I couldn’t find a hotel in London because I was Scottish, says Brian Cox to Nicola Sturgeon
BRIAN Cox has said he was refused a hotel room in London when he was a student because he was Scottish.
Speaking to Nicola Sturgeon at the closing of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the HBO Succession star opened up about his experience as a Scot in England.
The Dundee-born actor said he ‘decided I had to be English’ when he was young to get ahead – but quickly changed course after returning to Scotland and entering the Lyceum theater in the capital city.
Cox said he felt like a ‘second-class citizen’ in England, saying it was when he was refused a room in a hotel because of his nationality that he knew there was a problem.
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Asked by Sturgeon if it was easier these days for young Scottish actors than it was for Cox’s generation, he replied: “Well, it’s easier because they have a country.
“You have to remember that after the war…it was the north of Britain.
“Even the hotel was called the North British before it became the Balmoral.
“And that was northern Britain, because we weren’t quite trained because we’d had two wars, we’d had the depression.
“The 20th century was therefore very bruised in terms of identity.”
Cox said that it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s, and the rise of the SNP, that “it became something extraordinary that we became true to ourselves”.
He continued: “We had been so tight-lipped about who we were, and I didn’t realize it had happened to me, I didn’t realize I was a bit of a second-class citizen.
“I mean, I remember going to London when I was a student, and I knew that Irish people were struggling to find accommodation.
“People were calling and saying, ‘Where are you from? And the Irish were like, ‘Well, I’m from Dublin’, ‘Sorry, we don’t have a room’ – it happened.
“Well, it happened to me. I phoned someone and they said, ‘Are you Irish? And I said, ‘No, I’m Scottish.’ ‘No, we don’t have any rooms for you.
“I couldn’t get a room. And so it was my first inclination that there was a problem but my ambition was so strong as a youngster that I just pursued it.”
Cox said that as he grew older he learned more about Scotland and “the special nature of being a Celt”.
The country continues to grow, he said, saying young actors don’t have to make the journey he had to, pointing to Scotland’s booming cultural industry.
Speaking about his time at the Lyceum in Edinburgh, he said he was “very lucky to have a lot of good mentors”.
The actor said it was there that he realized he had “given up” part of his Scottish identity while in England.
He told Sturgeon: “Because I had lost my father when I was so young, I looked to father figures and was lucky.
“Fulton Mackay was really my spiritual father. He gave me the best advice possible. He said, ‘oh Brian, Brian, Brian, don’t worry about being a star – just be a good actor.
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“It was the best advice anyone ever gave me because it meant I didn’t have to worry about all these other things, about ambition, I just got to work.
“When I was at the Lyceum I was surrounded by people like Callum Mill, Duncan Macrae, these amazing performers and they played in a particular way that was really very Scottish that I kind of avoided for a lot of my career.
“I decided I had to be English, I was going to drama school and I felt it was the pressure of the time, RP – Received Pronunciation – when I went south at drama school.
“But when I came back here and watched these guys, I knew there was something else, and there was a kind of expression that Scottish actors had, which was physical.”