As seen on screen

Alfred Molina talks bringing ‘Monsters’ character to life


Having done his heavy share of drama, Alfred Molina found more laid-back voice work especially appealing in Monsters University.

The Englishman, 60, is probably best known for star-turning roles in Prick Up Your Ears, The Perez Family, Chocolat and Frida.

These days Molina is Professor Knight, a gruff figure with a grotesque under bite, dinosaur scales and threatening tail, who shows his young charges how to become better “scarers” in Disney Pixar’s prequel to the (dare we write?) monstrous hit, Monsters Inc.

We chatted:

How did you first get involved with this project and how did you find the overall experience?

I just got a call asking, ‘Would I be interested?’ then they showed me some visuals, and the guy looked conceivably like a family member [laughs]. When you’re recording in the studio a video camera catches little idiosyncrasies and facial expressions so the animators can incorporate the actual person into the character. I hadn’t done much voice work, but I started thinking this could be a whole new thing for me. I had a wonderful time. And I’ve finally made a film that my grandchildren can see without it being awkward or uncomfortable.

How is this kind of acting unique?

One’s priority here is to tell the story, and the beauty of animation is you’ve only got the voice to express yourself. You really kind of focus in on it, and it gives you a chance to be much more inventive. The only shame is you often tend to be on your own as we record separately, though the director [Dan Scanlon] was in the room with me giving me suggestions, telling me to put an emphasis on this word, give this a tweak or raise my voice a little. Nothing is arbitrary, which is interesting.

How did you prepare?

When I first read the script I thought Knight seemed like a drill sergeant, all the shouting and snarling. We toyed with him having a British accent but ended up giving him a regional American accent, vaguely from the East Coast somewhere. We had a lot of fun not making him sound intellectual at all; he sounds more like a sports coach rather than someone on the academic staff.

‘Monsters’ is partly an observation of today’s campuses. What was your time at university like?

Americans tell me the way college life is depicted in this film is very accurate and that it caught all the subtleties. In England, it’s a slightly different system. We had these little cliques: the sporty types, the ones who did their work. I didn’t fit in. I was terrible at sport, I wasn’t successful socially. The only crowd I could hang out with was the drama crowd. We were basically viewed by everyone else as the losers because we spent all our time pretending to be somebody else. We walked around with that slightly defensive snobbery, like we thought we were kind of special, but it was a front because we all knew we were kind of pathetic!

Your father was from Madrid. How’s your Spanish?

It isn’t perfect, but it’s serviceable. I can struggle through an interview in Spanish, but it’s always a bit frustrating for me and the interviewer. I can go shopping and can certainly live my life speaking it, but a lot of the jargon I wouldn’t know.

Follow the writer

Read more People stories from the Miami Herald

  • Celebrity birthdays on July 22

    Actor Orson Bean is 86. Actress Louise Fletcher is 80. Actor Terence Stamp is 76. Game show host Alex Trebek is 74. Singer George Clinton is 73. Singer Bobby Sherman is 71. Actor Danny Glover is 68. Singer Don Henley is 67. Comedian-director Albert Brooks is 67. Composer Alan Menken is 65. Actor Willem Dafoe is 59. Actor David Spade is 50. Actor John Leguizamo is 50. Actor Rhys Ifans is 47. Singer Rufus Wainwright is 41. Actress Franka Potente is 40. Actress Selena Gomez is 22.

LeAnn Rimes at the Luli Fama at Swim Week at the Raleigh.

    La vida local

    LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian spotted at Swim Week, Mario Lopez parties on yacht

    LeAnn Rimes was impressed by the skimpy swimwear at the Luli Fama presentation at the Raleigh Sunday. She attended along with husband and LeAnn & Eddie costar Eddie Cibrian.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 02: Dwayne Johnson attends a photocall for "Hercules" at Trafalgar Square on July 2, 2014 in London, England.

    The movie scene

    The Rock: He really is Hercules

    Dwayne Johnson is only human. Better known as The Rock, the former University of Miami football star turned pro wrestler and actor suffered a series of major injuries last year four weeks before filming began on Hercules, out Friday.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category