Brian Cox: interview

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Brian Cox talks to Time Out about his latest role in the British prison-break actioner, 'The Escapist'

Brian Cox is one of the most reliable, diverse and talented actors currently working, just as likely to be found in the multiplex environs of ‘X-Men 2’ or ‘Troy’ as the highbrow, low-budget films of Michael Cuesta ('L.I.E.'), Wes Anderson ('Rushmore') or his new film, gripping prison drama ‘The Escapist’, directed by first-timer Rupert Wyatt.

You had a personal relationship with director Rupert Wyatt before making the film. Is it easier working with a director you consider a friend?

'Yes, I suppose it is. But with any director, you get to know them through work. Initially I got to know Rupert through a short film we did. I just admired the way he dealt with crisis. It was set in Afghanistan, it was filmed in Hackney, and it was raining. Then the director’s assistant’s girlfriend’s mother was taken very ill, so he left the set. And I got the flu, which didn’t help. So Rupert had to adjust accordingly. In the end, he earned my undying respect.'

So how did your collaboration on ‘The Escapist’ come about?
'Initially he came to me with something else, and I declined it. So we talked about the sort of movies I was interested in, the sort of movies I didn’t feel were being made any more. And I said one idea might be a story which is confined. So he wrote a 75-page script, which he worked on with his co-writer Daniel Hardy. And they came to me with this incredible script. I read it, and I was moved by it. It was like a gift. But I knew it was going to take a long haul to get it made, about four years in the making.

'And what I also realised, the reason I became involved as a producer, was that it was going to be hard to protect. Giving the script to various companies, Rupert was going to get a lot of notes. Every time you try to get a film made you get tangentalised from what your project originally was. So I saw myself as the keeper of the faith, the keeper of the grail, which was the script. I kept the initial draft close to me, and when it finally got greenlighted I said now we have to go back to the movie you first thought of. There were certain changes, good changes, necessary changes which we embraced. It was a great process.'

How is it playing a role you knew all along was specifically written for you?
'It was very easy because it played to certain strengths I always thought I had as an actor, but hadn’t always been called upon to do. So it was a gift to play, and there was never any problem playing it, because it was something I’d always had a hand in.'

Did you give Wyatt and Hardy any suggestions during the writing process?
'Not really. I was part of it. There was a question about the ending, whether that was going to be in there, the showdown with Damian Lewis. Daniel wanted to lose that, while Rupert was always for keeping it, though he could’ve been swayed one way or the other. He was quite tired by the end of the movie, so critically he could have gone, "well, okay..." But I was very clear that, having kept this man, my character, so silent throughout the movie, you needed that scene, the audience needed to know where they were with him. And then Dan, when he saw the scene, agreed.'

Do you plan to keep using your position to help new directors get their work out there? You have an incredible nose for talent.
'It’s the most exciting aspect of doing what I do, working with these young directors. There’s a part of me that was trained as a teacher, and I’ve always been teaching right from the word go. So when you come across these young Turks, and their material, you hope that you can share knowledge with them. And if they’ve got any sense they’ll pick up on the knowledge. Because that’s how I learned, from the generations ahead of me, they gave me an enormous amount. I learned about my craft, about directing, about acting. That’s the only way you improve.'

Do you feel you’ve established a solid niche for yourself in both Hollywood and the UK film industries?
'One can never be sure of these things. At the moment I’m just trying to do the job, keep the job going. But its tough, because you have to balance it with the studio movies, that’s what gives you the credentials to do this smaller kind of movie. So you can’t forget the studio movies. I can never be secure, I’m always nervous. I’m secure in the work I do, I know that I do my best. But its so ephemeral, it could just be, "Oh well, we’ve had enough of him, let’s find someone else." '

Author: Tom Huddleston



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