Monday, 21 January 2013

Brian Cox: interviews

Interview: Brian Cox on what keeps him coming home

Brian Cox. Picture: Frank Micelotta/Getty Brian Cox. Picture: Frank Micelotta/Getty
Brian Cox, son of Dundee, has got brilliant recall of the first time he represented the city on screen.
“I was 20, a young actor with the Lyceum in Edinburgh, when I got asked to go back up the road to narrate a wee film about the opening of the Tay road bridge,” he says.
“I was speaking Dundonian, giving everyone the benefit of my expertise in the dialect: zalow the stairs… gupty yer ganny’s for yer tea. That’s ‘below’ and ‘go up to’ for the uninitiated. Only the bloody prompter stuck, causing me to repeat these strange words on live television. Not my finest hour.”
I say brilliant recall because I was there that day in 1966 – my father was the BBC Scotland producer – and I can’t remember his blooper. It’s possible I was more interested in the yards of cabling – this was my first location shoot, aged nine – although I’d like to think that Cox’s voice held my attention, just as it’s doing today. He tells good stories and, crucially, he’s wearing a cravat.
Cox would have many fine hours later – King Lear and Titus Andronicus on the stage; the original Hannibal Lecktor leading to a slew of Hollywood bad guys – but if there was a feeling the new bridge might enable Dundee to show a bit more of itself to the world, most particularly its sense of humour, then that didn’t happen. Until now. For here comes Bob Servant Independent, a bunneted chancer with much to say for himself, just like the man playing him.
“What’s projected as Scottish humour is usually Glasgow humour. There are the greats – Billy Connolly and Rikki Fulton – but Glasgow humour is typified by Rab C Nesbitt: oppression, the lower end of the social scale, battling the ­dreich.” So what’s Dundee humour? “It’s optimistic rather than pessimistic and it’s about light and fantasy. Dundee is one of the sunniest places in Britain. You can be out the house at eight in the morning and not come back till 11 at night, you can go to the Ferry [Broughty Ferry], Baxter Park and the Swanny Ponds, and a lot of the time you’ll just be sitting there in your fantasy. The ­humour is also about survival, being indomitable, and that’s certainly Bob.”
Servant was first “played” by Dundee author Neil Forsyth, who created the character to answer the begging emails from spammers that you and I fire straight to the bin. The results became a cult book then a radio comedy, voiced by Cox. Now, to bring Servant to the screen, for a six-part series about deluded ­political ambition, the actor has leaned on his late brother.
“Small world,” he smiles. “A friend of Neil’s had been saying the real Bob was Charlie Cox, the Monifieth newsagent, before I got involved. It might have been a wee shop but Charlie was his own kind of tycoon, diversifying into rowies [rolls] for the factories. Like Bob, who talks of running away, getting a job in a hotel as a handyman and having a torrid affair with the manager’s wife, Charlie had the fantasy thing and with him it was the Wild West. When the VAT man was coming he’d say: ‘The Injuns are circling the wagon train.’ ”
Cox, now 66, has stopped off in Glasgow for this chat, en route from his home in Brooklyn to Bucharest where he’ll play J Edgar Hoover in a French-American co-production. That’s a typical sojourn for this always-in-demand actor. Recently he was in Mexico, feeling a bit underwhelmed.
“I said to my agent: ‘This isn’t a very good film, you know. Let’s ask for three times more and see what happens.’ ”
Cox got it, and the flick subsidised a poorly paid but artistically rewarding stint on the London stage which came next. “I’m an actor; I work,” he asserts. “As my old pal Fulton Mackay used to say: ‘Follow your mercenary calling and draw your wages.’ ”
Increasingly, the road and the miles are returning Cox to Tayside.
“I left ­Britain in the mid-1990s when TV was going down the cundy – another good Dundee word – because I wanted a film career. But as I get older I find myself being drawn back to my roots and I’m loving it.”
His campaign hustings for the rectorship of Dundee University had to be various movie locations in Canada. Via Skype he won, and he’s just been re-elected unopposed for a second term. He’s also absorbed by the independence campaign.
“I want it for Scotland, not because I’m SNP, rather a democratic socialist. It’s about no longer being seen as second-class citizens and the sense of freedom we can trace all the way back to William Wallace.”
Dundee is also feeding into his work. He used parts of his family story for a Beeb documentary on addictions and there’s another upcoming called From The Workhouse where he reflects on the sad life of his maternal great-grandfather in Glasgow.
“After the deaths of his wife and five of his eight children from pneumonia, he was admitted to the poorhouse, as it was called in Scotland, on about 20 separate occasions. He died in Gartcosh Asylum.” The move across to Dundee soon followed, but things were hardly any easier for Cox and his siblings and their childhood sounds positively Dickensian. When his mother gave birth to him, her womb almost came out with the baby, and following a rushed hysterectomy, she nearly died. His father, a greengrocer, died of cancer when he was eight.
“Everyone was worried about me, being the baby, but it was Charlie who was more traumatised and that’s why he joined the army. My three sisters were all starting their own families; meanwhile, my mum – mad Molly – was undergoing electric shock treatment. I became very self-reliant, maybe too much so, and probably that’s been the theme of my life. Recently I found a message I’d scribbled to my ­sister Irene on a Catholic funeral card: ‘I’m not going to be running any more errands for you – you don’t look after me probably.’ I meant properly.” Eldest sister Betty then took over the job.
“Betty’s 83 and, in the finest Dundee tradition, indomitable.” She came to a preview of Bob Servant Independent, and although for its star this was the kind of gig that might necessitate another well-bargained visit to Mexico, the show has sunshine and humour aplenty. Her verdict?
“‘Well now yes no oh aye… good.’ High Scottish praise!”

