Enrique Molina plays Lenin in the Kremlin Carillon

Gloomed sunny morning, Enrique Molina’s gone

That is why today, rather than a chronicle, I resort to the technique of a review, which is narrated and exposed by protagonist himself in 2004.

When Enrique was only ten years old, he was forced to drop out of primary school. The hopes and dreams of this child  were taken away from him to debut in the streets and face up the unfortunate reality that turned him into one of the children who hawked avocados and peanuts in the streets of the 1953 Cuba, a setting of an individualistic and hostile society.

“I was born in Bauta, Havana province, 61 years ago. I lost my mother during childhood and my grandmother took care of me. My life situation was, by no means, exceptional or unprecedented, because these were gloomy days for our country, and I was just one of many children and teenagers who had to go out on the streets to struggle to get a living, in order to help their family, as I have now witnessed when I have had the opportunity to participate in many Film Festivals in other Latin American countries, and, with profound sadness, I see those children in Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Peru… going through a terrible misery, and it makes me very sad because it reminds me of my own past.

So did you start your artistic career in Havana?

“No, I didn’t. In 1960 my grandmother, who raised me since my mother died, took me to Santiago de Cuba, where she had a daughter, in search of better opportunities”.

How did you find a way to cope with the situation in Santiago de Cuba?

I recall that I applied to be part of the Association of Young Rebels and climb five times the Pico Turquino mountain, win a scholarship and be able to study; I never got my admission though, and I, along with a neighbor, went to Bayamo province on our own, to a place called Pino del Agua to meet with those who had already been accepted, but, since we didn’t have any documents we could not join that contingent, so, we had to return back to Santiago de Cuba. From then on, I started working in a cafeteria as a waiter for three or four years. Right in that cafeteria, located in Dolores Park, I met many actors and directors of the Conjunto Dramático that used to go there to have lunch or breakfast.

Who do you remember from that time?

Raúl Pomares, Félix Pérez, Obelia Blanco, María Eugenia García and her mother Selene Gonce… the directors of the group were the Argentinians Jaime Suetisky and Adolfo Gudkin, and I began to get in touch with them regularly. Then, once, the person in charge of the cultural department of the gastronomic union, came into the cafeteria and asked me directly if I wanted to join an amateur group of this union. I found it interesting, thus I went, I introduced myself, and the actor and artistic director of that group, Luis Carrere is currently here in the capital.

It can be said that this is the first artistic work of Enrique Molina

That’s right, I started in a play, and I stayed in this group for about a year, until the Sierra Maestra newspaper made an announcement to join the professional theater group, that is, the “Conjunto Dramático de Oriente”. I applied, but I was not accepted. However, about two days later, Félix Pérez told me – hey, come back and apply again. I did it, and the Argentinians approved me, and from then on I started working in the professional group, but as I have already said many times and I repeat, I started my artistic life without any knowledge of anything, I didn’t know what an actor was, nor what drama meant, nor how to act in a theater play, nor who Shakespeare or Stanislavski were, I knew absolutely nothing. This was the result of all we have previously shared in here, the result of a childhood without the proper educational training, and an adolescence just the same, I only counted with the training that one-year-permanence in a group of amateurs, had to offer. I remember that the first thing I did was to help the carpenters and electricians with the stage design; I attended the rehearsals and I learned the roles of all the actors that participated. I remember that on one occasion, they were rehearsing a play called “Una libra de carne”, also written by an Argentinean, Agustín Cusani, and Miguel Sanabria, who had a leading role, got sick almost at the premiere, and I told the director, almost as something that welled up from my heart- Hey Gudkin, for tonight’s rehearsal, if you want I could play the role of Sanabria – and he answered – How come?- Yes, I can, I know the script for all the characters. We rehearsed, and that was, for me, a convincing proof that I could become an actor if I put my mind to it, with all the severity and rigor that it entails. I did several final rehearsals, the play was not suspended, and, in the end Sanabria was able to premiere it. From then on, I earned the confidence of the cast and directors, who might have thought – let’s start using this skinny guy as an actor -. Of course, at first I was assigned small roles until I started to grow in the field.

