“What I have an opinion about 25 years ago, it’s not necessarily the opinion I have now,” admits Brian Cox as response to the viewpoint the Succession star offers on the likes of Johnny Depp, Michael Caine, Ed Norton, Game of Thrones and others in his new memoir Putting the Rabbit in the Hat.
“I don’t really dismiss or disrespect anybody who goes for this profession because it’s a tough, bloody profession,” the seasoned Shakespearean thespian adds with the hindsight of a career spanning more than 60 years.
First released in the UK late last year and out today Stateside, the 384-page book proves to be part meditation on the craft, partially very personal, partially political (Scotland-born Cox is very much in favor of Independence for the former Caledonia) and full of tales of icons including Peter O’Toole, a wig-tossing Vanessa Redgrave, Scarlett Johansson (“divine, funny, smart, wonderful”) and 25th Hour helmer Spike Lee (“simply one of the best directors”) and digging in to do the job. In short, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat is a weighty romp that delivers the goods to fans of the Jesse Armstrong-created HBO series and cements how the Olivier Award winner to be much more than Logan Roy.
Cox spoke with me about his latest book, the headlines it has generated already, why he said what he said and what he left out. Dangling the prospect of another memoir to come, the Emmy winner also talked about the success of Succession, the pain he feels his co-star Jeremy Strong lives in and that now-infamous New Yorker profile of the actor who plays Kendall Roy.
DEADLINE: With all the pre-publication attention the book has received over your take on the likes of Johnny Depp or turning down playing King Robert I Baratheon in Game of Thrones because of the money, I have to say I was surprised how much of Putting the Rabbit in the Hat is about the craft of acting …
BRIAN COX: I’m glad you thought that because it was supposed to be ostensibly a book about that to start with, but then one has to be very careful that it isn’t too dry. So, you know, the exigencies of life and what have you. That’s why I come to it a little later in the book, really talking about the work, and that’s … your reaction is the perfect reaction. So thank you so much.
DEADLINE: Also a lot of what I would call weaving in the writing — touching on something about Succession and then back 30 years to another role and ahead a decade and so on — feels like jazz in many ways.
COX: (Laughs) Yeah. Absolutely. There’s a lot of jazz influence in the book, actually, you know.
DEADLINE: In that vein, there’s a quote right at the beginning of the book, where you’re on a plane with the great Nigel Hawthorne. You’ve been talking about acting and you’re telling him about the Steven Seagal movie you’ve done and he’s telling you about working on a Sylvester Stallone flick and how he never wants to do anything like that again. And you say this, which if there was a tweet summarizing the book, this would be it: “To me, the nature of the actor’s life is that we do the job, we do the best we can, and move on.” Is that your mantra?
COX: Yes! That’s exactly what I feel. That’s precisely what I feel. We do the best we can and we move on. You know, you don’t linger, and yeah, that says it all, really.
DEADLINE: Talking about saying it all, you really give it to Seagal, Johnny Depp (“so overblown, so overrated”), Kevin Spacey, Michael Caine, Quentin Tarantino (“plot mechanics in place of depth”) and Ed Norton (“a pain in the arse”), to mention a few, and that has caught a lot of the spotlight leading up to the U.S. publication. It reminded me of Motley Crue’s book The Dirt, no holds barred. Why did you decide to do that, knowing it would be a magnet for the media?
COX: Well, I just thought I had to be honest about who people are, and it’s only my opinion. The other thing is the book is a conversation and like a conversation, and that’s how I wrote it. I wrote it to range over the subjects and then, maybe, to lead them and then go back to them. That’s how I wanted to do it and that was the style of the book.
And, I’ve had a lot of flak about disrespecting some and all that, and people clearly haven’t read the book and they think I’m having a go at Johnny Depp. Well, I’m not having a go at Johnny Depp. I don’t disrespect Johnny Depp. I think Johnny Depp has done some incredible work, but he’s … you know, I have my reservations.
