After years on the British stage, Brian Cox had the bad luck to play Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter—long before The Silence of the Lambs. But he’s done fine, thanks, mostly in creepy blockbuster roles (X-Men 2, The Bourne Identity) and even creepier indie parts (L.I.E., Running With Scissors). And this year, he’s returned to the theater as Max in Tom Stoppard’s Rock ’n’ Roll, in a part written for him. He spoke with Boris Kachka.
You’ve been politically outspoken, and here you’re playing a communist who refuses to change his mind even after the tanks roll into Prague.
Yeah, I’m much more socialist than Max. I’m not a communist, never have been, because human nature defeats communism, being avaricious and finally very disappointing.
You once said you’d never become a knight, and that Trevor Nunn was ruining the stage by miking actors. Yet here you are being directed by Nunn, and you’ve got a C.B.E. Are you selling out?
One of the reasons I went back to England was to make peace. As a young man, you have that passion—and I’m still passionate—but Trevor is an immensely gifted director. He’s made, in my opinion, a few mistakes. But we’ve all made mistakes.
So you’re not nearly as unyielding as Max.
A lot of actors would be looking for the redemption [in Max]. But in a way, that’s not Tom’s interest. Tom is saying, well, some people never learn anything. And sadly, that’s true.
It seems as though every British actor is taking on big Hollywood roles. Do you think that cheapens their reputations?
I think it’s just getting the work they can, really. We [Brits] look after our actors traditionally, but we still don’t pay them properly.