Succession star Brian Cox: ‘I’m having fun with this. It’s like confession…’ | Succession

Over the years, I’ve crossed paths a number of instances with the Dundonian actor Brian Cox. In 2002, I interviewed him for the BBC in regards to the controversial US indie movie L.I.E., of which he stays notably proud. We met once more in Shetland, the place I co-curate the annual Screenplay movie competition, when he was campaigning for Scottish independence. Extra not too long ago we did a podcast collectively during which he enthused about his love of Danny Kaye within the 1955 comedy The Court docket Jester, a movie he rewatches yearly. No surprise, then, that studying his vastly entertaining autobiography, Placing the Rabbit within the Hat, looks like catching up with an outdated good friend.

In his e book he recounts being on the Golden Globes in 2020, the place he received finest actor in a TV sequence as Logan Roy within the scathingly satirical Succession. Among the many attendees have been Elton John and Al Pacino, each of whom pointedly praised Cox for his excellent title function within the 2017 drama Churchill – a movie that was ignored at awards season in favour of Darkest Hour, for which Gary Oldman received an Oscar taking part in Churchill.

“It’s the curse of Brian Cox,” the actor writes ruefully, a phrase he credit to my broadcasting companion, Simon Mayo, and me to explain the unusual phenomenon of Cox handing over a blistering display efficiency just for one other actor to win an Oscar for enjoying the similar function in a totally different film – one thing that has occurred greater than as soon as.

Once I meet Cox in London, he’s simply arrived from the airport after filming the ultimate scenes in Italy of the hotly anticipated new sequence of Succession. His schedule has been mad however he’s clearly in impolite well being – that granite-like face commonly breaking right into a beaming smile as we sit, Covid-distanced, on his flat’s balcony overlooking Primrose Hill, inhaling that unusual summer time cocktail of humid recent air and visitors fumes.

Succession sequence three (l-r): Matthew Macfadyen, Jeremy Robust, Nicholas Braun, Alan Ruck, Kieran Culkin, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook. {Photograph}: HBO

He’s in a superb temper, so I determine to leap in and ask about Churchill first. Is he nonetheless irked in regards to the lack of garlands that movie obtained? “I was pissed off,” he admits, “notably after I noticed the different film. I assumed it was bloody terrible!” He’s not incorrect. The scene in Darkest Hour during which Oldman’s Churchill conducts an impromptu focus group of “atypical folks” on the London underground stays completely laughable. “I imply, Gary’s a nice actor, however…” Cox sighs, waving away any perceived injustice. “You study to not be hooked up, to let go. Churchill most likely wasn’t the best script, however I believe the connection with Miranda [Richardson, who played Clementine Churchill] was second to none. She’s an awesome actress, and she or he made me increase my sport. And from that standpoint I assumed: ‘Nicely, that is good work.’”

Cox’s “good work” has, after all, been broadly recognised elsewhere. Born in 1946 right into a working-class household of Scottish and Irish descent, he joined the Dundee Repertory Theatre aged 14, then landed himself a spot at Lamda. An outstanding stage profession adopted, with Cox incomes Olivier awards for Rat within the Cranium in 1984, and Titus Andronicus in 1988. In the meantime his display roles have ranged from blockbusters resembling Braveheart and Bourne to smaller films resembling The Escapist, which earned him a Scottish Bafta.

Alongside his current Golden Globes win, Cox has additionally been Emmy-nominated for his efficiency as Succession’s Logan Roythe venal media mogul who’s equal elements Rupert Murdoch and King Lear. Crucially, Cox refuses to characterise Logan as merely “dangerous” – one thing that appears to outline his strategy to folks normally.

“I believe that sooner or later in his life, Logan has been brutalised,” Cox says. “And he’s within the technique of committing an act of revenge on the remainder of humanity, however for actually fairly legit causes. The factor that’s so arduous for him is that, like Lear, he loves his kids, and he would hope to see a few of that love reciprocated, versus them simply seeing him as a chequebook, or because the highway to entitlement.”

