Catfish Jean didn’t always like his name. In fact, he hated it, like we do with most nicknames thrust upon us in high school. However, the nickname stuck and became his stage name, and the rising star Matthew “Catfish” Jean was born. Known for roles in Shameless on Showtime and Black and Sexy TV, and now, as “Squeeze” in Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse, Catfish is a name you don’t know yet, but a man you can’t miss with his signature neon bright colors and enormous talent. It won’t be long before you see him on both small and silver screens across the world.
Cliché: Where did the name “Catfish Jean” originate?
Catfish Jean: Catfish was given to me by my high school football coach. I was a rebel and when I was at Miami Beach High School, they wanted me to play football and I didn’t want to play football. My P.E. teacher, who was also the football coach, would do things to spite me. One time, we were running and doing all of these drills, and we stop and I’m on the floor tired and he says, “Since he’s tired, everyone is going to run a mile.” I started flopping and pouting, and he said I looked like a catfish and told me to get up. Everybody started calling me Catfish and I hated the name in the beginning, but it grew on me so I kept it.
What was your first role? What was the audition process like for you?
When I moved out to California, the first role that I was in that people would know is Shameless. On the first season of Shameless, I played Tire Neck, a football player that was trying to get Liam to do my SATs. Everybody remembers this because the little brother, Carl, took out my knee in the last moment of the episode. What is funny is that Mike O’Malley, the creator of Survivor’s Remorse, was in the audition room when I booked that (Shameless) role and he loved what I did. The role was a straight callback. I didn’t go to the initial audition; I just went to callbacks.
You’re an actor and a producer. Do you prefer one hat over the other?
I prefer acting. With the producer hat, it’s very formal and you’ve got to take care of business all the time. As a producer, you are always on the run, making sure that everything is on time, making sure you don’t run out of time, making sure the budget is correct. It’s just a different beast. I feel like you can get older being a producer. It’s a great job, but at the same time, it is a very stressful job.
What is one thing that you love about both avenues of creativity?
Acting is something that, with any role you are given, you could step into that character and become somebody that you are not. With producing, you can create your own stuff and you can be in the process. It’s great; I love producing.
You’re set to play the character of “Squeeze” in Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse. What do you love most about your character?
Squeeze is that lovable guy in any type of family and he just irks you; he makes you mad, but at the same time, it’s funny. He is so ditzy about things and he is so very blunt, but it’s comical. He doesn’t know what he is saying. He’s just saying whatever comes to mind. He speaks his mind at the wrong time. He gets the wrath from the family and then he’s like, “Oh, I messed up.” You can’t hate Squeeze.
What is a dream role that you would love to play?
There’s a few. I would love to be in a biopic about Marcus Garvey, playing Marcus Garvey. [I like] what he was doing for African Americans at the time and he built a successful business. The strength of being black and loving your people… it’s one of those roles I feel like I would dive into. I would love to be a Marvel character, an action hero. I think it’s fun. Most, people look at me as a comedy type of guy. I take this acting thing very seriously and I can do the comedy, but when it comes to drama, that’s my niche.
What projects and roles are coming up next for you?
Right now, I am a partner in a startup company called Mobile First Entertainment and we build acts for content creators, like YouTube stars and even up-and-coming Facebook stars and studios. Right now, we are working with WGN. We built their Underground app and now we’re in talks to build an app for their show Salem and Outsiders. That’s what I do when I’m not working on acting.
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Catfish Jean Talks ‘Shameless’ and ‘Survivor’s Remorse’: Photographed by Bobby Quillard