Actor Brian Cox discusses upcoming movie Rory's Way, Good Omens and more

Brian Cox
Brian Cox
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Brian Cox made Rory’s Way in 2016. Three years later, the Scotland and San Francisco-set film is finally about to open in cinemas. He tells Alistair Harkness why we’ve had to wait so long to see it

It’s late morning in New York and Brian Cox is looking a little bleary eyed as he talks to me via Skype. “I just finished filming at 4 o’clock this morning,” he says, laughing at the crazy workload involved in making his new HBO show Succession. “We’re shooting the second series now. It’s a very tight schedule, so we’ve a lot to get through.”

In the show – an episode of which he’ll have filmed in his home city of Dundee by the time you read this – he plays Logan Roy, a Scots-born, Rupert Murdoch-esque media tycoon dealing with his dysfunctional family. It’s the first big American TV drama he’s done since Deadwood over a decade ago and he’s loving the creative freedom it affords him as an actor – if not necessarily what television’s dominance now says about the state of cinema.

“The paradigm has shifted a little bit, particularly with drama,” he says. “I think cinema, which I really feel sad about, is losing its impetus because of the whole dedication to the Marvel and DC blockbuster things.”

Cox has some experience of Marvel, of course, having starred in X-Men 2 back in 2003, but he thinks intimate cinema is dying in a bad way now. “I think it’ll probably be rediscovered,” he adds, “but television has taken over and streaming has taken over. And the great thing about television is the long form, which goes beyond first act, second act, third act. The second act is endless in television, and especially in a series like ours, because it’s constantly shifting. That’s more reflective of life because nothing is established and everything kind of breaks down and then reassembles and then breaks down and reassembles. And dramatically that’s much more interesting than just the three-act structure of a movie or theatre.”

Nevertheless, it’s an old-fashioned movie (emphasis on old-fashioned) that Cox is Skyping in to discuss. In Rory’s Way he plays Rory McNeil, a Gaelic-speaking curmudgeon who travels from his Hebridean home to San Francisco to spend time with his estranged son (JJ Feild) and new grandson.

READ MORE Actor Brian Cox hits out at festival over snub for Hebrides film
Essentially a fish-out-of-water tale with a terminal illness subplot thrown in, the film makes the most out of Cox as the roguish grandfather, all too willing to wind up his son and daughter-in-law (Thora Birch) about their helicopter parenting style. It is, says Cox cheerfully, a very simple story, but one of which he’s proud, in part because of the odd mix of international talent involved in its production.

Though the film is set in Scotland and San Francisco, it’s actually based on a best-selling Spanish-language novel (José Luis Sampedro’s The Etruscan Smile) and has been made by a first-time Israeli directing team, Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis, under the guidance of Arthur Cohn, the 92-year-old Swiss-based multi-Oscar-winning producer of One Day in September and Central Station.

“I was sent the script through Arthur Cohn,” says Cox. “He’s the prime mover in all of this.” Cox, of course, also appreciated the fact that much of it was shot in Scotland, including the interiors of Rory’s son’s lavish San Francisco apartment, which was built in a studio in Glasgow. “The Glasgow technicians, the guys who built the set, it’s incredible what they did,” he says. “Then for the island sequences, it was hard [to get a crew to the Hebrides], so we filmed it in Tongue, right at the top.”

Cox made the film in 2016 and is open about the fact it’s had some bumps on its way into cinemas. “These two directors were quite inexperienced, because they’d only done very small films, and there were a lot of problems with the editing and a lot of problems bringing it out, but it’s played several festivals, incredibly successfully. I was well pissed off because they wanted it at Edinburgh one year and the film wasn’t quite ready; it needed another pass, and we tried to get it in the second year and they didn’t want to know. Which I thought was a shame, because my character is not only a Scot, but a Gaelic speaker. I thought that was the one place it should have been was in the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

“It was such an unusual thing for a Swiss-Israeli producer to produce a film about a Gaelic speaker,” he continues. “But it’s also commendable because it’s what the cinema should be. It should be truly international that way. That’s why it’s so irritating that the Scots go, ‘Oh, I’m no so sure about that…’ It’s like, ‘Arrgh! Get with the programme!’”

On a more positive note, he likes the fact that Rory’s Way gave him the chance to work with an amazing cast, which in addition to JJ Feild and Thora Birch includes Peter Coyote, Treat Williams, Rosanna Arquette and Tim Matheson. “That’s unusual too,” he says. “This business, it’s all about who’s current, who’s new, who’s in the current crop and it forgets about lineage, about guys and gals – like Rosanna – who have a real cinematic history. A lot of the films are not reflecting that in the same way. TV is, but films aren’t.”

Indeed TV really is where it’s at, especially for Cox. In addition to Succession, for instance, he’s also appearing in the television streaming event of the summer, Good Omens, Neil Gaiman’s star-studded adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s comic fantasy novel about an angel (Michael Sheen) and a demon (David Tennant) teaming up to sabotage the apocalypse.

Cox provides the voice of Death, one of the four horseman of the apocalypse summoned in the show to bring about the end of the world. How did he enjoy playing Death? “Well Death is the ultimate role, really,” he says cheerily. “You can’t go beyond that. There’s this sort of… how can I describe it? There’s a sort of absolutism about the role that’s rather appealing.”■

Rory’s Way is in cinemas from Friday; Good Omens is available on Amazon Prime from Friday. Season 2 of Succession will air later this year.