Like The Thick of It – the Armando Iannucci sequence that featured Succession creator Jesse Armstrong amongst its writers – Succession is a comedy-drama with an “induced documentary” really feel, as if the chaos on display is unfolding round us in actual time. I ask Cox if it’s all scripted, or whether or not there’s a lot room for improvisation. He rolls his eyes on the phrase. “I’m an awesome believer within the script,” he states firmly. “I don’t thoughts improvisation. I can improvise with the perfect of them. And sure, we do a good bit of improvisation in Succession. Typically it may launch an actor. However normally it doesn’t launch me. The script releases me.” He recounts a beautiful story (included within the e book) about changing Tommy Lee Jones on the 1996 sci-fi motion film Chain Response, solely to find that, regardless of eight writers, there was no script. “You labored with Ken Loach, sure?” requested director Andrew Davis. “He improvises? And you can improvise?” Subsequent factor, Cox is in a carry with Morgan Freeman singing On Prime of Outdated Smokey to fill the gaps the place the written dialogue ought to have been.

Brian Cox as Churchill, 2017.
As Churchill, 2017. {Photograph}: Lionsgate/Allstar

Different experiences have proved extra invigorating. “On Succession, I’ve been working with Mark Mylod [the director whose credits include the hit TV series Shameless]. He’s great – very hard-working and really meticulous. Anyway, I’ve this scene within the new sequence the place a sure factor occurs – I received’t say what, as a result of I don’t need to spoil it, however it’s embarrassing, and entails one thing about Logan’s youngest son, Roman, that may be a little… disappointing. The primary time we did it I simply roared: ‘RAAAAAH!’ However then we did one other take the place I put my head in my fingers and went: ‘Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?’ till I’d exhausted it. As a result of that’s it. He needs to know why. I imply, he is aware of it – he’s not a superb dad, and he doesn’t give a fuck – on one stage, though on one other stage he offers enormously a fuck.”

Whether or not or not that second makes the ultimate reduce stays to be seen (Cox doesn’t have a tendency to return and test such issues, preferring to maneuver on as soon as the on-set work is completed). But speak of it reminds Cox of one other improvised incident that got here as they have been filming the top of the primary episode of the brand new sequence, for which he had a novel thought. “It’s at an airport in Sarajevo and it appears to be like as if Logan’s going to be dropping the agency. He’s not going to be CEO any longer, which is a part of the theme of the third sequence. And so I did this scene the place he’s exterior the resort, and he’s alone and really nonetheless. And I had this dialogue with Mark who mentioned: ‘We’d like a little bit of craziness.’ I mentioned: ‘Nicely Mark, I’m unsure that works however OK I’ll attempt it.’ So we’re on this lengthy slim highway by an airport, and I used to be on the cellphone, and I began to stroll. There was all this visitors, so I assumed: ‘I’ll simply stroll in the principle highway.’ So I did that they usually went fucking nuts! ‘Get again! You’ll kill your self! Don’t go down there!’ I mentioned: ‘You needed me to do one thing loopy so…’ They usually’re going: ‘Not within the vehicles!’” He roars with laughter on the reminiscence. “I assumed what a nice factor it could be if I did that within the scene – immediately having the primary assistant working in screaming! It might be very Brechtian! Anyway, then Mark came visiting and mentioned: ‘I believe that was a little bit too a lot!’”


I suspect that a part of Cox’s means to get below the pores and skin of characters resembling Logan Roy comes from his means to seek out the issues they’ve in widespread. In Placing the Rabbit within the Hat (a time period that refers back to the work that should be completed earlier than you may magically pull a metaphorical rabbit out of the hat), he writes in regards to the trauma of dropping his father at an early age, and worries about his personal shortcomings as a dad to his 4 kids. I ask how these experiences have affected his portrayal of somebody who’s, in his phrases, “not a superb dad”. His reply is often free-form.

“Look, the one factor Logan and I share is our disappointment within the human being. Like this farce that all of us watched of Bezos going up within the sky, began by Branson. What the fuck are they doing? He went up there for 11 minutes after which got here again down. And also you go: ‘So fucking what?’ After which Branson goes: ‘We’d like rather a lot extra spaceships.’ And also you suppose: ‘No we don’t! We don’t want much more spaceships! We’ve received sufficient! The world’s gone nuts!’”

Bringing issues again all the way down to Earth, I ask whether or not Logan could have began out with good intentions? Did circumstance and disappointment flip him towards the darkish facet?

“He most likely needed to create a world which he then realised he couldn’t create, so he thought: ‘Fuck it, I’m simply going to take what I can.’ And I believe he received on to that jag a very long time in the past, so the idealist in him went. Bear in mind, we nonetheless don’t learn about his relationship along with his mom, or his relationship with Rose, his sister. I believe Tennessee Williams’s sister was referred to as Rose. She had issues, and he had this very advanced, heartbreaking relationship together with her. And I assumed it was fascinating that Jesse selected that title.”

