Exclusive Interview: Alfred Molina on ‘Matador’

In Marrch, I interviewed Alfred Molina about playing Lex Luthor in the “Robot Chicken DC Comics Special II,” and got his first thoughts about joining the cast of El Rey Network’s second original series, “Matador.”

Now “Matador” has premiered and we have met Andres Galan, the soccer team owner with whom Tony Bravo (Gabriel Luna) has gone undercover. Bravo knocked out the team’s star, The Bull, earning the nickname Matador and a place on Galan’s team. I reunited with Molina last month when El Rey presented “Matador” to the Television Critics Association. “Matador” airs Tuesdays at 9pm on El Rey.

CraveOnline: Is Galan going to have a talk with his Bull about getting himself injured? I’d imagine he’s mad his star player got injured?

Alfred Molina: Well, the thing is, the story moves on rather dramatically from there because Galan is, after all, essentially a businessman. When he loses the Bull, what he sees in Tony Bravo is a possible replacement. What affects him is the fact that it’s pointed out to him that actually there’s this groundswell of fan support for Tony Bravo. They start calling him, he hears this chant, “Matador! Matador!”

That appeals to his business side, so we see right from the start that this isn’t just an out and out villain. This guy has got a lot of layers, a lot of contradictions, a lot of complexities. The quality of the writing in the show has given that to all the characters. There’s a real richness in the backstories, particularly the four or five regular roles, Gabe [Luna], Nicky [Whelan], Myself and Neil [Hopkins]. There’s a real richness in the writing there which is getting better and better as we go through each episode.

You’re British. Do you often get asked to play Latin characters with the name Molina?

Yeah, I do. I have done.

I saw Diego Rivera of course.

Diego Rivera was the most prominent one I think, but I’ve done it before. It’s nice. One of my professors at drama school told me that I was ethnically ambiguous. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant at the time, but I realize now that he meant that I had the advantage of my coloring, my looks, my cultural background is such that I can play a wider range of ethnicities.

So it’s been an advantage. Any of these parts that come along are great, and I’ve got no problem playing accents or bad guys. Playing the bad guy has put two kids through a very expensive college education, so I’ve got no complaints.

How long do you imagine Galan will remain in the dark about who Tony Bravo really is?

I think what will happen through the season is that both Tony Bravo and Andres start coming together, closer and closer as another little layer is peeled off their respective onions. They begin to suspect each other. They begin to think there’s something more going on than meets the eye. That’s the story that we’re pursuing at the moment.

We’re on episode 10 of the first 13. There’s still a few surprises in store for the actors, let alone the audience. I think what the writers are striving for, and I think achieving, is to keep the suspense at as high a level as possible by this wonderful combination of action and adventure, comedy and kind of a nice dollop of good, old fashioned sex appeal. I mean, it’s a sexy show. There’s no two ways about it.

There’s a beautiful cast of beautiful young actors, talented actors and there’s nothing sexier than talent for a start. Also they’re kind of nice to look at too, so I think it’s a wonderfully vibrant package that audiences are going to be the beneficiaries of.

Did you get to shoot at StubHub stadium?

I haven’t yet. Gabe has. We’ve been studio bound for the most part. I’ve been totally studio bound. I’ve had one location I think when we shot on a private jet. That’s about it. It didn’t even leave the ground. I felt miffed. I felt cheated.

If you’re 10 episodes in, how surprised have you been by where “Matador” has gone from the pilot?

Well, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised and really impressed by the way that the storyline has leapt into all kinds of areas that Tony did not expect. Again, I think that’s to do with the bravery and the chutzpah of the writers and the creators. We’re a cable show so that gives us a modicum of freedom, or them rather to explore storylines that maybe might not pass muster if you’re working for a more traditional network, if you’re more concerned with selling soaps than you are with making TV.

So that freedom afforded a freedom that can turn very quickly into something very creative. We’ve had maybe 10 read-throughs of the script and the reaction around the table has always been, “Wow, didn’t expect that.” That’s been fantastic. I think to me, that’s a sign of intelligent, inventive writing.

In what areas do Tony and Galan bond?

It’s established quite early on that one thing they do have in common is they come from a very similar background. Different generations obviously, but similar in the sense of poor, immigrant working class background. Galan at one point talks about starting his life selling cigars to American tourists in Mexico city. He arrived in Los Angeles at some point in his youth and selling telephones, slowly building his career up until the point where he could buy a phone company and eventually making enough money to buy a satellite. He’s become like a Latino Rupert Murdoch, and being the sole owner of a huge soccer franchise.

So he’s a man who has really pulled himself up by his bootstraps purely on his own native intelligence and street smarts and ability to take advantage of every opportunity, which is why he sees something of himself in Tony Bravo. He sees the same quality in him which I think is what appeals to him about Tony. He doesn’t quite trust him, but he knows he needs him and he sees something that keeps him engaged, and of course Tony knows that. So there’s a kind of dance. There’s a weird sort of dance that they have where they’re getting closer but not always necessarily for the best reasons.

If Tony gets too good at soccer, won’t it blow his cover?

I actually think, if the story lines go this way, the better he becomes at soccer, the more effective an agent he becomes. If he starts winning cups and medals and honors for the team, that’s just going to make Andres trust him, love him and want him even more.

Should we be calling it football?

No, that’s an English fetish. It is football because American football is certainly not football. They kick the ball maybe twice in the game. I’m going to start a campaign to change American football to throwball, or runball because that’s what they do. They just throw the ball and someone runs to catch it. That’s what it should be called. The irony is that soccer is actually an English word. A lot of people think it’s something the rest of the world logged onto it because they didn’t want to call it football. Soccer, the word is actually coined by the Brits, so it’s our own fault.

An early report said you were cast as Andrew Galan. Was that changed to Andres or was it just misreported earlier?

I don’t know. The character was always going to be a Latino character. Certainly when I got involved, when I first got approached about it, the character was called Andres Galan. I remember my very first contact with the show runners, with Dan [Dworkin] and Jay [Beattie] and Heather [Kadin] was to talk about how I felt about this. They basically outlined the character, how they saw him being developed and so on and so forth, in relation to Nicky and Gabe’s characters.

He was always going to be originally from Mexico, now living in America, an established figure in the Latino community. In fact, if anything, at the time I remember saying, “Are you sure you want me? That cultural phenomenon comes from a very specific set of circumstances which I don’t really share.” But Molina, close enough.