The Muralist Has Two Faces (Both Molina)

PlayBlog   The Muralist Has Two Faces (Both Molina)
Alfred Molina learned how to wield a paint brush with authority from none other than Julie Taymor when she directed him as Mexican muralist Diego Rivera in her 2002 biopic of his wife, "Frida," as in Kahlo, starring an Oscar-nominated Selma Hayek.

This kept him in good stead to play American muralist Mark Rothko in Red, John Logan's play which bows April 1 (after previews from March 11) at Broadway's Golden after a successful gig in London.

"It's stuff you just sorta learn when you're an actor," he modestly says. "You learn how to be, if not necessarily realistic or accurate, at least at some level authentic. It's like an actor playing a brain surgeon. He or she doesn't really conduct a brain surgery as long as they can create enough authenticity in what they do that the audience suspends belief. That's really all we can hope for, and that's always what I try to do so that the audience will think, 'Yeah, okay, I'll buy that.'"

The artists Molina plays in "Frida" and Red were muralists at work on their masterpieces both commissioned for midtown Manhattan buildings two or three blocks apart. Rivera painted his "Man at the Crossroads" at Rockefeller Center but refused to compromise his Communist vision for his patron, Nelson Rockefeller.

Rothko was given the largest mural commission since the Renaissance by the Seagram family to complete canvases for the Four Seasons Restaurant in their then-new office building at Park and 52nd.

Did the actor feel a connection between the two artists? "Not directly," he admitted. "Perhaps on some subliminal level, there might have been some connection, but they are such different characters. Their agendas were very, very different, and, stylistically, they couldn't have been more different as artists. They completely contradict each other in terms of their beliefs, in their politics — they couldn't have been more different, except they were both large men with a challenged hair line."

Rothko's real-life halo of hair never made it out of London tech because of a key scene in which a lot of paint gets sloshed about.

"Rothko had a little bit of hair around the side and we tried to replicate that with a wig," said Molina, "but, because of that scene, it became a complete nightmare. We decided on a shaved head."

The ironic upshot, given the actor's heft and baldness? He looks like Pablo Picasso.

— Harry Haun

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