> Zed Book Club / Brian Cox Names Names, and One of Them is Princess Margaret

Photo: David Ho

> Bookshelf

Brian Cox Names Names, and One of Them is Princess Margaret

In this excerpt from his memoir "Putting the Rabbit in the Hat," the 75-year-old "Succession" star remembers the people he has loved and lost / BY Shinan Govani / January 13th, 2022

“I don’t believe that you have to live through tragedy in order to portray it, but it does help clarify things for you.” That’s Brian Cox’s story, and he is sticking to it in his wide-ranging new memoir, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat.

The thunderous thespian – who let Zoomer into his life and his career for a recent cover story – is filing out the canvas some more in his book, starting with his somewhat Dickensian earlier years in Dundee, Scotland. “Besieged by the forces of tribalism,” as he calls it, and with no shortage of family trauma, Cox finds solace on the stage. Even later, after having conquered the London stage, there is the siren call of Hollywood, which he sums up this way: “I went from being a lead actor on the London stage to a supporting turn in Hollywood, and I did it with a big smile on my face.”

Brian Cox

Oh, and how he worked. No shortage of parts and film fare followed – his filmography stretches from The Bourne Identity to Braveheart, and he has played everyone from LBJ to Winston Churchill. He was he the proverbial lion in the winter, doing the critically acclaimed HBO series, Succession, where he, as “Logan Roy,” reached cruising altitude in terms of the zeitgeist. Now, he is the stuff of memes.

Reflecting on his craft, and the many twists of life along the way, his memoir is as candid as it is briny. The 75-year-old details being propositioned by Princess Margaret in one passage, and names names in many others, like when he calls Johnny Depp “so overblown, so overrated.” He also spills the tea on playing Hannibal Lecter first, in the cult movie Manhunter. Before Anthony Hopkins. In this excerpt from from the second half of his memoir, he reflects on loss and the tick-tock of mortality.

There has, unfortunately and unavoidably, been a great deal of death in this book, the product partly of my own longevity but also the fact that my profession tends to produce what you might call extreme and obsessive characters. Philip Seymour Hoffman, for example, with whom I worked on 25th Hour for Spike Lee in 2002.

He was the sweetest, funniest guy but he had a darkness to him. It’s a matter of public knowledge that he had abused drugs and alcohol during his college years until, at twenty-two, he went into rehab and stayed sober for twenty-three years.

Clearly, he relapsed. Some years after the Spike Lee film, I did a couple of workshops with him. Whether he was back on the drugs then or not, I couldn’t say, just that he was very edgy and argumentative, not at all the delightful man I had met before.

Sure enough, in February 2014, Philip was found dead in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment of an overdose, at just forty-six. Sometimes it feels as though there are actors who get caught up in the lifestyle, who get swallowed up by it. River Phoenix would be one. Heath Ledger another.

And then you get those whose passing is nothing short of a freak and hideously tragic accident. In that case the name that immediately springs to mind is Natasha Richardson. I was making a TV mini-series, The Day of the Triffids, which starred Natasha’s sister, Joely, when it happened. During a beginners’ skiing lesson while on holiday in Canada, Natasha had hit her head. Complaining of headaches shortly afterwards, she was flown direct to New York.

Joely left the Triffids set to be with her in hospital, and although Natasha was still alive at that point, she died two days later of an epidural haematoma, and Joely returned for work with the weight of recent bereavement hanging heavy upon her. On the evening of Natasha’s death, theatre lights on Broadway and in the West End were dimmed as a mark of respect. Meanwhile, on the Triffids set, Joely had to play a death scene. My death scene, in fact.

“Please don’t let her film the death scene, that’s just not nice,” I implored, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. In a world in which movies and TV trump everything in terms of importance, we had a schedule. And Joely had to film her scene (a fact that, when you think about it, throws Wolfgang’s wonderful accommodation of my request to leave the set of Troy for an entire fortnight into even greater relief).

There is a somewhat tragic postscript to what is already a tragic story. Just one year later, I was making Ralph Fiennes’s version of Coriolanus, which also starred Vanessa Redgrave, who was of course the mother of Natasha and Joely.