Brian Cox
{Photograph}: Phil Fisk/The Observer

There’s one thing of the wounded bear about Logan within the first episodes of the brand new sequence, remoted as his kids appear able to activate him. Does he turn out to be a extra sympathetic character on this sequence? “To a sure extent he does, however then he reverts to type. I can’t actually speak about that, or give something away. However his son betraying him actually brings numerous stuff dwelling. However he’s such a battler. He’s limitless in his ire.”

So is that this the top of Succession, or will there be extra?

“That’s a query I can’t reply,” Cox says. “It actually depends upon the writers. In the event that they really feel they’ll stoke different stuff out of it… I imply, it is morphing into different areas. It’s turning into way more of a…” He pauses, looking for the fitting phrase. “I don’t need to say ‘humanist doc’ as a result of Jesse would hate that. However the present has taken by itself life, it’s creating its personal life. And that’s an enormous benefit. So so long as that life is there, and so long as the writers are impressed to do stuff, then it may go on.”

And do it’s a must to be there for that to occur?

“No, they’ll kill me off,” he says, earlier than including slyly: “However I believe they’d miss me. Initially, I used to be alleged to die on the finish of the primary sequence. However I believe they realised that Logan is the centrifugal power of the piece. All the things has to spin off him, and the children’ vices are all about their father, and regarding their father. Do they love their father, and if that’s the case how do they present that love?”

Cox is evident that, no matter viewers and critics could infer, Logan’s relationship to real-life bogeymen resembling Murdoch or Trump is at finest incidental. “Trump is a dangerous script,” he says, echoing fellow Scotsman Invoice Forsyth, who famously acknowledged in a 2012 Guardian article that if he’d ever written a villain as one-dimensionally horrible as Trump, nobody would consider in him. “Brendan Gleeson did him not too long ago [in The Comey Rule] and I really feel for the person. Trump’s only a horrible script. However Logan is Jesse’s creation.”

What about Charles Foster Kane, the newspaper mogul on the coronary heart of Citizen Kane. Does he forged a shadow over Roy?

“Probably not, as a result of the Succession writers come from the world of gags. They’re comedy writers primarily.”

However Citizen Kane is full of gags…

“Nicely sure, that’s true. Kane is filled with gags. He was wonderful, Welles. However he was so misunderstood. They by no means received him. And his life grew to become actually quite unhappy. You recognize, he had a home on the prime of Sundown Plaza they usually used to say that you simply knew Orson was on the town as a result of there’d be an enormous pair of white underpants flying on the home. I at all times suppose that’s a beautiful picture – this flag of his white underpants. However the Kane factor hadn’t actually occurred to me till you mentioned it, however now I consider it, yeah there are parts of Kane in there.”

With Jesse Armstrong on the set of series 2.
With Jesse Armstrong on the set of sequence 2. {Photograph}: Zach Dilgard, HBO

Our dialog veers from Orson Welles to Steven Seagal, who options within the prologue of Placing the Rabbit within the Hat as somebody who, like Trump, has a delusional view of his personal skills. Different targets of Cox’s ire embody Rob Roy-director Michael Caton-Jones, whom the actor upbraids for committing the crime of being extra involved with the choreography of a shot than the textual content. (Cox nonetheless recounts having fun with juggling roles in Rob Roy and Braveheart, the latter regardless of its “horrible script”.)

As a rule, nonetheless, Cox errs on the facet of generosity – nearly to a fault. “All people on this e book is both lifeless or cancelled,” he writes as he cheerfully remembers working with Mel Gibson, Woody Allen, Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer. Again and again, I recommend, when it appears to be like like he’s going to stay the knife in, he as an alternative attracts again and asks: The place did this individual come from? How did they get right here?

“Nicely, you’ve hit it in a single, Mark, as a result of that is the job. You don’t choose. You can’t choose. And it’s arduous. I imply, take Trump. I can’t have a look at the person, he simply makes me really feel… vile. However on the similar time he’s clearly an abused little one; he’s clearly been indoctrinated by this horrible father, who’s additionally been indoctrinated. And he’s received this unusual mum, from the Western Isles for Christ’s sake, who fully didn’t know the place the fuck she was and subsequently couldn’t relate to those horrible kids. And Donald is as silly as something. He’s a dumb fuck of the primary order. However he’s turn out to be that – that was the method that occurred. And I’ve no sympathy for him in any way, I believe the person’s a waste of house. However on the similar time, prefer it or not, he’s a human being.”

