When Alfred Molina was cast as Doctor Octopus in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, it was widely hailed as an example of the director picking a great actor for a major role rather than a huge-name star. But in the years that have past, and with the acclaim that has built up, the casting of Molina as Lex Luthor in Robot Chicken’s DC Comics Special 2, airing this Sunday night on Cartoon Network, feels like a massive get.
Molina remains the modest guy he always was. And he proved more than willing to discuss his actorly life of super-villainy with us.
Luke Y. Thompson: The “Sexx Luthor” song you do in this is already catching on with all of us [press]. When you record that, is it in the standard voice-over booth and you had to remain still, or did you get to lay it down like a real record and get to rock out a little?
Alfred Molina: It was funny – we were in just a studio that’s really designed for two or three actors to work in. I just listened to the tune a couple of times. I remember saying to Seth, “Listen, I think I might need more than a few times to learn the tunes.” “Nah, it doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve got it vaguely.” So I kind of – we just started messing around with it, and it was a lot of fun! I’m no singer, as you can probably tell. But because it was in the spirit of the way that the show has been done, the kind of mood that Seth creates on the day, I just felt completely at home with it. We just had a lot of fun doing it-a lot of fun.
LYT: Did you first approach Robot Chicken, or did they come to you?
AM: They called me, and I had never heard of them – I’ve got to be honest. And I hadn’t done a great deal of voice work for cartoons, but I was interested. And also, I’ve been a fan of Seth’s, as an actor, for a while. So when I heard that he was directing and writing, I thought this is sounding-this sounds interesting. And so I said “Yeah.”
I turned up the first time, and I couldn’t believe it – so relaxed! It was great fun. It’s like a party going on, really. They work very hard, but they just create this mood where you can try anything. I think the first session I did, they gave me half a dozen characters. They said “Pick one of those, or you can do them all if you like.” I think I did two or three voices for the first time, and it was just a lot of fun, and a very, very creative atmosphere. It’s a joy to be there.
LYT: Having been a super-villain in live action also, were you able to bring any of that to bear, or is it so completely different?
AM: Oh, it’s very, very different. But it’s different in terms of the mechanics of how to do it. You don’t have to worry about any of the paraphernalia that you’re wearing. It’s all about what you’re doing with your voice. It’s a lot more relaxed. It’s a lot more – it’s a lot freer, in a sense. The only thing it has in common with playing a villain live action is that, as always when you’re playing a villain, you’ve got so many more choices in terms of what you can do with the character. If you’re playing the hero, you’ve got all of these boxes that you’ve got to tick. There’s got to be a moral strength, there’s got to be – he’s got to win! There’s all kinds of requirements.
But when you’re a villain, you can – you have great freedom to invent the most extraordinary character. You can be suave, you can be sly, you can be violent, you can be passive-aggressive – you can do whatever you want. So it afforded us a lot of freedom in that way. So that was what made it kind of great to do.
LYT: With them giving you the choice, what made you choose Luthor in the end?
AM: Well, I think it’s because he’s such an iconic villain. I suddenly thought I’ve played one of Marvel’s best-known villains, I might as well play one of DC’s best-known villains. And also, it’s such an iconic character. It was a no-brainer, really.
LYT: Did you try out for the live-action Lex Luthor?
AM: No! No, no, no. That never came my way.
LYT: Do you read up on Lex Luthor for something like this, or is it such a different kind of Luthor, there’s not really the same resources?
AM: Not really. I sort of – I read – I based it on what was in the script. Because it’s such a wonderfully free sort of spoof on the whole thing. It’s not as if we were playing-if I had been playing him for real, in a sense-in a live action – you go and look at all the different incarnations of Lex Luthor, you check out – like I did with Doc Ock.
When I knew I was going to play Doc Ock, I went back and looked at all the different versions of Doc Ock in the Marvel comics over the years. The way he transformed and changed a great deal from the beginning, when he first appeared in the early ’60s or mid ’60s. He transformed incredibly to where we ended up in the movie. He was much more-he was very, very different. So you can’t do that kind of work. With this, it was just get in the studio and just kind of have some fun.
LYT: So I have to ask, did you have an opinion on Doc Ock becoming Spider-Man in the comics?
AM: No, not really. That’s the wonderful thing about the universe that is created by DC and Marvel. I’ve always been a Marvel fan, when I was younger. That universe was created, and there’s a wonderful sense of anything goes. You can create your own rules. Where Marvel, in my opinion, always had the edge on DC was that the DC heroes and villains had a kind of morality to them that was a bit holier than thou. Whereas the Marvel world was just a little bit more cynical. The heroes were reluctant. Peter Parker didn’t really want to be Spider-Man. Doc Ock became Doc Ock reluctantly, through an accident. So there’s a kind of-a bit of a depth to the stories somehow. So when that evolved, I didn’t think that was unusually crazy. No, not at all.
LYT: So is it therefore more fun as a DC villain that you get to knock down these holier-than-thou heroes?
AM: A little bit. You kind of – it’s just great fun to inhabit that world, even if it’s just for a few moments. It’s a lot of fun to live in this, and if you’re a fan of the comic books, as I am, it’s the best job in the world, really.
LYT: What do you think of the new Spider-Man movies so far?
AM: I liked it. I think Andrew Garfield is a wonderful actor. He’s brought a terrific, new kind of edge to it. None of these roles belong to anyone. Another actor is going to play Doc Ock at some point. These roles are universal. You wouldn’t expect – you wouldn’t say, “Oh, you can’t play Hamlet because someone else has played it.” These roles are universal. It’s always been interesting to see how other actors put their take on it.
Robot Chicken DC Comics Special 2 airs Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network.