Ask anyone who has interviewed celebrities before and they will tell you that, normally, you’re sat in a room with the interviewee alongside their PR people taking notes or advising the star what to say.

But this interview was different. In a townhouse in Brooklyn, without a PR in sight, the actor Brian Cox and his wife, actor and director Nicole Ansari-Cox, talked about their extraordinary new project She/Her.

The show is a product of a conviction that both of them have to give marginalised sections of society a voice. Assembled and directed by Nicole and produced by Brian, the multi-media performance features a diverse group of women telling their stories of hope, fear, loss, trauma, and passion. Augmented by film projection and live music, it comprises seven personal female monologues and comes to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month.

Cox, of course, is known to millions as Logan Roy, the media tycoon from HBO’s hit series Succession and the polar opposite of who Brian Cox is in real life. Coming from Dundee, he is no stranger to Scottish politics or the very real issues of poverty – an issue which he is tackling for a new documentary.

The documentary about money has been a huge eye-opener, says Cox. “What I’ve seen over the last few weeks having been to food kitchens in Dundee, meeting people in Miami and the illegal immigrants who do the washing, cleaning and tidying - and you contrast that with the wealth that exists and the growing inequality that exists as a result of that division - it’s actually quite painful,” he says.

Cox is also aware of the contrast to his character in Succession. “Having spent six years playing this guy who’s ridiculously rich I feel there is a time coming when I need to balance it out creatively for myself. In the same way that Nicole is bringing consciousness to what’s going on with She/Her, I want to do the same thing with poverty and wealth.”

As part of the documentary, Cox volunteered at a soup kitchen in the Bronx. “The joy in the place, the dedication of the volunteers and the dignity of the recipients is shaming and humbling,” he says.

“I did a talk the other week to young actors at the Stella Adler studio and the question I asked which is one that actors don’t ask is why act, why do it, what is your intention, what is your purpose.

“It took me a years to figure out what my purpose was because I just wanted to get on but then my life moved towards purpose and certainly that’s what’s wonderful about the work Nicole does as it’s such great purpose and I feel that’s what we want to do now.” Nicole says she is proud of the choices her husband makes in his career and the way he is standing up for marginalised people. Cox says the effect of poverty on women is particularly striking.

“When you see it in its naked form, the poverty element, the people I’ve interviewed, some have been the odd male but it’s the women who are doing the job, it’s the women who are coming up there with their children and they do it whilst maintaining such dignity and resolve and that’s also important. Growing up in Dundee, it was a matriarchal society, but they didn’t get recognised for what they were doing.”

Nicole says she hopes She/Her and the stories about women that it tells can achieve something similar: standing up for people who often do not have a voice in society. “She/Her is a play which has a diverse cast of women telling their own true stories,” she says.

“I conceived the idea a while back, but it actually became a live project last year for the first time in August when we did it through Performance Space 21st Century which is a not-for-profit organisation based in upstate New York that is dedicated to promoting performance art and run by a Ukrainian activist Elena Siyanko.

“Elena, the artistic director, said I could have the stage for four days in August and asked me if I wanted to do something.

“Being honest I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I wanted to do something that had meaning and as a performer I thought to myself, what has sparked my interest, what is pressing and what has touched me, especially since the pandemic and I have always been drawn to telling human stories.” Joining the cast for this year’s version of the play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival are singer songwriter Mairi Campbell, Scottish-Kenyan actress Kananu Kirimi, actress and performance-maker, Callie Rose Petal and harpist Ada Grace Francis. Each edition of the show is developed in collaboration with its cast, co-writing their own monologues alongside Nicole, who writes and directs to bring out stories from within.

“When we did the play in upstate New York we had a trans woman in it and we hear a lot about the trans experience in the media and everybody seems to be an expert, and everybody wants to give their five cents about it and all I’m asking people to do is, if you’re not trans just listen to trans women rather than giving your opinion, and maybe if we would just stop and listen we would stop being so judgemental and really hear their stories to get a proper understanding of the issues that trans people face.” It’s an issue that Nicole cares passionately about.

“You can’t discredit somebody’s experience, you can’t annihilate somebody’s existence because you don’t believe that a trans women should even exist. “Are we actually talking about eliminating people’s life experience just because it doesn’t fit in to our image?” She says tackling transphobia and giving a voice to trans women goes to the heart of the play.

“A lot of trans people don’t have the luxury of being able to do their art on the side because they actually have to work, and often they don’t have great jobs because there is so much trans phobia and because of that phobia we see a lot of trans women doing sex work.

“But more pressing is the fact that when you look at the number of trans women who are killed or subjected to violence, it’s rarely in the news and, if through this play we can highlight this, then that has to be a good thing.”

In light of the recent US Supreme Court decision which overturned five decades of the right to have an abortion in America, both Nicole and Brian are concerned that women’s voices being silenced.

Comparing the Supreme Court’s decision to the debate about gun control, Cox says “they will happily go and shoot a bunch of children in a school but not deal with the woman’s right to her own decision about her own body.”

Echoing the same sentiment, Nicole said, “I don’t think any man should have any say in what a woman does with her body and if you don’t allow safe abortions history has shown us what happens.” Cox says She/Her attempts to illuminate these real-life issues that women face.

“The great thing about Nicole’s show is that it’s completely organic and as it happens people grow into the show, and they grow the show together. It’s the most organic work I’ve seen in years,” he says.

“It’s all about these things that come together because you have wives, mothers, sisters and it’s about real-life issues and that’s the strength of the show and that’s what Nicole has done brilliantly. I was blown away when I saw it because I didn’t realise how big the subject is and how a subject such as this isn’t really tackled in that way.

“This is so direct and also, I have to stress, highly entertaining, but this play is also about giving a voice in a time of #metoo and Black Lives Matter movements. It’s very important that the feminine voice and the Black feminine voice is heard loud and clear, and that’s what Nicole has done.

“One of the reasons I wanted to produce this play is because I think it’s so important and I see it as a continual thing especially under Nicole’s care and it can extend, and it needs it more now than ever.” Nicole says eventually she has an ambition to create a trilogy, including They/Them and He/Him.

“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after a show and say that they have a story and they want to share their story and right now there is a real need to have those stories told. We can only do this forward movement if we involve men and evolve together. Men have to be part of the conversation.”


She/Her is at the Edinburgh Fringe, Assembly Rooms from August 3-29