Last year, Jim Caesar joined the cast of Grantchester playing Matthew Butler throughout Series 5, working alongside Robson Green and Tom Brittney, and with Death in Paradise currently airing on BBC One, he has most recently been seen guest-starring in Episode Two as Julius Joyce. Jim booked his first professional job in feature film We Die Young and has also appeared in Netflix fantasy drama The Witcher, and he has stage experience having appeared in Losing the Night and Boys at the Vaults Festival, with which he is currently working on a future run of the show. Also a singer-songwriter under the name J. Caesar, in 2019 he released his debut album Hottest on Record. Recently speaking to us, Jim tells us about playing Matthew Butler in Grantchester, working on an episode of Death in Paradise and his stage roles in Losing the Night and Boys.
You’ve recently been seen in an episode of Death in Paradise as Julius Joyce, what was it like to film?
It was a great experience, being paid to do what you love on a Caribbean island in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. It couldn’t have come at a better time and I definitely didn’t have any complaints.
How long were you on location and what are some of your favourite memories from your time spent on set?
I was out there for just under two weeks and did spend most of the days on set. It was a great cast and crew, and the mood on set was always a laugh. Ralf (Little) is a funny guy and him along with the hair and makeup departments really did keep you entertained during the changeovers. It felt like a little family and they were all very welcoming to the guest actors like myself.
Can you tell us what Matthew Butler is like to play in Grantchester and how was it joining the cast in Series 5?
I have got nothing but love for the Grantchester cast and crew. It was my first chance at being on prime time TV in a role that I could really develop over a series, and the time I spent filming that over the course of 2019 was the loveliest experience I’ve had so far in this industry. They’ve got a really great team on that show and, again, the mood is set by the lead actors, Robson (Green) and Tom (Brittney), who are two of the warmest guys I’ve ever met. Whilst I’m still relatively new in the game, that job will always stick out in my memories as one that has really set the tone for how I aim to conduct myself throughout the rest of my career. Playing Matthew Butler was an important lesson and training for me. The storyline developed into quite a dark place with Matthew becoming a victim of pedophilia and trying to kill himself as a result of the trauma. So, going to that place took quite a lot of energy and emotion and I think had I felt less comfortable on set and with that team, I would have found it really hard and taxing, but I felt a lot of trust from the director Rob Evans and so found it easier to take on the situation.
What did you enjoy most about filming for the series and how was it developing the character?
I really enjoyed the camaraderie of it and, to be honest, to have that kind of consistent work was just fun. You can relax into the job so every day turning up on set was a joy. Developing Matt was really fun, I learnt how to box which I’ve kept up since, so that’s been something nice that’s stuck with me since finishing that. But mostly it was just an amazing training for me, because no one sits you down and tells you how to develop the role, so you really have to pay attention to what’s going on around you and think deeply about all aspects of your character so that by the time all the crazy stuff happens it still makes sense. I really enjoyed that challenge.
How was it filming an episode of The Witcher?
Yeah, The Witcher was wild. That set was HUGE. Quite intimidating in all honesty, saying only a few lines I find is actually harder than a whole speech. The cast who I was out there with though were all legends and I made some really good friends whilst filming that show. Budapest, where we filmed, is a really cool city, I’d love to spend more time there someday.
What was it like working on a new Netflix fantasy drama?
Relieving! Before getting cast in The Witcher I’d had a really tough year and a bit of not getting any acting work and a whole load of almost and maybes. So, when I got cast in that, it came right at the point of that lowest moment and so booking a Netflix fantasy was a lifesaver really at the time and since then I haven’t really looked back. So, I will always cherish it as the spark that got the ball rolling.
Your first feature film role was as Felix in We Die Young, can you say more about it?
We Die Young was my first professional job and, weirdly, I did almost die young on it… but that’s a story for a different time. It was quite the entrance into the film industry. One week I was serving burgers in Soho, and then the next week I was living in Bulgaria, squaring up to Jean-Claude Van Damme, about to get my ass whooped. It was funny, it really was an extreme case of how mental this job can be. That was a fun month though out in Sofia and some of the actors from that film have gone on to do really amazing projects, so that’s always fun to see the growth of people you started out with.
Having worked on a number of short films, what were they like to be involved with?
I love a short film. Its a much more collaborative process and you feel much closer to everything. I want to do more and start making my own work with the people around me. I have a few things in the early stages which I’m excited about and definitely keeping my mind occupied.
What was it like performing in Losing The Night?
Losing The Night is written by my old pal Cecilia Knapp, who, in her own right, is an incredible poet, writer and performer. I love that show and being on stage with Olivia Dowd, who played opposite me for just over an hour, just the two of us, was real proper acting. It’s a beautifully written play about two young people coming to terms with their own grief and the way that we as humans dance around our emotions and avoid the reality of death as best we can. I hope that one day I’ll be able to do that show again because I feel very close to it.
In 2018, you performed at the Vaults Festival in Boys, what was this like to be part of and having the show win the Vaults Festival’s Outstanding New Work Award?
The Pappy Show, run by Kane Husbands, has really been the making of me. It started as a training company back in 2013 when I was eighteen and before I really had any plans of pursuing acting. So, when we started devising Boys as early as 2015, it really was my only theatrical output. It’s a special show and also a unique expression of masculinity and manhood in the 21st century, through the guise of young black and Asian boys. The Vaults experience as well is wild, I think every actor should do that festival thing, because it is very hectic in the best kind of way. The show lives on though, and hopefully this year I can link back up with the squad and we’re set to take the show to The Barbican main stage, which is very exciting.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I’ve always been quite an expressive person, right from when I was little and I always loved performing so I think it’s just something that runs deep within me. But my love for acting and theatre in particular came from my parents and all my unofficial godparents. My mum, before she had me, was heavily involved in the theatre scenes of London, Liverpool and Manchester, so growing up she’d always take me to the theatre whenever she could and we’d get to see her friends in stuff, so it always fascinated me seeing someone on stage be one person and then meeting them after and them being completely normal. My dad also is an actor and would take me to the cinema and we’d speak at length about the craft, so even though I didn’t always have an ambition to act professionally, it was something that I just grew up with.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch?
Yeah, where do I start? The best film I’ve seen recently was a Parisian film about HIV in the 90s called 120 BPM but my favourite film ever is Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, saw it again over Christmas for the first time since I was young and wow… what a film. I finished all of Mad Men last year and that was amazing, getting through The Wire at the moment, but my favourite series of late was definitely Industry on BBC1. That’s my dream show now. The writing is amazing.
We understand you are a singer-songwriter, can you tell us more about this?
Yeah, so making music is really my first love and when I left school it was my only focus. Move to East London and become a rock star. Things worked out slightly differently, but the dream is still alive and I’m always working on things.
When did you get into music and what inspires your songwriting?
Growing up in a small town called Chesham just outside of London, making music was really the only thing to do. I would play in bands and go to pubs for open mic night gigs and there was a great community of young like-minded people who liked to have a good time and make tunes for fun. My songwriting is inspired by the life I lead but I think my music is mostly about the search for love, but not strictly romantic love. I think everything we do we’re looking for the love of it, so I write a lot about partying and the debaucherous things we get up to when we can.
How did you find the experience releasing your debut album Hottest On Record in 2019?
Releasing it was mildly stressful as with releasing anything, but it’s a piece of work that I’m incredibly proud of. Making it was more fun than releasing it. I got to spend two months in Tuscany at an artist residency called Villa Lena, where I worked in the studio alone in the middle of Tuscany at the height of summer, surrounded by other artists and creative people. It was truly a lifetime memory.
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