In addition to the theater, you also tried radio stations in Santiago de Cuba.

Yes, I did, and it was a great luck. I remember that Carlos Quintas, an actor of the group, who later settled in Havana and has become a brilliant radio and television actor, took me to CMKC radio station, so that they would get me an audition. I must admit, I could have never imagined that acting for the radio was something so hard, I thought it was simply to take a script and start reading, but when I got to the studio and saw the actors’ work, I realized what acting for the radio really was. I got very nervous, I did a very ridiculous thing, I could hardly speak.

So, did you leave the radio?

No I didn’t. It was a process. I began to systematically go to the studios to see and listen to the actors, the announcers, and eventually they began to give me small parts, small phrases, small characters, until I was fully committed to that wonderful world. I sincerely consider the radio the most difficult media, and I have tried all of them. I believe that once you get to master the radio, it gives you an experience, an ease, to discover and interpret the psychology of a character, because on the radio, an actor can play eight or ten different characters a day. It trains you, it forces you to have a mastery of your voice, to know the variety of nuances that you can get to transmit a feeling, that will only be heard; therefore the voice is the means of communication to convey image and feeling.

When did you arrive in the nation’s capital?

Well, before that, in addition to theater and radio, I also worked in television. I was a founder in 1968 of Telerebelde from Santiago de Cuba. In 1970 I arrived in Havana and I thought I had already overcome my fears in a radio studio, here I met true acting <cracks>, the greatest actresses and actors of the radio and television. I met them in the studios of Radio Progreso and Radio Liberación.

For me, that was a major impact.  Once in Radio Liberación, Odilia Romero, who was directing a program, called me, and asked me if I could act as Ramón Veloz’ replacement during his illness, in the radio program “El Quijote de la Mancha”, starring none other than Miguel Navarro and Ramón Veloz. I accepted the challenge, I went into the studio, I took the script, I marked it, we rehearsed… but I couldn’t do it. When I saw Miguel Navarro in front of the microphone acting, impersonating Don Quixote with that mastery, that fluency, that mastery that Miguel Navarro had for acting, especially in radio, I could not open my mouth. That program ended with no Sancho Panza.

But, you still didn’t give up. Did you?

No, not at all. I was also given the opportunity to start at Radio Progreso with Abelardo Rodríguez who directed “La Gran Aventura de la Humanidad”. I worked a lot there. But I ran into a very serious problem that prevented me from continuing in radio. Since I was a child, I have always suffered from serious eye disorders. I have had contact lenses for more than thirty years and on top of them I have to wear glasses to be able to read. When I arrived in Havana, I used the called coke bottle glasse, but there was no way I could handle the script, it was very difficult for me to match one line with the next and I had to stop the recording too often, and this caused difficulties in the use of the studio, which is programmed according to the logical time that each program has. I embraced that problem, and I reached the conclusion that it was affecting my colleagues, and I also considered that I was not going to be a good radio actor and I took my steps towards the television.

And was it difficult for you to enter the television?

Well, I am going to tell you a lovely story. I arrived from Santiago de Cuba in 1970 with my briefcase, my “ariques” and no more than forty pesos in my pocket. I went to the cafeteria located on the first floor of the Alaska building, in front of the door of the national radio and television building on M street, and standing there looking towards the staircase, I saw a man I had just seen once on Telerebelde in Santiago de Cuba, Abraham Maciques, a TV director. I went to meet him, intercepted him and told him: “Look, Maciques, I am actor of Telerebelde, and I came to Havana to see if I could work here. I have a letter from Enrique Bonne, where he confirms that I am a Telerebelde actor. He grabbed my briefcase from the sidewalk, we entered the ICR building, we took the elevator, he led me through corridors and another elevator and took me to the office of Commander Jorge Serguera, the ICR President, and told him – Commander, you need to call Telerebelde, because I sent for this actor, but he came without the work file and they need to send it immediately-. That’s how I entered national television. I thank Abraham Maciques, who opened the doors and arms to me. I will never forget such a human and nice gesture. He even gave me a key to a guest house that the ICR had on Neptuno Street, because I had no place to live. He told me – that house has no much comfort, some of my colleagues live there, try to find a spot to stay until you get something better-. He took me to the programs department of the ICR. He took me to the department of television programs and addressed to Carlos Diaz, in charge of the department , “I had this actor come from Santiago, find a job for him”.