I’m reminded that Cox received an Emmy for enjoying Hermann Göring in Nuremberg, one other function that required him to look lengthy into the abyss and attempt to divine one thing human.

“That’s actually the supply of what I do,” he says. “The questions. Who’re these folks? What did they do? What’s Hannibal Lecter? And that was the factor that got here out of Nuremberg. Though I did it after I did Hannibal Lecktor [as the character’s name is spelled in the 1986 film Manhunter], it’s this lack of empathy, this lack of ability to empathise. When Will Petersen says to him: ‘You’re insane’ – effectively, when you’ve gone down that highway, there’s no argument.”

An Hannibal Lecktor in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986).
The unique Hannibal: in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986). {Photograph}: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

I point out that Cox writes that he has by no means spoken to Anthony Hopkins about Hopkins’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Lecter – the opposite notorious instance of the curse of Brian Cox.

“We don’t discuss it, which is an efficient factor. As a result of spherical in regards to the time of The Silence of the Lambs, some Day by day Mail journalist rang me and mentioned: ‘This function, you performed it first, proper?’ And I mentioned: ‘Sure, that’s proper.’ After which that was the headline – ‘I PLAYED IT FIRST’ – as if I used to be being vainglorious. And I used to be effectively and actually pissed off. And Tony was upset about it, fairly rightly. So I simply thought: ‘OK, I received’t speak about it ever’, as a result of I believe Tony did an awesome job. However then I believe Hannibal is like that. It’s like Hamlet. It’s open to interpretation – to totally different folks doing it from their totally different factors of view. I primarily based my model on a killer referred to as Peter Manuel – Martin Compston did a TV factor about him [the three-part ITV crime-drama In Plain Sight]. Manuel scared the shit out of me as a 10-year-old boy. However I really like Tony – his vary is simply astonishing.”


Besides Hannibal, the opposite character whom Cox has famously made his personal is Titus Andronicus – the tragic Shakespearean anti-hero whom he performed in a famend 1987 RSC manufacturing, brilliantly directed by Deborah Warner, which he has referred to as “the best stage efficiency I’ve ever given”. It’s a blood-soaked work, crammed with rape, mutilation, and youngsters being killed and cooked. But Cox insists that the play additionally incorporates a key ingredient of vaudeville.

“Sure, completely vaudeville!” he laughs. “There’s this ludicrous ingredient to Titus – this outdated warrior soldier basic who’s now on this state of being neither comedian nor tragic however simply sort of ludicrous. But it surely’s additionally extremely shifting due to the form of extremes he goes to. And this act of cooking the children in a pie and serving it – it’s folks being pushed to the intense. And it’s additionally about authority, and a few younger author getting his rocks off. If you do Lear, that’s infinitely extra miserable. As a result of it’s about infinite rejection. Titus isn’t rejected. He sort of motivates all the things. And all of it goes horribly incorrect – his life, this complete edifice, cracks open. That’s why I performed it trying like a type of statues – coated in clay, cracked. That was one in all my photographs for the function; a form of damaged statue, with bits of flesh coming via it. To me it’s one of many nice roles as a result of it form of sums up what I really feel about life – that life is ludicrous.”

I remind him that, like the perfect works of Grand Guignol horror, his celebrated portrayal of Titus was met with audiences fainting, vomiting, and working from the theatre.

As Titus Andronicus at the Barbican, London.
As Titus Andronicus on the Barbican, London. {Photograph}: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

“It was!” he says proudly. “And it’s fully cathartic for the viewers. Once I was within the Barbican, there was this girl sitting on the facet, and she or he’d simply witnessed Lavinia approaching together with her fingers reduce off. She began going: ‘Assist me, assist me!’ And I led her to the vomitorium, they usually carried her out. And I keep in mind on the first matinee folks have been taken out within the interval as a result of the depth in that theatre was astonishing. Folks nonetheless speak about it to this present day.”

How does it really feel to be on stage when that’s taking place?

“You turn out to be a medium for one thing. When you’re open to it, you permit one thing to come back via you. And it’s regardless of you, it truly is.”