At the beginning of the shoot, Vanessa’s brother, Corin, died of a heart attack at fifty. At the end of the shoot, two months later, her sister, Lynn, died of cancer at sixty-seven. This was the same Lynn Redgrave whose wig I had regularly rescued from the litter bin of her dressing room when I was but a child, and to have that connection, to see these terrible Redgrave tragedies up close, was heartbreaking. Absolutely heartbreaking.

During the writing of this book, we said goodbye to Christopher Plummer. I had first met Chris when I was playing opposite his wife, Elaine, in a BBC production of She Stoops to Conquer. As you may recall, I was overawed by Sir Ralph Richardson on that job, and when Christopher Plummer turned up the effect was the same. To me he was elegance personified, but the extraordinary corollary to that was that through Elaine I was introduced to the guy he worked out with, a character called Rusty Hood.

Rusty was a kind of minor stuntman in British movies. He had a basement flat in Earls Court, and on our workouts Chris and I would occasionally cross paths. I would always try to get away from Rusty’s as quick as I could on the days that Chris would be working out because Rusty’s really tiny apartment stank of the most appalling body odour and I was worried Chris might think I was responsible.

On the odd occasion that we did meet he would be so incredibly well dressed, just as if he were going on to lunch at one of London’s fancy clubs, and he simply either ignored or perhaps didn’t even notice the malodorous smell. In fact, thinking about it, in all my dealings with him he always had this air of undaunted grace. Never more so than when we worked together on Nuremberg.

To fellow Canadians he was more than just a celebrity. He was very much regarded as their royalty. He was also very much the product of that tradition of the great classical players of the past. From Garrick via Kean via Irving via John Barrymore via Larry Olivier via Paul Scofield. His career consumed him right to the very end. In fact, he was preparing to appear as Lear once again on celluloid. Apparently he could be heard by his wife Elaine quietly reciting his lines.

Chris died in Connecticut. Being no great fan of attending funerals, I didn’t go. Memorial services in England are fine, but the funerals themselves are always acutely depressing. Especially if they’re at Golders Green, which I find one of the most miserable places ever.

Another one, of course, was my brother Charlie. For while my three older sisters, Bette, May and Irene, soldiered on into their nineties, seemingly indestructible, Charlie was the first of us to go, of stomach cancer in 2007, aged sixty-nine.

I had always had a slightly complicated relationship with my brother. We had separate lives. He was much more working class than I am, with a lifestyle that encompassed his work—he ran a shop in Monifieth in Dundee—family and the pub. But he was a very funny man. He used to say that of the two of us, he was the actor in the family, and I think that in many ways he was right about that. In a sense his life was one long performance.

Excerpted from the book Putting The Rabbit In The Hat: A Memoir © 2021 by Brian Cox. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. 




Three Canadians Authors Shortlisted for the US$150,000 Carol Shields Prize for FictionClaudia Dey, Eleanor Catton and Janika Oza are finalists for the largest cash prize celebrating American and Canadian women writers

Donald Sutherland, 88, to Detail His Journey to Hollywood Fame in Long-Awaited MemoirThe Canuck screen legend's first-ever autobiography will hit Canadian bookshelves on Nov. 12.

Camilla Leads Miniature Book Initiative to Celebrate 100th Anniversary of the Queen’s Dolls’ HouseThe miniature book collection includes handwritten tomes by Sir Tom Stoppard, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Sir Ben Okri and other well-known authors

2024 Giller Prize: Noah Richler, Kevin Chong and Molly Johnson Among Jury MembersAuthor Noah Richler is chairing the jury for this year's Giller Prize, an award's body his father literary icon Mordecai Richler helped launch in 1994.

Queen Camilla to Offer Weekly Reading Recommendations in New Queen’s Reading Room PodcastThe Queen's Reading Room Podcast will feature Her Majesty's book picks as well as literary discussions with authors and celebrities every week.

