The year was 1967, the so-called swinging 60s were alive and
well, and Hollywood was enmeshed in its own sea of romanticism.
The movie musical was dying, but straight-laced serious British
actor James Fox was singing and dancing into the arms of that
mistress of musical comedy at the time, Julie Andrews. The film?
Thoroughly Modern Millie, an experience the now 58-year old
former child star fondly recalls. "I was NEVER expecting
producer Ross Hunter to ask me to do this singing and dancing
role, with the likes of Julie, Carol Channing, Mary Tyler Moore
and those people. It was thrilling to try and take it on and I
absolutely loved doing it.".
"I hope we did it
The lanky leading man he played so effortlessly in that
bubbly, classic film, is poles apart from the brutal husband Fox
portrays in the new film adaptation of Tolstoy's romantic epic,
Anna Karenina, a part that he was initially reluctant to take on,
especially as it's been done many times before. "I resisted
the idea of playing it initially, because I didn't identify too
strongly with it, but I think Bernard [Rose, the director]
honoured me by inviting me to do it. To do it effectively, you've
got to believe in the relationship that Anna is reacting against.
I hope we did it well."
"I don't think they
understand the film"
The American critics DIDN'T think they did it well at all, and
the film received negative reviews, which angers the actor.
"I don't think they understand the film. They're just
looking at it and comparing it to other films today, not having
read or understood the book." Fox is nevertheless pleased
with the film and his take on his character. "I like him. I
think he's a sympathetic man despite his defects, but at the same
time he's got certain integrity and honour."
Fox began his illustrious career as a child actor in the early
50s, beginning with his role as a boy whose life gets complicated
once he acquires "The Magnet" (1951), but he soon gave
up acting to finish school. "My parents felt it was good
that I'd had those early experiences as a child, but they wanted
me to get some kind of balanced education as far as it could go.
But it didn't go very far." Not surprisingly, Fox returned
to acting a decade later, and quickly enjoyed success in the role
of a haughty but ultimately malleable aristocrat strangely
corrupted by his butler (Dirk Bogarde) in Joseph Losey's striking
drama, "The Servant" (1963). This part, one of Fox's
finest, typified many of his subsequent roles: classy yet often
duplicitous, prone to weakness, decadence, and bad judgment.
Successfully venturing to Hollywood, Fox essayed similar
characterisations in "King Rat" (1965), as a POW under
the influence of a schemer (George Segal), and in "The
Chase" (1966), as Jane Fonda's wealthy but spineless Texas
husband. More conventional leading man duties came with
"Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967) and as one of the
lovers of "Isadora" (1968) in that biopic of the
dancing Duncan. Perhaps Fox's finest work in this period came in
the bizarre but galvanising "Performance" (1970), as a
vicious hit man on the lam who hides out at a reclusive rock
star's (Mick Jagger) mansion and falls prey to a series of
bisexual orgies and weird costume changes. Before taking a
considerable break from the profession, Fox was considered one of
Britain's most in-demand actors working in Hollywood. It was an
up-and-down time in his career, but a fortuitous one.
"British films were popular in the thick of the sixties, and
it was against that background that actors like myself, Michael
Caine and Sean Connery came into their own. It was a very good
time to be a freelance actor, a very vibrant time, and my career
reflected the diversity of cinema coming from both America and
"People then looked
upon me as a kind of freak"
Fox left acting in 1973 when he joined a Christian missionary
group, the Navigators, though he did act in the story of a
suicidal woman saved by religion, "No Longer Alone"
(1978). Then in the early eightie, Fox returned to acting.
Returning to movies after such a long absence was tough. "It
was difficult, and still is. I think the perception of me
dropping out of films and having a religious experience, ran
counter to my previous reputation and lifestyle. I was therefore
identified in a negative way with NOT doing something for kind of
moral reasons (he knocked back French Lieutenant's Woman for
instance). People then looked upon me as a kind of freak, not
knowing how to place me and whether to cast me in anything at
"It was great fun to
But he prevailed, and since his return to acting, Fox has been
more prolific than ever, alternating offbeat, small-scale efforts
("Pavlova" 1983, "As You Like It" 1992), with
mainstream Hollywood fare ("The Russia House" 1990,
"Patriot Games" 1992) and prestigious historical epics.
With his distinguished middle-aged bearing, Fox has usually
incarnated a series of old guard authority figures: David Lean
specifically asked for him for "A Passage to India"
(1984), and Fox was also effective as a British statesman who
misguidedly gives in to his own prejudices and weaknesses while
placating the Nazis in the name of peace in "The Remains of
the Day" (1993). Fox continues to be busy, and even
travelled recently to Australia to star "in a sprawling TV
movie about early settlers. It was great fun to do." Fox
will next team up with legendary fellow Brit Michael Caine in
what he describes "as a wonderful caper film, which I'm
looking forward to."
Anna Karenina was released nationally on July 17, 1997