One of the British actors who have successfully ventured into Hollywood, James Fox first gained attention as a child actor with his role as Johnny Brent on The Magnet (1950) before departing the scene for more than a decade to finish school. As an adult, he successfully made his return with the BAFTA-winning performance as the aristocrat Tony in the Joseph Losey-directed striking drama The Servant (1963). A lanky blond lead of 1960s movies, Fox received additional popularity with his roles in such vehicles as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965, earned a Golden Globe nomination), King Rat (1965), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1968) and Isadora (1968), but is probably best remembered as the malicious hit man in Performance (1970).
“Performance (1970) gave me doubts about my way of life. Before that, I had been completely involved in the more bawdy side of the film business. But after that everything changed.” James Fox
After Performance, Fox once again left the cinematic industry in 1973, this time to become an evangelical Christian with the missionary group the Navigators. He did not make his real return to acting until the early 1980s, and has since been more productive than ever. His more recent credits include A Passage to India (1984, received a BAFTA nomination), The Russia House (1990), Patriot Games (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), A Question of Attribution (1992, TV), Up at the Villa (2000), Sexy Beast (2000), The Prince and Me (2004) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).
Married to Mary Elizabeth Piper since 1973, Fox is the father of 5, four sons: Thomas Fox (born 1975), Robin Fox (born 1976), Laurence Fox (born 1978, an actor) and Jack Fox (born 1985), and a daughter, Lydia Fox (born 1979). During the early 1960s, he had a high-profile relationship with actress Sarah Miles.
Fox released the book “Comeback: An Actor’s Direction” in 1983.
Childhood and Family:
James Fox was born William Fox on May 19, 1939, in London, England, to theatrical agent Robin Fox and actress Angela Worthington (aka Angela Fox). The second of three siblings, he has two brothers, Edward Fox, an actor, and Robert Fox, a producer. He also has a half-brother, actor Daniel Chatto, from his father’s side. His grandfather Frederick Lonsdale was a playwright, and James is the uncle of actress Emilia Fox.
James was educated at Ashford Prep School in Ashford, England, and Harrow School in Middlesex, England. He studied acting at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama.
In 1973, James was married to Mary Elizabeth Piper. They welcomed their first baby, son Thomas Fox, in 1975, and the following year, their second son, Robin Fox, was born. The future actor Laurence Fox was born in 1978. Mary gave birth to the couple’s only daughter, Lydia Fox, in 1979, and to their fifth child, son Jack Fox, in 1985.
James Fox began acting as a child actor under the name William Fox and made a promising debut as Johnny Brent in “The Magnet” (1950), opposite Stephen Murray and Kay Walsh. He also appeared as Toby Miniver in the drama The Miniver Story (1950), but after One Wild Oat (1951), put acting on the backburner to pursue his education.
After a decade, Fox resumed his film career by taking on the starring role of Philip Goodwin in the indie-comedy What Every Woman Wants (1962) and a small part in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (also 1962), directed by Tony Richardson. He soon scored victory when director Joseph Losey cast him in the important role of an arrogant aristocrat in the arresting drama The Servant (1963). The performance won him a BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles. He went on to nab a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer – Male for his bright turn opposite Stuart Whitman and Sarah Miles in the British adventure Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes (1965). The movie was nominated for an Oscar.
The success became Fox’s Hollywood calling card and soon he was cast in his first American film, King Rat (1965), alongside George Segal and Tom Courtenay. There he played a POW beneath the control of a traitor (played by Segal). He further gained notice with his subsequent performances in The Chase (1966), as Jane Fonda’s affluent but spiritless Texas husband, the comedy/musical Thoroughly Modern Millie (1968), co-starring Julia Andrews, and the biopic Isadora (1968), as one of the dancing Duncan’s lovers. In the bizarre, but electrifying, Performance (1970), the actor offered one of his best performances as a nasty hit man, Chas, opposite Mick Jagger as the rock star Turner. His roles, coupled with his off-screen romance with actress Sarah Miles, made Fox a media personality.
After filming Performance, and after his father’s death, Fox left acting and in 1973, joined a religious cult known as “The Navigators.” During this period, he only appeared in one film in 1978, No Longer Alone, the story of a suicidal woman saved by Christianity. Fox gradually returned to acting in the early 1980s. He made a guest appearance in an episode of the TV series “Country (1980) and appeared as Waldorf Astor in the PBS biographical miniseries “Nancy Astor” (1982), which he followed up by playing Martyn in the made-for-TV film Love Is Old, Love Is New (1982). The following year, he costarred with Kate Hardie in the British independent film Runners. David Lean specially created the role of Richard Fielding for Fox in his acclaimed film A Passage to India (1984), from which the actor was nominated for a 1986 BAFTA Film for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. For the reminder of the decade, he busily worked on both television and film projects, including the based-on-the article Beryl Markham: A Shadow on the Sun (1988) and the war film Farewell to the King (1989).
Fox went on to amass a prolific career in the next decade, alternating between offbeat, small-scale efforts and mainstream Hollywood fares as well as celebrated historical epics. His film credits include The Russia House (1990), Patriot Games (1992), As You Like It (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993, as the a British statesman), Never Ever (1996), Anna Karenina (1997) and Mickey Blue Eyes (1999). On the small screen, he could be seen in a series of television movies, notably the highly praised BBC adaptation of A Question of Attribution (1992), starring as Sir Anthony Blunt, and several miniseries, including “A Perfect Hero” (1991), “The Choir” (1995) and “Kings in Grass Castles” (1998).
Entering the new millennium, Fox found himself costarring as Sir Edgar Swift in the British drama Up at the Villa (2000), alongside Kristin Scott Thomas as Mary Panton, Sean Penn as Rowley Flint and Anne Bancroft as Princess San Ferdinando. He next teamed up with director Jonathan Glazer for a supporting role in the crime/drama Sexy Beast (2000), where Ben Kingsley earned a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for his role as Don Logan, and appeared as Mr. Stewart in The Mystic Masseur (2001). After numerous TV film performances, he returned to film as the King of Denmark in The Prince and Me (2004), a romantic comedy starring Julia Stiles and Luke Mably. He then portrayed the father of Veruca Salt in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic tale Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, and Mr. Tomly in the short Goodbye Mr Snuggles (2006).
Recently, in 2007, Fox had a recurring role on the 2000 crime series “Waking the Dead,” playing Dr Bruno Rivelli.