Warning: This post contains spoilers about Season 3 of Succession. Click the play button above to hear Brian Cox’s full conversation with Tom Power.
With a career spanning six decades across film, television and theatre, Brian Cox has played iconic characters like Titus Andronicus, King Lear, Hannibal Lecter and Winston Churchill — but nothing could have prepared him for the response to his performance as Logan Roy on HBO’s Succession.
When he and his castmates walked onstage for the European premiere of the show’s third season last October, his wife, who was sitting in the packed audience, told him it was like watching a rock concert.
“People always kind of knew who I was, but there was also an element of anonymity,” Cox told Q‘s Tom Power in an interview. “Now, my anonymity is gone because of this show. And that’s the price you pay.”
WATCH | Brian Cox’s full interview with Tom Power:
Succession follows the obscenely wealthy and deeply dysfunctional Roy family. They’re the owners of Waystar Royco, a global media and entertainment conglomerate that’s drawn comparisons to the real-life business empires of Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and Conrad Black. The show revolves around the family’s aging patriarch, Logan, as his adult children vie not only for his attention but the chance to assume his position as CEO.
Although the show’s characters are extremely privileged and generally unlikeable, Cox said he thinks Succession resonates with audiences because “human beings love to hate” — and a story about out-of-touch billionaires provides ample opportunity for that.
“They’re flawed, ridiculously flawed,” he said. “And that’s the satirical comment of the show, is the fact that these people, their sense of reality becomes very skewed.”
While Logan is never presented in too sympathetic a light, Cox said his character is, in fact, motivated by love for his children. But there’s a key difference that separates Logan from them: he’s a self-made man who was born into humble circumstances.
“He comes from one sensibility and his kids are coming from an entirely different sensibility,” said Cox. “It’s very hard for him because he loves these kids, but at the same time, he’s horrifyingly disappointed in them.”
“That’s the interesting element in Logan … he’ll give his kids all they want, but they have to do the job. They have to be able to do the job, and they’re constantly failing to be able to do the job.”
For those who watched the Season 3 finale of Succession, it may not come as a surprise that Cox named Logan’s son-in-law, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), as one of the most intriguing characters on the show. Once an outsider, Tom makes the biggest power move of the season when he betrays his wife by telling Logan the plan to shut down the sale of Waystar Royco.
“[Tom’s] just thought, ‘I’m actually safer with Logan than I am with my own wife or … my two brother-in-laws because at least with Logan, I know what I am,'” said Cox. “Because Logan is very straight. Logan just says it like it is.”
Parallels between the actor and the character
Like Logan, Cox has also been known to say it like it is. In his own words, his new memoir, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat, has “stirred up a lot of people” due to his unvarnished opinions on other actors.
“[I’m] maybe sometimes too honest or too straight for my own good,” Cox told Power with a laugh. “But you know, at my age … if you can’t be honest, you can’t be anything. So I just say it like I feel it.”
There are connections and no question. And I think that I’ve informed Logan.– Brian Cox
Putting the Rabbit in the Hat explores Cox’s own rags-to-riches story, from his working-class upbringing in Dundee, Scotland, to his prolific career on stage and screen. Power remarked on the similarities between the actor’s story and his character’s.
“There are connections and no question,” Cox replied. “And I think that I’ve informed Logan.”
Nine episodes into the first season of Succession, the show’s writers changed Logan’s birthplace from Quebec to Scotland as a “little surprise” for Cox.
“When I first was approached about the job, I suggested playing him [as a Scot],” said Cox. “And [creator Jesse Armstrong] didn’t want that. He said, ‘No, no, he has to be American.’ And the truth of the matter is … Murdoch, I mean, he’s an Aussie, but he’s spent so much of his time not in Australia, you know. So anyway, that was the deal.”
According to Cox, the big difference between him and his character is how they cope with their “disappointment in the human experiment.”
“He’s a misanthrope, and I’m an optimist,” he said. “I think things can get better. That’s what I feel. But Logan, no.”
‘Actors are like priests’
Putting the Rabbit in the Hat is as much about Cox’s life as it is about his passion for the craft of acting. He calls acting a form of “expiation” (a word that’s typically used in a religious context to mean the act or process of making atonement).
“I think actors are like priests,” he said. “I think that they’re performing ceremonies of a deeply spiritual kind.”
“You watch somebody like Judi Dench and you feel it, this form of expiation that things are lifted from you, they’re taken from you…. You’ve freed yourself spiritually in a way and you expiate your sins, you expiate your feelings, you expiate your thinking. It’s the word I use because it seems to me to make sense of what the job is of acting.”
Although raised Catholic, Cox said he doesn’t believe in God. For him, theatre does for its audience what mass does for church congregants — but he thinks theatre does it better.
As for his thoughts on method acting, Cox said he’s “considerably less critical” than the press has made him out to be.
In December, a New Yorker profile of Cox’s Succession co-star Jeremy Strong went viral for revealing the lengths the Emmy-winning actor would go to for his roles. Cox commented on Strong’s process, expressing concern for his co-star.
“Jeremy is a great actor. He’s a fantastic actor. He’s great — great to work with. But he puts himself through it, and sometimes, as a result, he puts us through it as well,” said Cox. “I don’t mind. As long as the work is good, that’s my main concern … but I do think there’s a sort of, there’s a kind of culture that’s encouraged that, and … I’m a little skeptical about it, you know. Also, it becomes exhausting.”
When Power asked if Cox would ever try method acting to help him get into the mind of Logan Roy, he responded no.
“These characters, I keep them to the conditions that they are in, but I don’t want to be carrying them around with me.”
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Produced by Ty Callender.