Brian Cox (‘Succession’) on the ‘hardest bit’ of playing Logan Roy and his awards wins [Complete Interview Transcript]

Brian Cox stars as media mogul Logan Roy in the addictive HBO drama “Succession.” The celebrated actor won a Golden Globe for his performance earlier this year.

Cox spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria recently about playing such a brutal character as Logan Roy, how he is starting to see the chess pieces the writers are putting in place and his take on award season. Watch the exclusive video chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: Brian, the season finale ends with a really unexpected family betrayal. Kendall makes a move against his dad in a televised press conference but what I loved so much was Logan watching on and then smiling. Why did he smile?

Brian Cox: It’s an extension of life, really. It’s an acknowledgment that life will go on and it will go on in its usual chaotic condition. Logan knows that he had to push his children, one of his children, over the edge in order to show some character more than anything else. It happens because Kendall forces it in the interview when he says, “Do I have the killer [instinct]” and his father says, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” But that’s all part of a strategy he’s well used to having over the years. It’s a little bit more difficult because it’s in terms of his own children. But what is also happening is he’s seeing the fact that his children are actually beginning to come to the fore, particularly, funny enough, Roman. In an earlier scene, he sees that Roman show a kind of vision, which is very unusual.

GD: It’s so interesting that you say that. It’s now making me realize, when he said to Kendall, “You’re not a killer. You’ll never be a killer, you don’t have what it takes” kind of thing, you could see how damaging that was to Kendall but it pushed him, and you’re saying that Logan is not an idiot, he can see his kids are actually starting to make some moves and do things for themselves and not be so entitled and he’s pushing them. That’s interesting.

BC: Exactly, because none of his children so far are worthy. Shiv has proved to be a big disappointment. You have to remember that Kendall has already tried to betray him. He’s always regarded as a little bit of an idiot but now he’s beginning to see some muscle developing in Roman which he kind of underestimated and I think he has underestimated it himself and I think he’s aware that he’s underestimated it, though we don’t dwell on that. That may come in the third series but we see it happening. We see the way Roman is seeing through the money deal with the Turkish people, so in a way, it’s kind of interesting how the show pans out because there’s always mysterious elements to it in what the motives really are and that’s what I love about the show. It’s never black and white.

GD: Yeah, that’s what I think we all love about it. When I spoke Sarah Snook yesterday she mentioned that she doesn’t really know what’s gonna happen episode to episode and a lot of things seem to surprise her. I wonder, did you see that ending coming? Do things shock you on this show more than you expected?

BC: No, I just think it’s good dramatic writing. I really respect the writers. I respect Jesse [Armstrong] and Lucy Prebble and Georgia Pritchett and the wonderful Tony Roche, and of course led by the brilliant Jesse Armstrong. I trust them. In the early days when we first started the show, ‘cause I’m an actor who likes to be prepared, I was very keen on knowing what the arc was and it was clear that that wasn’t going to happen. But it’s clear there was an arc but it was a mysterious one. So I went for the frisson and the mystery of it, and I kind of get off on the frisson and the mystery that I don’t quite know what’s happening. But I’m actually getting quite good at the chess game of it that I can anticipate where the moves are going to be and what the moves are. The big revealing thing for me was right in Episode 1 I just asked Jesse outright, “Does he love his children?” And Jesse said, “Absolutely.” So that is unqualified, in a way, that he loves his children so given that, that he does love his children and he doesn’t express it, ‘cause he’ll never express it — that’s Logan’s problem, he can’t express himself in that way — the fact that he does, he will actually do his damnedest to see that they kind come to some kind of fruition. That’s what’s happened. I think the big disappointment from his point of view was that Shiv always opens her big mouth. She cannot keep anything under. She can’t, as we say in Scotland, save your breath to cool your porridge. She has real difficulty doing that, hence the mistimed outburst on her part at the Pierce thing. And she can’t help it because of her position that she’s been in. That’s understandable but at the same time, she has amazing instincts and she has amazing gifts like talking that woman down, getting that woman not to testify. It’s fascinating. It’s absolutely fascinating.

GD: With all of that going on, this show is so complicated and fascinating, but Logan is such a powerful and intimidating character and when I watch you on the screen, I just wonder how challenging it is to be playing that 11 out of 10 constantly.

