July 29, 1999



Busy Brian

An international screen career can't keep Brian Cox off the stage.


by Rob Kendt


When seasoned British actors come to L.A., it is to do films or television--right? Brian Cox had been down that road before, with memorable roles in Manhunter, Hidden Agenda, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. But as he tells it, it was in Los Angeles that Cox rediscovered his first love: the stage.


"My interest in theatre was reestablished in America by doing Skylight," said Cox by phone from New York last week. Indeed, his work opposite Laila Robins in the Mark Taper Forum's searing 1997 production of David Hare's two-hander was a sort of rediscovery for audiences, as well. "I suddenly realized, This is what's important," recalled Cox of the experience. "This is what we do, we actors. This is my natural home."


A run of Conor McPherson's one-man show St. Nicholas followed at London's Bush Theatre, then at Primary Stages in New York, succeeded by Cox's lauded turn in the Broadway hit Art. Now, as if to give back a bit to the theatre scene that gave him this epiphany, Cox will bring St. Nicholas to the Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood for a limited run as a benefit for the resident company. Though he hasn't worked at the Matrix, he had high praise for its efforts.


"I think it's one of the most important theatres in L.A., based on the work I've seen there over the past four or five years," said Cox. "Particularly the work of [director] Andy Robinson and the ensemble, including the late Charlie Hallahan. I have respect for [producer/artistic director] Joe Stern and what Joe provides for those actors, who do a lot of television but are still keen on doing their craft and working as a real ensemble. I think that deserves my credit and acknowledgment."


Indeed, the meaty, ensemble-heavy, contemporary-classic work of the Matrix would seem a natural fit for Cox--if he could ever carve out the time.


"I really have tried to establish an international career, and I think I've succeeded," said Cox, who in the past year appeared in the films Rushmore and The Corruptor and has a full slate of releases in the next year: Kevin Costner's For the Love of the Game, Hampton Fancher's The Minus Man, and an Irish comedy starring Keri Russell, Mad About Mambo. Indeed, he tends to play Americans, Englishmen, and Irish roles as often as he does his native Scots, as he did in Rob Roy and Braveheart. Taking on yet another accent, he's currently playing Nazi propagandist Hermann Goering the TNT film Nuremberg.


If such a jet-setting schedule is somewhat hard to imagine, consider that in the midst of it all, Cox is still doing plays, after all: This fall in London, he'll start in McPherson's latest, Dublin Carol. How does he do it?


"Well, all my kids are grown up, I'm divorced, I have a tolerant girlfriend--she's German and lives in Vienna," he said. "I'm lucky that way. I have a career many would envy, but I do work at it."


St. Nicholas has sealed Cox's association with the hot Irish playwright McPherson--whose The Weir is currently on Broadway and This Lime Tree Bower Off-Broadway--for whom Cox also recently completed work on a small film, Salt Water. In the solo show St. Nicholas, Cox plays a jaded theatre critic who regales the audience with a very tall tale about becoming, of all things, a procurer for a band of vampires.


"Conor started writing this play as a critique of a critic," said Cox, "and he started to empathize with what happens to this critic--he's a very alienated animal. Critics are lonely men, by nature of their profession."


Did Cox base his performance of this "alienated animal" on any real-life scribes? He wouldn't say, but did share this observation: "Critics always have beads of sweat on their upper lip, because they always feel they're going to be punched."


"St. Nicholas" plays at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., W. Hollywood. Aug. 1 and 8 at 7 pm., and Aug. 4-7 at 8 p.m. Tickets $22.50. A benefit gala will held July 31, with tickets $100 or more. (323) 852-1445.