Chiwetel Ejiofor and Alfred Molina in Secret in Their Eyes (KarenBallard/STX Productions, LLC)
“Throw me the idol. I’ll throw you the whip.”
Every person with even a cursory knowledge of cinema can recognize those lines from the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which also marked Alfred Molina’s debut in Hollywood features nearly 35 years ago. It was an auspicious start for Molina, whose credits include Boogie Nights, Frida, Spider-Man 2, An Education, an acclaimed run as artist Mark Rothko in the the Tony Award winning play “Red” opposite Eddie Redmayne and his latest film, Secret in Their Eyes, starring Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
In the film, Molina plays Martin Morales, the District Attorney of Los Angeles during the aftermath of 9/11 who must choose between prosecuting the man who murdered the daughter of Roberts’ character and allowing the man to remain an informant reporting on possible terrorist activities at a local mosque. Like so many of Molina’s characters, Martin Morales is a flawed yet complicated creation, willing to sacrifice justice for one person if he can guarantee the safety of many more.
“I love playing characters who can be kind of outrageous and a bit unpleasant in this way,” Molina says. “I was happy to get the chance to work with such wonderful actors, which doesn’t happen every day.”
Among those actors is Kidman, with whom Molina shares most of his critical scenes. Molina lauds Kidman as “a wonderful woman, a wonderful actress who comes to work dedicated, prepared and very collaborative. It was an absolute pleasure working with her.”
While the plot twists in Secret in Their Eyes are going to surprise most of those who see the American version, Molina was already familiar with the material thanks to the original version, an Argentinean film that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film several years ago. Despite his familiarity with the material, Molina refused to use the acclaimed original as a template.
“I really stayed away from it, because I wanted to concentrate and give my attention to our version,” he tells. “It’s a bit like when actors get to do Shakespeare. You live in the moment instead of looking back on a production you saw five years ago.”
So much of Molina’s role in Secret in Their Eyes depends on the fear instilled in the population after 9/11, which Molina remembers vividly. He was in Los Angeles at the time, having work done on his house.
“I remember at one point looking around the room, and somehow eight or nine people just ended up watching the television. Work just stopped,” he recalls. “It is is a vivid memory for many people, one of those moments you will take with you for the rest of your life.”
Molina is circumspect about his long career as a scene-stealing player in numerous classics and occasional leading man.
“There are a few films that I’m very proud of. There are a few that I’m happy to have done. And then there are one or two that I wish I hadn’t, but I’m far too much of a gentleman to mention which ones,” he says. “My favorite movie is the one I haven’t done yet. It’s one in the future somewhere.”
For some actors this would just be a polite deflection, but since Molina has roughly a dozen films already awaiting release, the odds may just be in his favor.
Secret in Their Eyes is in theaters Nov. 20.