2023 Booker Prize: Irish Writer Paul Lynch Wins For Dystopian ‘Prophet Song’Canadian Booker Prize jury chair Esi Edugyan called the novel a "a triumph of emotional storytelling, bracing and brave."

Sarah Bernstein’s ‘Study for Obedience’ Wins 2023 Scotiabank Giller PrizeThe author, who gave birth to a daughter 10 days ago, accepted the award remotely from her home in the Scottish Highlands

Governor General’s Literary Awards: Anuja Varghese’s ‘Chrysalis’ Among This Year’s WinnersEach of the 14 writers, illustrators and translators will receive a prize of $25,000

Giller Prize Winner Suzette Mayr Among Finalists Shortlisted for 2023 Governor General’s Literary AwardsThe 14 winners, who will each receive a prize of $25,000, will be announced Nov. 8

Five Authors Shortlisted for This Year’s $100,000 Scotiabank Giller PrizeDionne Irving and Kevin Chong are among the finalists who "probe what it means to be human, to survive, and to be who we are"

Norway’s Jon Fosse Wins Nobel Literature Prize for Giving “Voice to the Unsayable”The author's work has been translated into more than 40 languages, and there have been more than 1,000 different productions of his plays.

Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist Recognizes 12 Authors Who Demonstrate “the Power of Human Imagination”The 2023 longlist includes the prize's 2005 winner David Bergen and debut novelist Deborah Willis. 

Duke and Duchess of Sussex Buy Film Rights to Canadian Author Carley Fortune’s ‘Meet Me at the Lake’Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have purchased the movie rights to the bestselling romantic novel, which was published in May this year.

Booker Prize Longlist ‘Defined by its Freshness’ as Nominees RevealedEsi Edugyan, chair of the 2023 judges, said each of the 13 novels "cast new light on what it means to exist in our time."

Barack Obama Releases His 2023 Summer Reading ListThe list includes the latest novel by Canadian-born New Zealand author Eleanor Catton.

David Suzuki Takes Inspiration From His Own Grandchildren for New Kid’s Book ‘Bompa’s Insect Expedition’The book features Suzuki and two of his grandchildren exploring the insect population in their own backyard.

Milan Kundera, Author of ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, Dies at 94Kundera won global accolades for the way he depicted themes and characters that floated between the mundane reality of everyday life and the lofty world of ideas.

Cormac McCarthy, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Dark Genius of American Literature, Dead at 89McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 novel 'The Road.'

Remembering the Life and Loves of Literary Bad Boy Martin AmisThe legendary British author has died at 73. His absence will be keenly felt, but Amis leaves behind a book shelf’s worth of novels, including 'London Fields', 'Money' and 'Success', filled with shambolic anti-heroes raising a finger at society. 

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau to Publish Two Books Related to Mental Health and Wellness With Penguin Random House CanadaThe upcoming releases include a wellness book for adults and a picture book for children, which will roll out over the next two years.

Queen Camilla Celebrated Her Love of Books by Having Some Embroidered on Her Coronation GownThe Queen's coronation gown also featured tributes to her children, grandchildren and rescue dogs embroidered into it.

Better Late Than Never: Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Unpublished Novel Set for Release in 2024'En Agosto Nos Vemos' or 'We'll See Each Other in August' was deemed by the late author's family to be too important to stay hidden

End of an Era: Eleanor Wachtel leaves CBC Radio’s ‘Writers & Company’ After More Than Three Decades on the AirAfter a career interviewing what she describes as the "finest minds in the world," the long-time radio host says she's ready to begin a new chapter.

