Alfred Molina feels he owes most, if not all, of his stage and screen career to Indiana Jones.
In the opening sequence of the 1981 adventure classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Molina — who next plays a hospital’s highly inquisitive chief of surgery in the TNT series “Monday Mornings,” starting (appropriately) Monday, Feb. 4 — made his movie debut as Satipo, “Indy’s” (Harrison Ford) supposed ally in retrieving a priceless idol from a temple that proved to be memorably, lethally booby-trapped.
“I’m very, very proud of that,” the boisterously friendly Molina tells Zap2it about the iconic scene. “I have to admit I didn’t think at the time, ‘Oh, this is going to go down in movie history.’ I’d never been in front of a camera before; I’d been working in the theater in England, my now-ex-wife was pregnant with our daughter, and we were absolutely stone-broke. And I was doing plays for 10 people in a garage somewhere … usually in Polish or something.
“‘Suddenly, this interview opportunity came up: ‘Do you want to go meet Steven Spielberg to talk about this film he’s making?’ Of course, Steven was a star director by then, and I turned up at this very posh hotel in London, and I got the job. At the time, I was earning something like 100 pounds a week, which was the Union basic for theater. For this movie, they offered me 1,000 pounds a week.”
Indeed, Molina recalls the job as “a gift from God. I’ve publicly thanked Steven many, many times. That job saved my bacon, in more ways than one. We were able to buy a push chair and a stroller for the baby, and I was able to decorate her little room in our flat. It was our salvation, that gig, and I’ve never had a problem with people coming up to me about it. They’ll shout that line to me, ‘Throw me the idol, I’ll throw you the whip!’ I’m delighted that people still remember it.”
Conversely, for those who know Molina mainly from later parts — such as tentacled villain Doctor Octopus in “Spider-Man 2,” or the district attorney who eventually went back to being a police detective on NBC’s “Law & Order: LA” — it’s sometimes a surprise to discover that the actor helped get one of Hollywood’s most famous adventurers (and surely its most famous archaeologist-adventurer) on his way.
“That was, like, 32 years ago and I looked very different,” Molina allows. “It’s funny how it breaks down into age groups. In more recent years, people will remember me from playing Doc Ock, while a slightly older demographic might remember ‘Frida’ or some of the other, more arty movies. Different audiences have different images of you, and it’s all fine.”