Alfred Molina on the Museum He Never Misses When He’s in New York

After more than 30 years in Los Angeles, Alfred Molina is enjoying his newly minted status as an Upper West Sider.

“My wife and I have bought an apartment here, and we’re slowly transitioning to New York,” he said last month at Lincoln Center Theater before a rehearsal for the Chekhov classic “Uncle Vanya,” which opens on Broadway on Wednesday.

Molina, 70, has been nominated for three Tony Awards, for “Art,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and, most recently, “Red,” in which he starred as the painter Mark Rothko in 2010. “Vanya,” in which he plays the pompous professor Alexander Serebryakov, is his return to a New York stage after nearly 15 years.

The play is “a chance to work with some fantastic people,” he said of the cast, which includes Steve Carell as Vanya, Jayne Houdyshell as Vanya’s mother, and William Jackson Harper as the local doctor Astrov. It is directed by Lila Neugebauer, and after Molina saw two other plays she worked on this year, “Appropriate” and “The Ally,” he said, “they both just knocked me out, so it was a no-brainer.”

Molina, who is originally from London, shared his favorite walk in New York, why he loves the subway, and a Jonathan Groff-inspired song lyric that he came up with seemingly on the spot. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.


I like to start my day with something bright and fast, like Art Pepper or Dexter Gordon. I’ve listened to jazz since I was a teenager — I wasn’t good at sport or popular with the girls, but I loved music, particularly Black American music. I used to read the music papers — the weekly Melody Maker, the New Musical Express — and whenever a review of a band or album used the word “jazz,” I would try to listen to it.


My go-to is a large coffee and a bagel from the cart at 65th and Broadway, near Lincoln Center Theater. Four dollars for the best breakfast in New York!


The old-school rides make the place feel like a walk back into history. And it was where I had my very first taste of saltwater taffy, which I’ve been slightly obsessed with ever since.


I love walking around the reservoir, particularly around 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, before all the joggers are out. It’s so peaceful watching the way light plays on the water, all the bird life. The North Woods are also gorgeous.


Linen service is lovely, but give me a Formica table and I’m a happy bunny. The best is brunch at City Diner with friends. Lots of gossip, truth telling, sharing secrets. Better than therapy and a lot cheaper.


A friend for life who introduced me to my wife. Now there’s a lyric for you! I’ve seen him three times in “Merrily We Roll Along,” and each time he was brilliant.


That’s how we get better, learning and occasionally stealing from the best. It’s easy to get a little calcified in the way one works, particularly if you’ve reached a certain level of success. That’s always a rather dangerous place to be, because it’s a constantly evolving craft. And if you’re serious about being part of it, you’ve got to keep up with those changes in some way.


I love that wonderful stretch where you can walk along the West Side from the George Washington Bridge almost all the way down to the West Side Highway. I’ve done that walk a few times. And I’ve also gone right up into an old farmhouse or something that was from the original Dutch settlement. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s up in 200-something street, way up in Inwood.


Very democratic, mostly efficient, sometimes crazy, full of characters — much like democracy itself. I was proud of myself because a tourist stopped me on the corner of Columbus Avenue and the natural history museum the other day and asked if I knew how to get to Times Square, and I gave them directions. I still get confused about which lines are local and which ones are express, though.


Every time I’m in the city, I make a visit. There’s a fantastic collection of more than 100,000 images, and a great bookshop. My abilities are strictly limited to taking snaps on my phone, though. I have no skill, I’m just a big fan.

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