also talking to people who have watched your stuff throughout the majority of their lives, is it overwhelming or is it inspiring to look at what you’ve done and how you’ve inspired other creatives?

ALFRED MOLINAWell, I hope this doesn’t sound weird and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but…and I’m not showing off in any way, but I’m absolutely delighted with the way things have gone. Not because I’m so brilliant that I made it happen. No, 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.

And that was always to kind of work with people that inspired me, you know? And I’ve been very lucky that way. I’ve got to work with people that I was already looking up and, you know, measuring my scale, we all measure ourselves against others. You know, there’s a generation of actors in front of me when I was a young actor, they were my gods, I loved them. You know, I couldn’t get enough of them because I was learning from them, you know, and I think that’s what happens. You know, you kind of go through your career and, you know, I don’t know how long I’ve got left, I hope I can work till I croak, but I know that, hopefully, there’ll be more fun things to do, you know? And, uh, I’ll be telling young actors and young people at stage doors to never say no, and I’ll hopefully still mean it.

The Water Man is out in theaters now!

(image: RLJE Films)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.