Interview with theatre and film producer Robert Fox by Torin Douglas for The Upper Room series of winter talks

Images above: Some of Robert Fox’s many productions; Robert Fox Limited

Where to start?

On Thursday I’m interviewing the charming and extremely well-connected theatre and screen producer Robert Fox (The Crown, Another Country, The Hours, Iris, The History Boys, The Lady In The Van, Chess, Lazarus, Atonement, A Voyage Round My Father…) and, perhaps not surprisingly, given the range of his work, I don’t know where to begin.

Maybe start with his famous family?

The Fox dynasty is theatre and acting royalty: Robert’s elder brothers are the actors James and Edward; he is uncle to Emilia, Freddie and, yes, Laurence; and his father Robin Fox was theatrical agent to the stars in the 1950s and 60s.

There is even a distant connection to the legendary Ellen Terry, though a report that the theatrical producer Cameron Macintosh is his uncle is not true – which makes me also doubt the story that his mother Angela (nee Worthington) was the subject of Noël Coward’s song “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington!”

Images above: (Top row) Edward Fox; James Fox; Emilia Fox – image BBC; (Bottom row) Freddie Fox; Laurence Fox; Robert Fox

A life in theatre and film production, with a string of award-winning titles to his name

Or perhaps I should start by asking why he gave up acting after only a year?

He became a producer instead, working for Michael White Limited on shows including A Chorus LineAnnie and The Rocky Horror Show. He formed Robert Fox Limited in 1980 and his first hit was a farce, Anyone for Denis, at the Whitehall Theatre, based on the ‘Dear Bill’ letters in Private Eye, and written by John Wells (who played Denis to Angela Thorne’s Margaret Thatcher).

Images above: Early successes for Robert Fox Limited

In 1984 Fox produced Another Country by Julian Mitchell, based on the life of the spy Guy Burgess – in which Rupert Everett, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Firth all made their West End stage debuts.

He formed a lifelong friendship with Everett, and last year produced him in the Theatre Royal Bath production of A Voyage Round My Father, directed by his longtime collaborator Richard Eyre.

And 40 years after he first met David Bowie, Robert Fox produced Lazarus, the musical of The Man Who Fell to Earth – taking it from planning to production in just 12 months, knowing his good friend had only a limited time to live. After Bowie’s death, he wrote a moving tribute in British Vogue.

So maybe I should ask him which are his favourites of the many actors, directors and writers he has worked with?

Images above: Benny Andersson and Tim Rice talking about Chess on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show

Working with all the great names of British theatre

There have been so many memorable productions: Chekhov’s The Seagull starring Vanessa Redgrave, Jonathan Pryce and Natasha Richardson; Chess by Tim Rice, Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus; Lettice And Lovage by Peter Shaffer starring Maggie Smith;

Anything Goes starring Elaine Paige; Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? starring Diana Rigg; and A Delicate Balance, with Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkin; The History Boys by Alan Bennett, directed by Nicolas Hytner, with Richard Griffiths, Frances de La Tour, James Corden, Dominic Cooper and Russell Tovey, which won numerous awards in London and on Broadway;

The Blue Room on Broadway starring Nicole Kidman and directed by Sam Mendes; Closer written and directed by Patrick Marber; the World Premiere of Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van starring Maggie Smith and directed by Nicholas Hytner;

Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker starring Michael Gambon; David Hare’s The Breath of Life starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith; Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen; and The Audience by Peter Morgan, starring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, directed by Stephen Daldry.

And then there are the films.

Image above: Dame Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent in Iris (2001); photograph IMDb

Making films with some of the best film actors and directors both here and in the US

A Month By The Lake starring Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Fox and Uma Thurman; Iris directed by Richard Eyre starring Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor); 

The Hours starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore, directed by Stephen Daldry with a screenplay by David Hare; and Notes on a Scandal starring Dame Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett & Bill Nighy.

Fox was also Executive Producer on Another Country starring Rupert Everett and Colin Firth, Closer, directed by Mike Nichols starring Julia Roberts and Atonement from the novel by Ian McEwan, directed by Joe Wright.

Image above: Meryl Streep and Jeff Daniels in The Hours (2002); photograph IMDb

Put your questions to Robert Fox

Then again, maybe we should just start with The Crown, the multi-award-winning Netflix production for which Fox was executive producer over six series?

Maybe I should ask him exactly what is that an executive producer does?  Which of the different art forms he prefers? And what is the future of theatre, film and television in these difficult economic times?

Image above: Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal (2006); photograph IMDb

If you’ve got your own thoughts about the questions I should ask Robert Fox, please let me know by emailing me at torindouglas@gmail.com. Or come along in person to St Michael & All Angels Church on Thursday and put up your hand when we ask for questions from the audience. Or simply come and enjoy our conversation in a very good cause, raising money for The Upper Room charity.

The Upper Room Winter Lecture with Robert Fox is on Thursday April 11 at 8.00pm in St Michael and All Angels Church, close to Turnham Green tube station.

Entry is free (but you are encouraged to book a seat here on Eventbrite and to add a financial contribution to support the work of The Upper Room. You can do so at the event, or by visiting the Donations page on their website.

Torin Douglas is the Director of the Chiswick Book Festival. The Upper Room supports homeless people in west London.

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