A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Interviewing Hakeem Kae-Kazim
By Ebele Chizea
He gave an unforgettable performance alongside Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda as Georges Rutaganda and played a Pirate alongside Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean III. He has also been on television shows such as Lost and Law and Order SVU. He is Nigerian born and British trained actor, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, whose numerous television appearances in Britain, South Africa and now the United States makes him one of Africa’s rising stars. Recently, The African Magazine had the opportunity to chat with this talented actor about his decision to be an actor, his rise to fame, the Nigerian movie industry, life in Hollywood and his re-occurring role in the hit series 24 as an African dictator by the name of Colonel Ike Dubaku.
AM: Thank you for taking the time to do this.
HKK: You are welcome
AM: When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
HKK: Well, my parents wanted me to go to medical school, be a lawyer, an engineer or something like that--typical Nigerian parents. But I wanted to do drama, which is what I did. They weren’t too pleased about it, but eventually they came around.
AM: You started in theatre, then TV in the U.K., before moving to South Africa. What was the motivation behind the move?
HKK: My intention was to go to America, but I ended up going to South Africa for a friend’s wedding. When I was there, I did a commercial. Then I came to Los Angeles and when I was in LA, I was invited back to do more of these commercials. The commercials had been very successful and I ended up staying.
AM: You were recently awarded by the Nollywood foundation in California. You’ve also produced a Nigerian movie titled, “Coming to South Africa,” what are your feelings in general about Nollywood?
HKK: I think it has wonderful potential. My feeling is that it’s great to see us telling our stories in our way. But I think everyone will like to see more of an international feel to them. We just have to technically figure out the way that these stories are put [together]. People are now wanting a better standard in their Nollywood movies. I will like to see the industry become internationally respected for its quality of work.
AM: How do we go about doing that in your opinion?
HKK: This is the sort of thing we discussed in the Nollywood foundation. One needs to put together better equipments, take the time to shoot the movies, this means more money---more money means that we get rid of piracy issues. There’s a lot of issues that have to be resolved before that happens. But I think the more people demand it, the better quality of films.
AM: You are currently based in California. What is it like being an African or black actor in Hollywood? Is it challenging, rewarding or both?
HKK: I think both. There’s not as many parts and sometimes the parts they give, especially the African parts, come across as clichéd---even as an actor of color. And sometimes you have that frustration dealing with a character in a script, that’s why I think it’s important for Nollywood or Africans in general to produce our own films and tell our stories and to have that international appeal. But it’s a fantastic thing.  I love being here. It is very challenging, but I came for the challenge.
AM: I think personally you are doing well.
HKK: Well, thank you so much. We are trying. There are people up there we are looking up to---the Denzel Washingtons, the Morgan Freemans –if we see Africans at that level, then people would be wanting our products on an international level. Doing wonderfully acted stories that reflect who we are as a people. We are great people so we must tell our stories.
AM: Congratulations on your current role on 24.
HKK: Thank you so much.
AM: What is the character you play?
HKK: Iplay a character called Colonel Ike Dubaku. I will call him a traditional African leader in the sense that he believes very much in his cause, in his country but is possibly misguided. He orchestrates a coup against the government and the Americans sort of reverse that. He is very angry against the west meddling with his country’s affairs. He goes around trying to exact revenge in an attempt to tell the Americans to mind their own business.
AM: Very relevant today…
HKK: This character is very relevant. What I try not to do is paint him as an ordinary dictator, or some ordinary malevolent army general. But for me he was very passionate, and he believed very much in his cause and felt what he was doing was right for his country.
AM: Where did you draw the inspiration from to play this character?
HKK: Just being an African with an understanding of our history since post colonial times…in terms of coups and taking over governments for various reasons. But what I wanted to show with him was that he is very passionate about his country, which I am sure some of these people who are involved in these coups really believe, [that] what they are doing is right for their country.
AM: What other roles are you interested in playing in the future?
HKK: A variety of roles. To play James’s Bond’s nemesis on James Bond. To play an African who is really intelligent, really sharp. I would love to do that.
AM: That’s all I had for you today.
HKK: Watch 24, watch out for a film I am doing, The Fourth Kind. It’s also directed by an American-Nigerian named Olutende Osunsami. Another one that is coming up is Darfur.
AM: Thank you very much.
HKK: Thank you.