Even if you don't know Alfred Molina's name, you know his face: It's menaced everyone from Mel Gibson (in Maverick) to Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark) to Gidget herself, Sally Field (Not Without My Daughter). Molina's specialty is villainy, which makes it a touch curious that he's now playing one of the most beloved characters in theater: Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, directed by Nine's David Leveaux.
As if playing the nice guy weren't enough of a change, Molina hasn't done a musical in more than two decades. The closest he's come to singing on stage since then was delivering a breathless four-minute, single-sentence monologue in his Tony-nominated performance in 1998's Art. ''I know it sounds perverse, but in the 20 years that I haven't been singing, I think my singing has improved,'' he says. ''It's not because I've suddenly developed this fabulous voice. I've managed to utilize my limitations more effectively.''
If Molina feels any pressure carrying a musical that has, since its 1964 debut, become a classic, he doesn't let on. ''We're playing to an audience that knows and loves the show, so we've got them on our side,'' he says. And, he notes, this revival won't represent a radical departure: ''We're not throwing everything out the window and saying 'Okay, Tevye's going to be Irish, and we're going to do it in a black box with two lights.''' Lest Molina get too comfortable with audiences' cheers, this summer he'll play Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2, which means he'll go back to being hissed again. ''I know,'' he says with a grin. ''It's great, isn't it?!'' (Previews start Jan. 23)