Alfred Molina Talks Ares in ‘Wonder Woman’
Alfred Molina voices Ares, God of War, on the Warner Premiere feature Wonder Woman. It’s not his first turn as a villain having made a memorable Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.
Wonder Woman, the fourth direct-to-DVD feature set in the DC Universe, is set for distribution on DVD and Blu-ray March 3, 2009 by Warner Home Video.
When the four-time Screen Actors Guild Award nominee isn’t starring in one of his many critically acclaimed films – like Chocolat, Frida, Prick Up Your Ears, Magnolia, Boogie Nights and The Da Vinci Code. Molina was honored with the 2005 Visual Effects Society Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Visual Effects Film.
The two-time Tony Award-nominated actor has previously voiced King Gustav for the two-part "Maid of Honor" episode of the Justice League animated series.
Warner Premiere provided us with the following interview:
Question: Alfred Molina voicing Are, the God of War. That’s a nice title.
Alfred Molina Yeah. I’m thinking of changing my name professionally to Ares, the God of War. I think I might just do that.
Question: What is your favorite part of voice acting?
AM: This is all about imagination. It’s like our director Andrea (Romano) likes to say, "Thank you for coming to play." And that’s really what voice acting is. It’s play acting at its most childlike, it’s most free. There are no restrictions of costume or scenery or a set. It’s about what’s in your head, and that’s the fun part.
Question: Were there any challenges of bringing this particular character to life?
AM: The main challenge with doing a vocal performance is to find the way that the voice matches the image. Very often, in a sense, you’re working ahead of the image. The image hasn’t been finalized yet, so you get a vague idea of what the character’s going to look like, but you don’t see the character move, and you don’t see the character physically behaving in any sort of significant way. So you rely very much on the director and the writers to help you find that voice. The nice thing is that chances are they’ve called you in because they like something about the quality of your voice, and from there it’s very much a series of building blocks. You start off by some kind of generalized tone, some sense of where you might be, and then you just start refining it bit by bit. Less of a cry, more of a growl. With Ares, I initially placed the voice quite low, which made him sound rather rough, and Andrea (Romano) said, ‘Just make it a bit more suave.’ Sometimes all you need is that idea, the slightest of descriptions, like ‘suave,’ and you adjust to something that’s going to work.
Question: What was your reaction to seeing the sketch of Ares?
AM: They gave me cheekbones! This guy’s really cut, so I was very flattered and delighted, but I must make sure that I’m never seen in public again. It’ll spoil the image [he laughs]. He’s very, very manly. Very manly chin. Strong jaw. I like all that.
Question: You’ve had notable experience in villainous roles. Do you enjoy playing villains, and are there any tricks or challenges to assuming that role?
AM: I enjoy playing villains – I’m very proud that I belong to a very honorable tradition of British actors who come to Hollywood to play the bad guys. James Mason, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine. At some point in American film, I think there was the idea that the British accent had a tone to it that’s a little bit naughty. We actually tried a more mid-Atlantic accent for Ares.
Playing villains is very liberating because unlike the leading man, nothing is expected of you. Leading men have to look good, they have to behave in a certain way, they have to fulfill an audience’s expectations. But as a bad guy, you have free license to take the audience by surprise. And that’s what audiences want – they want unpredictability from their villains. The villain’s job is to subvert it.
Question: What was your first impression of the Wonder Woman script?
AM: The language is really good in this film. There are a couple of speeches that are almost operatic, as they’re nice long sentences and, for Ares, they’re good, flowing tirades. And there’s this lovely notion of paralleling a modern storyline and modern contemporary characters with all these gods and characters from Greek mythology. Gods speaking in classic speech, while the younger set are speaking with a more contemporary approach. It’s an interesting idea and it strikes a great balance.
Question: Are you a Wonder Woman or comic book fan?
AM: I was never a great follower of Wonder Woman. Like most young boys, my heroes were the chaps. I was a big fan of the comic books when I was a kid, particularly American ones, because growing up in London in the late 50s and early 60s, the American comic books were kind of hard to come by. So they were really highly prized. You’d save up the money to get a DC or a Marvel Comic and that was really something.
Question: Was this voice acting experience any different for you?
AM: They’re all very different in terms of material and what’s required. But ultimately, it’s in a sense the same gig because you’re having to totally focus everything on what you’re doing with your voice,. You do have to think about things technically – about diction, clarity, breathing. You have to be able to sustain your voice all the way through to the end of the line. So in a way, it’s a very technical form of acting. But you also must counter-balance that with making it sound authentic.