Alongside his ardour for theatre, Cox has lengthy taken an curiosity in politics, famously lending his wealthy, sonorous voice to Labour’s election marketing campaign within the 90s. However his allegiances shifted later as he grew to become a flag-waver for Scottish independence, throwing his weight behind the SNP. I ask him the place he presently stands on the political map.

“Oh boy,” he says, as if shouldering the load of the world. “You recognize, I used to be a huge Labour man for such a very long time. Then the entire ‘weapons of mass destruction’ factor occurred, falling into the clutches of the late Donald Rumsfeld, and that toxic vice chairman Dick Cheney, and the fool savant that’s George W Bush. The hubris of Blair simply made me go: ‘Who does this man suppose he’s?’ And I helped him, as a result of I did ‘the Voice of Labour’. I used to be actually excited. I assumed: ‘That is the start of one thing.’ However we have been by no means fairly capable of do it…” The thought trails off, and he appears to be like at me with a weary shrug. “You recognize, as a child I at all times thought: ‘Who am I? Who am I supposed to be? The place do I slot in? How do I do my job?’ I’d at all times been a bit… [he waves his hand in a gesture of uncertainty] like that about Scottish nationalism. And I don’t just like the phrase ‘nationalism’ – I hate that phrase.”

However Brian, the celebration you assist is actually referred to as the Scottish Nationwide celebration.

“I do know, I know,” he says, with a mix of frustration and amusement. “However they received’t be. As a result of there’ll be different events, and the paradigm must shift after we turn out to be an unbiased nation.” The usage of “when” quite than “if” is extra informal than pointed, as if an unbiased Scottish future is inevitable. However as ever, Cox instantly balances such certainty with a notice of ambiguity.

“I’m very upset with the battle that’s gone on between Nicola and Alex,” he says. “However Nicola is doing an astonishing job. And I believe it’s as much as the ladies anyway. I believe girls must be working the present. I’m a white dinosaur.” He remembers having a DNA take a look at taken on the genetic family tree firm Oxford Ancestors, the place one of many analysts advised him: “‘Males will ultimately die out. Ladies will be capable to self-fertilise.’ I mentioned: ‘Wow, so that you imply males will simply… disappear?’ He mentioned: ‘No, we’ll most likely be stored on as playthings.’ I assumed: ‘What a beautiful factor. That makes complete sense.’ I simply love that concept.”

Once I point out that our time is sort of up, Cox says: “Oh, however I’m having fun with this. It’s like confession!” Through which case, maybe this is able to be the second to deal with the topic of Sir Ian McKellen, whom Cox clearly loves, however whom he playfully prices in his e book with main a little bit an excessive amount of on the “entrance foot”.

There’s a second of uncharacteristic silence, as Cox appears immediately to seek out himself on the again foot. He appears to be like at me sheepishly, shakes his head and says: “I’m so frightened about that bit… Do I actually put it in for him? Do I?”

I reassure him that he delivers the right shit sandwich – a minor criticism flanked by hearty compliments. He appears to be like relieved. After which he launches off once more.

“Nicely, I do suppose he does it,” he says, emboldened, “however it’s horses for programs. He’s a ‘entrance foot’ actor and he’s been extraordinarily profitable for it. I’d not take it away from him. And he’s extra of a person of the theatre than I’m. He loves the theatre, he’s passionate in regards to the theatre, he goes out on a limb to do sure issues. However typically, there’s just a bit little bit of… coronary heart lacking. Somewhat little bit of simply what I name expiation. When, regardless of who you’re taking part in, you’re committing an act for the viewers, and it’s about that factor that they need to undergo, or they do undergo with you. Fairly than simply going: ‘Oh wow, pyrotechnics!’ There’s one thing whenever you’ve received to go proper into the viewers’s inside core. Proper into wherever their soul could also be, or this [he presses his chest], in right here. And I believe that typically he’s so busy being aside from that. I imply, it’s high quality, it works. And he’s most likely probably the most profitable actor in England.”

So what are you frightened about then?

“Oh, I’m simply frightened that Ian McKellen won’t ever communicate to me once more,” Cox says ruefully. “As a result of I like Ian McKellen. We’re buddies!”

Collection 3 of Succession begins on Sunday 17 October within the US and Monday 18 October within the UK on Sky Atlantic and Now TV

Placing the Rabbit within the Hat is revealed by Quercus (£20). To assist the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply prices could apply

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