Interview: Brian Cox on The Bloody ‘Ironclad’ and Different Directing Methods

By  · Published on June 9th, 2011

Interview: Brian Cox on The Bloody ‘Ironclad’ and Different Directing Methods

If you’re interested in seeing veteran actor Brian Cox slit a few throats and chop off a few heads, then Ironclad is definitely the film for you. It’s got fantastically gory kills, Paul Giamatti looking angry in every frame and chewing apart every inch of scenery with each glare, and blood hitting every inch of the screen imaginable. Sound promising? Director Jonathan English has captured a tone that revels in both gore and laughs.

Brian Cox, thankfully, gets to partake in English’s bloodbath.

I knew within the first few seconds of speaking with Cox that I was going to enjoy the chat. Cox got a hearty laugh from the site’s name right from the start and had a few questions about its origin, a part I desperately wish I recorded. It was a nice icebreaker, to say the least. Calm and thoughtful, the actor made for a quick and pleasant interview.

We discussed the fun tone of Ironclad and, mainly, the different directors he’s collaborated with, including the likes of Bryan Singer, Doug Liman, and Rupert Wyatt.

I’d say English isn’t afraid to have fun with the material and to go a little over-the-top. Was that a specific tone that he wanted to capture?

Yeah, I think that’s right. Jonathan is very self-contained and very, very English; he really is the name Jonathan English. To me, that is quite fascinating that aspect of Jonathan. In a way, the fantasy element of him is very powerful, and that comes across in the movie. Also, in the way he operates in the movie he allows it to have its own life, and I’m actually quite respectful of that. To see him really put the film together, and the way he did put the film together, I was rather impressed.

Was he very detail-oriented on set?

He has an idea of what he wants, but he’s also very much an English soldier; he knows how to delegate and how to get people to do the job they need to do, and I think that’s quite an admirable quality that he has.

I remember hearing you compare a director like Spike Lee, who always knows where he wants you to stand, versus, Doug Liman, who never knew where he wanted you to stand —

Well, Doug Liman is not a narrative director; he sees an effect. He has a vision for something, and he tries to get you into that vision. Now the vision may not make sense, sometimes. When you ask him where do you stand, he hasn’t quite figured it out. Spike Lee and Spike Jonze clearly knew where you are. They have a very clear eye, as does Woody Allen. Woody Allen has a very clear eye for where he wants everybody to be, and the sense for that is very powerful.

Jonathan does depend a little more on his actors to create the scene. Also, his wonderful DP and operator really did a phenomenal job at just moving the film around, and I think that’s the key to it; the physical life to it. I think that’s really what allows Jonathan to operate.

I thought Jonathan was a bit of a dark horse. It was very hard to get a tell of Jonathan just from meeting him. When I first met him, I thought he was a nice guy, but I wasn’t sure. And for the script I thought, hmm… But then I realized the script is the blueprint, it’s not like the script as it were. There was much more boogying going on in the making of the movie, and in a very healthy way, I’d have to say.

Does that happen on a lot of films you work on? Where the script becomes more of a blueprint?

It does. You know, it changes. I’ve worked with Rupert Wyatt, who is fantastically organized and knows what he wants. Rupert is brilliant in saying how a scene needs to be and “let’s do it.” You had to do this in the film we were doing because we didn’t have time, and Jonathan didn’t have time either. Jonathan had elements against him, so he had to allow things to be. Rupert really does have a sense of things, and I remember because I was a producer on the movie [The Escapist].

There was a scene where they create a tunnel ‐ and I thought it was going to take a whole day and that we weren’t going to have time to shoot it ‐ but Rupert shot it in an hour. We did the scene in one take with four cameras and three angles, and that was it. We shot it. It was done. We couldn’t build [the scene] backup again because we didn’t have time, so if anything got in Rupert’s way, he’d cut to another camera. Rupert’s sense of that was extraordinary, and this is really what directing is about.

Is it astonishing to you that a director, like Rupert, can get something that tricky shot in an hour, and yet you’ve been on sets for other films, like X-Men 2, where almost nothing gets done in a day’s time?

Yeah, that does happen. But Bryan [Singer], again, is a very visceral director. He was working at a phenomenal rate and he is a phenomenal artist, so when he comes to a new set, he has to get the feel of the set. Getting the feel of the set, usually, takes a day for him to make that adjustment, and I do understand that and I’m very empathetic to that. Luckily enough, he has good enough producers that allow him that leeway. It’ll cost them, but then they’ll make it back with the movie, which is usually pretty damn good.

I actually spoke to Rupert Wyatt a while ago, and he came off as a director really in control of theme and character. Does he also have that attention to detail when it comes to character work?

He’s a writer/director, and in that sense, he knows what he’s written and he knows what he wants. The Escapist was much easier for him because it was his script, whereas it wasn’t his script for [Rise of the Planet of the Apes], and that film is just a whole different thing. He’s got a studio behind him and he’s working for FOX, and we all know about FOX, so that’s a survival mechanism. But Rupert doesn’t change; Rupert is the constant. In that sense, Rupert is pretty magnificent to tackle that particular animal and to hopefully survive it. Not only to survive it, but to make a great movie in the process.

Ironclad is now available on VOD

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.