When Brian Cox was preparing to portray Winston Churchill in a new historical biopic, he turned to unlikely source of inspiration.
“I was sitting watching Family Guy one day and I thought, ‘That’s Winston Churchill!'”
“It’s Stewie Griffin in Family Guy. Absolutely. He even looks like Winston Churchill.
“So suddenly it brought the weight off the part.”
The classically-trained Scottish actor was trying to find a way to tap into the humour and humanity of his subject, and the mischievous baby from the cartoon struck all the right chords.
“It’s the comedy, it’s the humour, it’s the humanity,” Cox told News Breakfast.
“That’s why somebody like Stewie Griffin becomes an enormous influence, because he’s such a character alone in who he is, and I’ve always gone for that.”
At last count Cox has appeared in more than 200 films and television shows.
He was the original Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter — five years before Anthony Hopkins took on the role — and has played everything from the sinister corporate man in the X-Men and Bourne series, to comedy turns in goofball flicks like Super Troopers.
Figuring out how to portray the British wartime PM in his new film Churchill — which tells the story of the days leading up to D-Day — required stitching elements from both types of characters.
“There are two Churchills,” Cox said.
“There’s the Churchill we all know, which is the Churchill with the voice, but then there’s this private Churchill, the man behind the voice.”
The towering historical figure has been a popular character in many dramas, with dozens of actors taking on the role over the years.
Cox said he watched some clips of the man he was preparing to play, but steered away from looking at how other actors did it.
“That’s their take, you have to have you own take,” he said.
“You have to have a personal relationship with the character and create a relationship.”
As it happens, Churchill was the MP for Cox’s home town, which helped the actor find a way into the role.
“I grew up with a totally different view of Churchill, and not necessarily a good one,” he said.
“A very negative one because he changed parties and a lot of people felt very betrayed by him.”
Churchill is generally remembered as the powerful leader who helped defeat fascism in World War II, but also as an overly ambitious and egotistical man responsible for the disastrous World War I defeat at Gallipoli.
The new film is written by Alex von Tunzelmann — a historian with a speciality in writing accurate dramatizations of real events — and Cox said it was important to not shy away from his successes and failures.
“He seemed to be very ambitious, which to a certain extent he was, but as he got older it came to weigh on him,” Cox said.
“We look back on the First World War, it was pretty disastrous really.
“I think you have to address it in terms of a life.”