And what programs are you assigned to? What is your debut on national television?

I started with educational programs that were broadcast at seven o’clock in the morning, mostly about world literature. For example, a teacher would talk about Shakespeare’s work and some fragments of the story were dramatized.

When did you take off in television?

I believe it was one fine day that director Eduardo Moya called me to tell me – I’m co-directing a TV series with Ana Lassalle, called “El Gran Almirante”, and I have a small part for you. I did it, and soon after Moya told me -You are with me in “Los Comandos del Silencio”-. For me it represented a great school, because we all know that Moya was a great director, very good, who knows how to get from the actor, exactly what he wants. In “Los Comandos…” we could find Miguel Navarro, Salvador Wood, Reinaldo Miravalles, Carlos Gilí, René de la Cruz… a group of actors that enjoyed the boom at that moment for their skills and popularity, and I took full advantage of that unique opportunity to capture and instill in myself all that wisdom and professionalism they showed. So, in addition to working for Moya, I was privileged for seeing those exceptional actors perform.

So, do you believe that there is an Enrique Molina before and after “Los Comandos del Silencio”?

Yes I believe so, because for me it was a University where the student can acquire a higher training.

Other programs are quickly assigned to you.

I was already married to my current wife, we were living in Los Pinos with not favorable conditions to raise a family, and by then, the ICR was creating a microbrigade, for the construction of the building located behind the Riviera Hotel, near the Malecon, and I decided to become a builder, and during those years I left television aside. The construction of the building lasted over five years. I had been working there for two and a half years, when someone came looking for me to audition, because “El Carillon del Kremlin” was being brought to the screen, and they wanted to see if I could play the role of Lenin. I auditioned, a few days later they called me to repeat it, but with more depth, that is, with a real physical characterization. It was done, it was evaluated, and finally it was approved. Then, they took me out of the microbrigade for about seven months to play Lenin. That was in 1977, on the occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary of the October Revolution.

What happened then?

Well, when I finished the construction work I went back to television and started working in different roles in theater, short stories and soap operas, until today.

I want to refer to a small part you had at first, but which grows bigger and bigger in each chapter. I’m talking about Matías, the Nicaraguan man from “El regreso de David”. How did you create that character? 

Look, these chapters were recorded in Nicaragua, we arrived there at about eight o’clock at night and immediately the assistant director told me that we would begin filming the next day and gave me a script, I asked him what I should do, because I did not know the habits, customs, not even how the Nicaraguans spoke, and he told me – Talk to Jesus Cabrera, because he says that he starts recording tomorrow at the border with Costa Rica, we must leave at five in the morning and you are in the first scenes -. Luckily for me our guides, drivers, etc., belonged to the Nicaragua security forces and I spent the whole night talking to a young Nicaraguan guy and I took him as a model to be able to film my part. I listened carefully to the way he spoke, his cadence, the way he said things… Fortunately, that boy, who was sixteen years old then, had joined the Sandinista army since he was a child, had participated in many battles and had a very great story, which contributed a lot to build my character.

You become a leading character during David’s time in Honduras. Is it thought that way from the beginning? Memorable performances are part of the acting work of Enrique Molina. 

Abelardo Vidal, the writer of this TV series, went with us to Nicaragua with only one chapter written and he began to attend the filming… I recall that Jesús Cabrera had initially told me – Molina, you return to Cuba in 15 days, because you are going to work only in one chapter -. The one who falls in love with the character of Matias is him. When he began to see what I was doing in the first, second and third scenes of the first chapter, he told me at night – hey, I’m not going to kill Matías in this chapter, I’m going to do it in the second chapter instead, and then addressed to Chucho Cabrera: Molina won’t leave in 15 days, he has to stay a month because he will continue in the second chapter -. But then he left me alive in the third and fourth chapters. The character was growing, Abelardo was putting it together, because he was the first one who fell in love with Matías and of course, I also fell in love with the character myself. The experience I had there, was wonderful, but I tell you that the actors who have been doing television for a long time and especially in my case, since, still small, I had the radio experience, and that is very important for actors who are devoted to television, to have an important grounding on the radio. It is extremely important, extremely necessary.

