Veteran actor Brian Cox has appeared in well over 200 film and television projects, with HBO’s Succession his most recent success. Even before playing the Emmy-winning show’s irascible patriarch Logan Roy, the Scottish actor made an indelible mark in Hollywood with his chilling turn as the original Hannibal Lecter in the seminal crime film Manhunter, which led to roles in Braveheart, Rushmore, The Bourne Identity, X2, The Ring, Match Point, 25th Hour, Zodiac, and Super Troopers, to name just a handful of his credits.
When Cox wraps a project, he doesn’t let it linger; instead, he moves on to the next character. Thus, he’s a bit apologetic when asked to recount specific moments from the making of his new movie Prisoner’s Daughter, in which he plays Max, a cancer-stricken ex-con who is released into the care of his estranged daughter (Kate Beckinsale) to live out his house arrest. He looks a bit different as well than he does as Logan Roy, as his white hair has been dyed out and he’s even sporting a few prison tattoos.
What Cox does remember fondly is shooting with Beckinsale, who he says was “great fun,” and revisiting Las Vegas, where the film was shot — and not because he’s an avid gambler. No, Sin City hosted Cox’s wedding day 21 years ago at The Little White Chapel, where the pianist coincidentally paid homage to one of the actor’s movies.
Above the Line recently spoke with Brian Cox, who was in Paris while doing his best to provide entertaining anecdotes from the set of Prisoner’s Daughter, which hails from director Catherine Hardwicke. Balking at any type of method to his acting madness, the fiery Emmy winner explained his personal connection to the story and why he took to social media to defend Turner Classic Movies, as he’s passionate about preserving the classics that have defined cinematic history.
Above the Line: I’m curious about when you shot this film given your Succession schedule, and how much time elapsed between playing Logan Roy and playing Max in this movie.
Brian Cox: I’m sorry, I can’t remember. It was such a while ago. I think I did three films, one after the other. I did this around Christmas time, so it was probably about maybe two months. I did another film before that called The Independent. I did three films. I made Mending the Line, The Independent, [and] I think I did this in November.
ATL: Were you shooting this in the middle of Succession?
Cox: No, no, no. I wouldn’t do that. I would never do that. It was done. I shot Succession, whatever season it was, either [Season] 2 or 3.
ATL: So there was never any kind of confusion ahead of playing this character?
Cox: There never is. I don’t do that.
ATL: How would you describe your method of finding a character?
Cox: I don’t have a method. You know, we’re transmitters, actors. Some of us are unfortunately into religious experiences, but I’m not.
ATL: So then how would you describe how you keyed into the character of Max in Prisoner’s Daughter?
Cox: I read the script. It’s all in the script. It’s a good script. Max was an interesting character. There were certain things that resonated with me. My father had pancreatic cancer. My late first father-in-law also had pancreatic cancer. I’ve known a few people who died of it. So, I was taken by the fact that he had that, and that was his state, and it seemed genuine to me. It was a great excuse for him, more than anything else, to hopefully be reunited with his daughter.
He certainly feels very guilty about… [Cox interrupts himself and stands up to turn on a light] Well, hopefully, that’ll do something… [he sits back down and continues] I mean, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the role because it was a different one from what I played — he had a criminal sensibility, and [he] was a man who had regrets. He had regrets, but his regrets were a bit more because when you’re dying, I think your regrets are much more present in your life, you know?
ATL: Yes, that was much better! So, in terms of the prisoner aspect, tell me about who designed those tattoos and how long they took to apply.
Cox: I can’t remember. It was such a while ago, you know? I’m one of these actors who, when I do something, forgets it. I don’t dwell; I don’t go, “Oh, well, when that happened, I did that.” I do so much. I’ve done something like over 200 films in my career; I think that includes television. I’ve done a lot, so I never hang on. I just remember the ambiance of the film.
ATL: How would you describe the ambiance on this one?
