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Past Times

9 iconic Brian Cox roles – including part that saw Dundee actor clash with horse-punching producer

A well-loved performance in Troy as Agamemnon and roles in the X-Men and Bourne series are only a few highlights in a resume that spans six decades and counting.
Graeme Strachan
Brian Cox in Manhunter in 1986. Image: Shutterstock.
Brian Cox in Manhunter in 1986. Image: Shutterstock.

Brian Cox hasn’t stopped working since he stepped on to the Dundee Rep stage for the first time aged 15 in 1961.

He went on to become an accomplished Shakespearean actor, spending seasons with both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

After appearing in several 60s TV shows, including Z Cars, Cox landed his first film role playing Trotsky in 1971’s Oscar-winning Nicholas And Alexandra.

His diverse career has seen him playing everything from Broughty Ferry cheeseburger magnate Bob Servant to the cannibal Hannibal Lecter.

Younger generations recognise him as Logan Roy in Succession while older viewers would need two hands to count the many great roles he has made his own.

As the legendary actor turns 78, it’s time to look back at some of the most notable performances that have defined his career.

1 – The Silent Scream

The Silent Scream was a masterclass in psychological terror. Image: Shutterstock.

Hammer turned away from classics such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Taste the Blood of Dracula to focus on the small screen in 1980.

Silent Scream would emerge as the best of 13 episodes from Hammer House of Horror.

Terror king Peter Cushing was in his element playing a prison visitor who has shock reasons for employing a habitual criminal in his pet shop.

Cox plays ex-convict Chuck Spillers who takes the job and discovers the elderly pet shop owner is a former Nazi with a secret menagerie of wild animals.

Before long he too finds himself incarcerated and realises the seemingly kind old man is intent on continuing his experiments on human victims.

Cushing and Cox excelled and the episode is downright scary.

2 – Manhunter

Cox was the original and best Hannibal Lecter. Image: Shutterstock.

Five years before Anthony Hopkins invited Jodie Foster over for dinner in Silence Of The Lambs, Dr Hannibal Lecter was a Dundonian.

Cox was the first to play the incarcerated cannibal on screen.

He provided the more believable Lecter and convinces as a brutal killer.

Both classically-trained stage actors, Cox and Hopkins share some common ground and at least one bizarre coincidence.

While Cox was playing Lecter in Manhunter in 1986, Hopkins was playing King Lear at the National Theatre.

Five years later when Hopkins was playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs, Cox trod the boards at the National Theatre as King Lear.

3 – Inspector Morse

John Thaw and Brian Cox in Deadly Slumber. Image: Shutterstock.

John Thaw was perfect as the beer-drinking, classical music-loving detective who drove an iconic burgundy Mark 2 Jaguar around the streets of Oxford.

Cox played reclusive millionaire-bookmaker Michael Steppings in Deadly Slumber, which was written by Danny Boyle and broadcast in January 1993.

It is regarded as one of the best Morse episodes of all time.

Cox gave a performance of great compassion and emotion as a devoted father whose daughter was left permanently brain damaged following a routine operation.

Cox and Thaw were nominated in the Best TV Actor category at the 1993 Bafta Awards.

The Dundee actor was up for his role in The Lost Language of Cranes but lost out to Thaw whose performance as Morse was chosen by the judges.

4 – Sharpe

Brian Cox and Sean Bean in Sharpe. Image: Shutterstock.

The Sharpe stories, Bernard Cornwell’s first books, were made into the long-running TV series and Cox played Major Michael Hogan.

Cox and his colleagues were laid low by a microbe called giardia during filming in Ukraine in 1993 and succumbed to stomach cramps and violent diarrhoea.

Serious abuse of horses throughout the filming led to a furious confrontation.

Cox lost his rag with one of the producers who punched his horse right in front of him and they almost came to blows.

The series proved a success and Cox was offered to continue in the role but he had made his mind up and made a Sharpe exit.

Cox said: “Those who were asking me for years afterwards: ‘When is Major Hogan coming back?’ were told: ‘Never. He’s f***ing never coming back.’”

5 – Rob Roy

Brian Cox and Tim Roth in Rob Roy. Image: Shutterstock.

Cox reckons the part of Killearn tops Hannibal Lecter in terms of nastiness.

He was cast to play Killearn in Rob Roy in 1995 and decided afterwards he was going to move to American because he wanted to pursue movies.

“You know what Hannibal is and he is a particularly nasty piece of work,” he said.

“But Killearn, being the factor and being corrupt and all that toadying he did with the Duke of Montrose, he was a rather despicable individual.

“Then there was his horror, but also his fascination, at the rape of Rob Roy’s wife.

“He was thoroughly, thoroughly unpleasant.”

6 – The Bourne Identity

Joan Allen and Brian Cox in a scene from The Bourne Supremacy. Image: Shutterstock.

Matt Damon played the amnesiac government super-spy Jason Bourne in the 2002 thriller which helped redefine the action movie.

Cox portrayed shadowy CIA boss Ward Abbott and it was a movie you couldn’t take your eyes away from.

His character returned in The Bourne Supremacy.

Abbott was forced to help fellow CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy track down Bourne once again in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

It was capped off with a brilliant final scene with Matt Damon.

The fact he was written out couldn’t take the shine off Cox’s time in the Bourne franchise, which he said was “overall a great experience”.

7 – Troy

Brian Cox in Troy. Image: Shutterstock.

Sieges, Greek gods, wooden horses and the face that launched a thousand ships.

Cox starred alongside Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana in the sword and sandals historical epic.

He played the raging warlord Agamemnon in Homer’s classic tale.

Cox took up weightlifting for the role and became the fittest he had been for years.

“I was going regularly but I was getting too good at it and was doing a lot of weightlifting, so I looked as if I was a bouncer,” he said.

8 – The Escapist

Cox was brilliant in the prison-break thriller. Image: Shutterstock.

Cox joined Joseph Fiennes, Damien Lewis and Dominic Cooper in Dublin to make the prison break thriller which is sad, sober and utterly absorbing.

He plays Frank Perry who is serving a life sentence with no hope of parole and finds out his daughter has overdosed and her life is hanging in the balance.

Perry turns to drastic measures and organises a crew to join him in his breakout.

“People say if you’re too happy in a crew, it sometimes doesn’t happen when the film comes out,” he said.

“But these were excellent conditions and it was a great ride.

“It was one of the best times of my career.”

9 – Succession

Brian Cox as Logan Roy. Image: Shutterstock.

Succession become one of the biggest TV shows on the planet.

Cox played media mogul Logan Roy whose catchphrase would make a sailor blush.

Audiences relished the sharp-tongued venom at the centre of the show.

The role made him a bonafide superstar.

Cox won a Golden Globe for his performance in season two which brought the Roy gang over the Tay Bridge to Dundee.

The fourth season marked the end of the Waystar Royco saga.

Roy’s fiery speech atop a makeshift stage of printer-paper boxes on the office floor of the Fox News-esque network ATN will go down as one of the show’s greatest scenes.

And as Dundee’s beloved icon turns 78, surely the greatest gift he could give us would be many more years of such show-stopping brilliance.

Happy birthday, Mr Cox.