I remember the very first time I ever did the voice for a character. I lost my voice. I had no idea of how to sustain it, how to support it, and halfway through the day, [TALKS HOARSELY] I was talking like this. They had to send me home. So you learn to balance it.
Because everything is focused on the voice, as far as the actor’s concerned, you have to play everything at a much more heightened level. When you’re playing violence or anger, you’ve got to find a way of really fulfilling it, but you haven’t got the advantage of being seen to be doing it. It’s got to be all in the voice. It’s funny because it’s very easy to think you’re over-playing it or going over the top, but you have to remember that the whole focus of the performance is in the voice. Ares has moments when he gets incredibly hot and angry and violent, and there are other times when he’s very subtle and insinuating. So you go to extremes and, yes, it’s a lot of fun.
Question: Are you doing anything to visualize your animated performance when you’re recording a voiceover?
AM: Maybe at some level, I’m seeing myself there with those fabulous cheekbones. But I don’t think I’m consciously doing anything. You just sort of lose yourself in the booth. There was a bit in the script where I was charging into battle and I was supposed to make kind of a roar. That was all instinctive. I had the sword in my hand, I was [MAKES ROAR] and getting all sort of physical, because you sort of get caught up in it. You can’t just stand there and go ‘roar.’
You have to get energized.
Question: You don’t get to do your native British dialect very often in film. Do you have a favorite dialect/accent you do aside from your own?
AM: I don’t have favorites, but there are a few that I feel more comfortable with than others. I’ve always had a reasonably good ear for accents and dialects, and I don’t mean that in a self-aggrandizing way. It has more to do with circumstances than talent. My father was Spanish, my mother was Italian. They both immigrated to England, got married, had kids, and I grew up in London, but living in a neighborhood that was full of other immigrant families – West Indians, Poles, Portuguese, Spaniards, Italians, Irish. So when I was at school, for instance, every kid in my school was like me – first generation born in London with parents from other parts of the world. My parents didn’t speak English until I was well into my second or third year of elementary school. So I grew up with all those accents around me. Plus my generation watched TV, and well over 50 percent of British TV was American. Western shows, cop shows. I can remember as a kid, we used to emulate those shows. We played cowboys and Indians in the street, and we would do it with American accents.
And, of course, rock and roll was always sung with American accents.
So accents were part of growing up, it wasn’t a strange rhythm for us.
Question: You’ve got a lot of experience in the sci-fi arena. Is that by choice, and are you a fan of the genre?
AM: I’ve done quite a bit of work in that whole sort of fantasy sci-fi area, and I am a fan, I must admit. I’ll go and see those movies, buy my popcorn and super size Slurpee. But my work in those films certainly wasn’t by design. I think it’s just a happy accident that that’s the way mainstream film went, and I feel very blessed that I had a chance to get involved in a few of them. They are great fun to do.
It’s amazing how the industry has grown, though. I did Comic-Con for Species and it was like a tiny little show with just a few enthusiasts. Now it’s massive because Hollywood goes to Comic-Con.
That’s the core audience and God bless those guys. Those are the people that are going to see the movie five, six, seven times, and then buy the DVD … and then buy the director’s edition of the DVD.
They’re the true fans, and it’s good that we take them seriously.
Question: You’re quite the chameleon in terms of acting venues and genres. Do you have a preference or is it an overall enjoyment?
AM: I like doing everything – theater and film, radio and TV, comedy and tragedy. I love it all. And I’ve never really planned anything – I’ve always looked at my job in a rather simplistic way.
It’s like being a plumber. One day you might be fixing an early 20th century showerhead that requires real detailed work. The other day you might just be clearing a sewer. Both jobs are very different, but all the tools come out of the same box. That’s the way I look at acting.
You’ve been teaching acting for a few years? How does that fulfill your needs?
I’ve always loved teaching. I think it helps me to kind of get back to basics. It’s like a refresher course for me as well, so in a sense, I’m hopefully learning as much as my students are – or at least discovering or re-discovering as much as they are. I find that when I teach, I’m reminded of my own sort of failings. I’m reminded of where I sometimes keep going wrong. So as I give advice to students, halfway through the advice I’m thinking, ‘oh bugger, I do that!’ [he laughs] So it’s, it’s good for me as well.