The son of a Spanish waiter and an Italian housekeeper, Molina was born in London on May 24, 1953. Educated at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, he began his career as one half of a street-corner comedy team but then turned to acting. While most thesps start at the bottom and ascend the ladder, Molina is an anomaly: he began at the top of the heap, first earning
professional credibility (and his pedigree) as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and debuting cinematically in no less than Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), as the devious South American guide who leaves Harrison Ford for dead in an ancient temple before meeting his own end, courtesy of a particularly nasty booby trap. His subsequent resume for the rest of that decade reads like a "best of 1980s International Film": supporting roles in Mike Leigh's Meantime (1981), Peter Yates's Eleni (1985) , Richard Donner's Ladyhawke (1985),Chris Bernard's Letter to Brezhnev and Dusan Makavejev's Manifesto (1989), to name only a few. His contribution to Chris Bernard's gently underplayed, low-budget comedy Brezhnev (1985) (which, like Raiders, takes advantage of his slightly dark, Mediterranean complexion) is particularly a standout. He plays a Russian sailor who picks up Margi Clarke's Liverpool blue-collar worker Teresa King during leave, and whose only comprehensible line gives the film its biggest laugh: "Leeverpool. Bittles... Ahhhhh." Molina would spend the next several years appearing in a number of films, like An Education, as well as a number of TV projects like Harry's Law, Law & Order: L.A., and Roger & Val Have Just Got In.
But Molina's most impressive contribution to cinema came in 1986, when he joined two fellow Brits, director Stephen Frears and actor Gary Oldman - and turned everyone's head in the process - in Prick Up Your Ears. That film, adapted from eccentric playwright Joe Orton's autobiography, casts Molina as Kenneth Halliwell, Orton's homosexual lover and eventual murderer, opposite Oldman. Practically unrecognizable as the bald, severely unhinged Halliwell, Molina is at once terrifying and pathetic, and gleaned a number of positive notices for his performance, though, for some odd reason, it was criminally overlooked at awards ceremonies and failed to earn Molina any acting laurels.
A few years later, Molina joined the cast of Not Without My Daughter (1990). In this true-life account (adapted from Betty Mahmoody's memoir), he plays Moody, a Persian husband who takes his American wife (Sally Field) and daughter to Iran under the guise of "vacation," and virtually imprisons them, forcing her to plot escape. The role (and film) gleaned some controversy for its portrayal of Islam, but (the bearded) Molina glistened with dark, brooding intensity characteristic of the actor's finest work.
Molina offered more sympathetic portrayals in such films as Mike Newell's Enchanted April (1992), Species (1995), and Mira Nair's The Perez Family (1995), as a Cuban immigrant struggling to make a new life for himself in Miami. In Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, Molina evoked a deranged playboy precariously teetering on the edge of insanity - a role that further evinced boundless courage. 1999's ridiculous Dudley-do-Right, however (in which Molina) played the villain), didn't serve him as well; neither he, nor Brendan Fraser, nor Sarah Jessica Parker managed to rise above the silly script. Far more impressive (albeit smaller in scope) was the actor's sophomore collaboration with Anderson, that year's Magnolia, in a fleeting role as Solomon Solomon, the owner of the electronics shop where William H. Macy's Donnie Smith works.
During 1999 and thereafter, Molina attempted to break into television sitcoms (1999's Ladies Man, 2002's Bram and Alice), but none of these efforts panned out. He continued to garner positive notices during this period, however, for his roles in such films as 2000's Chocolat and 2002's Frida. Molina earned a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination (finally!) in the latter, for his portrayal of chronically unfaithful painter Diego Rivera. In 2004, the actor traveled to megaplexes again, as the infamous Doc Oc in the critically-acclaimed box-office smash Spider-Man 2, and although ostensibly a defiantly commercial piece of Hollywood fluff, the film performed well on all fronts - critically and commercially. Considered by some to be the greatest example of the superhero genre ever produced, no small amount of the rave reviews given to the film were directed at Molina for his spot-on portrayal of the maniacal comic-book villain; The Los Angeles Times's Kenneth Turan rhapsodized, "As played by Alfred Molina with both computer-generated and puppeteer assistance, Doc Ock grabs this film with his quartet of sinisterly serpentine mechanical arms and refuses to let go."
That same year (albeit in a much different cinematic arena and catering to a much different audience --- such is the magic of Molina's versatility), the actor played opposite John Leguizamo as Victor Hugo Puente, a sensationalism-hungry news anchor willing to do almost anything for ratings, in Sebastian Cordero's well-received psychological thriller Crónicas. Molina highlighted the cast of no less than six features throughout 2005 and 2006, but his highest-profile film from this period was Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code, in which he plays the obese Bishop Aringarosa This May '06 release (adapted from Dan Brown's bestseller) sharply divided critics (most found it average). That same year, Molina contributed to two films by major directors: Kenneth Branagh drew on his background as a trained RSC member by casting Molina as Touchstone in his screen adaptation of Shakespeare's comedy of errors As You Like It, and he receives second billing (after Richard Gere) in Lasse Hallstrom's docudrama The Hoax. The picture tells the early-1970s story of Clifford Irving's (Gere) attempt to write and market a phony autobiography of Howard Hughes, with the assistance of right-hand man Richard Susskind (Molina).
Molina married British actress Jill Gascoine (Northern Exposure, BASEketball) in 1985, who is sixteen years his senior. They have two sons.