• Bob Servant Independent starts on BBC4 on Wednesday at 10pm

Source (including photo): Scotsman

Hollywood star Brian Cox sees Glasgow as city of darkness

The very idea of screen legend Brian Cox's move into television comedy with a new BBC sitcom is without doubt a cause for celebration.
n Brian Cox stars as Bob Servant in the new BBC Scotland comedy

But it has caused the nation's collective eyebrows to raise.
The classical actor has long stunned the theatre world with the likes of his King Lear, taken cinema audiences aback by stealing the limelight from Brad Pitt in Troy or scared us senseless with the menace of his original Hannibal Lecktor, as the name was spelled in Manhunter.
Yet, now the Hollywood A-lister has committed not only to sitcom – he's the star of Bob Servant Independent, the story of a larger-than life Dundonian eccentric – he's appearing on a relatively low-profile TV platform and the is show filmed in Dundee.
In terms of career surprise moves, it's right up there with Sir Ian McKellen turning up in the Rovers Return and ordering up a plate of Betty's hotpot.
"I've been living in New York and I guess making this comedy show is about me realising it's time to come home," Dundee-born Cox explains at the BBC Scotland HQ at Pacific Quay.
"But it's also about returning to the light."
The light? Cox, now 66, is speaking literally and figuratively. Brought Ferry, he explains, has great light.
And he rewinds on summers as a boy waking at 4am to welcome the sunshine. But the figurative light he's moving towards is a direct reference to the darkness of his past, the time spent by his ancestors in Glasgow.
"My family are Irish – my grandfather came from Derry, and then came to Glasgow," he reveals. "And when I look at my family history the hardest time of their lives was when they all lived in the city. They were miserable, mad, and they all lost children.
"My great-grandfather on my mother's side died in an asylum in Gartcosh in the most appalling circumstances.
"And he lost five of his eight children. My grandfather lost his wife, his mother and five siblings, having watched his father being consigned to the poor house, with his younger brother going into a reformatory and the other brother go into care.
"So in my DNA there are very bad memories."
Cox 'loves the people of Glasgow'. But he believes Glasgow has demanded a great deal from its inhabitants; economic repression, the religious divide, and the vast gap between rich and poor.
"My great-grandfather's mother-in-law lived on a stair – literally – in Cowcaddens," he reveals. "Yet, at the same time, Glasgow was a city of great wealth and built on slavery."
He adds, in soft voice; "Look, I have respect for the city. The Glasgow Art School is the greatest art school in the world. But we (his family) had to visit Glasgow in the fifties and it scared the bejaysus out of me. The city glowers.
"You only have to look around the city to see the homes of the tobacco merchants who bought and sold people. Did you know families in Ayrshire had black slaves who were made to serve their masters wearing kilts?
"And did you know that in Glasgow in the 1950s, neighbours were deliberately split up in a form of social engineering to recreate communities?
"Of course, town planners claimed to have positive reasons for doing this, but can you imagine what this did at a human level?"
The socialist actor's critical appraisal of Glasgow (he supports independence, but not the SNP) isn't directed against its ordinary people.
