BIFF14 - Brian Cox Screentalk

During the course of Brian Cox's near-two hour Screentalk, in the company of critic and BIFF programmer Neil Young, it almost seems as though the 67-year old actor is searching for a title to his autobiography. 'Don't Get Me Started', Cox complains at one point, probably during a section in which he describes politicians repeatedly as 'wazzocks'. It is probably, in all fairness and due consideration to Cox's ability to talk at length on several topics, a sound title, but later on he seems to suggest another which becomes increasingly apt. Cox seems to have found, quite remarkably considering his profession, 'A Pattern to a Life'.

When you look at Cox's filmography - as well as his other work, which he repeatedly describes as just as important - the sheer volume and variety of roles jumps out. Cox has never been someone who sits around waiting for parts, never someone who has gone to get parts and never someone who feels he is 'too big' for any given part. He tells a story of Nigel Hawthorne telling him that he was only now going to go for leading roles. Cox describes this approach as 'bollocks'. His pattern, he says, is variety and a recognition of what any individual part can achieve for you as an actor and you for it as a part. Quoting a famous acting text Cox suggests that there are 'no small or large parts; only short or long parts'. Using this as his mantra, Cox has indeed found a pattern.

That is not to say though that he has it all planned out, nor that he arrives ready to lyrically recite his grand master plan. There are two worries at actor events, namely; 1) the subject will be unwilling to talk and 2) the audience will ask stupid questions. Whilst point two is a given of any public appearance, point one only applies in certain circumstances. Given Cox's predilection for playing on-screen ruffians; gruff talkers, often of higher status than their character perhaps deserves, I will admit to also being worried on the first count. There was no need to be.

Cox talks often, at length and occasionally when Young isn't expecting him to. He begins with a long anecdote about his family life, before returning to the question in hand ('how did you get started in film?'). Despite numerous diversions to other topics, he never forgets what he's meant to be answering, but he does frequently answer things he hasn't been asked; interrupting Young to chime in with a new anecdote, or because he has remembered something pertinent to a question since passed. None of this is done maliciously or brusquely: he's here to talk and he's damn well going to enjoy doing so. Cox proves a joy to listen to.

Early life dispensed with, Cox finds his way to topics he can get his teeth into. He still loves performing in radio dramas - he is visibly delighted when an audience member later brings up a long-forgotten past starring role - he is disgusted with the BBC's move away from Television Centre ('I will personally burn the place down if they turn it into flats'), his approach to roles comes from his opposition to Hawthorne's attitude and from having seen wannabe stars Keaton and Andy Garcia try and fail to solely be leading men.

At just past the halfway point Young brings up the topic required in any conversation with any Scot between now and September. What do you think of Scottish Independence Brian? Considering he is mainly in the company of his fans, Cox is on solid ground whatever he says, but it still feels brave of him to publicly back the Yes campaign, even if he admits he can't put his finger entirely on the reasons why: 'it will shake up many things... I'm not sure what those things are yet, but I want to see it happen. We can't stay as we are.' His highlighting of the North/South divide gets the audience on his side, even if they don't agree with his choice, though you suspect this was less a calculated ploy, more something that happened to trip off his tongue.

Other highlights occur when Cox goes slightly more off-piste. Impressions of Woody Allen (with props) and Liam Neeson (without) are as unexpected as they are terrific. He threatens to dish the dirt on Kiss The Girls director Gary Fleder, who got a 'telling off' from Morgan Freeman, before moving on and then does actually stop himself when he starts to tell a family story, before thinking better of it.

It would be tempting to conclude that, due to his self-awareness on this and other occasions, 'Don't Get Me Started' was the loser in the fake battle of autobiography titles. In actual fact it is 'A Pattern for a Life' that pro-actively takes the win. Things don't happen to Brian Cox by accident, it seems, including the times he does decide to stop himself from talking. Entering the event Cox was formidable because of his on-screen presence. At the other end of it, it is his personal drive and pragmatic approach that emerge as even more awe-inspiring. 'When you look back at your filmography, can you see a pattern that works?', Young asks. 'I suppose I can now yes', comes the answer, 'I can see an outline of a career'. Brian Cox has a plan, and no-one has managed to knock him from it yet.

The 20th Bradford International Film Festival ran from 27th March to 6th April 2014, with Widescreen Weekend taking place between 10th and 13th April. It is based at The National Media Museum, in the centre of Bradford.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.


  1. Since Brian Cox leads the Yes celebrity wing of the Scottish Independence campaign along with Alan Cumming and Sean Connery, his political views are hardly secret

    1. Fair point, although I - and I suspect others - didn't know that on going in and in my defence the question to him wasn't phrased as 'So Brian, you've come out in support of the yes campaign...'. but yes, certainly less 'brave' considering he'd already declared it.