Brian Cox on His Ruthless 'Succession' Role: 'Logan Doesn't Give a Sh*t' (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Brian Cox is no stranger to playing complicated leaders. In fact, he seems to relish in it.
The 73-year-old Scottish actor has taken on everyone from King Lear on the London stage to Winston Churchill in the 2017 film Churchill, winning a 2001 Primetime Emmy for his portrayal of Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering in TNT’s Nuremberg. Now, he’s back at it again with two complex leaders, who couldn’t be more different from each other: the fictional Logan Roy, a patriarch and media mogul said to be inspired by Rupert Murdoch on HBO’s Succession, and the very real President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s biographical play, The Great Society.
“F**k, I am an actor,” Cox proclaims to ET one afternoon in August following a cast photo shoot for the play, which marks his return to Broadway after an eight-year gap. “It seems to be my bag to play these roles. I’ve played all these guys, you know, these visionary leaders for right or wrong. And it’s just interesting why I’m playing them.”
Undoubtedly, part of the answer has to do with his commanding presence and shape-shifting abilities, both necessary to embody the U.S. president at the center of one of the country’s most defining eras during the mid-1960s. The Great Society depicts Johnson facing overwhelming odds during his first full term following a landslide 1964 election. “This play shows what kind of pressure he was under,” Cox says.
“He was certainly flawed, but he did understand something very vital about this country: the deep divide between the rich and the poor, which got worse instead of better. He was very much about regressing that,” says Cox, who takes over the portrayal of Johnson from Bryan Cranston, who won a Tony for his performance in the play’s predecessor, All the Way. “But Johnson was screwed. Therefore, he becomes, I think, in retrospect, one of the great tragic American presidents. And that’s what’s so interesting about him. He has this incredible drive, his incredible energy. He wants to get things done for his country. But he doesn’t realize, at times, where he is in the world.”
As an observer, Cox is able to see how it all works; to see how Johnson functions in a dysfunctional society. It’s the same way he’s able to understand Logan’s ruthlessness when it comes to maintaining his place atop of the Roy family and retain control of one of the world’s biggest media and entertainment conglomerates. “Logan doesn’t give a sh*t,” the actor says.
After a health scare sidelined him at the beginning of season one, his children -- Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Connor (Alan Ruck), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) -- begin making moves to elevate their place both within the company and family. Logan eventually re-emerges with even more fight and vigor, delivering blow after blow to his children’s power moves. In season two, Logan plays his offspring against each other -- he makes a secret deal with Shiv for her to eventually take over the company -- while also making an aggressive effort to buy out a competing media conglomerate. “His family, he knows aren’t quite good enough and they’ve got to learn lessons,” Cox says. “And he’s hard as sh*t about the lessons they learn … He wants his children to keep up with them.”
Perhaps an unexpected take on the character, Cox says Logan is a sincere person. “You know, everybody said, ‘Oh, he’s not very sincere with Shiv.’ But he is sincere about her taking over. He really is sincere about her. I’m not going to give it away why it doesn’t kind of perhaps doesn’t work in the way it should.”
Admittedly, Cox doesn’t want to be in Logan’s position the same reason why he wouldn’t want to be the president of the United States. “I’m an artist and artists, essentially, have to tell the truth. That’s what they’re dealing with every day, is telling that truth. And the truth can be an unpleasant truth, but they’ve got to deal with it.”
While the character was originally conceived to a “one-off,” creator Jesse Armstrong and executive producer Adam McKay shifted gears and kept Logan around as an essential player in the high-powered family drama, which was recently nominated for a 2019 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series and was renewed for a third season. A welcome change, it’s ultimately the reason why Cox couldn’t reprise his role as actor and promoter Jack Langrishe in David Milch’s Deadwood: The Movie. “I was going to be part of the movie, but my problem was that I was so deep into Succession,” he says, adding: “I’d loved to have been in it because I love Milch. Milch is a genius.”
But he’s as thankful for Milch as he is for Armstrong. “I’ve been very lucky. I’m blessed in terms of the projects I’ve been doing,” Cox says, before recalling a story his wife told him. “An actor said, ‘Oh, you’re married to him, aren’t you?’ And she said, ‘Who?’ ‘Him, Brian Cox,’ he said. ‘That’s the career I want.’”
The Great Society begins preview performances Friday, Sept. 6 and will officially open on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Succession airs Sundays on HBO.