Growing up in Scotland, the descendent of Irish immigrants, Brian Cox always felt an affinity to American cinema that eventually led him to pursue his career stateside. Born on June 1, 1946, in Dundee, Scotland, Cox knew he wanted to act from an early age, but identified more with the characters portrayed in American films than in "zany British comedies," to use his phrase. While working at the local theater, where he started by mopping the stage, the 15-year-old Cox would watch the actors and study their styles to separate the wheat from the chaff. He attended drama school in London and got caught up in British theater and television during the 1970s. Cox landed on Broadway in the early '80s, but found more closed doors than open ones. It was while performing a play transplanted from the U.K. that a casting agent for Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986) noticed him. The film would become the first cinematic treatment of Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter (spelled "Lecktor" at the time) character, which Anthony Hopkins would make his own in Silence of the Lambs (1991). Cox was cast in the role, paving the way for the success that had eluded him until his 40th year.
Despite the breakthrough, Cox remained better identified with television than film during the late '80s and early '90s, though his roles significantly increased in number. His initiation to regular film work came through appearances in two 1995 sword epics, Braveheart and Rob Roy. Over the latter half of the 1990s he materialized in character-actor roles -- police officers, doctors, fathers -- in such films as The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), Kiss the Girls (1997), Rushmore (1998), and The Minus Man (1999). Although he appears more often in American than British cinema, Cox has also paid homage to his Scottish and Irish roots, such as playing an IRA heavy in Jim Sheridan's The Boxer (1997).
In 2001, Cox secured major acclaim -- and an American Film Institute nomination for best supporting actor -- with the release of L.I.E., the debut film of director Michael Cuesta. Like Todd Solondz' critical darling Happiness (1998), the film presents a child molester (Cox) as one of its major characters without condemning him, if not actually leaving him altogether unjudged. Cox's complicated, intense portrayal enabled such shades of gray, raising the character above the bottom rung of the morality food chain.
As the decade continued, so did Cox's visibility in bigger hollywood films. In 2002 alone, he took on substantial roles in The Bourne Identity, The Rookie, The Ring, The 25th Hour, and Adaptation, a film that saw him stealing scenes with an appropriately over-the-top turn as blowhard screenwriting guru Robert McKee. The following year audiences could see him in the blockbuster comic-book sequel X2: X-Men United, and in 2004 he starred alongside Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom in the epic retelling of the Iliad, Troy. He returned to the Bourne franchise for The Bourne Supremacy, and appeared in the thriller Red Eye. He was the psychiatrist in the comedy Running With Scissors, and in 2007 portrayed Melvin Belli in David Fincher's Zodiac. He was cast in the geriatric action film Red, and joined up with Wes Anderson a second time to lend his voice to a bit part in Fantastic Mr. Fox. In 2011 Ralph Finnes tapped Cox to play Menenius in his big-screen adaptation of The Bard's Coriolanus.