- Interview by
- Taj Ali
Award-winning actor Brian Cox has enjoyed a storied career on both stage and screen, most recently winning plaudits for his role as the billionaire right-wing media mogul Logan Roy in HBO’s Succession. But, speaking at a London rally organised by Equity, the entertainment union, in solidarity with striking actors in the US, he made clear last week that the picture for writers and actors remains gloomy.
Brian Cox spoke to Tribune about the threat unregulated artificial intelligence poses to the acting profession, why he supports workers taking strike action and the need for visionaries in politics.
The vote for the SAG-AFTRA strike was overwhelming. It does seem like actors are more likely to be in a union compared to other professions. Why do you think that is?
Because we need a lot of protection. We’re being screwed time and time again. So that’s why we need the protection of the union. The union is pretty strong at the moment. That’s clear from the turnout today. In that sense, we have to keep that going. Without us, they’re nothing. The thing about the SAG-AFTRA strikers is they don’t have a National Health Service in the United States. What is important to these actors is health. That’s why they need their residual payments from the streaming companies. Otherwise, there’s no way for them to pay for their healthcare. Even though we have an abused and besieged National Health Service here, at least we do have that advantage.
You had the RMT’s Eddie Dempsey speak in solidarity with actors today. The RMT are in dispute with the train operating companies over a number of things, including ticket office closures. It does appear to be a running theme in a number of disputes I’ve covered, the drive to a contactless and soulless society.
Yeah. And we can’t do that. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face at the end of the day. And we really have to take care to keep it human, to keep the contact human. What they don’t realise is when they dehumanise, it’s not just the people they’re dehumanising, they’re also dehumanising themselves, the employers, and that’s what they have to realise.
I was on a program the other night, and I was given a list of things that the artificial Brian Cox was going to say. The artificial Brian Cox was going to do animal impersonations. I’ve never done a fucking animal impersonation in my life, and I wouldn’t know where to fucking begin. I thought this was weird and, really, a little scary. Now this is going to happen to everybody. Nobody is exempt from this. If you do a performance, if you’re on a film or a TV show, that’s where they’ll get you, and that’s what we have to stop.
If artificial intelligence was regulated and producers worked with trade unions, could it potentially be a force for good in the industry?
I think it’s a very dangerous force, but I think it could be a force for good if it was in the right hands. The problem is it’s not in the right hands. We just heard the example of a young man who was scanned doing a TV job, and he appeared in a scene that he wasn’t even in, and he didn’t get paid for it. So that was the thin end of the wedge, that kind of thing. And that can happen on a greater scale.
It seems many of the challenges facing actors have been spurred on by the global pandemic, particularly the difficulties actors face recording audition tapes from their own homes rather than in a professional studio with support.
The whole audition process is appalling. It’s appalling what young actors have to do now. They don’t meet anybody. And the personal touch is already evaporated and gone. They have to set up their screens and cameras. It’s a very complex thing. What they don’t understand is when you underestimate the human connection, you create a huge hole for everything to fall into. That is what they cannot do, underestimate the human connection. That is more important than anything else.
We are in the midst of the largest wave of strikes in decades. Currently, the railway workers and doctors are in dispute. Do you support those workers going out on strike?
And how do you think the government have handled those disputes?
I wouldn’t even give this government two minutes’ credence. I mean, they’re a bunch of idiots. They’ve been a bunch of idiots for thirteen years. And they’ve behaved worse and worse and worse.
Are you optimistic about a potential Labour government changing things?
Hopefully, hopefully, they’ll do better. But then they’ve really got to be tough. And they’ve really got to be visionary. The problem with the Labour Party is seeing short-term problems as they come up instead of seeing the long view, and the long-term view is what matters in the end.
We were joined earlier by the Labour MP John McDonnell, who shared a message of solidarity.
John is a unique example. He’s a visionary, and that’s what you need. And if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.