DEADLINE: To put it mildly…
COX: I feel the same way about Michael Caine. What I think about Michael Caine is, well, nobody’s honored his working-class roots like Michael Caine, right from the word go. But yes, I talk about range problem. I also think he’s done some wonderful things, like Alfie, which is a formidable piece and my favorite movie of his, and also of Sean Connery’s, is The Man Who Would Be King. I think that’s a tremendous movie, and he gives a tremendous performance in it.
And it’s the same with Ed Norton. Ed Norton, 20 years ago, there was an element of, you know, that he was this ambitious writer. Ed has now since done Motherless Brooklyn, and it’s a beautiful film. It’s beautifully directed. It’s beautifully acted, and it’s beautifully written by him. So Ed has achieved that.
DEADLINE: That opinion is not the one grabbing all the headlines right now, is it?
COX: Well, I wanted the corollary of those things, which is to say people do change, you know? What I have an opinion about 25 years ago, it’s not necessarily the opinion I have now. I don’t really dismiss or disrespect anybody who goes for this profession because it’s a tough, bloody profession.
I think Johnny Depp is a wonderful actor. He’s very good, but he’s not the greatest actor who ever lived, you know? And I do think a lot of things are projected onto Johnny Depp, which are more than he would even desire, I think.
DEADLINE: To that, for all you do write about your impressions and opinions, your roles, your personal life, your politics, Succession and more, you barely mention one of your most well-known projects Adaptation, working with director Spike Jonze and Nicolas Cage and playing screenwriting sherpa Robert McKee. Why the absence of Adaptation?
COX: I mean, there would be a lot of things I could talk about. I could talk about L.I.E., and the book would go on for days. I had to editorialize the McKee thing.
DEADLINE: It got cut?
COX: Well, I suspect if this book does well, and I hope it does, and it’s been doing quite well critically in England. I don’t know what the sales are like, but it’s doing reasonably well with Christmas sales and the like. So I would like to do another book where probably where I attend to those things which I’ve missed on this book like Bob McKee and Adaptation.
DEADLINE: What would that entail?
COX: Well, the whole thing about how I went to his class in Glasgow and was inspired by him and my great story about that. Now we talk about it, I’m surprised I didn’t mention it in the book.
DEADLINE: Well, you can’t leave me hanging like that …
COX: Actually, it was because Bob was very nervous about how he would be presented on film, you know? He hoped that he was not going to be ridiculed, but he laid himself bare. He put himself in a very vulnerable position, and I sort of admired that. In fact, it was he that suggested me for the role. They had other people they were considering, but he said, you know, the guy who should play me is Brian Cox.
DEADLINE: That is a good story.
COX: Yeah, he said I should play the role, and so I met Spike Jonze in London in the most strange circumstance.
DEADLINE: How was that?
COX: We’ve got firemen running up and down his house because it was a fire alarm that went off all of a sudden. So these fireman arrived, but I did the meeting, and got the role as the result.
DEADLINE: How did McKee feel about your depiction of him?
COX: Well, this lovely moment that happened — and perhaps I should have written about it, but I’ll write about it again. We were filming, this TGI Friday’s scene after the famous scene where I let Nicolas have it in the theater and I say, you know, fuck all about life and all of that. So, there’s this very nice scene where we have at the bar. And the first assistant director turned to Spike and said, well, Spike, and he was talking about me, he said, and finally you’ve got your Obi-Wan Kenobi character.
I told Robert this. I said, “Robert, they’re not getting at you. As far as they’re concerned, you’re Obi-Wan Kenobi,” and of course, Robert was delighted by that, absolutely delighted.
DEADLINE: As far as people are delighted, and that’s delightful story that really should have made the book, why do you think people are so obsessed with Succession?
COX: Because people love to hate.
DEADLINE: So, to that, where is everything at now with the fourth season? Have you guys started production?
COX: No, no, no. We are still waiting on the writers. We’re like Blanche DuBois. We depend on the kindness of our writers.
