When Alfred Molina was first invited to reprise his role as the villainous Otto Octavius in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” — the forthcoming third installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man films, led by Tom Holland — he said he was told to keep it quiet.
“When we were shooting it, we were all under orders not to talk about it, because it was supposed to be some great big secret,” Molina said with a laugh during an interview with Variety about his role in the Oscar-nominated “Promising Young Woman.” “But, you know, it’s all over the internet. I actually described myself as the worst kept secret in Hollywood!”
Instead, not only did Molina confirm his involvement in “No Way Home,” he happily detailed his experience making the movie, and returning to a part he first played in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” in 2004.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “It was very interesting going back after 17 years to play the same role, given that in the intervening years, I now have two chins, a wattle, crow’s feet and a slightly a slightly dodgy lower back.”
When the actor asked Jon Watts, the director of “No Way Home,” how the movie would bring Doc Ock back — since, as he pointed out, “I died” — Molina said the director told him, “In this universe, no one really dies.”
In “Spider-Man 2,” Molina played scientist Otto Octavius, who was poised to be a mentor to Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker when a lab accident turns him into the the murderous Doctor Octopus, or Doc Ock for short — so named for the four mechanical arms fused into his back. On the orders Harry Osborn (James Franco), the tentacled, unhinged Doc Ock’s obsession with perfecting his experimental fusion reactor sets him against Peter/Spider-Man and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), and endangers all of New York City. In the movie’s climactic scene, Peter appeals to Otto’s good side, and he drowns himself and his reactor in the East River before the city is destroyed.
In their early conversations, Molina said, Watts told him that the movie will pick up Doc Ock’s story from “that moment” in the river, which in a franchise that include multiverses, time-travel and diverging timelines seems…plausible enough.
Molina’s concerns were more practical. He said that he asked Watts how they were going to deal with the fact that at 67, he’s aged since the 2004 film.
“He just looked at me, and said, ‘Did you see what we did to Bob Downey Jr. and Sam Jackson?'” Molina said with a laugh. In 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” Marvel Studios used CGI to de-age Robert Downey Jr. to look as he did in 1991; and in 2019’s “Captain Marvel,” also set in the 1990s, a de-aged Samuel L. Jackson played a younger version of his character, Nick Fury.
Molina also cited Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” as an example of digital de-aging — and its limitations.
“They made Robert De Niro’s face younger, but when he was fighting, he looked like an older guy,” Molina said. “He looked like an old guy! That’s what that’s what worried me about doing it again.”
“I don’t have the same physicality that I had 17 years ago,” he continued. “That’s just a fact.”
Molina realized, though, that the nature of the role would save him. “I then remembered that it’s the tentacles that do all the work!”
He sat up straight in his seat. “My basic physical move as Doc Ock, as the actor, is just this,” he said as he glared intensely at the Zoom camera and made a menacing noise. “I just do that a lot, and the arms are doing all the killing and smashing and breaking. I’m just going —” he glared again — “with a kind of mean look on my face.”
“It was fantastic.”
Neither Sony Pictures nor Marvel Studios, which are co-producing “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” has confirmed Molina’s return, but news of his casting leaked last year, along with reports that Jamie Foxx will also appear as Electro, the villain he played in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Later, Zendaya — another “Spider-Man” lead actor — seemingly confirmed Molina’s casting during a conversation with Carey Mulligan for Variety‘s Actors on Actors series.
The casting of Molina and Foxx would unite the three generations of Spider-Man movies: The Maguire/Raimi cycle, the Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield installments and the newest Spider-Mans, starring Holland and directed by Watts.
“No Way Home” is currently scheduled to be a Christmastime release on Dec. 17, 2021.