Friday, 12 June 2009

Homeboy, Kae-Kazim, smoothes 24

HAKEEM Kae–Kazim has been acting in film and television for a long time now. He was in the Oscar nominated, critically acclaimed Hotel Rwanda, the film that gave him international attention. Trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in the UK, where he won the Best Student Award for acting, the Nigerian actor and producer first came into fame sharing the stage with Brian Cox in King Lear and Sir Ian McKellan in Richard III for the Royal National Theatre. Some of his theatre credits include Othello, Attempts on her Life, The Lights, Macbeth, and Indigo. Hakeem made a successful transition to British television with leading roles in Trial and Retribution, The Bill, Grange Hill and Ellington and distinguished himself in the title role of Julius Caesar for the BBC. He then settled in South Africa where his work in film and television made him a household name. He gained tremendous success in South Africa through his film God is African and series such as Coretech and Generations on South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). His smooth and seductive voice has made him highly sought after for voiceovers. His influence has also extended into the Nigerian movie industry when he helped in production of Coming to South Africa; a Nollywood styled movie about Nigerian immigrants in South Africa. Since moving to Los Angeles with his wife and two children, Hakeem continues to have a prolific career in film and television appearing on The Triangle with Sam Neill and Eric Stolz; The Librarian with Noah Wyle, Lost, and Law & Order: SVU. Hakeem appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean III, playing a pirate lord alongside Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush. He also appeared in an episode of the new series, Cane on CBS. Hakeem’s efforts in film and television have been recognised all over the world and he has been nominated for some prestigious awards such as the Gemini Award for Best supporting actor for Human Cargo, SA Avanti Award for Best supporting actor, and SA Elle Magazine Fashionably First Award. In this interview with AMEYAW DEBRAH, the proudly Nigeria actor talks about his role in the film, 24, as well picking his thoughts on African actors and films in general.

What role do you play in 24? I play the role of Colonel Ike Dubaku the leader of a coup in the fictitious African country of Sangala.

How did you get that role?
The role was actually offered to me, but only after having been seen by them over a year for five other roles; none of which I got.

Why the shooting in SA?
The reason for the prequel being shot in South Africa was because the story line is an African one and they used South Africa and, in particular Cape Town to double as Sangala

What is your opinion on African films?
It depends on your definition! But my view is that, we still have to make them on an international level, or let me put it another way, with international production values — the English speaking nations anyhow — the francophone nations do very well in this regard. Nigerians make African movies from a totally African perspective but without the international production value that is needed. South Africa has begun making some fantastic African movies but they are few and far between, although I know this is changing.

What’s your opinion on Nollywood?
Nollywood has great potential; they tell original African stories from an African perspective with an African voice. That is why they have had such a reach around the continent and throughout the Diaspora. I believe in a few years we will see some truly great African cinema, with international production values, come out of the Nollywood machine.
What could be done to improve Nollywood?
More money going into the making of Nollywood films. This means cutting down on piracy so the filmmakers can get a proper return on their investment and thereby increase production values throughout. The audience is out there, and hungry for African stories and heroes to be portrayed

You produced a Nollywood-styled movie, why? What was it about?
I produced a Nollywood movie in the Nollywood style while in South Africa to see what it was like working in that way and also to see whether it was a way of giving a voice to local film makers who had stories to tell but without the access to the local film making machine — which I felt was more interested in making Eurocentric type of films or films in a more western type of way negating the African voice even when they had an African theme. The film, Coming to South Africa, is about two Nigerians, who leave home and head south to make a better life for themselves. They both find it difficult and one decides to make his way selling drugs while the other decides to go and work his way up, starting off as a factory guard to pay his way through college.

How was it received?
Again it was received well by those that saw it. On a trip to Kenya, I noticed that it was in the local stores and people had seen it but what was more pleasing, in one respect, was the response from local South Africans that caught it, and the gradual infiltration of Nollywood into the townships.

Do you think Nollywood movies can win international awards in the future?
I have not seen a Nollywood movie as yet win an international award but it will happen! Just as the Indian film Industry has now climbed to acceptable international status it is only a matter of time before Nollywood films reach that height.

Often when Hollywood does films about African figures, they don’t use African actors. Why is that?
Hollywood is using more African actors now than it has done, but a lot of the time when it wants to cast lead African roles it doesn’t, mainly because they are only interested in having a name because that means box office and unfortunately there aren’t that many African box office names out there yet, but we are coming!

If you had the opportunity to play the role of an African icon, whom would it be and why?
There are so many iconic figures from this continent I want to portray on film!! But one of my first would be Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the father of pan-Africanism. His voice /story would be a telling reminder to how we have found ourselves on this continent since the end of colonialism.

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