Brian Cox on playing ‘Succession’ patriarch Logan Roy: ‘I swear a lot more than I ever have in my life’

Brian Cox shudders to think what path his life would have taken had he not become an actor.  “I think because I love traveling, I would’ve probably joined something like the Merchant Navy,” said the burly Scottish actor during a Washington Post Zoom conversation about his autobiography, “Putting the Rabbit in the Hat.” “I would’ve probably been an assistant cook or something and traveled around the world. I did actually think of the alternative [to acting] but then I put the alternative away because I knew I was going to do what I was going to do, come hell or high water.”

Thank goodness, he put the alternative away because the world would have been robbed of one of the most acclaimed actors who has triumphed on stage, screen and television. He was chilling as the first Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann’s 1986 “Manhunter.” He was terrifying in his Emmy Award-winning turn as Hermann Goring in TNT’s 2000 miniseries “Nuremberg” and was quite sexy as he bared more than his soul in the steamy 1981 “Masterpiece Theatre” adaptation of “Therese Raquin.” And now he’s blisteringly brilliant as the ruthless, ultra-right media mogul Logan Roy in HBO’s Emmy Award-winning “Succession.”  Cox is currently in contention for two SAG honors and a Critics Choice Award as Roy.

“So, I think with Logan and I, that of course there are similarities,” noted Cox. “One effect he’s had on me is my language. I swear a lot more than I ever have in my life. I mean, I swear a lot. I have to curb myself now. Logan is so free with his swearing. I used to swear but not like Logan Roy. There’s also something liberating about swearing. I think he uses it tool, a liberating tool.”

Just as Roy, Cox also speaks his mind. Back in October, when his book was published in England, he made headlines with disparaging opinions of such actors as Johnny Depp whom he described as “so overblown, so overrated.”

A more bit kinder and gentler Cox was on displaying during the Washington Post interview with staff writer Sarah Ellison as he discussed “Succession” but also his near Dickensian childhood in Dundee, Scotland. Rather surprisingly, Cox didn’t find it difficult to return to his childhood despite the fact he was just eight when his father died. “They’re moments that are still with me,” noted Cox. “I mean my sense of my father is still as a strong as it was when I was eight, which I find extraordinary. He’s such a vivid image for me.”

Cox had a very happy childhood until his father died. “I mean, really blissful. I was the youngest [of five]. I was probably spoiled. My mom, unfortunately, was ill a lot of my childhood. She had a very difficult birth and I was the reason for that difficult birth, so she suffered a lot from that. She wasn’t in the best of health. I think mom was very much like many, many women of the generation and that time and working class, I think she was thwarted considerably. I think that is what was so difficult. She had no outlet.”

His father was “immensely generous…But he did suffer from it because he wasn’t a great businessman, and he lost quite a bit of money on bad investments. People thought my mom was a bit tough [on his father] but she was trying to keep our family together and my father was this generous soul.” His mother had a complete breakdown when he died. “She clearly loved him every dearly, but as always happens in relationships-sometimes you don’t express that love. You take it for great a bit too much.”

His mother spent time in the hospital where she had electric shock therapy that destroyed her short-term memories. “Then after the treatment she tried to get a job,” said Cox. “She worked as a cleaner in a school thing to keep body and soul together, but that was difficult for her. For quite a while she didn’t work; she just existed on a widow’s pension. That was for me and her. We lived off of that. It was a meager amount. It was really hand-to-mouth.”

The world of movies is what sustained him throughout his childhood. “When my father died, I remember I was put in front of the television set and there was a couple of movies on. That always is a source of comfort to me. I still love watching television, I do. It makes me comfortable.”

And theater was a “wonderful kind of sort of opening of everything to me. I had a taste of [theater] as a child when I was very, very, young. I remember when I was a little boy when my dad put me on our coal bunk in our window recess, which was probably my first stage. There were curtains and he drew them and I would do, would you believe it, Al Jolson impersonations. I remember the people in the room. We had a lot of friends, I remember the sense of harmony, the sense of community coming in, that feeling of people coming together to focus on something. It’s both exciting and thrilling.”

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