Society tends to categorize people by their primary occupation: oh, you’re an actor; a doctor; a politician. But many people do pursue more than one role, even simultaneously; and there are many actors who are known for their work as musicians, activists, philanthropists, athletes– and even artists. The Spanish actor Jordi Mollà is one of them, a thespian-slash-painter. Much of his art is reminiscent of Andy Warhol, with its emphasis on celebrity portraits done up in pop-culture styles, while other pieces are more abstract.
Take a stroll through his Instagram feed @jordimollaart: a Freddie Mercury face with rainbow colors and a childlike crown, ala Basquiat. A rendition of the Mona Lisa wearing a white burka and the words “ALL BASED ON REAL LIFE” splayed across the body. A funked-up version of Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon with the hashtag “The Burning Man Party Girls.” He has painted his versions of other Picasso classics as well.
But Molla is better known in the United States for his work as an actor on TV shows and in film. Here he is recognized for his roles in films such as Riddick, Bad Boys II, Blow, Speed Kills, and others. Most recently he has been seen in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, Season Two starring John Krasinski. Molla portrayal of Nicolas Reyes, a fictional president of Venezuela and a mesmerizing, powerful and near-despotic leader, is bringing him further notice in the United States.
Molla’s television career began in 1987, and his film roles date to 1988. He has been cast in numerous English and Spanish language productions. In addition to his artwork, Molla has directed three feature-length films (88, Cinemart, God Is On Air) and written two books (Las primeras veces, Agua estancada). He is an extraordinary high achiever with many outlets, and at the age of fifty-one, he shows no signs of slowing down.
In Season Two of Jack Ryan, Molla plays Reyes for most of the series in an understated fashion. He is no doubt a powerful leader, conducting business while commanding respect with his quiet, raspy voice, haunted eyes and always slicked-back hair. He also relishes the trappings of luxury that come with the presidency: a sumptuous quinceanera party for his daughter, a game of polo with his cronies, a presidential palace with furniture fit for royalty. In a pivotal scene, he and a close friend discuss their impoverished childhoods, and Reyes touches upon his belief that he has also felt “responsible for Venezuela.”
But his love for his country and its people has spun into a scenario in which he must have control above all, at any cost. In a horrifying scene, he calmly kills that close friend, lets him down gently to the floor, and walks away. When he faces an election defeat at the polls, he sends in the military to shut down voting in a violent fashion.
Only at the very end, when he is captured, does his neatly coiffed hair becomes ruffled.
In an interview with Style & Polity, Molla described his performance in Jack Ryan, Season Two as showing “complexities. Playing a politician as a leader and as a victim of a situation” is important. “He represents the moment of a country” and of a zeitgeist.
“Politicians are always criticized… it’s a difficult place to be. Of course you have enemies.” Further, “When a politician becomes a dictator it’s at a different level. To play Reyes– it’s like a guy who has a vision. I’m not trying to justify the character’s” bad choices, but “I have to find the motives for why this man does what he does, is it for his benefit or to be an important chapter” in a nation’s history.”
The persona of Nicolas Reyes also appealed to Molla: “I picked up the charisma” of Reyes, his “lunatic vision, his poetic vision.” He thought particularly of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara when prepping for his role: “Castro and Guevara knew how to send messages to the people.” But perhaps surprisingly, Molla said he “did no research, and worked very intuitively” when playing Reyes. But on today’s political stage, with nations in various regions of the world being led by ruthless strongmen, and the friction that flares up due to their machinations, the role of Reyes is juicy and timely.
Molla has long parcelled his time between acting and art. He has a practical outlook to making his paintings and other pieces: “A painting is something that you live with in your house, the painting is always there.” The person who buys it “wants to live with this energy, of the painting. You (the collector) see things in it the first days but then after time it gets blurry, it becomes part of your home. But when you leave home for sometime and return, you see the painting again.”
He perceives of collectors gravitating toward certain pieces of artwork in that “it’s like falling in love; you see all the details, then you get used to it, and know it’s there.” And with a wise but cheeky nod to collectors’ passions, “If you get tired of my paintings, get another and put it up!”
Molla’s artistic style has evolved: “Over time, I started with abstracts, with a different palette of colors, more darker. Little by little I decided to be more pop, without forgetting the message I want to send.” The brighter colors reflect his time spent in Los Angeles and Miami. “Language and environment have affected me, yes,” adding that “People in America get really scared when they don’t understand” a piece of art.
Has film work shaped his art? He thinks there are comparisons: “You have to please the audience. You don’t want to make a movie that nobody wants to see. Same thing with my art. I want to please” collectors.