Canadian Independent Bookstore Day Features Deals, Contests and ReadingsOn Saturday, every book purchased at an indie store qualifies you to enter the Book Lovers Contest, with a chance to win gift cards worth up to $1,000

Translation Project Will Bring Literature From the South Asian Continent to English-Speaking AudiencesThe SALT project aims to translate and publish 40 works by authors from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka

The Book Thief: An Italian Man’s Guilty Plea Ends a Caper That Puzzled the Literary World for YearsFilippo Bernardini’s elaborate phishing scam netted 1,000 unpublished manuscripts by prominent authors including Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan

The Late Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison Is Honoured with an American StampThe Obamas and Oprah Winfrey pay tribute to the writer whose poetic interpretations of the African American experience gained a world-wide audience

Five Canadian Writers Make the Long List for the Inaugural Carol Shields Prize for FictionThe US$150,000 English-language literary award for female and nonbinary writers redresses the inequality of women in the publishing world

The Furry Green Grump is Back in a Sequel to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”Dr. Seuss Enterprises will publish “How the Grinch Lost Christmas!” in September

Chris Hadfield to Publish a Sequel to His Blockbuster Debut, “The Apollo Murders,” on Oct. 10"The Defector” brings the Cold War intrigue from space to Earth as the Soviets and Americans race to develop fighter jets

Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ Continues to Break Worldwide RecordsThe book also seems to have put a dent in the popularity of members of the Royal Family — including the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Prince Harry’s Memoir Breaks U.K. Sales Record On First Day of ReleaseThe publisher of the new memoir, 'Spare", says it had sold 400,000 copies so far across hardback, e-book and audio formats.

Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2022The former U.S. president’s 13 titles include Canadians Emily St. John Mandel and Kate Beaton, as well as tomes from Michelle Obama, George Saunders and Jennifer Egan

Here are the 5 Books on Bill Gates’ Holiday Reading ListThe billionaire philanthropist is giving hundreds of copies to little libraries around the world

Sheila Heti and Eli Baxter Among 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award WinnersToronto writer Sheila Heti took home the fiction award for 'Pure Colour,' a novel the GG peer assessment committee called "a work of genius."

Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary."

Writers’ Trust of Canada Awards: Authors Nicholas Herring, Dan Werb Nab Top PrizesThe Writers' Trust of Canada awards amounted to a combined monetary prize value of $270,000.

Bob Dylan Releases ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’ a Book of Essays Dissecting 66 Influential SongsIn his new book, Bob Dylan offers up both critique and historical insight into various musical recordings of the last century by a variety of popular artists.

Prince Harry’s Memoir ‘Spare’ Will Be Published in January 2023The long-awaited memoir will tell with "raw unflinching honesty" Prince Harry's journey from "trauma to healing", his publisher said on Thursday.

Sri Lankan Author Shehan Karunatilaka Wins 2022 Booker PrizeKarunatilaka won the prestigious prize on Monday for his second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, about a dead war photographer on a mission in the afterlife.

Canadian Council for the Arts Reveals Governor General’s Literary Awards FinalistsThe finalists for the Governor General's Literary Awards spotlight books in both the English and French language, as well as translated works.

New Penguin Random House Award Named After Michelle Obama Will Honour High School WritersMichelle Obama Award for Memoir will provide a $10,000 college scholarship to a graduating public school senior based on their autobiographical submission.

French Author Annie Ernaux, 82, Becomes First French Woman to Win Nobel Prize for LiteratureThe author said, of winning, that "I was very surprised ... I never thought it would be on my landscape as a writer."

Hilary Mantel, Award-Winning British Author of ‘Wolf Hall’ Trilogy, Dies at 70Wolf Hall, published in 2009, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, released three years later, both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy and making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice.

Prince William “Cannot Forgive” Prince Harry, According to ‘The New Royals’ Author Katie NichollPrince William “just cannot forgive his brother,” according to Katie Nicholl, author of 'The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown.'

Five Finalists Announced for Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionThe winner — to be announced on November 2 — will take home the annual $60,000 prize.

Peter Straub, Bestselling American Horror Writer, Dies at 79Friend and co-author Stephen King has said the author's 1979 book, "Ghost Story," is his favourite horror novel.

Rawi Hage, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Sheila Heti Make the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long ListThe jury read 138 books to choose 14 titles for the long list, one of which will win the $100,000 prize, one of the richest in Canadian literature

Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.

Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.

Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.

Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”

Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956

Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."

The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.

American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history

Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."

New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.

Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.

Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."

European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."

Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.

Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.

Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.

Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro

“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.

Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories

Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel

South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 

Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events

Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards

Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde

Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 

Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations

Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter