Hakeem Kae-Kazim Speaks: ‘Nollywood Has A Long Way To Go’

You saw him in some Hollywood flicks- ‘Pirates of the CaribbeanAt World’s End’, ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘, as well as hit TV series; ‘Lost’, ’24′ and ‘NCIS: Los Angeles‘. Nigerian-born Hollywood actor,Hakeem Kae-Kazim has had an impressive sojourn in Hollywood growing quite a huge fan base. Born in Lagos on October 1, 1962, Kae-Kazim’s acting career has spanned through the UK, South Africa, the US and recently, Nigeria. Most notable for his role as George Rutugunda in the Oscar Nominated film, ‘Hotel Rwanda’, a 2004 American drama, which was based on real life events from the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, he’s beginning to make an impact back home in Nollywood with features in ‘Inale’, ‘Last Flight to Abuja‘, and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun‘. SEE MORE AFTER CUT>>>

In this exclusive interview, the actor talks about his career, his deal with Etisalat, family and Nollywood.

How did acting begin for you?
I started off studying drama and from there I was doing a lot of stage plays and theatre in the UK. From the UK, I moved to South Africa and did a lot of films and commercials on South African Television.  From South Africa, I moved to the US where I am now, still doing what I have always loved to do-acting.
What were some of the challenges you went through trying to break into Hollywood?
It’s always a challenge wherever you go. I have worked all over the world. I have worked in the UK, I have worked in South Africa and I have worked in Hollywood. You know, while doing so, you usually face the struggle of beginning again from the bottom especially when you come to a place like Hollywood. There are many competitions here, but at the end of the day, you are just sticking with it and hoping that someday, you would get your break.
How much of Nigeria did you experience while growing up?
I was born in Lagos and my family is from Ogun State, Abeokuta to be precise. While I was growing up, we used to come home to Nigeria like almost every Christmas especially for the Christmas parties. My parents actually made sure I knew where I was from and where my roots were. Now I do try to come home, sometimes twice in a year.
What are your thoughts on the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood?
I think what Nollywood has achieved in the African film industry has been very remarkable and from that point of view is to be applauded. Now is the next phase of Nollywood. They need to start making better films, films that have quality. I think that it is really important that we start to delve into our history and tell stories of empires, kingdoms and the civilisations that existed before the advent of the Europeans. There’s a whole array of stories that we should start to tell. So far it’s been exciting and I think Nollywood has the potential to really become international for people to reckon as the voice of Africa.
Lately you have done a few Nollywood films ‘Inale’ and ‘Last Flight to Abuja’. How has the experience been so far?    
For me, it has been really interesting. I was invited to come over and be a part of the films. I felt that the directors were quite interested in making films that are much better in quality, as you can see with ‘Inale’ and with ‘Last Flight to Abuja’. Those two films were hugely successful and the quality was very beautiful. So, that was very important to me.  And then, it was also great to be able to learn and to see how things worked in Nollywood and how people approach the work in Nollywood. I must say Nollywood has been spectacular but it still has a long way to go in terms of infrastructure and training of people and being able to compete favourably on the world stage.
So are we going to be doing a lot more of Nollywood films in the future?
Yes. You know for me it’s about how I can support the Nigerian film industry and how I can help put the film industry on the world stage.  I’m going to constantly be collaborating with a lot of Nollywood directors that have the same kind of vision. I would work on Nollywood films but only with people that thirst for world class work. I’m also hoping in the next couple of years to be able to bring down a couple of people to help Nollywood with directing, writing and others basic film skills.
Tell us about Black Sails, the new series you are working on?
Black Sails is a movie set around pirates in the eighteenth century. It is based on a true historical time and it evolves around a character named Black Ceaser. Black Ceasar was an actual chief who was kidnapped off the coast of West Africa and taken to Florida where he became a pirate. If you look him up on the internet, you will find that the character actually existed. That’s the character that I am playing. The series is directed by Michael Bay, the director of ‘Transformers’.
Which of your movies and series do you think brought you the most attention?
Each one of them is unique is their own way. ’24′ was quite awesome and then, ‘Hotel Rwanda’ which I was very glad to be part of. Then I have done ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ and the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and I’m hoping also that ‘Black Sails’ is a huge success.
Your characters in some of your movies have been tilted towards the African roots, don’t you think that you are beginning to be stereotyped in your roles?
For me, it has become very important to be part of these productions. It is very important that we as Africans have a presence there. We have to stand proud as Africans. What I try to do is to show that we are not an inferior people. We don’t just want people to imagine us by what they see on television like children starving and the wars. What I always try to do is to bring the African presence into Hollywood, which for me I think is really important. I’m very proud to be African and I want the world to see us as a people with pride. I’m very proud of what I am doing and I want to continue with it because I want to put Africa on the world stage.
Tell us a little about your family?
I’m married with three beautiful daughters-Aisha, Shada and Jadesola. My wife is from South Africa and her name is Bronwyn and she works in the hotel industry. I would say I am a very lucky man.
Would you love your kids to become actors as well?
Not really because acting is a really hard profession. But if they have an interest and they really want to do it, I will help them. But, as for me encouraging them, not really. If they find it themselves, that’s okay with me because I would support them in anything they would want to do.
What else are you into besides acting?
I have had a chance to produce but my main passion would be acting and family. I have also done a few voiceover jobs here and there. I did a voice over for MTN and I have also done for video games.
Going by the commercial you shot for Etisalat, are you a brand ambassador for the company?
I’m a brand ambassador for them, which has been great so far. It is my first time doing something like that and it’s been very interesting and hopefully, I can help them improve their brand. Having an international presence on a brand, I think helps.
Who are some of the actors in Nigeria that you think have been impressive?
I guess I have been lucky enough to work with Omotola (Jalade Ekeinde). I admire Genevieve (Nnaji),Jim Iyke and a few others. These are people I think have been very serious about acting and hopefully someday in the future, we would all get to do something that crosses both spheres and has an international presence.
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