Cox: It was good fun. I love working with Kate [Beckinsale, who plays his daughter in the film], and Kate and I became great friends as a result. I think Christopher’s [Convery, who plays his grandson) an extraordinary young man and I think he did an extraordinary job. [Director] Catherine Hardwicke is incredibly zany, but she’s really talented. I love working with her. She has such great energy, and it was a wonderful film to work on.
ATL: How did you tap into the father-daughter relationship with Kate?
Cox: I have a daughter. I love my daughter dearly, but father-daughter relationships are unique, and I think that was what was so interesting for me, along with the [chance to] work with Kate, who is really great. She’s great fun, and she does the work. She wasn’t particularly feeling well [during this shoot]. I think she was quite frail, but she was really extraordinary to work with.
ATL: What was it like working in Las Vegas?
Cox: My eldest son was with me as my assistant. My eldest son is a very considerable actor in his own right, so there’s no need for him to be my assistant, but he knew I was looking for an assistant. He said, ‘Well, can I come?’ And I said, ‘Well, you don’t want to come and be my assistant.’ He said, ‘No, I’d be interested. I’ve never been to Las Vegas.’ Of course, neither of us likes Las Vegas, because what’s to like about Las Vegas? [grins] The irony is that I got married in Las Vegas, so, in a way, I was quite happy to go back and go to The Little White Chapel, which I passed in a car one day.
ATL: What do you remember most about your wedding day?
Cox: It was a lady who married me, and her mother played the piano, and it was very sweet. It was very… actually very sweet things. Just me and my partner, Nicole [Ansari], my wife, and we had two [other] people. I can’t even remember who were [the] witnesses, but what I do remember is the mother played on the piano the theme from Braveheart. I don’t think she [even] realized I was in Braveheart, but it was quite sweet.
ATL: Well, it’s a good thing she didn’t play something from Manhunter. That would’ve been very inappropriate. Do you look back on that role as Hannibal Lecter and feel like you could do it again, maybe reprise it in some way if asked?
Cox: Well, apart from the fact he’s dead, it’s difficult to reprise.
ATL: This is true! What do you think it is about the serial killer genre that still appeals to audiences, who are as obsessed as ever with true crime and the like?
Cox: I’ve just written a thing for Facebook because I’m horrified. The head of Warner Brothers, once they get rid of TCM/Turner Classic Movies, which I think is one of the most vital resources — and certainly [host] Robert Osborne set that up, and the five gals who run it now. I mean, who’s an expert on film? I just love that sense of who we are, where we’ve come from, and our history. It’s vital to me that we see that and live it.
For me, the history of cinema, the watching of it, and the way that TCM presents it are incredible resources because they really make me understand how far we’ve traveled. But also how far we haven’t traveled. You know, we’ve traveled technically, but in terms of the truth of acting, there are no more true players than Spencer Tracy or Katherine Hepburn. And you see them together in what they create, so the cinema has always been vital to me. Absolutely vital [regardless of the genre].
ATL: You’re certainly a part of cinematic history.
Cox: I mean, that’s very nice of you. [Going back to Prisoner’s Daughter] It was a lovely script. I mean, it was a beautiful script by Mark [Bacci]. He did a great job. And it was a personal project, and I could feel that coming off the page. There was something highly personable about what he was creating, and it worked on a kind of humane, humanistic level. It worked incredibly well. And it was a lovely part. It was a great part. He was an ex-boxer, so he did all that stuff. He was tough, but he was a man who was approaching death, and he wanted to reunite with his kid. That was the most important thing for him.
He knew it was going to be tough. In a way, it’s a kind of blessing that he was ill because it gave him an excuse to make that attempt. Of course, she gives him a hard time to start with, but then she realizes that he’s quite genuine in his motivation about wanting to mend [fences], which [can be] pretty hard to do. That’s why the film, I think, is delightful in that sense. If you just tell the truth, the film speaks for itself.
Vertical Entertainment will Prisoner’s Daughter in select theaters on Friday, June 30.