Alfred Molina on Matador, Robert Rodriguez, and the Golden Age of Television

The Emmy nominee shares insights into the evolution of TV shows.

by | July 15, 2014 | Comments

Alfred Molina is the kind of guy who does big movies (Spider-Man 2, The Da Vinci Code) and small movies (An Education, The Hoax). Now he’s back on the TV screen in Matador, a soccer-spy thriller which hopes to fill the World Cup void this week, premiering Tuesday night on the El Rey Network.

In Matador, starring Gabriel Luna as the soccer-playing CIA spy Tony Bravo, current Emmy nominee Molina plays Andres Galan, the shady gazillionaire who owns L.A.’s pro soccer team. Molina, whose lengthy TV credits span from across the pond (The Losers, El C.I.D.) to Tinseltown (Law & Order: LA), spoke to Rotten Tomatoes about the changes he’s witnessed in television programming recently, and the viewers’ relationship to the medium.

“I think the audience has realized that it can handle a lot more in its own living room than the TV networks originally allowed them to handle,” Molina said. “In the old days — I say ‘the old days’ because I’ve been acting for 40 years so I’m in a position to make this judgment — when I first started working in TV, the given intelligence was that in the movies, you’re the host so you can call the shots. On TV, you’re the guest in someone’s home. That made it a very different relationship to the audience.”

As El Rey, the cable net launched by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez last year, continues to shake up the TV landscape, Molina credits cable, and specifically HBO, with allowing television to be more like film. “Cable kind of changed all that because cable was like you were buying a movie… and HBO, of course, sort of set the ball rolling, and then others followed. So the relationship between the audience and the product changed. Plus TV — and this seems like a trivial point — but TV got bigger! So the experience of watching TV was like a movie.”

Rodriguez continued the trend of cinematic television and translated it into 13-episode seasons, first in March with From Dusk Till Dawn, an adaptation of his 1996 vampire film by the same name, and now with Matador, a glossy crime drama with dashes of Rodriguez’s signature cartoonish violence, bold action, and dark humor. Tonight, Rodriguez directs the Matador pilot, which he also exec-produces with Hollywood heavy Roberto Orci (Fringe, Sleepy Hollow).

“I think [Rodriguez] actually created a network in his own creative image. I think he’s creating a kind of network that he would want to watch, which is always the best way to create anything. You create what you love and, somewhere along the line, you hope that other people love it as much as you do,” Molina said.

Orci and Rodriguez on the set of Matador.

According to Molina, El Rey, along with the proliferation of other cable nets investing in original series, captures the spirit of independent filmmaking now more than ever. “It’s where the best writing’s happening. It’s where some of the best acting’s going on. It’s where some of the best directors are working — because they’ve suddenly got this freedom, and all the traditional values of, like, ‘It’s got to be 22 episodes, long-form this, long-form that’ — that’s all out of the window now. Because the way we watch TV now is so atomized, none of the old paradigms really apply anymore.”

One way cablers are shifting the old model of distribution is by premiering via streaming ahead of a show’s linear debut. (AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful were both available a week before their premieres.) Tonight’s Matador premiere has been available on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu or Xbox since July 9. And El Rey announced last week that Matador will indeed get a second season.

From left to right: Tony Bravo (Gabriel Luna), Alec Holester (Tanc Sade), Caesar (Peter Gadiot)

In tonight’s premiere episode, Molina’s character, Andres Galan, is introduced as the owner of the L.A. Riot soccer team; he’s a debonair entrepreneur with business dealings sketchy enough to warrant a CIA infiltration. Luna plays Tony “Matador” Bravo, a DEA-agent-turned-spy whose soccer skills happen to be good enough to land a spot on the team. Co-stars include Tanc Sade (Gossip Girl) as Alec Holester, the handsome David Beckham-esque playboy who leads the team, Nicky Whelan (Franklin and Bash) as Annie Mason, an icy and impossibly hot CIA agent; and Neil Hopkins (Lost) as Noah Peacott, her smart-mouthed partner.

Matador airs July 15 on El Rey at 9 p.m. EST.

Noah Peacott (Neil Hopkins) and Annie Mason (Nicky Whelan)

For more TV news, visit the Rotten Tomatoes TV Zone.