Alfred Molina says he is “very proud to be considered a straight ally” of the gay rights movement with his latest film, Love is Strange, a beautifully tender, unusual love story about a homosexual couple who have been together for 39 years.
The film is unusual precisely because the director, Ira Sachs, focuses on a mature and long-lasting love rather than “the other end of the age spectrum, when couples are young and struggling to find themselves, find each other or be in some kind of emotional crisis”, says the British-born Hollywood star. “Here you have two men in middle age who have been through a very long relationship, and what is happening to them is almost mundane in the ordinariness of it.”
It is this ordinariness that makes this an important film, as the couple, George (Molina) and Ben (played by the acclaimed actor John Lithgow), could be any couple. Their issues – being fired, losing their home – are “not exclusively gay things” as Molina puts it, but he is reluctant to describe it this way.
“I think it is always a bit arrogant to assume the importance of a movie, certainly in a cultural or social context, but if it proves to be part of the ongoing discussion, if we have made some sort of contribution to the whole debate, if we have made a contribution to the culture, then that is great,” he says.
Baftas 2015 nominees
Baftas 2015 nominees
1/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Rosamund Pike plays over-achieving Ivy League graduate Amy Dunne in Gone Girl and is nominated for leading actress
2/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Michael Keaton (left) with Edward Norton in existential comedy Birdman - Keaton is up for leading actor
3/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Julianne Moore receives a devastating diagnosis as linguistics professor Alice Howland in Still Alice - she has been nominated for leading actress
4/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Benedict Cumberbatch is up for leading actor for his role as code-breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game
5/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Reese Witherspoon has earned a Baftas leading actress nod for her adventurous role in Wild
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Jake Gyllenhaal in plays a creepy journalist in Nightcrawler and is up leading actor
7/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Amy Adams is nominated for leading actress for her role alongside Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
8/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Eddie Redmayne is nominated for leading actor for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything
9/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Felicity Jones plays Stephen Hawking's wife Jane Wilde in The Theory of Everything and is up for leading actress
10/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Ralph Fiennes has a leading actor Baftas nod for Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel
11/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Patricia Arquette has a Bafta supporting actress nomination for her performance in Boyhood
12/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
J.K. Simmons stars as an abusive tutor alongside Miles Teller in Whiplash
Sony Pictures Classics
13/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Keira Knightley is nominated for supporting actress for her role in The Imitation Game
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Imitation Game/downloaded from Papicselect
14/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Ethan Hawke has a supporting actor nod for his performance in Richard Linklater's Boyhood.
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Emma Stone is up for supporting actress for playing Sam in Birdman
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Mark Ruffalo is up for supporting actor for his performance alongside Channing Tatum in wrestling drama Foxcatcher
17/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Rene Russo is nominated for supporting actress for her role as Nina Romina in Nightcrawler
Chuck Zlotnick/© 2014 Open Road Films/The Hollywood Archive
18/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Michael Keaton and Edward Norton star in Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman - Norton is up for supporting actor
19/20 Baftas 2015 nominees
Imelda Staunton (centre) with Liz White and Nia Gwynne in Pride - Staunton is up for supporting actress at the Baftas
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Steve Carell is nominated for supporting actor for his role as John du Pont in Foxcatcher
The 61-year-old says he was attracted to the role of George, a music teacher living with artist Ben in New York, because he “found certain characteristics of the character that I was rather loathe to admit I shared”. These were “his fussiness and a leaning towards pedantry” and he admits that he drew on aspects of his long relationship with his wife Jill Gascoine, the British novelist and actress best known for her roles in the Eighties television series The Gentle Touch and C.A.T.S. Eyes.
“That is what actors do. One tends to mine one’s own experience to bring hopefully some kind of authenticity to what you are doing,” he says. “You learn about relationships when you are in one that has been going for a long time.”
In June 2013, Gascoine, now 77, revealed that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the couple have been open in discussing its impact in a bid to raise awareness of the condition. “Sadly, Jill’s Alzheimer’s has reached a critical point now where she can’t express herself any more and she is now living in a home,” Molina says. The actor cared for his wife at home for several years but “eventually it got too hard and she needed specialised, dedicated care”.
Molina says Gascoine wanted to carry on, even appearing in a play after her diagnosis, and it was “important to her not to be closeted about it and not to hide it”.
“It’s an illness, it’s not a punishment,” he says. “This is an illness that is now reaching epidemic proportions around the world, and we are nowhere near a cure. We are not even anywhere close to finding a way to prevent it. So the first step is hopefully building awareness. Given her circumstances, she is doing OK.”
Classical music plays an important role in Love is Strange; at times both George and Ben are moved to tears while listening to music. Molina admits that if he hadn’t had a successful career as an actor – his films range from Spiderman 2 and Raiders of the Lost Ark to Chocolat and Letter to Brezhnev – he would have loved to have been a musician. “That is the one artistic expression that I really envy,” he says.
Molina was the first actor to come on board Love is Strange, so I ask whether his being cast was a factor in John Lithgow (with whom he has been friends for 20 years although they have never worked together before), also signing up. “I flatter myself that that might have been part of the equation, but I believe it was because the script spoke to him in some way, as it did to me,” he says, before laughing warmly again.
“I think maybe if the script was the ice cream sundae then I might have been the sprinkles on the top.”
‘Love is Strange’ is released in cinemas on FridayReuse content