The great black hope------Hakeem Kae-Kazim

Nigerian born British actor, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, has his eyes on the big prize. Photo: CATHERINE LYN SCOTT
Nigerian born British actor, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, has his eyes on the big prize. Photo: CATHERINE LYN SCOTT

Internationally acclaimed, Nigerian born actor, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, is best remembered for his portrayal of villain George Rutaganda in 2004's Oscar nominated Hotel Rwanda.

Although Kae-Kazim has starred in other Hollywood blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), very little is known about him here in Nigeria. In this interview, he speaks on his passion for the arts and plans to partner with Nollywood.

Tell us about your background; is Hakeem Kae-Kazeem your real name?

Yes, Hakeem Kae-Adebola is my full name. I was born in Lagos but my parents are from Abeokuta in Ogun State. My parents left to study in England and I went with them. I went to The Old Victorian Theatre School in Bristol in 1987. I was with the Royal Shakespeare Company and was also involved in the National Theatre in England and after a while, I left for South Africa.

Were your parents in support of your decision to act?

I've always wanted to act right from when I was 15 but my parents were not so supportive. You know the typical Nigerian parents, they wanted me to become a lawyer or doctor but they soon returned to Nigeria while I stayed back and continued acting.

There was a lot of drama which I would not want to talk about. It was a bit upsetting for my parents initially, they weren't exactly pleased. After a few years in England, I went to South Africa by chance.

How did that happen?

I went for a friend's wedding in South Africa where an artist manager happened to see me and [said] they wanted to employ me for a commercial which I later did. After that, I went back to England and they called me from South Africa to do some more commercials because the one I did had been very successful. I left for South Africa intending to stay for two to three weeks but ended up staying there for ten years.

While out there, you shot Nollywood style movie Coming to South Africa 1&2 (2004-2005). How was that experience?

There are a lot of young black filmmakers in South Africa who do not have access to big budgets to shoot a movie or [hire] established people. My aim was to encourage young filmmakers that they didn't have to wait for big budgets to shoot a movie but rather tell their story and put it out to the market.

Is it correct to say you got your big break in Hotel Rwanda?

Yes, you would be right because Hotel Rwanda helped me come to America and also made people know me because I was in South Africa when I shot the movie and [now] I have been living in Los Angeles for over three years. I did Pirates of the Caribbean after Hotel Rwanda, then shot X-Men Origins: Wolverine and television series like 24 as well.

Which has been your most challenging role?

They are all challenging in their own ways as I always say but I look forward to more challenging Nollywood movies.

Nollywood movies are said to be quite popular outside Nigeria, have you come across any you particularly like?

I like a few of them with interesting storylines, ditto for the comedies as well. There is one particular one I saw while I was in South Africa called The Senator. It had part 1, 2 and 3 or so. The problem with Nollywood movies is that the technical sides need to be improved and then one day, I hope a Nigerian movie will compete at the Oscars.

Do you think being black in Hollywood has been a hindrance to getting lead roles?

There are a lot of white screen writers in Hollywood who write roles for whites. As a black African, and Nigerian, I want to be celebrated. We have great stories, great heroes like Kwame Nkrumah, Shaka Zulu down to Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Yoruba Folk tales. I want to be part of all these and that is what I love about Nollywood; the image is Nigerian and African.

What do you consider career high points?

One would be when I got a role in the 24 series and they flew me to South Africa. It was great to go back to where I had just left and be a part of a fantastic production like 24. Another would be working on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean alongside Johnny Depp. It was a lovely one also.

Any plans to shoot a movie in Nigeria or partner with Nollywood?

I hope to come to Nigeria soon to do some promotions, talk with Nollywood acts and get my image out in Nigeria more.

What are your views on piracy, especially regarding Nigerian entertainment?

Piracy is one of the things keeping the industry technically where it is today because you can't make proper money for movies. Once people appreciate the quality of movies, movie producers are encouraged to do quality work because people will demand for quality.

Until that happens, people will not put in a lot of money into making a movie if they realize that they can't or wont make enough money from it because of piracy.

Any particular roles that interest you?

I hope to play an African master minder, in maybe a James Bond movie. You know, bright, smart and sophisticated just like the Nigerian. Then get to star alongside the likes of Denzel Washington, Sean Penn and Johnny Depp again.