John Lithgow and Alfred Molina tie the knot in "Love Is Strange"
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina tie the knot in "Love Is Strange"

John Lithgow and Alfred Molina's heartbreaking, complex and perhaps even career-defining performances in Ira Sachs' "Love Is Strange" have been a major talking point of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival thus far.

As Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina), the two portray an aging gay couple who -- after finally getting the chance to tie the knot after 39 years together -- run into serious financial troubles when George is fired from his job at a Catholic private school when word gets out about his nuptials. This evolves into a nuanced, beautiful portrait of not only their love but the love of the many friends and family members around them, with Lithgow and Molina providing the centerpiece of an impressive ensemble (that includes Marisa Tomei and Cheyenne Jackson).Though as wonderful as it is to watch the pair's seemingly effortless chemistry on screen, it somehow doesn't quite compare to witnessing it in person.

In an interview the day after "Love Is Strange" made its world premiere at Sundance, it was immediately clear that Lithgow and Molina have a rather remarkable chemistry in real life as well (albeit, yes, a platonic one). Constantly finishing each other's sentences and making each other laugh, witnessing their mutual affection for one another just made their work in "Love Is Strange" seem all the more endearing.

(To Molina only, as Lithgow is still finishing another interview): So while we wait for John, why don't you talk about how you got involved in the project?

Alfred Molina: I got sent the script from my reps -- who also represent Ira Sachs. They said "we have this script and we think it might be right up your street." And I read it and I loved it. I got to page 20 and I was already phoning up saying I want to do this. And then -- as often happens with independent films -- it suddenly went terribly quiet. The trail went very cold and I didn't hear anything for weeks. So I thought "oh well, maybe they didn't raise the money," which happens all the time on independent films. But then a week later, I got a phone call from Ira saying they had the money together and that John Lithgow is interested in doing the other part. And I've known John for years -- we're friends -- so that totally sold me. And the fact that we are friends has helped a great deal, I think. We just felt so relaxed and easy and at home with each other. So we had a lot of fun making it.

Was last night the first time you saw it with an audience?

AM: Yes. First time with an audience and first time I'd seen the finished version. About two weeks ago, I saw a cut. It wasn't completed, and I was just sitting on my own, so I was watching it from a very subjective point of view. But last night, watching it an audience, I suddenly realized how delightful and how wonderfully funny it is. There's some great humor, which is really important. When you're watching it on your own, you don't appreciate that. It was great. It was a very sympathetic and warm audience, and that's really what happens here. Sundance is a very welcoming environment. Ira's been a regular here of years. 

I was at that first screening, and actually watched it next to a gay couple who must have been in their 70s. They were holding hands and tearing up, which was just really, really lovely.

AM: Awww… [John Lithgow approaches to join the interview, and Molina turns to him]. John, you got to hear this. Peter, tell him what you just told me.

I was just telling him how last night when I was watching the film I was sitting next to an older gay couple who clearly were having an intensely emotional response to the film.

John Lithgow: Oh, my! And we've been experiencing that over and over again these last two days. Were you at the premiere?


JL: Did you hear that man that spoke about how much the film meant? Was he a part of that couple?

Lithgow and Molina with Ira Sachs on set.
Lithgow and Molina with Ira Sachs on set.

No, that was actually a different couple! But they were lovely too.

JL: Well, we met them at the party afterwards and it was the same experience. Together for 31 years.

AM: It's very satisfying when that happens.

Well, you don't see these characters depicted anywhere very often. And who they represent are people that are clearly excited to see themselves on screen, especially when it's such a good movie.

JL: You know, the primary location in the film -- the apartment that Alfred and I lose -- that is an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens that belongs to a gay couple in their 70s who have been together all these years. Great theatre fans. They'd seen both Alfred and I on stage. They brought out programs for us to sign of this we'd done.

AM: They brought out a Playbill of a play that John was in…

JL: In 1973!

AM: He couldn't even remember doing it! [both laugh]

JL: They'd lived this kind of quiet, inconspicuous life. And suppose they'd gotten married. Now, I don't know whether they have or not now...

AM: I'm not sure.

JL: But they were Ben and George.

AM: It was fantastic.