Brian Cox on his new memoir and those Johnny Depp comments: 'I really do not disrespect anybody involved in this profession'

(Photo: Getty Images/Grand Central Publishing)
(Photo: Getty Images/Grand Central Publishing; design: Quinn Lemmers)

Like his Succession alter ego Logan Roy, Brian Cox is making all the right moves these days. Last week, the 75-year-old snagged a Screen Actors Guild nomination for the role that's taken him from longtime character actor to leading man, while Jan. 18 marks the U.S. publication of his memoir, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat. While it's not the first time Cox has put pen to paper — he has previously shared some of his adventures in the industry in Salem to Moscow: An Actors Odyssey and The Lear Diaries — it's undoubtedly his most comprehensive, and candid, work.

Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment for the first installment of our new celebrity book series, Under the Covers, Cox calls the autobiography a "chronicle, really, of my journey," one that covers not just his career highlights and encounters with the likes of Laurence Olivier and Princess Margaret, but also his home life, relationships and the self-sufficiency that came with his father's untimely death and his mother's mental health struggles.

"I wanted to talk about the life I've lived and how I'd come to the various things I'd come to over the years," he says, adding, "I wanted to be as honest as I could be about it."

Certainly, Cox can't be accused of holding back. Putting the Rabbit in the Hat has made headlines for its unflinching honesty, whether it's the actor admitting he passed on Game of Thrones because "the money was not all that great" and he knew the character would be killed off early, or sharing his not-always-favorable impressions of stars such Johnny Depp or Steven Seagal.

Have there been any grumblings from those he's, well, grumbled about? "Nothing's come back to me yet," says Cox, whose book was first published in the U.K. in late October. He has, however, however heard from some of Depp's "vociferous" fans who balked at the Pirates of the Caribbean star being described as "personable though I'm sure he is, so overblown, so overrated [emphasis his]." Cox doesn't mind their objections — "I think it's great that he's got that loyalty" — but stresses that he's not out to "disrespect" his Hollywood peers.

"What certain people accused me of was my lack of respect, and I really do not disrespect anybody involved in this profession because I know how difficult it is," he says. "Now, I may have reservations about their talent, but I certainly don't disrespect them. And my reservations about Johnny Depp are minimal — absolutely minimal. You know, I do think he's sometimes overblown, but I actually think he's also done some considerable work. Some of his work has really been extraordinarily good."

He's also written an addendum which he plans to include for the book's paperback release to set the record straight on any misrepresentations, explaining, "I thought, Oh, perhaps I've been too quick — and I can be too quick for my own good at that, so I wanted to contextualize that more."

Putting the Rabbit in the Hat details Cox's passion for acting and difficult childhood. (Photo: David Ho)
Putting the Rabbit in the Hat details Cox's passion for acting and difficult childhood. (Photo: David Ho)

Cox doesn't suffer fools, but he doesn't hold back praise, either; Morgan Freeman, Peter O'Toole and Alan Rickman are among those whom he holds in high esteem. In his book, he's also generous to figures — including Mel Gibson, his Braveheart co-star and director, and Woody Allen, who cast him in Match Point — with whom he has had positive experiences despite them having been otherwise "canceled." Speaking to Yahoo, he cites Bryan Singer, who directed him as William Stryker in 2003's X2 and is alleged to have sexually assaulted multiple underage men.

"There's the whole Bryan Singer debate at the moment," he says. "The truth of that is what it is, and I'm not going to [speculate]. But all I know is, for me, in my situation, dealing with that film, Bryan Singer behaved in an incredibly honorable way. Fox didn't want me in that film at all. They didn't want me, they wanted somebody else. They probably wanted somebody like Geoffrey Rush, people who were slightly more well-known at the time."

Singer, he says, asked Cox to give him time to convince others that he was the better fit — and it paid off.

"He was true to his word and when someone is true to their word, you have to acknowledge that and say that was a good act. That was a kind and considerate act. All the other stuff is up for grabs, but my personal feeling — and it is a question of seek as you find — was an extremely good experience, and a kind and generous experience."

Though X2 is among the films Cox details heavily in his book, not all of his screen credits made the cut. He didn't mind sharing his impressions with Yahoo, however. The Ring? "Delightful, great, ridiculous death sequence ... what a way to die!" He loved Rushmore, praising director Wes Anderson as having "one of the most brilliant imaginations in film today." His Red Eye director, the late Wes Craven, was an "absolute gentleman" and "known for horror films, but he was the most un-horror individual."

From the moment he first felt the "electric effect" of performing, at the tender age of 3, for guests at his family's Hogamany celebration in his native Dundee, Scotland, Cox has had a number of standout performances on stage and screen, picking up an Emmy (for Nuremberg), Golden Globe (for Succession) and a pile of theater awards on both sides of the Atlantic. But he's also fallen victim to what he lightly refers to as the "Curse of Brian Cox," a term coined by film critics to describe, he writes, "what happens when I play a character and then another actor picks up an Oscar for appearing in a different film as the same character." So far, there are just two examples: Serial killer Hannibal Lecktor (later changed to Lecter), the role he originated onscreen in 1986's Manhunter ahead of Anthony Hopkins's Oscar-winning turn in Silence of the Lambs, and Winston Churchill. Cox, no fan of the politicking behind awards season, played the prime minister in Churchill the same year Gary Oldman went on to win his own golden statue for Darkest Hour, and cites his film's June 2017 release for it not getting "the same traction" as its rival, a fall release.

"The Brian Cox curse, I just thought it was always a question of bad timing," Cox laughs. "The Hannibal thing has always been great because I did the first movie, and then it became this enormous success in the second movie with Tony [Hopkins] and he deservedly got the Oscar and I have no regrets about that because he played it [to] the hilt; he created Hannibal. I had a different view. I created it from a different standpoint. But again, Hannibal is one of those roles that, because there's been so many Hannibals now over the years that it's open to myriad interpretations."

Cox was the first to play Hannibal Lecktor on the big screen, in 1986's Manhunter. (Photo: Alamy)
Cox was the first to play Hannibal Lecktor on the big screen, in 1986's Manhunter. (Photo: Alamy)

Though his big-screen performances certainly haven't gone unappreciated — he writes of Al Pacino "growling 'Churchill'" at him during the Golden Globes — and he's a "great lover of movies" currently buzzing about an upcoming guest appearance on Turner Classic Movies, Cox thinks the "whole film business needs to rethink itself; television is sort of outstripping cinema at the moment."

That's in part because of meaty series like Succession, in which Cox is relishing his work as the irascible media mogul Logan Roy, a man who always keeps his family — and viewers — guessing.

"He's a fantastic role to play," he says. "He's an incredibly mysterious character. He's not what he appears, and the audience always get it wrong."

Though it's unclear if Succession will extend beyond the fourth season currently in production, Cox has no intentions of retiring, writing, "I only ever see this stopping when I die." Even so, the man who already has Hannibal the Cannibal and just about every Shakespearean lead imaginable under his belt can't say for certain what's ahead.

"I don't believe in bucket lists," he say. "Bucket lists immediately set up a statute of limitations, and I don't believe in a statute of limitations. I think the older you get, the more expansive you should be, and the more embracing you should be. Because time is short — there's no question about it. The end is closer than the beginning. So with that, you have to really encompass and just be open and say, 'OK, see what happens.' I don't feel there's anything more to sort out on my end. ... I will keep working as long as I can keep working."