BC: It comes from practice, really. In 2021, virtually in a year and a half’s time, I will have worked in this business for 60 years, since I was 15. So I’ve kind of seen it all. I’ve seen it come, I’ve seen the ambition, I’ve seen the disappointment, I’ve seen the rejection. I’ve seen every aspect of what our business does and I’m still doing it and I’m even doing it more now than I did when I was younger. I wish I had the energy, that’s my only problem I suffer from. I feel that I’ve come into my own in an organic way. This doesn’t daunt me, because if you’ve played Hermann Göring, if you’ve played Winston Churchill, if you’ve played Hannibal Lecter, if you’ve played anyone with very complicated psychologies, I’m not saying Logan is a doddle, but you have a shoo-in a little bit with Logan.

GD: That’s really interesting, that’s a really good point. You’ve got all these great characters you’ve played over history. Do you put Logan up aside those amazing characters that you’ve played that you’ve won awards for and you’ve received amazing reviews for?

BC: No question. I put Logan on the level of a Titus Andronicus, even a Julius Caesar, certainly a King Lear. He’s on that level and he demands that kind of exactitude.

GD: I think we relish “Succession,” the writing and the performances just like we would a Shakespearean play and it’s been said over and over again. What’s fascinating about Logan especially when the series started was you’re playing a very powerful person who has at that time lost agency physically and mentally. Was that particularly difficult to get right?

BC: Yeah, that was hard. That was the hardest bit because originally when I signed on, not when I signed on but the original offer to me was it was a one-season part and he would probably die at the end of the first season. During the conversation I had with Adam McKay and Jesse Armstrong, I said, “So it’s a one-season part,” and we were on the phone, Jesse was in Italy, I was in London and Adam was in L.A. so there was this pause on the end of the phone and Jesse said, “I think it’ll be more than one season.” So I realized in the conversation they decided that a paradigm of it had shifted, in a way. That was what was so interesting. I realized the part had an ongoing life so the first bit, because I think it was necessary to have that, because we needed to see what the absentia of Logan was like in order to go on with the rest of the show, his recovery, of course, he’s recovering rather well (laughs).

GD: I think he’s doing really well. He’s on the trajectory. These people can be very unlikable. They do some really repugnant things and yet, I wanna be around them and I even care about them. I even want to invite them into my living room. Why do you think that is?

BC: I think it’s also to do with the time that we live in. You have to remember that ultimately it’s a morality tale. That’s my words, it’s not Jesse’s words, but I think it’s a morality tale. It’s about the age we live in. If you think about what’s going on in Washington at the moment and Donald Trump said, “I could kill somebody and nobody would bother anymore,” if you think these hearings going on at the time of Nixon, it was a foregone conclusion, but it isn’t a foregone conclusion anymore because we live in a world that lies, and a world that lies to itself. So you get these extraordinary contradictions. People go, “I can’t stand these people,” but at the same time, they are obsessed, literally obsessed. I’ve never known anything like it. I went to a very nice function in L.A. recently. I had a film open called “The Etruscan Smile,” and I went to L.A. for it and doing a play in New York at the moment and Rosanna Arquette, who’s in the film with me, she said, “Oh look, I’m having a book launch for Ronan Farrow,” and I said, “Oh, that’d be interesting.” She said, “Can you come?” I said, “I can probably get there for the latter part.” So I went and it started and it was very interesting and Ronan Farrow had actually helped a friend of mine who had an issue of sexual aggression, so I was there and the place was full of women and Ronan was launching his excellent book but afterwards, when everybody realized that I was in the room, suddenly I was surrounded by these women. Many of them, not all of them, but a couple of them were tell them to fuck off. And I thought, “This is the age that we live in.” There we are, we’re having a MeToo thing going on at one part of the room, a very serious thing, and these women who are coming up and saying, “Can you tell me to fuck off?” I don’t know what it does to them, but it was just an extraordinary thing. I also think it’s so much the confusion of the age. We’re living in very confusing times. Our moral centers have shifted and are almost missing, quite frankly. The moral barometer is gone. What the show does is it reminds people the more you get into the mire of the show, and they do get hooked, and they watch the show not only once but sometimes three times through… I’ve talked to people who’ve seen the first season three times. There was elements of that in the old days with “Dynasty” and “Dallas” that had an element of that. There was always that element but we do love bad people and we get assured by bad people. The more we see them, the more assured that we are in some kind of way. It’s a sort of yin and yang situation.

GD: It’s so true. It’s so funny that you tell that story because every time Logan says, “Fuck off,” and he says it a lot, I just think “Yes, we need more of it!” So you’re right.

BC: Everybody goes, “Oh yeah!” It’s quite astonishing. I had someone come to my theater the other night and they wanted a video and the girl said, “Please tell me to fuck off, will you?”

GD: It’s brilliant. With all of that happening in the background, the show has really started to pick up steam. It’s picking up awards, it’s very acclaimed, people say it’s their favorite show and they watch it over and over again, as you say. I’ve seen it all twice so it means I need to get out more. What does that kind of recognition mean to you personally, particularly at the Emmys given that it was just nominated for Best Drama?

BC: I didn’t go to the Emmys ‘cause I was working. I was rehearsing a play. It’s been a slow burner. The first season was great but everybody’s onto it now. We’ll see what happens with the awards but I’m sure there’s a few nominations flying around. I think it’s just caught on. It’s become the show of the hour. It’s incredible what it’s done to me. I did the Kelly Ripa show with Ryan Seacrest, and sadly she had jury duty and she was furious and they called me because apparently her and Anderson Cooper, they’re addicts and each week, “Who’s your character this week,” they will say. Anderson Cooper’s been a bit annoyed with Kelly because she’s always claiming, they call him “our leader.” I’m known as our leader to them. She said, “Oh, naturally, of course our leader,” and Anderson said, “Yeah but surely you should share it a bit. You can’t always have our leader.” (Laughs.)

GD: It’s taken over. And the thing is, you’re no stranger to awards. I can see them behind you and you won almost 20 years ago for “Nuremberg.” It was 20 years ago now almost but what do you remember about that night, winning that award? It’s a pretty prestigious award to win.

BC: The Emmy, yeah. It was surprising. I’ve always said if I have to choose between a job and an award, I’d always have a job. Awards are fine and I’ve done very well over the years, I can’t complain one way or the other but at the end of the day, they’ve slightly got a little bit debased recently because there’s so much politics in them nowadays, particularly in the movie industry. I think in the movie industry it’s very hard. Television is probably more egalitarian in a way because it goes right across the board. The movie industry, it’s hard to see certain movies. I’m a member of the Academy and I get DVDs of films which nobody sees and I see some wonderful performances that outstretched and outstripped sometimes the performances that are nominated. I find that whole nominating system a little bit suspect now because it’s what’s available to you. If you can’t get it available, you haven’t got the right P&A and you haven’t got the right thing behind you for a movie, it’s very, very tough. I feel for people in that situation. So in a way, it’s slightly debased the notion of awards to me. The Emmys is pretty good and I think the Golden Globes has reshaped itself. It went through a bad time but it’s now become rather respectable. I do it for the work. It’s great to have the recognition but ultimately, it’s about the work. it’s only about the work.

GD: Yeah, that’s probably healthier to be that way.

BC: I think it is. You can’t live in that world, “Wouldn’t it be great?” There’s not enough time.

GD: Speaking of not enough time, I could literally sit you here and just force you to tell me everything about the last two seasons that we’ve relished. Unfortunately, we don’t have much more time but what I do wanna say, my favorite scene of the whole show is the finale of Season 1 when Kendall and Logan embrace after that horrible incident with the British waiter. I just can’t get that out of my head. I think it’s wonderful the way you both played and then also “Tern Haven” from Season 2, that whole sequence with Nan and Rhea, brilliant work there. What’s your favorite or highlight part of the show to date?

BC: The part that I really enjoyed where finally he gets his rocks off and you don’t wanna get his rocks off too often ‘cause it’s a giveaway, but I love Boar on the Floor. I thought Boar on the Floor showed the suitable savagery of how primitive Logan is as a man. There’s this primitive motivation at work and his contempt for human beings is so evident. We can’t have too much of that, though. We don’t wanna give too much away. And of course, both those scenes, the final scene with Jeremy [Strong] in [Season] 2 and of course that scene you just mentioned. Jeremy is so good in the show. I love Jeremy but he and I have completely different acting methods, but it works. It doesn’t matter what goes on and it works. He steeps himself. That boy beats himself up horribly. It’s a wonder he’s still standing but his work is phenomenal. Second to none.

More News from GoldDerby