Russia, Ethiopia, Shepherd's Bush: the show goes on

BRIAN COX

Brian Cox's passport is, in his words, "stamped beyond belief", and the stamps all relate to his acting career. His passport dates from 1990 when he played King Lear at the National Theatre and then took the play on a world tour. He lost his passport and, as he was due in Egypt for the next leg of the tour, he threw his manager into a panic. Luckily a new passport was quickly secured and he didn't miss a single performance. His 1992 stamp for Ethiopia reminds Brian of the trip he made to film The Big Battalions, a television series about religion. President Mengistu had just been toppled and at night Brian could hear people being shot. He was also unnerved by the attitude of the Tigray guards assigned to look after them. They had a habit of threatening to shoot anyone they didn't like. When they found that a nine-year-old child hanging around the set had stolen some polystyrene cups, they swung into action. Brian thought: "God, they're going to shoot this kid" and remonstrated with them. They replied: "We weren't going to shoot him, we were just going to scare him."

"Scare him? They scared me," says Brian, paling at the memory.

His passport shows that he has spent a great deal of time in Russia. He made two television series there, became the first British actor to teach at the Moscow Arts Theatre and wrote a book, Salem to Moscow, about his experiences while directing there. Brian is considered one of Britain's leading stage actors, but the 1996 stamps in his passport reveal his more than passing interest in Hollywood. Last year Brian flew in and out of America 18 times. You name them, he's worked with them - Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Andy Garcia, Ashley Judd, Keanu Reeves. And it seems his love affair with America has lasted and he is making a permanent home there. But he hasn't forgotten his roots, and he is now appearing at the Bush Theatre, west London, where he is starring in St Nicholas. He's also found time to do the voice-over for the latest Labour advertisements. He won't be here for the election because he's got to be back in America in April, but he'll still be voting - by post.

ROSANNA GREENSTREET

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