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'Succession' Star Brian Cox Says The Show Holds Up A Mirror To America Today

Actor Brian Cox stars in the HBO series "Succession." (Peter Kramer/HBO)
Actor Brian Cox stars in the HBO series "Succession." (Peter Kramer/HBO)

The Emmys are coming up on Sept. 20, and the HBO series “Succession” received 18 nominations, including an outstanding lead actor nod for actor Brian Cox. 

Cox stars as Logan Roy, the Rupert Murdoch-like patriarch of a dysfunctional family that owns a media conglomerate. The show follows Roy’s children as they fight for control of the company amid uncertainty about their father’s health. 

Within the show’s exploration of how wealth and power can disrupt family relationships, Cox says it holds a mirror up to American society today. 

“It’s a bit like the fall of the Roman Empire,” he says. “We’re kind of living in something where the paradigm, the political paradigm of the [U.S.] and also [in the U.K.] is shifting in a way that we have never really imagined. And it could be dangerous, but it also could be for the best.”

“Succession” has a “slightly different edge to it” than the true stories it was inspired by, Cox says, because his character started his empire from nothing rather than inheriting it as Murdoch and President Trump did. 

“That puts a real spin on the relationship with his children because in a way, [Logan] loves his children, but they are a consistent disappointment to him,” Cox says. “They suffer from being entitled in a way, and they’ve lost touch with reality, which is very similar to what we’re witnessing both with the prime minister of the U.K. and the president of America.”

The show reflects how that “increasing lack of reality” is unsustainable, he says. 

“We need moral authority. We need leadership, and we haven’t got it,” he says. “And of course, our show is exemplifying that and saying, ‘Look, this is what happens.’ ”

While the show delves into serious subjects from the psychological impact of wealth to drug addiction, “Succession,” which is executive produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, is quite entertaining and funny, Cox says. 

“It’s like a restoration comedy,” he says. “It’s like a comedy of manners that we’re seeing. This is the modern way. This is how people exist now.”

Interview Highlights

On gaining critical acclaim at a later point in his career

“It’s kind of weird, really, but I was always told by a lot of people much wiser than me, usually older actors and directors who said, ‘Well, you know Brian, for you it’s gonna be the long haul.’ Well, I thought it might be the long haul, but this has really been quite a long haul. Not that I have any regrets. I’ve had a very good career. I’ve had a great career in the theater here in the U.K. and I’ve got an equally great career in movies and subsequently in television. So it’s all timed out rather well.”

On the show’s popularity at a time of great income inequality around the world

“I think that’s the precise thing. Shakespeare’s great adage is that, you know, Hamlet’s advice to the players, he talks about holding the mirror up to nature. And what [creator Jesse Armstrong] has done is he’s held the mirror up to a particular society that’s been getting away with it for a very, very long time. And it’s also about wealth, and it’s about how wealth kind of inures you from everything else, and makes you kind of live in a world which is a parallel universe to a certain extent. And I think it’s true. I think we’ve witnessed it. We’ve certainly witnessed it with the Trump family, and it’s ridiculous. And certainly since the publication of Mary Trump’s book, we’ve seen how dysfunctional things are and where that dysfunction comes from. So it’s what we do. It’s what human beings do. We live in a very confused state, I think.”

On when filming for season three, which was disrupted by the pandemic, will resume

“It probably won’t happen to the end of the year. Probably not till November, but may not even be till the beginning of next year. I mean, I think what is great and what I really have some enormous respect and regard for HBO because there are protocols that they’re putting in place, I mean, we’ve got a whole medical department now. We’ve got everything set up. And we will go when it’s right to go and we’re gonna go. I mean, the show is going to go. It’s just that we will go at the right time, and when everything is covered, all bases are covered. So I suspect toward the end of the year we will probably start putting on our socks to get ready to go.”

On if he knows what’s going to happen as the show continues

“Yes, I unfortunately do. All I know is — and now I can say — it’s very, very exciting. … It would take a lot to top season two, but I think it’s pretty amazing, you know, the rollercoaster ride that one is in for in season three.”

On how he expects the state of the world to be different by this time next year

“I think we’re going to see a whole different thing this time next year. And … we’ll be looking back and going, ‘What was that? Where did it come to? Why did it come to this? And will we ever let that happen again?’ I mean, there’s nothing you can do about the virus, but there’s a hell of a lot you can do about the other kind of virus, the one that’s the political virus.”

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.