Double take

Published on 5 August 2021

Our former Rector on Succession, his ‘evil twin’ and memories of the University.

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Image courtesy of HBO

Brian Cox has found his ‘evil twin’. A former Rector of the University and an honorary graduate, Brian has had a long and distinguished career in acting on stage and screen, and now has what may be his most high profile role to date – that of Logan Roy in the globally successful television series Succession.

The series portrays the machinations within a family at the head of a media empire, as Logan’s children vie for position to succeed their father, who is not quite willing to give up the reins of the business.

It has been something of a dream role for Brian, and has brought multiple awards including a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a television drama series.

"Logan is a great character to have been given,” said Brian, from his home in upstate New York. 

Brian Cox sitting at a dining table for the series Succession
“Succession for me has brought together all of the elements you hope to achieve with a project, an artistic and commercial success.”

Brian Cox on the set of Succession (image courtesy of HBO)

“Logan Roy is my evil twin. I think fundamentally he is a very disappointed man. He is self-made but a nihilist, he thinks human beings have turned out to be a disappointing experiment. There are certain elements of that I agree with, but I think I have a more positive outlook! He does love his children, it’s just that in his eyes they are all complete screw-ups.”

Succession has been widely interpreted as a satire on the lives of the super rich, in particular the Murdoch clan and media conglomerate headed by Rupert Murdoch. Brian also feels it poses some serious questions in our current society.

“It has allowed us a glimpse of that lifestyle of the super-rich. It is a reflection of the way we live, the value systems in our society, and asks those questions of what would you do with those riches? What is the responsibility that comes with being rich?”

The second series of the show presented an opportunity for Brian to make a return home to Dundee. As the storyline developed, much to Brian’s surprise, Logan’s backstory revealed he was from Dundee.

Brian Cox on set of Succession at a party with a man in a kilt in the background
“When I started on the show and had discussions with the producers and writers, I suggested to them that the character of Logan could be Scottish, but they insisted he had to be North American.”

Brian Cox (image courtesy of HBO)

“So that’s what we did, until they changed it after we had started. Someone else on the project said to me, ‘I see they’ve changed your birthplace’. I said ‘what do you mean changed it? Where is it now?’ and they replied that it was ‘someplace called Dundee in Scotland – we thought it would be a surprise for you.’ “I said ‘well that is a hell of a surprise, not least because that is where I am actually from!’ It didn’t cause me any problems, I didn’t have to change the accent or anything like that, and I was delighted that it gave us the opportunity to include Dundee in the show.

“I insisted if we were doing that then we had to do it right, we had to shoot the scenes actually in Dundee, so we spent a week filming, including at the V&A and on the University campus, where we transformed the School of Life Sciences into a centre for journalism for a couple of days.

“It was great because I remain hugely proud of our city. It has proved to be so resilient over so many years. It is a different place to the one I grew up, but we see so many positive things happening.”

The glitz and glamour of Succession is a far cry from Brian’s own upbringing in Dundee, and also the back ground of his ‘evil twin’ Logan.

“He doesn’t come from a position of entitlement. That is in his children but not him. His origins are more middle-class than mine, but we both had problems with our mothers, so that is a narrative I can respond to. (Brian’s father died when he was 8 years old, and his mother experienced severe mental health issues).

Brian Cox on the set of Succession sitting with his co-star
“We experienced poverty when I was young. The pension was collected on a Friday and sometimes by Thursday evening we would have no food. It was not unknown for me to be sent to the fish and chip shop to ask if we could have the batter bits from the fryer.”

Brian Cox (image courtesy of HBO)

“How lucky I was then to grow up at a time when there was social mobility, when I could move to London to work and manage to live off relatively little. I am worried about the levels of inequality we still see, and we need to make sure that opportunity is there for everyone.”

He is currently working on a memoir, due to be published before the end of this year, where he will track his own journey from the tenement buildings of Dundee to the glamour of Hollywood. It is just one project which has been keeping him as busy as he has ever been.

“It does seem to be the case that the older I get, the busier I get. I am 75 and I seem to have become an industry, something I really didn’t realise was going to happen.

“I constantly seem to have a thousand things on the go. Even through the pandemic I have been working constantly, including doing what I can to support the theatre sector and particularly in Scotland. I have done these Zoom things for the National Theatre of Scotland. It is vital we support the theatre sector.”

Brian has a long association with the University, and was elected as Rector from 2010 to 2013.

“I still miss my time at the University and I retain very fond memories, particularly around working with the Students’ Association and the Student Presidents who were there in my time.

“I felt I managed to get a lot of things done, many of them little things but still helping make a difference. And it often does only take a little thing to make a big difference. It is still a big adjustment in life for students entering university, often away from home for the first time, having to adapt to more independent learning, having more of their own time and not always being sure how best to use it.

“They do need support to cope with those changes, and throughout university, and I hope I managed to do some good and offer that support. The University is a fantastic place.”

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