How did you set up the scene of the farewell to David, as indicated by the writer in the script?

When Abelardo Vidal wrote the chapter, he only wrote – here David says goodbye to Matias and nothing else -. Then, when we were studying the script, Sergio Corriere, that is David, he told me – And what do we do here, because it is blank? -. We went to see the director – Hey Jesus, these are the writer’s instructions, what do you suggest – Well, let’s see what you do, I will place a camera for each of you – Jesus Cabrera answered, – you only need to tell him that you joined a counterrevolutionary band pretending to be your brother, that your real name is not Matias, then the floor is all yours-. And so, this amazing scene came out, beautiful in every way, for its rhythm, photography, for the actors’ emotions, for the empathy, for the inner life, for the situation of the two characters, fighters, with a very clear objective. Sergio, who is also a great actor, had already identified himself with his David character since the first series, he had him in his skin, and I had become very familiar with my Nicaraguan infiltrator. I was very satisfied with my Matías. Many years have passed, and I still feel moved when I see this scene.

And be certain that the people also feel that way. But you are the absolute owner of another scene that lasts very little on screen, but it is still one of those things that can’t be forgotten and it takes place in the TV series “Julito el pescador”.

Yes, my character was Julito’s liaison. He was desperate because the Bay of Pigs invasion was supposed to take place and he had no way to warn Cuba of this danger. The scene originates in a cafeteria, but I want to emphasize that we are also talking about a great actor, René de la Cruz, who played Julito, the fisherman, and managed to show the wonders of that character. How can we forget the scene of the memorable encounter of René de la Cruz with that unforgettable character <<La flaca>>, masterfully played by Consuelito Vidal. Not a single word was spoken and so much was said with only the look, the gesture, with the restrained feeling. How that scene brought tears to the eyes of men and women in this country. Our scene was very beautiful and touching, if one thinks of what it means for a clandestine fighter infiltrated in another country, to suddenly find that someone in a bar tells him – And your wife is still so fat? – And he almost crying with joy when identified his contact answered – my wife is thinner than a sugar cane, brother.

In soap operas, you also have very beautiful characters and outstanding performances. I especially want to refer now to the role played in “Tierra Brava”, where you achieve perfect characterization. Let’s start with the makeup. How was it done?

The make-up lasted over an hour, it was done by Gisela Timoneda and another girl whose name I can’t remember now. We did many makeup tests on all the characters. But particularly in my case, I made an agreement with Xiomara Blanco, this is the scriptwriter and general director. I wanted to achieve, and she agreed on it, a physical appearance from rough beating, to present him physically ugly, because I wanted Silvestre Cañizo’s beauty to be internal, to appear in every word that old man said. It was hard because we lacked many products and didn’t have the right make up for the eye, so as to show it really damaged, deformed. Make-up artists tried with a little piece of tulle to cover half of the eye, but in the camera test it could tell it was piece of cloth. So I told Gisela, let’s not improvise anymore, let’s take the glue used for beards and mustaches, put it under my eyelid, and if it sticks, we’ll do it with that. She tells me, -but Molina that’s made for skin use, not for the eyes, besides, when removing it, it can only be done with alcohol, you will suffer a lot and it can hurt you-. The shootings lasted ten and twelve hours a day, I had my eye glued and indeed, I suffered for about ten months until the recordings were over, and in the end, the eye suffered the consequences, I got an staphylococcus, and stayed a long time under treatment with Dr. Blanca Elena Herrera, Enrique Almirante’s wife.

