Killing the Serpent Before it Hatches: A Conversation with the Royal Shakespeare Company's Brutus, Alex Waldmann

By Eliora NoetzelThu, April 20, 2017

"Not that I lov'd Caesar less, but that I lov'd Rome more."

In this time of worldwide political tension, the Royal Shakespeare Company has decided to take on Shakespeare’s political thriller, Julius Caesar, as the first in a series of Roman plays to be performed over the course of this season.  The production will stream live across the U.K. on April 26th, and be screened in movie theaters all over the U.S. in the following weeks (check the link at the bottom of the page for local listings).


I recently had an incredible conversation with Alex Waldmann, a brilliant Shakespearean actor with more than a few RSC productions under his belt (highlights include the title role in King John, Horatio in Hamlet, and Orlando in As You Like It), who is currently tackling the role of Brutus on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Waldmann not only spoke to me about his excitement over the world-wide accessibility of this performance, but he walked me through his process of discovering the complexities of his character, and discussed the relevance that Julius Caesar has in today’s world.   I could try to contextualize all of our conversation, but I think Mr.Waldmann’s insights speak for themselves.



On The Live Stream and the Presence of Cameras on Tape Night:


There is an awareness of the cameras, for sure, but the same way that in Shakespeare, there should always be an awareness of the audience.  That’s the gift of Shakespeare is that you know when Hamlet says, ‘Now I am alone’, he says that to a thousand people watching him.  And with the camera, it should be just like another audience member that we’re trying to let in to these people’s imaginations and the conflicts… To give people around the world a chance to see this production that may not otherwise get to see it, a production and a play that, for so many reasons speaks to us right now with everything that’s going on in the world, is hugely exciting.



On the Relevance of This Production:

Julius Caesar is going to be the most performed Shakespeare over the next year for obvious reasons with Trump coming to power...It covers so many things, this play. The obvious one, a very tyrant-like figure in power and the potential danger he could do.


I’m always interested, in Shakespeare, in the human relationships, the cost of these people in it takes up friendships, how you end up with blood on your hands.  These are big, life-changing and world changing decisions and they have costs. 


Brutus, Cassius, and the other politicians think that they know what’s best for the people and they decide to take it upon themselves to take [Caesar] out… which is what happened with Brexit and maybe Trump coming into power, where the people don’t like being told what they should feel and they’ve got their own point of view which can be changed if people have the right message.  


And there’s a whole notion of fake news at the moment... When [the characters] make sacrifices from animals and then they try to read what that’s telling them about the future, the same information can be interpreted as a good or bad thing.



On Discovering Brutus:


I don’t yet fully understand Brutus... but I don’t think Brutus really understands himself...He may be, in our version, trying to be the good guy, but no one’s perfect and he’s got his flip side as well.


Inaction is not an option… the Rome that [Brutus] loves and that his ancestors fought for, to maintain the republic and not have a king ruling...he has to act...and the only way to remove [Caesar] is to assassinate him.


I’m always interested in making the stakes as high as it possibly can be.  If I see Caesar as someone who is like a father to me who I owe my life to, it makes the decision to come on board to the conspiracy and lead it even more difficult.   And even the moment when I stab him, that it’s killing someone I deeply love.


Brutus doesn’t realize what a hypocrite he is.  He’s oblivious to it ...When Cassius says “Let’s make an oath,” to the other conspirators, Brutus says “No way!  You can’t make an oath.”  And the audience has just seen him, the page before, making an oath.  He says to Cassius, “There’s no way I’ll kill myself, it’s cowardly and vile,” when they’re concentrating on what to do at the very end of the battle, and then you see him a page later decide that actually killing himself is a more honorable thing to do than be dragged by the enemy through the streets of Rome.



On Shakespeare’s Accessibility:


What I’ve come to understand with Shakespeare is that the stories he writes is as exciting as popular shows we watch.  It’s as exciting as The Wire.  It’s as exciting and epic as The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, as Homeland.  Julius Caesar, in some ways it should feel like an episode of 24; Caesar wants to get a crown on his head and we need to kill him before he gets that crown….Once he becomes king, he can then choose his heir, and killing a king, it becomes a whole other level of problems.  So, they need to take him out before that crown gets on his head... it’s kind of a race against time.  


This production, which might feel that it’s about men and politics, but underneath all that, you see the human beings...surrogate fathers and sons, the grief that comes with killing someone, and the implications of murdering the most important man in the world and then fighting for your own life… The stakes you can see that Shakespeare deals with are universal and timeless. And I hope that people will get something like that out of it even if they don’t understand every word.




Follow Alex Waldmann on Twitter:



For more information about dates, showtimes, and tickets for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Julius Caesar, click on the link below: