Interview: Actor Brian Cox On ‘The Straits’ And An Accidental ‘Doctor Who’ Role

I don’t know that there’s any actor whose voice I love hearing more than that of Brian Cox. Even when he plays madmen like Hannibal Lector (spelled Lektor back then) in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter,” there’s something soothing about the Scottish actor’s voice. It’s the same for his characters–it’s seldom that he plays anyone out and out crazy or off-kilter without at least a dose of that easy sly, cool, charm (his best role might be as the sadistic announcer in the PS2 game “Manhunt”).

That charm is on display as criminal patriarch Harry Montebello in the Australian series “The Straits,” which recently concluded on Hulu. I spoke with Cox about playing the head of an Australian crime family as well as his work on the docudrama about the origins of “Doctor Who” on the BCC (and how misreading his contract accidentally got him a role on a recent season of the series).

When I spoke with Cox, it was during a break in filming for “An Adventure in Space and Time,” the Terry McDonough-directed feature written by “Sherlock” co-creator Mark Gatiss. That film, part of the BBC’s 50th anniversary celebration for “Doctor Who,” chronicles the creation of the series back in 1963. Cox plays Sydney Newman, who was the head of BBC Drama during the mid-60’s. Around that time, Cox was a student and didn’t get the bug for the series as many young people in the U.K. did at the time. But he has that tendency to describe each Doctor with the possessive, saying that his eldest son’s Doctor was Tom Baker.

It was his second experience with the world of “Doctor Who,” after a fateful misreading of his contract lead to Cox playing the voice of the telepathic Ood in “The End of Time.” “That was an accident,” he laughs. “I thought I was actually doing a commercial for ’Doctor Who,’ I didn’t realize I was appearing in it until I got to the studio.”

There was no room for fandom when he was younger–Cox tells me that early on, the only thing that interested him was acting. “I’ve been in the theater for over 50 years,” he says, confessing that his earliest conscious memory is of wanting to act. Over the years, he’s had the chance to play quite a few geek-friendly and out there roles, meaty characters who steal the scenes–from Weapon X director William Stryker in “X2” to his turn as a mad, deposed monarch in the short-lived NBC miniseries “Kings.”

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