Enrique Molina playing the role of Silvestre Cañizo, a character that made history in Cuban TV. And regarding other physical elements of the characterization…

I talked to several orthopedists and neurologists so that they could explain to me the consequences of deformity of a person who receives a beating that causes several fractures, without the appropriate medical assistance. And so, with medical approval, I created the character of Silvestre Cañizo from chapter thirty onwards. And the character was achieved, who despite being physically grotesque, is a person of natural intelligence, with a light of his own, and who always says so many beautiful things. It was very well designed by Xiomara in the script. I was honored that Dora Alonso, writer of the novel “Rancho Luna”, original idea of “Tierra Brava”, invited me over to her house. She confessed to me that Silvestre Cañizo had been my own creation. I keep that satisfaction in my heart.

There you worked alongside that great actress Alina Rodríguez, who also played an amazing Justa. And now Xiomara Blanco brings you together again in “Destino Prohibido”. How do you see it?

I recall we were at the Palacio de las Convenciones in a meeting convened by  UNEAC, when Xiomara told me about her novel and her interest of me being part of the cast. I told her I was interested only if I got to play a negative character. And she said -well, that’s exactly what I was going to talk about- and she began to describe this Jeremías character, his psychology, his vileness. Then I asked her – well, and with whom do I work directly, who will be my son and the maid of the house? And she answered to my joy – Alina Rodriguez and Fernando Hechavarria. So I told her: count me in. I have scenes with other important actors like Blaín, Almirante, Norberto… but the more powerful scenes are those with Alina and Fernando. They both are actors you can fully trust in, long-trained actors of countless resources, of a dramatic training, of an extraordinary working rigor, and when they accept to play a character they go for sure. They do not go there to improvise absolutely nothing, and when they go to the set to do a scene you have to squeeze because they crush you, in the good sense of the word, they are two actors of higher levels. Fernando Hecharría has a vast experience in theater, he spent more than 15 years as the leading actor of the Escambray Theater Group. By the time the soap opera “Cuando el agua regresa a la tierra”, starring Manuel Porto was made, they went to look for Fernando to play the young Porto. And Alina Rodriguez has won countless awards for her performances in Teatro Estudio, alongside Raquel and Vicente Revuelta… some of the most important figures of the acting scene in this country… If tomorrow I have the opportunity to work with Alina, I would have to push to do something different from “Tierra Brava” or “Destino Prohibido”. But we would make it and for me it would be a real honor, a privilege, to work again with Alina Rodriguez. I respect, love and admire them both as actors.

I remember seeing you in TV Theater?

I have worked in some of them, mainly with Antonio Vázquez Gallo and Ana Lassalle, when we were still on the air live. Eduardo Moya also called me for the Soviet play “El último visitante”. It was very good.

Molina, here in the capital, you continued to do theater.

Not much, but I remember two very important theater plays for me. The first one was directed by Eduardo Moya, it was “El último visitante”, which he presented at the National Theater with the same cast of the television version. We were only a few actors, Rogelio Blaín, Orlando Casín, Raquel González… It was a resounding success. An actor and theater director named Michaelis Cué, wrote a play and went to look for me, because he had been rehearsing for about a month when one of the characters got sick, and he refused to cancel the premiere. You won’t imagine who I had to replace in that play, none other than the magnificent actor and extraordinary director Vicente Revuelta. I took the plunge, I did eighteen rehearsals, we premiered it at Teatro Estudio, it ran for about a month and then we took it to the National Theater for two or three weeks.

You have worked extensively in cinema. Do you remember the exact number of films in which you have participated?

About 15 films. The last one is entitled “El Bárbaro del Ritmo”, a tribute to Benny Moré. I consider the script to be amazing, it is by Jorge Luis Sanchez and Abraham Rodriguez. Jorge Luis is also directing this fiction film. I am very happy. Benny is played by a theater actor named Redmi Arozarena, and I play Benny’s cab driver, who through their daily encounters become close friends, almost like brothers, until Benny’s death. The locations will all be in Havana, including Studio one of Radio Progreso, where Benny was a regular visitor because he had a program there for many years; the Floridita, and other places that suggest the presence of the “Bárbaro del Ritmo”.

Of all the films you’ve worked on, which are the characters or films you appreciate the most?

