Brian Cox on the “Spark of the moment”

By Fernanda Karpienski | Last Updated: Jan 06, 2023
Spencer Tracey (April 5, 1900 – June 10, 1967) was an American actor known for his natural and fluid style of performing. Having started working in theater for 7 years before his big contract with Fox Film — who hasn’t seen the famous”Woman of the Year,” for which he starred beside Katharine Hepburn? It’s one of my favorite films of his.
As older idols inspire contemporary artists, Brian Cox never hid his eternal admiration for Spencer Tracey. As Brian Cox is one of the greatest and oldest actors of our times, he started as a theater performer and then transitioned into voice over and then acting in movies not so different than Spencer’s journey. With a great deal of cockiness, while maintaining a centered and serious performance, and never over-pretending, Brian followed Spencer’s steps. Having the capacity to find the center of each character was Tracey’s greatest gift, and it’s no different with Brian Cox.
When performing the cold and insensitive Logan Roy of the famous, recently awarded HBO series, “Succession,” immediately Cox thought of Shakespeare. “Logan is a universal character,” he said. “He’s self made, abrupt, and his biggest problem is that he loved his children.”
The tragedy and conflict of “Succession” was its secret sauce. Technically, “Succession” is a comedy. But the tragedy is that Logan desperately wants to have some sign of leadership for his company and by testing each of his children’s characters he finds the truth of all truths — that he is a failure as a father.
The tragedy and conflict of “Succession” was its secret sauce. Technically, “Succession” is a comedy. But the tragedy is that Logan desperately wants to have some sign of leadership for his company and by testing each of his children’s characters he finds the truth of all truths — that he is a failure as a father.
As an actor, seeing the truth of every character requires intelligence and compromise. It is about feeling your character's life as it is your own. In Brian Cox’s book, he explains his technique when playing Logan. He compares the famous play of “Hamlet,” when Shakespeare uses his ridiculous sadistic sense of humor. The key to playing a character is being open and sympathetic. People are not just villains; people are more complex than that. And Logan Roy is not just an ambitiously cold, materialistic asshole. He is a hard working immigrant who worked tirelessly to achieve the greatest economic and political power.
Similarly, when Cox played Hermann Göring in the “Nuremberg” series, he got to see behind Hitler’s regime and power. In Cox’s words, “Hitler was not only a man who committed genocide. He was more complicated than that. He felt betrayed by the Treaty of Versailles. He had a vision of the future of Germany. People become very bad for reasons of trying to do good. Even when one's good is very bad.”
Brian’s advice is to never judge the character you play when acting. Doing that, you destroy the story. As an actor, you should be able to see the two sides of the human being behind the character: the good and the bad. To see the contradiction, is the most important and compelling thing of all.
This January 2024, Brian Cox is playing JS Bach in the theater. He says, “In music like many forms of art, there is a gap when suddenly you are lost and you are ready for something else. That is how I work. I am in that spark. It is an exciting thing about my job. I am learning, I work on that spark of newness. I have the capacity to not think. It is about losing all consciousness and getting in the moment. That is what acting is about.”
-Fernanda Karpienski