Lure of the amber nectar (Brian Cox)

Lure of the amber nectar (Brian Cox)

Brian Cox appears in two of the summer's biggest blockbuster films. He spoke to Vivien Devlin about his love of Scotland and Scotch

People | 13 Jul 2003 | Issue 32 | By Vivien Devlin

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By 1995, with his 50th birthday approaching like a grey cloud over the horizon, Brian Cox had quickly come to realise that he had reached the pinnacle of his acting career in Britain.By then he already had the distinction of achieving landmark stage performances such as his Olivier-award-winning role as Titus Andronicus at the Royal Shakespeare Company, followed by a world tour in the title role of King Lear with the National Theatre.“I had exhausted all the possibilities of work in Britain. I felt I had to move on, to reinvent myself. I wanted to go to America and try my hand at being a character actor in the movies.”Fast forward to March 2003 and I am at the Grafton Hotel, Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, sitting with Brian Cox in a terrace bar overlooking a shimmering cool blue pool – the perfect Hockneyesque, Californian backdrop.I hardly recognise him as he walks into the hotel lobby, lurking behind baseball cap, shades and beard. But once the street disguise is removed, that distinctive square chiselled face, serious charismatic eyes and thick silver-grey hair appears.The voice has that rich, deep measured tone of the true Shakespearian actor, yet now tinged with a transatlantic modulation. He looks tanned and fit, due in part to his current rigourous training programme for his next role as Agamemnon in the movie Troy, based on Homer’s Illiad and also starring Peter O’Toole and Brad Pitt.Cox’s tentative and challenging move to Tinseltown to try his hand in the movies has been a rollercoaster ride to success and stardom. In the past two years alone, he has completed 15 films playing an eclectic array of characters for the large and small screen – Head of CIA, Ward Abbott in The Bourne Identity, Big John Harrigan in L.I.E., Hermann Goering in Nuremberg, Robert McKee in Adaptation, Stryker in X Men 2, Jim Morris in The Rookie and Harry Moon in the comedy series Frasier.All in all, a cornucopia of strong, complex roles, shifting from evil monsters and hard men, a homosexual ex-Marine to the sharp wit of a Manchester con-man.“I realise that the roles I have been lucky to get have been small gems, true nuggets of gold – distinctive, memorable roles that stand on their own, and that’s why I have been noticed. It may have been a short part, but people have said, “Who’s that guy?”Once described as Scotland’s answer to Marlon Brando, perhaps due to a similar physical build and mesmerising screen/stage presence, Brian Cox has not only been noticed, but earned himself a fistful of Best Actor nominations and awards, not least the CBE in the Queen’s
New Year Honours List.Now a semi-resident Angelino with a home in the Hollywood hills, he’s still in his heart of hearts a proud Dundonian and an Irish Scot. So my second question has to be about Scotch whisky and his favourite tipple. There is not so much as a nanosecond of a pause or hesitation.“Lagavulin,” responds Cox.“Lagavulin is the Cognac of all whiskies. You take a sip and absorb that peaty, smoky taste around your mouth. Then it flows down slowly and kind of gives a kick and explodes with a delicious warmth as it hits the stomach. Just wonderful.”As he describes the physical process of tasting a dram, he indicates with his finger all the bodily parts, how the mouthful of Lagavulin is affecting him on this journey from mouth, throat, chest to stomach. It’s an epic whisky-tasting performance, until he is virtually stretching full out as he acts out every moment of the whole magical, sensual experience.“I am a great Lagavulin fan,” he adds, in case I haven’t quite picked up on his enthusiasm.“The taste is unmistakable, so clean, smooth, slightly sweet to begin with, and then that powerful smoky heat that penetrates the whole body.”Brian Cox, now living and working in Hollywood, is the true Scot in exile, which makes him keen to reminisce about his homeland and return home whenever he can. Now married to actress Nicole Asari with a young son, he is eager to introduce his family to Scottish landscape of
his childhood.“I belong to the tradition of other Scots – Robert Louis Stevenson, Livingstone, Billy Connolly and Sean Connery – the traveller who wants to see the world. It is something in the Scots and Irish, the Celtic character. We are nomadic. I prefer to think that I don’t live anywhere and Stevenson was the same. He said ‘I travel not to go anywhere but to go. The great affair is to move.’”As he has already revealed to me at the very beginning of our chat, he misses Scotland more and more. So what are his favourite places that linger in the mind?“I still get a kick when I visit Edinburgh. When I was a young boy I spent my holidays there. I remember coming down the Mound, just past the National Gallery, and the hairs were standing up at the back of my neck. I loved travelling there by train, crossing the Forth Bridge over to Queensferry and soon we would arrive in Edinburgh. Fifty years later the thrill is still the same.“I also love the far north, around Lochinver – up there it is phenomenal. My wife adores it. She says the land just hums, it’s so fresh, unspoilt and pure. If you travel in the early twilight or early morning from Lochinver down to Ullapool, with the mountains all around, it is unbeatable.“And my favourite place of all is Mull. The Island of Mull. But I also love the east coast – my father’s favourite place was Kinnoull in the Tay valley. The light on the east coast is breathtaking.“Scotland is all about contrasts. I remember in my childhood travelling all over the country, and these places have not changed. That’s part of its beauty.I have to say, I am a Scot through and through, and now I love the fact that my wife loves Scotland too.”If Brian Cox ever decides to have a break from acting, he could be offered the job as marketing director for VisitScotland and also as brand ambassador for Lagavulin. He may be a renowned actor with the gift of imagination and invention, but when he describes the long, lingering aftertaste of a dram, his face breaks into a smile of genuine pleasure and passion.
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