HALF a century after first treading the boards, he is renowned as one of the nation’s most successful stars of stage and screen.
But as Brian Cox prepares to perform in Scotland again, he has railed against the new generation of acting talent.
The Hannibal Lecter and X-Men star has accused young actors of being bland, unengaged and “homogenised” and said British actors lacked the same energy as their American counterparts.
In an interview, Cox said the younger generations of actors were uninterested in the roots of their profession and did not care about the heritage of theatre. He said some of them were unlikely to be aware of the origins of the Royal Shakespeare Company or know who Sir Laurence Olivier was.
Cox, 69, who is about to appear with fellow Scot Bill Paterson at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh, described rising recent Bafta award-winners Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch as “very good”.
But the Dundee-born star, who has made numerous appearances with the RSC and the National Theatre during his career, said many modern-day film and TV actors were unable to “cut it” in theatre.
Cox, who admitted he had suffered crises of confidence in the interview with lifestyle magazine Calibre, cited Meryl Streep as one of his biggest influences. He confessed to telling Streep – who appeared with him in the 2002 comedy-drama Adaptation – how much he hated her films because she was so good.
Cox, the current rector of Dundee University, admitted last month that he was finding rehearsals for his forthcoming Waiting For Godot at the Royal Lyceum “exhausting” and “very hard on the brain”.
Cox is returning to the theatre he joined as a 19-year-old when he became one of the founding members of its company, performing in its first show, The Servant O’ Twa Maisters, in October 1965. Waiting For Godot has been lined up as the curtain-raiser to the Royal Lyceum’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
The actor, who last performed at the theatre in 2004, when he starred in John Byrne’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, will be appearing three years after being unveiled as the theatre’s honorary patron.
Cox is best-known for his film roles, including the first Hannibal Lecter film Manhunter, X-Men 2, the Bourne movies, Troy, Adaptation and Rob Roy. He left Dundee at the age of 17 to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art before joining the Lyceum.
Cox told the magazine: “The Benedicts, the Redmaynes are very good. But, I look at a lot of young actors and I don’t think they’re very good. There’s a thing that goes on in acting now where they don’t engage, there’s a blandness about them, they’re homogenised.
“The British actors are better trained. American actors aren’t as well trained, in that their craft isn’t as developed. But their energy is phenomenal. British actors are playing in the slips a wee bit.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that the younger generations don’t seem interested in the roots of their profession anymore. I wanted to know what my heritage was, what the roots of the theatre were. They don’t know about who’s who, about the genesis of the Royal Shakespeare Company, for instance. Some might not even know who Olivier is.
“There’s a lot of people who work in television and film who can’t cut it in theatre, they don’t have theatre chops. And theatre really is, for an actor, an actor’s medium. It’s where you exercise your craft.”
Asked about his biggest influences, he added: “Meryl Streep was phenomenal. I used to hate Streep because she was so good, but I used to pretend that she wasn’t. I met her once, and I said, ‘I want to confess something to you. I really hated your work – but I didn’t – I was just so jealous of your work that I pretended I hated it!’ She was always flawless, with a tremendous sense of detail.”
Speaking about his own approach to acting in his later years, Cox added: “I’ve been through crises where I’ve thought, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ But I enjoy the nature of it. I like it – there’s something quite sacred about it, without being pious about it.
“When you go back to Shakespeare and you talk about holding the mirror up to nature, it has it all in there about what the job’s about and what you’re supposed to be doing and why you’re doing it, and the responsibility of doing it – and that’s what motivates you.”
As well as appearing with Paterson for the first time at the Royal Lyceum later this month, Cox will be joined by Scottish stage veterans Benny Young and John Bett.
Speaking at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, he joked: “The cast have around 280 years between them. It is very hard on the brain. We’re managing, but it’s probably going to be the most geriatric production of Waiting for Godot that you’ve ever seen. We’re getting there and we’re working hard, but it has just been exhausting.”
The new edition of Calibre is published on Thursday.