Alfred Molina brings class to ‘Spider-Man 2’

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/ Source: The Associated Press

Alfred Molina has had trouble with spiders before.

You may remember the “Spider-Man 2” villain from his first notable screen role — Satipo, the craven jungle guide who betrays Indiana Jones at the beginning of 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Before uttering that famous film fib “Throw me the idol, I’ll throw you the whip” — Satipo stands petrified in the cobweb-lined passageway as Jones calmly brushes scores of eight-legged creepy-crawlies from the guide’s back and shoulders.

“There were live spiders, real snakes...that’d all be CGI now,” he recalled, scratching nostalgically at a bushy beard he has grown for the role of Tevye in the current Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” “The technology that was available on that movie seems downright crude now.”

As Doctor Octopus, he gets his revenge on webslingers by unmercifully pummeling the hero in “Spider-Man 2” with the four metal tentacles grafted onto his body during a botched science experiment.

The 51-year-old London-born actor nicknamed the extra limbs Harry, Larry, Flo and Moe.

Harry and Larry were the lower extremities, which held him in place during feats of strength — like hurling cars through coffee shop windows. “They were bigger and heavier,” Molina said.

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“The two upper ones were slightly smaller, still very powerful. But Flo, on this side,” he said, gesturing to his right shoulder, “had all the delicate intricate stuff to do,” like removing his characters glasses and lighting a cigar.

Although his character is frequently a mix of live-action and computer graphics, each scene with the real tentacles was played with the help of about 16 puppeteers, four for each arm.

Fiddler on the setMolina, who was in rehearsal for “Fiddler” at the time, even managed to work the musical into a scene.

“It was the end of a very long day and we were doing a shot of Doc Ock coming up from a gurney, just rising up. I think on the last take I just went into the first four bars of ‘If I Was a Rich Man,” Molina said.

As he performed, the puppeteers who manipulate the metal arms made the tentacles dance along. “It’s apparently on film somewhere,” Molina said. “I think they’re saving it for the DVD, one of the special features.”

Although he has an extensive theater background in plays such as “Art,” and portrayed Diego Rivera in the film “Frida,” he most commonly portrays villains on the big screen.

Molina was the buffoonishly uptight local politician in “Chocolat,” the coked-out drug dealer in “Boogie Nights,” and even the cartoonish baddie Snidely Whiplash in the live-action “Dudley Do-Right.”

“Playing villains is always fun, there’s no two ways about it,” he said. “There’s always a lot of freedom and room to be inventive. I could go to my grave playing bad guys. I love it.”

As Dr. Otto Octavius, he had to start out as a kindly scientific mentor to Spidey’s alter ego Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire). When an experiment with a new energy force kills his wife and fuses the mechanical limbs to his spine, he uses the new strength to punish humanity.

At heart, Molina said, Doc Ock doesn’t mean to be bad.

“You couldn’t just play him as out-and-out evil from start to finish,” he said. “It would get very boring. The audience would soon tire of that, so we had to try to make him as interesting as we could.”

But why does an actor with such a seemingly friendly face end up playing villains all the time?

“I don’t know,” Molina said. “Maybe I’m just mean inside.”