The Escapist - Brian Cox interview

This article is from 2008

Brian Cox

Jail bait

Jan Gilbert meets the hardest working Scottish actor in the business, Brian Cox

As Brian Cox welcomes me into the interview room at London’s Gibson Guitar Studio, he points out a picture of Syd Barrett, ‘a son of Cambridge’, on the wall. It’s been just a few months since the Dundee-born actor was treading the boards on Broadway to the sounds of Pink Floyd, playing a communist Cambridge don in Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.

From theatre through television to cinema, from blockbusters (the Bourne and X-Men movies) to indie projects (The Flying Scotsman, L.I.E), Cox has done it all, and he’s done it with style, picking up BAFTA and Emmy awards, and a CBE along the way. And at 62 years old, the hardest-working actor on the planet shows no signs of slowing down.

Sitting on a big red sofa, Cox looks relaxed, dressed in a casual grey shirt and blue jeans. Although understandably tired after a full day of interviews, he listens attentively and speaks thoughtfully about his career.

‘I was a slow starter in this business,’ he confesses, ‘the reason being that I always wanted to be in it for the long haul and I knew that the roles become more interesting as one gets older.’

As proof, Cox points to his two most recent releases: The Escapist, an action film about a life-term prisoner determined to break free upon learning his daughter is critically ill; and Red, a thriller in which he plays a man seeking justice after his canine companion is killed. The charmingly voluble actor is justifiably proud of these films, both of which see him star as taciturn characters whose stories are connected by redemption.

‘I don’t usually watch myself,’ Cox admits, ‘but I did watch The Escapist, and I was really pleased with it. The fact Rupert Wyatt [the film’s director] wrote the script for me was a wonderful gift. It’s an iconic film archetypically; it touches so many nerves, so many raw spots. Of a long and bumpy career it’s probably been one of the great highlights.’

‘And Red is a film I’m particularly proud of,’ he adds. ‘We had a few problems – we lost the original director – but I was determined to get the film made because it’s a beautiful story.’

For Cox, making films is easy; it’s getting them seen that’s difficult. ‘One of the biggest problems is getting the screens. Opening weekend all the screens are eaten up by the schlock that’s around. It’s like film Valium. And I think people are getting a bit weary of it.’

‘I love entertaining movies as much as the next man, but occasionally you want something with a vision of the world, something which has courage, and if we don’t have that, we let ourselves down as a race,’ he explains passionately. ‘We need to be reminded of our capabilities, instead of our shortcomings. That’s why the festival circuit is so important.’

So with his EIFF interview around the corner, what does Cox think about being described in the brochure as ‘Scotland’s best-loved and most authoritative acting export’? His face lights up and he replies, ‘As Stanley Baxter once said in a sketch, “Oh grandpa, it’s an awfully big job for one wee boy on his own.”’

The Escapist is on selected release from Fri 20 Jun. Red, Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 20 Jun, 7.45pm; Cineworld, Edinburgh, Sat 21 Jun, 9.30pm, £8 (£6.40). Brian Cox: BAFTA Interview, part of the EIFF, Cineworld, Edinburgh, Sun 22 Jun, 5pm, £15 (£12).

The Escapist

  • 4 stars
  • 2008
  • UK / Ireland
  • 1h 41min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
  • Written by: Rupert Wyatt, Daniel Hardy
  • Cast: Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge, Dominic Cooper, Steven Mackintosh, Damian Lewis

This smart and tough British prison escape thriller, written with Cox in mind, follows a lifer locked up in a brutal south London prison who masterminds a daring escape. Set during a crawl through dank subterranean tunnels with the history filled in with flashbacks, Cox's performance is excellent, giving real heart to a…