"Look at Billy (Connolly)," he says. "He's amazing. And I love his comedy but his storytelling comes from the darkness of the city he was born in.
"It's the comedy of oppression. I'd be a completely different creature had I been brought up here."
He adds, with a wry smile; "That's why my sitcom character Bob Servant (a hamburger seller-turned politician) has to come from Dundee. He's buoyed by the east coast light of optimism.
"His comedy is upbeat, not like the miserable Glaswegians we see in sitcoms such as Rab C. Nesbitt, which is a very funny show. But it's a different funny."
Cox wants to live towards the light of laughter. "Absolutely," he says, smiling. "I love comedy, I was a Jerry Lewis/Dean Martin fan as a kid, and as I've got older I've been looking for more light relief.
"But until now I've never really performed it, even though I've always felt I had a natural comic bent."
"My favourite show on television is The Big Bang Theory (C4). It's brilliant."
He adds, grinning: "Having said that, in the past I've tried to bring comedy to my serious roles, even King Lear (a tale of madness and betrayal), because I look for the absurdity in life rather than the drama mask."
Cox clearly loves comedy, but can he take a joke?
Here goes. Perhaps he's been a little harsh on Glasgow? It can't all be down to ancestry. Was he once dumped by a Glasgow girl?
"Not at all," he says with a booming laugh. "I was once dumped unceremoniously by a girl from Pitlochry, but no, not Glasgow. And while I've always loved the Glasgow humour, the city is just not for me."
He can't resist a final pay-off. "Did you know it was a Dundonian, Will Fyffe who wrote I Belong To Glasgow? You see, only a Dundonian could take Glasgow and all it's darkness and write such an upbeat song about it."
Source (including photo): Evening Times

Bob Servant Independent: the don of Dundee
It started as an email prank: a way of out-scamming the scammers. Then it became a book, and a radio play. So when Neil Forsyth was asked to turn his alter ego Bob Servant into a TV character, he fantasised about casting his hero Brian Cox. Then came a chance meeting …
Read how Bob Servant Independent began as a prank and resulted in a TV series at The Guardian

Vale actor, nine, stars in BBC show
A Vale schoolboy is set to make his TV debut alongside some of Scotland’s top actors.
Christie Park Primary pupil Andrew McGunnigle, who is just nine years old, bagged an extra role in the BBC’s Scottish comedy Bob Servant Independent.
The show, which features Only An Excuse mastermind Jonathan Watson, Gary: Tank Commander creator Greg McHugh and Brian Cox from the Bourne trilogy, will be screened on BBC4 next Wednesday at 10pm.
Proud mum Helen said: “Filming was almost a year ago when Andrew had only been attending theatre school for five months.
“He has had a few other auditions including two for big movies having reached the last three boys for one of them but not getting the part. It is all good experience for him though.
“He was recently on stage at the annual panto and pre-show of the UK Theatre School, which he attends, held in the Mitchell Theatre.
“He had a minor part in the pre-show as Josie from Francie and Josie and took part in the group singing and dancing routines.”
Bob Servant Independent follows the fate of a cheeseburger tycoon who turns his hand to politics.
Source: Lennox Herald
Also reported by Dumbarton & Vale of Leven Reporter

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