DEADLINE: Well, but at this point and certainly within the book, with your feelings about doing the work, getting on with the work, entitlement and to some degree so-called cancel culture, there is now a fair degree of overlap between you and Logan Roy, no?
COX: Of course, there are overlaps. There’s bound to be overlaps. I mean, the similarity between me and Logan Roy is that we do share the disappointment in the human experiment.
DEADLINE: What do you mean?
COX: I mean when you get to my age, you look back and you say, “It’s a f*ck-up.” Especially if you’ve lived through of four years of Trump. You go, how the f*ck can this country vote for such a f*cking asshole? And yet, this part of this country will, you know, adore him. What is it they adore? What is it they want? And how disappointing that is. So I feel that disappointment in the human experiment.
I feel it, but again, it’s a shifting thing. It may change. We will get better. We have moments of greatness in our history, but we have these incredible down moments, and we’ve just been through the riot of January 6 — put the kibosh on everything, as far as I was concerned. And all the love that I had for America, I just thought, “What the f*ck’s going on? What is this? What is this?”
DEADLINE: You know, there’s a line late in the third season where Logan laments the state of modern America, where the nation could once do anything, and now it is, and this is the line, “fat as f*ck, scrawny on meth or yoga, they pissed it all away.” That certainly blurs the line between you and the character; what was that like for you?
COX: That was weird because that is very close to who I was, and I suddenly felt, “Oh, that’s weird that Jesse even wrote that, that they allowed that to be in because Logan never expresses an opinion.” He always avoids expressing an opinion. If you notice, he’ll express an opinion about his children, but that’s a different thing. That’s family.
But the basic difference between us is that Logan is a misanthrope
DEADLINE: How so?
COX: He really thinks that we’re doomed, whereas I feel the opposite. You know, as long as the conversation keeps going on, I’m an optimist. I think the one thing that what we mustn’t do, like an improvisation, you don’t stop the conversation. You don’t say no, you say yes. And that’s always been my motivating factor is yes, and I want to know more. I want to learn. I’m still learning. You know, I’m still at that stage where, you know, I’m 75, but I haven’t stopped learning stuff and I doubt ever I will until the day I die. And that’s the interesting thing about being a human being, you know, that we are picking up stuff all the time.
Now, Logan’s problem is, he’s given up so much. He’s lost hope. I mean, he’s had a rough time of it. He’s become driven towards being a right-wing persona, which he probably never started off as, but that’s what he’s come to as a lot of people do as they get older.
DEADLINE: To that, the recent New Yorker profile of Jeremy Strong, which you were quoted in, received a paradoxical reaction. In many ways, to me at least, I think Jeremy’s hard work as Kendall in Succession and elsewhere and ambition was tainted by not coming from money. He was mocked for his methods in some circles. What’s your reaction to that piece?
COX: It was Jeremy’s idea, the whole article. He pushed for it, and you know, and people kept warning him about it. In a sense, he got hoisted by it, and I think it was unfortunate. I think he should never had gone down that road because playing Kendall has put him in a very vulnerable position.
COX: Because he does what he does and he does it brilliantly, but it’s also exhausting. Particularly exhausting for him, but it’s also exhausting for the rest of us from time to time. But we weather it because we love him and because the result is always extraordinary, what he does, but at the same time, there is the double-edged sword that goes with it.
Let me tell you, I have such respect for Jeremy as an actor, and I just wish him well. I think he lives in a lot of pain. I mean, he creates the pain in the role he plays. That doesn’t necessarily help, but he does. … There is a certain amount of pain at the root of Jeremy, and I just feel for that pain. I think that he puts himself in vulnerable positions and with that New Yorker article, he placed himself in a very, very vulnerable position, and I think that he didn’t need to do that.
DEADLINE: Do you worry that you’ve done that to yourself to some degree with the book?
DEADLINE: Put yourself in a vulnerable position?
COX: No, no. Listen, I’m too old, too tired and too talented for any of that shit.
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