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Brian Cox - Spring 2020
Brian wears all clothes and shoes BalenciagaPhotography Nick Haymes

Brian Cox for president

Hollywood’s most powerful CEO on playing a dying archetype on Succession and telling people to fuck off (on-screen and off)

Having a conversation with Brian Cox means hearing some truly exquisite swears. The actor, who is entering his sixth decade on our screens, uses profanity as eloquently as poetry, as I discover when we speak the day after his Golden Globes win for Succession. This probably doesn’t come as a shock to fans of the HBO hit, in which Cox plays Murdoch-esque media mogul Logan Roy. He’s the snarling patriarch around whom the whole paranoiac company orbits, a character well-known for telling everyone – ad infinitum – to fuck off.

Like Roy, Cox is a self-made man, going from grinding poverty in his native Scotland to success in Hollywood. From early in his career, he has specialised in playing ruthless men, from Herman Goring to Agamemnon and serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Manhunter) – though Roy might be the most insidious monster of them all. Given Cox’s CV, the actor clearly knows a thing or two about what power looks like. He also has some ideas about why people are so darkly attracted to it.

Congratulations on the Golden Globe win for Succession! How was the night for you?

Brian Cox: Well, we’re very excited, (because) we’re very proud of our work. We think it’s original; there’s nothing else like it on television. A lot of people seem to agree with that, so it’s nice that we’ve got both (best drama TV series and actor in a drama TV series) for the best reason. Awards are difficult, anyway. The comparison is so hard – who’s best and all that. Of course we say, ‘Yes, thank you!’ and, ‘Oh gracious! Lovely!’ But we don’t really believe in it. 

You come from a working-class Scottish background, and there has been a lot of discussion lately – especially in the UK – about the lack of opportunities for working-class actors these days. Do you think things have changed since you started out in the 70s?

Brian Cox: Oh, don’t get me started. It’s tougher. In my day, I had a full grant and allowance. I was 17 and I was taken care of; the system took care of me. We were living in a time of great social mobility, when everybody was being encouraged to shift, in a way, no matter who you knew. You didn’t have to have the best education; you didn’t have to go to Oxford or Cambridge. You could go wherever you liked, you know, and I worked in the theatre. The great thing about theatre was it was kind of an egalitarian place. As soon as I walked in the theatre, I felt part of a community. But the great social experiment actually fell apart quite quickly. I thought these old-fashioned, racist attitudes had gone, I felt we learned how to get rid of all that. But no, we’re always looking for the fall guy, we’re always looking for somebody to blame. That’s why I can’t stand (Nigel) Farage.

“It’s fascinating to play someone like Logan because you’re playing (an archetype) that’s in its death throes” – Brian Cox

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about old white men in power, and you’ve played your fair share of them. Succession is a show that looks at the ugliness of that. Have you seen a shift in the depiction of men and masculine power in your time as an actor?

Brian Cox: Men are rapidly coming to their sellby-date, you know? They’re no longer functioning. Women are so in tune with the Gaia of the world, whereas men will never be in tune. They have to try and make the world in tune with what they see. And sometimes they get it right, but more often than not they fuck it up big time. We’re redundant.

There is something about wealth that gives you affirmation, but it’s bogus. Ultimately, capitalism doesn’t work, because it creates greed and consumerism, which are destroying the planet. We are too avaricious and that’s why we are dying out, you know? And that’s what we are, the old white guys are these old dinosaurs dying out. So it’s fascinating to play someone like Logan because you’re playing (an archetype) that’s in its death throes. But, mind you Logan Roy isn’t going to throw in the towel too easily. He’s a nihilist.

What can you tell us about playing Logan, who is so enigmatic and difficult to parse at times?

Brian Cox: In order to play these guys, you have to have mystery. Logan is a very mysterious man. You don’t know where he’s coming from. You know that he’s not like the Trumps or the Murdochs because he hasn’t inherited anything. He’s a self-made man, and he’s a misanthrope. He doesn’t really enjoy human beings very much because he feels like me. This is where I think Logan and I agree. Human beings are very disappointing. Except he sees them as disappointing in a sense of how you can manipulate them, because they’re so stupid. 

Where do you think the future lies for Logan?

Brian Cox: He’ll possibly die; he’ll possibly go on. I mean, he’s such a fallen angel. I don’t know whether there’s any redemption for Logan. But I’m not sure if he really needs to be redeemed.

Are you sick of people asking you to tell them to fuck off? 

Brian Cox: People are asking me all the time to tell them to fuck off. Quite frankly, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do, because you really do want them to fuck off.

Sittings editor Nadia Beeman, grooming Danny Moon at HAIR Los Angeles, photography assistant Philipp Lemon, special thanks Calder Greenwood and Stephen Ziegler at THESE DAYS