As Doc Ock, Molina Is Armed for Success

Spider-Man 2's Doctor Octopus has such a long reach, he's probably been grabbing you for years — and you didn't even realize his bone-crushing strength.

Alfred Molina is one of those actors you've seen countless times but never quite remember by name. Once reminded of his work, however, you jump up and shout, "Oh, that guy!"

Remember him in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Indiana Jones and a slimy rival archaeologist are trapped in a cave. Molina's that guy who says, "Throw me the idol, I'll throw you the whip," and runs off with the treasure, leaving Harrison Ford to die.

Perhaps you'll remember Molina as a coked-up drug dealer in Boogie Nights, the uptight mayor in Chocolate, or Mexican painter Diego Rivera in Frida.

These days, the man now best known as "Doc Ock" has another not-so-secret identity — Tevye in the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof.

After 20 years as a character actor, the 51-year-old Briton is now left in the unlikely situation of greeting Broadway audiences as a singing Jewish peasant in czarist Russia just as the Doc Ock action figure, complete with movable tendrils of terror, hits toy stores.

"I'm glad to say they've been very flattering, because I've never had pecs like that," Molina says. "I have middle-aged man breasts."

Clearly, Molina relates more to his present incarnation as a long-suffering Jew menaced by Cossacks than as Spidey's nemesis. But Molina, the son of Spanish father and an Italian mother, has never really had to identify with his characters to succeed.

Broadway audiences last saw him as a German emissary of the pope who helps convince Martin Luther the church is hopelessly corrupt in last year's Luther.

But that was before the success of Spider-Man 2, a $268 million blockbuster. Along with Antonio Banderas as Puss-in-Boots in Shrek 2, Molina is one of the summer's greatest scene-stealers — and now, instantly recognizable.

How long can you play an eight-limbed monster and a Broadway fiddler before audiences get distracted? What do theatergoers think when Molina takes stage as Tevye and sings "Tradition"?

The answer: So far, so good. Playing to packed houses, Molina can apparently fiddle on the finest roofs on Broadway without the extra metal limbs getting in the way. They may even help.

"There are grandmas coming to see Fiddler on the Roof for the umpteenth time and they're bringing their grandchildren who have never seen it or heard of it before," Molina says.

"They're interested because the actor who is playing Doc Ock is in it," he says, slipping into a childlike persona, " 'I don't wanna go see a musical, but Doc Ock's in it. Oh, OK!' "

Be warned, however: Your kids might be disappointed by how much more modestly proportioned Doc Ock's portrayer is in real life. "I can definitely say, no, I didn't model for that action figure," he says. "I think Brad Pitt modeled for my action figure."

The 6-foot-2 actor, who is married to actress Jill Gascoine, is perpetually self-deprecating. To play the super-strong, mechanically enhanced evil scientist, Molina says he needed the help of 16 puppeteers, four assigned to each of his metal tentacles — which he took to naming Harry, Larry, Flo and Moe.

Together, these extra limbs weighed more than 100 pounds. "We had to work out a whole vocabulary of movement to keep it working," Molina says. "But it was interesting."

On screen, Doc Ock is wowing audiences by scaling walls and smashing through concrete. Computer-animated graphics, of course, helped achieve the effects. But they couldn't address all the actor's needs — such as taking bathroom breaks.

"I just didn't," he says. "I had to make sure I went before we started to work because they were a bugger to get out of. That was a problem."

A little self-discipline is more than worth it, if it's possible to toggle between Broadway, blockbuster movie parts, and quirky independent films.

"Of course, it's not Shakespeare," he says. "But the worst thing an actor can do is go into any project with a lack of respect for the material. 'This is a pile of poop but Ill do it right now because I've got nothing else better.' That's a disaster.

"You've got to go in with the same kind of enthusiasm as if you were doing Hamlet."

Spider-Man might not explore the pathos of Jewish peasants suffering under the czar, but they do raise other questions, like what would you do if you really had four arms?

"I'd probably end up doing the house work," says Molina. Of course, he isn't considering who would pay all those puppeteers.