Best known for his ability to brilliantly portray young, upper class Englishmen wrestling with their sexual and class identity, The Miniver Story.
Born William Fox in 1939 to an upper class British family, his father, Robin Fox, was a theatrical agent, and his mother Angela was an actress. Fox has two brothers, actor Edward Fox and producer Robert Fox, so it can be said that acting is in his blood.
He used his real name in films until 1952, when he took a break from acting to focus on his education until 1962. When he returned to the screen in more adult roles, he began using the name James Fox.
During the ‘coming of age’ era of the 1960s, Fox played in a number of gritty English dramas, and while he was often overshadowed by big name stars in the feature role like Dirk Bogarde and Mick Jagger, his performances caught the attention of critics and fans alike. In 1963, he landed the starring role in the dark drama The Servant, as a handsome, carefree aristocrat who buys a home in London and hires a manservant (Dirk Bogarde) with whom he develops a complicated relationship. Only 24 at the time, his performance in this critically acclaimed film set the tone for his acting for the rest of the decade.
Showing his versatility, in 1965, Fox played the role of a pilot in the action-comedy, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. This was followed by King Rat, in which he plays the role of an RAF pilot in a POW camp in Malaysia who comes under the influence of an enlisted American prisoner known as The Rat. Yet again, what makes this film memorable is the handling of the developing relationship between the two men.
By the end of the 1960s, Fox was a major British film star, but he also had to wrestle with all of the ills of stars of the era, including drugs and alcohol. Performance, a film that was shot in 1969, but not released until 1970, Fox stepped somewhat out of character. Up until that time, he had played dissolute, but otherwise decent upper class Englishmen wrestling with their sexual and class identity, but in Performance, he had the role of Chas Devlin, a sadistic British gangster who performs brutal acts for his boss. When he kills a childhood friend, he goes on the run and hides out in the home of an androgynous rock star, Turner, played by Mick Jagger. Introduced to psychedelic drugs by Jagger’s female companions, Devlin finds himself questioning his sexual identity and his role as a gangster. By the violent end of the film, Devlin has completely merged with Turner, becoming ‘one’ performer. To prepare for the role, Fox immersed himself in the London underworld for a couple of months, in addition to working with a dialogue coach to add realism.
After completing Performance, Fox suffered a breakdown and left acting again until the late 1970s. He returned to the screen in the 1980s and continues to play roles, even at an advanced age, that examine traditional sexual identity and class structure, including roles in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Remains of the Day, and Sherlock Holmes. Age has not dampened his ability to take complex roles and bring them to life on the screen.