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Julius Caesar and acting

Updated Friday, 24th August 2012

This exclusive video from the set of the BBC film version of the RSC's Julius Caesar focuses on the actors 

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Julius Caesar and Acting


[preparations for filming]

Kristian Dench (first assistant):

Right, let’s set for a take then please, thank you. 


Gregory Doran (director):

In 1958 the first black actor appeared in Stratford. His name was Edric Connor and we have a little ebony statue in one of the rooms here in Stratford. The following year Paul Robeson played Othello and in a way, our production of Julius Caesar is the first time that the RSC had ever fielded an entirely black cast in a Shakespeare play and I would say that is not because we chose to do an all black production, but because we chose the setting of Africa. That didn’t exclude there being white actors in it, but the choices seemed to be better that we had a black cast. And you know the opportunities for black actors were thin on the ground twenty years ago. Now we have a very very rich crop of fantastic actors who have classical training, who have experience at the RSC and elsewhere in the classics and can really really do it, so it was a fantastic opportunity from that point of view.


[rehearsal of the death of Cassius]



Cyril Nri (Cassius):

I play Cassius, and Cassius I see as a very honourable man. I think that whilst he’s very pragmatic, he likes to get on with expediency, he is a man who historically is much wronged. He was a very very good general, he grew up with Caesar, he sees that the Republic is falling into dictatorship and he wants to put this right. And he loves Brutus dearly – but originally they started as slight rivals, he’s married to Brutus’ sister, and he decided when Caesar started getting a little more dictator-like that something needed to be done.




‘Caesar thou doth bear me hard, yet he loves Brutus.

If I were Brutus now and he were Cassius,

He should not humour me. I will this night

In several hands in at his windows throw,

As if they came from several citizens,

Writings all tending to the great opinion

That Rome holds of his name - wherein obscurely

Caesar’s ambition shall be glanced at.

After this, let Caesar seat him sure,

For we will shake him, or worse days endure.' 


Paterson Joseph (Brutus):

When I first mentioned to friends that I was doing this play, they all said, Ah Cassius the villain and Brutus the man of integrity, but slightly weak. Well I think at first reading, a shallow reading, that is true. However in our investigation of these two characters, it’s a lot deeper than that. Cassius is emotional, that is true, he loves the Republic, that’s also true, but he loves Brutus, he loves Brutus closer than any brother could love another brother. And Brutus, although he has a lot of integrity, he also knows that his name, the name of Brutus, the Bruti, the family name, is honour, integrity and leadership. So he takes this on, and so there is a mix in these two characters of two kinds of men – the man who acts from his gut, like Cassius, this must be done, and the man who has to think it through before he acts in a slightly Hamlet kind of way, but when he does act he acts very decisively.



Cyril Nri (Cassius):

I think there is a platonic love between these two men and I think it is a deep, deep love. And given the fact that I see Cassius as a man who suffers from a manic depression, I think he needs love, he needs to be told that he is loved, he clings on to things so strongly, and I think that from Cassius’ point of view it is a love that breaches all others. But that is not love in a physical sense. That’s love in the sense that he is devoted to this man, he sees him as part of the grand idea of a noble Republic. The way in which he kills himself at the end when that seems to be going, that love, when it seems to be walking out the door, moving in another direction, he has no choice but to say, well it’s not worth living.


[filming the scene of Cassius’ death]


Kristian Dench, first assistant:



‘By your leave, gods. This is a Roman’s part.

Come, Cassius’ sword, and find Titinius’ heart.’


‘Where, where, Messala, doth his body lie?’


‘Lo yonder, and Titinius mourning it.’


‘Titinius’ face is upward.’


‘He is slain.’



‘Aarrrgh, Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet.

Thy spirit walks abroad and turns our swords

Into our own proper entrails.’


‘Brave Titinius.

Look wh’re he have not crowned dead Cassius.’



‘The last of all the Romans, fare thee well:

It cannot be that ever Rome

Should breed thy fellow. Friends, I owe more tears

To this dead man than you shall see me pay.

I shall find time, Cassius, I shall find time.



Ray Fearon (Mark Antony):

I think doing a lot of Shakespeare material, if you’re playing Hamlet or Othello and you come upon very, very famous speeches, you think God almighty, I’ve heard this one done at drama school and so on and so forth. Within the context of the piece, you’ve got to look at it within the context of the whole piece, and approach it that way, in terms of where your journey is going.


general hubbub

'Twere best he speak no harm of Brutus here.’



‘We are blest that Rome is rid of him.’


Mark Antony:

‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.’



Ray Fearon (Mark Antony):

It’s fantastic – when I start to say something like Friends, Romans, countrymen, I just think, Wow, I’m getting to say this one, because I know that’s the one that everybody in the world knows, it’s fantastic. The way Shakespeare has written the whole of that scene as well, it’s so passionate and you actually don’t get time to think about what you’re saying because it drives right through the whole scene, that you are so into what you’re saying, before you know it it’s the end.


You’ve got crowd reactions as well, you can react with the speeches, with the crowd, and so you actually – which is what Shakespeare does very, very brilliantly – he can make you, as I said, when I said don’t approach it as though it’s famous, he can lock you in a scene and you’ve forgotten that it’s famous.



Mark Antony:

‘Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff,

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,

And Brutus is an honourable man.’


Adjoa Andoh (Portia):

I think the thing with Greg is – how do I say this and not sound a bit vain – but I think he casts well, I think he casts well, and then he gives the actors the space and the confidence to say, I’ve cast you because I think you can do this and then he gives people freedom to explore their character, and so he’s a director who directs by encouragement as opposed to by fear – and there are different ways that directors work and I think that’s what Greg does, and I love that, it makes me feel brave and it makes me feel bold and think lots of different things, and then he’ll give you little nudges or he’ll just drop a little thing in for you to think about. It’s a joy to work with him.

[rehearsal of Greg working with Adjoa]


‘Say I am merry.

Gregory Doran (Director):

I think that’s good. Say I am merry – sounds really pathetic.


Paterson Joseph (Brutus):






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