Windy wee Dundee is not the birthplace of many great actors, especially before its cultural explosion in the past two decades (if not for Hull it may have been the 2017 UK City of Culture!) Yet it is the birthplace of at least one of Scotland’s greatest actors: Brian Cox. A tough upbringing seems to be the anvil upon which many Scottish greats are hammered into form. Alongside Cox, Sean Connery and James McAvoy represent underprivileged successes from Edinburgh and Glasgow, all carving themselves a name in international fame, the Carnegie effect if you will.
Born in 1946, Cox’s father died when he was only eight years old and his mother suffered from extremely poor mental health, thus he was raised by his four older sisters, until he left to become an actor at the Dundee Repertory Theatre aged 14. Cox’s skills and reputation as an actor were really forged in the theatre, long before he ever stood in front of a camera. He led in Peer Gynt and As You Like It in the Edinburgh Lyceum Company but really made waves with his historic performance as King Lear at the National Theatre, propelling Cox to a level of stardom that made major TV/Film roles possible. Despite his success as King Lear, he is quoted as saying his eponymous role in Titus Andronicus was “the greatest stage performance I’ve ever given.” He continues to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and is a patron of the Scottish Youth Theatre. He was also elected as rector of the University of Dundee in 2010, so unfortunately he probably wouldn’t accept a nomination to be our rector this year!
He is as powerful on screen as he is on stage. Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter character got his first dramatisation by Cox in Manhunter (1986); the word “eerie” could certainly be used to define his portrayal of the cannibal doctor. Since his first tentative steps into Hollywood glory, we will remember him from films like Braveheart, Troy, and The Escapist. He won an Emmy in 2000 for his portrayal of Herman Göring in Nuremberg, a performance so chilling as to give an insight into a mind of unimaginable cruelty. This cemented Cox’s reputation as a portrayer of villains, truly the most difficult and multifaceted characters to depict. More recently he has won a Golden Globe for best TV drama actor in Succession in which he stars as a Rupert Murdoch-esque patriarch of a media dynasty. The character he plays also has humble roots in Dundee, so perhaps Cox is coming full circle, though maybe without the avaricious corporatism.
At 73-years-old, Cox is youthful in comparison to many of the Hollywood ancients still on our screens and Netflix features, so his win at the Golden Globes could certainly spell a new wave of major roles for him. Seeing one of our own, an actor of such subtlety and gravitas, rise further in prominence would bring recognition and prestige to Scotland’s already outstanding arts scene.