Look, there are two films that granted me a very positive balance, “Un paraíso bajo las estrellas”, for the experience of working with Abelardo Chijona, a director who knows what he wants from his films; and the other would be “Hacerse el sueco”, the fourth or fifth film I made with Daniel Díaz Torres, the director I have worked with the most. That film left me, and the public in general, great satisfaction. Then, “Caravana” provided me with the experience of being able to really participate as a volunteer in two caravans that moved along the front to bring food and supplies to the combatants. The UNEAC has awarded me with the Majadahonda medal. Now, in the 2004 Latin American Film Festival, the last film I worked on, along with Daisy Granados, will be premiered, it is called “Noventa millas” (Ninety Miles). We filmed it in Tenerife last year, it was written by a Cuban writer that studied film here and is currently working in Germany. It’s about a Cuban family that leaves the country on a raft. Daisy and I are the married couple, with our children, my father-in-law is played by the actor who represented Miliki in the popular TV show that aired in the fifties, a wonderful person; he told me that it was the first time after so many years that he worked in something of dramatic genre. The rest of the characters are played by Cuban actors hired in Spain, such as Alexis Valdés, Claudia Valdés, and an actor from Camagüey province. I think it is going to be an excellent film because of the denunciation tones is has. What happens on that raft is extraordinary. The only thing that actually reaches the United States shores is a one-month-old baby tied up to the raft. All the others die, devoured by the sea and the sharks. Daisy and I agreed to participate because of what it represents, to denounce the U.S. policy implemented against Cuba for so many years, giving rise to false hopes and illusions to all the people who leave, dazzled by the American dream.  I owe to cinema the opportunity of traveling to many countries to attend Film Festivals.

You have five children, 8 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Do they all live with you?

No, they don’t. I live with my youngest son, who is a musician, he is a bass player with the Van Van music band. His wife is also a musician, a violinist in Omara Portuondo’s group. I have two daughters who live abroad. And the other two, a man and a woman, live in Santiago de Cuba, because these are from the first marriage I had. When I was 55 years old I was already a great-grandfather.  If a study were to be conducted, I would probably be the youngest great-grandfather in Cuba.

People also say that you are the one who cooks in the house.

Yes, I love it. Today, for example, I made some beans that turned out delicious. I’m doing the anti-diet that prevents me from gaining weight and allows me to eat beans, which I really like.

In short, you are competing with Rogelio Blaín.

Blaín likes to grill fish. I remember when we were in Camagüey doing the “Hermanos” TV series, Blaín was always trying new things with the fish we got near the hotel. I assure you that he knows how to do it.

What character do you play in “Hermanos”?

A very bad foreman of a tyrant and abusive landowner character played by Rogelio Blaín. I have had the positive view of the juries that have awarded me two first mentions in the Caricato Competition of the UNEAC for my character as Matías in “El Regreso de David”, and my part as Lenin in “Carillón del Kremlin”, as well as the award for best male performance for Silvestre Cañizo in “Tierra Brava”, all of them on television. I also won the Caricato award in supporting acting for the film “Derecho de Asilo” and the Festival Cine Plaza 2002 awarded my performance in “Video en familia”.

How does Enrique Molina feel today?

I don’t know if I have done few or many performances, but I feel satisfied if I value the way in which I entered the world of dramatic acting. I myself did not imagine that today I could be talking about the wonderful experiences I have had and above all, having enjoyed the opportunity to meet so many people who have helped me to place myself in front of a microphone or a video, or film camera on equal terms with colleagues who, when I was hawking peanuts or standing behind a counter in a cafeteria, were already being admired and loved for their dedication and skills in this wonderful world of art.

Few or many, his participation and devotion cannot be measured by the quantity, but by the mark he has left, which definitely portrays him as a humble man, a man of the people, of extraordinary sensibility… Someone who, with a fierce honesty, tells us that when he takes a script, he does not know the work of Shakespeare or the existence of Stanislavski. That, perhaps, is the greatest achievement of Enrique Molina, to emerge from the humblest sector of the population, and then, perform the most beautiful characters, regardless of whether they are positive or negative, represent the most enduring memory.

Traduction By Roberto Bastidas

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