Brian Cox on Method Actors and Why Acting ‘Doesn’t Have to Be a Religious Experience’


Brian Cox in Succession

“The problem with method acting is the actor is over-involved [and]  he’s never disciplined in terms of being able to turn on a sixpence.” – Brian Cox 

Emmy Award-winning actor Brian Cox continues to impress critics and audiences with each episode of Succession, as he has been doing nearly his entire career as an actor on stage and screen. The extremely prolific Cox — IMDb lists 234 acting credits to his name — has spanned nearly every genre imaginable, including extensive voiceover work (yes, that’s his voice in the McDonald’s commercials). Speaking with Esquire to promote his autobiography Putting the Rabbit in the Hat, Cox spoke about his acting preferences, including why he feels acting doesn’t need to be a “religious experience.”

From his standpoint as an actor, Cox prefers screenplays written by a single author as opposed to a series of writers. He says, “I just did a film [Prisoner’s Daughter] with this extraordinary director called Catherine Hardwicke, who was a trained architect so has a great visual sense, [but]kept saying ‘I think we should have more writers,’ and that’s an American thing. What’s wrong with a single voice? This young man who had written the script was in agony because his script was being traduced. I come from a tradition I’m very proud of, a thing that happened in the Sixties at the Royal Court when the text became so important. Acknowledge and respect the script, [because]if everyone is contributing it gets distorted.”

That feeling even extends to his voiceover work for McDonald’s commercials, which he has been doing since January 2020. He explains, “I do the McDonald’s commercials in the States and everybody says, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ I say, ‘Because these guys are trying to earn a living writing this witty stuff.’ You’ve got to go there even if you’re only selling a crispy chicken McNugget.”

In his autobiography, Cox recounts the difficulty of shooting the 1997 film The Boxer with Daniel Day-Lewis, whose method acting approach made the production challenging for some of the other actors. Cox, who is classically trained, observes the difficulty that he sometimes sees his co-stars going through. He reflects. “The problem with method acting is the actor is over-involved [and]he’s never disciplined in terms of being able to turn on a sixpence. The skilled actors can do that, and Jeremy Strong [who plays Cox’s son Kendall on Succession]can certainly do that because he’s very gifted, but the battering he gives himself. I mean he can be a nervous wreck. We do telephone calls and it’s not always the other actor on the other side because they may not be available, but Jeremy always wants the other actor because he’s not allowing his imagination to go forward. I just think, ‘Give yourself a break lad because you don’t have to go through all this.’ It just doesn’t have to be a religious experience, it’s the audience that gets the experience.”

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