Actor Brian Cox discusses his role in Ironclad, working under harsh conditions in Wales, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and much more.
Brian Cox is an actor whose career I've always admired. After more than 20 years of toiling away in small parts in TV shows, TV movies, and short films, he originated the role of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter in 1986. After his turns in Braveheart and Rob Roy in 1995, the movie roles kept coming in at an increasing pace, with everything from action-comedies (The Long Kiss Goodnight), police thrillers (Kiss the Girls), indie sensations (Rushmore), and even a zany police comedy (Super Troopers). Brian Cox hasn't stopped working since, with a string of diverse roles in the past 10 years too lengthy to list here.
His latest project is the medieval tale Ironclad, which will be available on video on demand (VOD) formats June 8, in advance of its theatrical release on July 8. I recently had the honor to speak with Brian Cox over the phone about his latest role. Here's what he had to say.
You have quite the stellar career playing a wide variety of characters. Can you talk about what first intrigues you about a project, especially something like Ironclad?
Brian Cox: It's the story, first of all. This one is an amazing story, and I hadn't known anything about it. It has a classical feel to it, and it reminded me of The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai, because of these seven characters, which is a cross-reference to that. And the fact that it was a film which was being done in a particular location and a particular environment. I liked the idea of being in Wales, and I thought it was very interesting that they were filming it in Wales. A very wet Wales, as it turned out, some of the worst conditions ever.
Brian Cox: Oh, yeah, but, actually, it added to the sense of medieval England. It was hard work. It was tough, but I had a very good feeling about it.
There was a big strive to capture the realism of this era. I read they built a full-scale replica of the Rochester Castle on the set.
Brian Cox: Yeah, that's right. They built that and, considering we were working with not a huge budget, I think they did remarkably well. They did some wonderful stuff, particularly the camera operators, who did some wonderful stuff. It was kind of down to them to make it look as if there were a lot more guys than were actually there. It had a lot of elements to it, which was very exciting.
Did you do any kinds of research to portray Albany? Did you go back and research this period in history?
Brian Cox: I've done a lot of classical plays, so I know a little bit. Years and years ago I played Henry II, in a TV series about the Plantagenet family, so I knew a lot about King John and his history, and the Magna Carta. There is a background about how they were basically the nouveau riche of their day. They were trying to establish a more constitutional monarchy, which took awhile, but they eventually got there. There were all those elements. Nowadays, research is very easy because you can just go to the internet.
I read that most of the supporting cast were actually re-cast. I was curious who was on board when you signed on, and if you could talk about getting to work with actors like James Purefoy and Paul Giamatti?
Brian Cox: It did shift. People like Bob Hoskins were supposed to be in it. In fact, I took over for Bob Hoskins, because I think Bob had to go in for an operation. It kind of became a big movable feat that they got this together. Then Paul Giamatti came on to play King John. It was a very flexible team. It was quite imaginatively put together, in terms of how the structure of the cast came up. We were on a very tight schedule and we didn't have a lot of leeway. We had to shoot in the conditions that existed. We couldn't just say, 'OK, we'll wrap now and pick it up tomorrow.' We were committed to a scene and we had to finish it.
Can you talk about working with your director, Jonathan English? How would you best describe his style?
Brian Cox: Well, Jonathan is one of these younger directors who are very savvy in putting films together. I think directors have to know how to produce, as well as direct, and he has producing skills. He directed, he had the vision of the piece, and put it all together. Because of the terrain, we had to make a lot of adjustments, and he was very relaxed about all that. There is a lot of free style in terms of the movement of the camera. Florian Emmerich, the camera operator who I had worked with on the Bourne films, he's one of the best, certainly one of the best Steadicam operators in the business. Jonathan is very much like John Schlesinger. He delegates various positions and pulls it all together. That's what he's very skilled at. He sees the people who has the strength, and there was one moment where it was very early and we were working with an HD camera, he was able to put this camera in various positions. There was no footage that was lost.
We posted the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes the other day, and it got a great response. We only got a small glimpse at your character. Could you talk a bit more about him, and your experience on the set?
Brian Cox: This is a film with somebody who I had worked with before, who is sort of a prodigy of mine, and probably one of the best young directors around, Rupert Wyatt. (Producer) Peter Chernin called me ages ago about Rupert Wyatt, asking me what I thought of him. I said, 'Well, he made a film The Escapist I was in, and I think he's one of the most visually interesting directors around.' He got the gig at Fox and he's still doing it. I'm supposed to see him in L.A. this week. He's working right up until the film gets reeled for the first time with an audience, a paying audience. It's a lot of CGI, it's quite a technical film. It's interesting because in the old days, they would do makeup on the actors for the chimpanzees, they would spend hours in the makeup chair. Now the CGI people can do all the makeup. It's great, but I like the old style. We have to move with the times. I think the performance of Andy Serkis is astonishing. He has become the king of motion-capture. It's astonishing. Really, the story is about the apes themselves. I'm the kind of corrupt element.
Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who is curious about Ironclad about why they should check it out on VOD on June 8 or in theaters on July 8?
Brian Cox: I think it's a very good ride. I think it's terribly well done and it grips you, has a great story, and great performances.
Great. That's my time. Thanks so much. It was a pleasure talking to you. I'm a big fan of your work.
Brian Cox: Take care. Thank you.