Hakeem Kai-Kazeem, the Nigerian born, internationally acclaimed movie star has been making waves in the Hollywood and taking roles that is soon to see him winning an Oscar in the very near future. The talented actor may be remembered for his riveting role as Dubaku on the hit series “24” (season 7). Kai-Kazeem has also delivered his acting credentials in Hotel Rwanda, X-men Origins: Wolverine, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Lost, Law and Order and has just recently starred in a new thriller, The 4th Kind.
I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Kai-Kazeem in Hollywood LA. The interview engaged the actor on his views on Nollywood, passion for Africa and personal life. As we sat on the comfortable sofa at the Palihouse hotel, west Hollywood, Kai-Kazeem’s relaxed, affable demeanor made our meeting seem as if I were conversing with an old friend. Even after the interview was over, we talked until his daddy duties were called upon by his daughter on the other end of his cell phone. The interview started off with asking about his first role in acting and a brief history on his career, here’s what he had to say:
HK: Brief intro from the beginning:
I came to LA on the back of Hotel Rowanda, and then when I came here, I did Pirates of the Caribbean, was one of the first things I did, which was a fantastic thing to do, you know coming off the plane from South Africa walking onto this huge Disney set on Pirates of the Caribbean with people like Johnney Depp and all those people which was a fantastic experience. The after that I did Lost, and a bit of Law and Order and then I got 24 and I did a whole season of that. It was a fantastic experience and had a really lovely part. Then after that I did, I think Wolverine and then Darfour and that’s just coming out, and a film called the forth kind coming out November 6th (2009).
APINKE You are very successful actor. How would you define success in the acting role?
HK: How would I, Hakeem Kai-Kazeem define success?
APINKE How would you define success for yourself?
HK: I suppose, for me, it is different variables. For me its being able to pick and choose projects that I’m very very passionate about as an artist, that to me would be the ultimate success. You know, and not necessary just to act in them, but to produce and to direct. Each of us as artists are passionate about different things, about my continent – Africa and about it telling our stories from our perspective with our voice, so for me to be in a position to be able to greenline a movie either as an actor or whatever, a movie that I am very passionate about which deals with my continent my people that to me would be success
APINKE OK. So touching on African, you mentioned that you have a passion for Africa and I know you’ve done some Nollywood themed movies. That correct?
HK: Nollywood themed movie, that’s a nice way of putting it actually, cause the stuff I’ve done have come mostly out of LA, I produced a Nollywood themed movie in South Africa, again it was for the Nollywood market, but wasn’t a Nollywood movie, it wasn’t done there as such, but it was done in that style. So what’s happening now is that, there are Nigerian –Americans who live here and work here and some of them have contact with the Nollywood, and what they want to try and do is improve on the quality of Nigerian movies, so that’s really where I’ve been trying to get involved with and you know they are working but the budgets aren’t huge, but what they are trying to do is improve the quality. There are a couple (movies) coming out with a guy called Pascal Atuma, he is one of those people I have been working with, and that’s our voice – its to try and improve on. You know, they are basically Nollywood type stories, they are nice because they are dealing with Nigerians in Diaspora, Nigerians coming to America but done with a better production value and that’s very important. Because ultimately there is a big audience as you see, and not just in Nigeria but in the world, and Africans and people of color all over the place are anchoring for their image to be on the big screen from different points of view and you can tell that from the success of Nollywood movies, and not just in Nigeria but through out the Diaspora and so that’s what we are trying to do. So Hurricane in the Rose Garden is coming out.
HK: And you will see, it’s done on a very shoe stringy type of thing, with small camera’s but you will see the difference in quality. Same thing with the second one coming out with American Nurse 2.
APINKE Very funny movie.
HK: Yes, and they all deal with issues we all can relate to, I mean I find them hilarious because its like, oh yea, you can hear your mum or dad saying same things,
APINKE Talking of development, what would your advice be to aspiring actors and producers, in making great movies and doing what you do best. What would your advice be to them?
HK: To aspiring actors, it would be to work hard, just work really hard at your craft, it’s a craft it keeps on changing, develop your skill. Watch whatever you are into, watch actors that you admire, watch them and watch them closely and keep working and developing your skills, keep on wanting to get better, and better and better.
And to producers, I think, you start off, producing is a very difficult thing, raising finance and putting together a crew and all that is very difficult thing. You’ve got to start off with stuff that you’re really passionate about. If you are passionate about it, you will want to see it done no matter what. The buck starts with you, so if you are not passionate about it, then it can fall apart, so you’ve got to be passionate about it.
APINKE I believe your passion has paid off and is paying off in all the hard work and films you are making, what’s the next step for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years, or where would you like yourself to be?
HK: Where would I like myself to be in the next few years?. Well, I’ve been in LA now four years at the end of this month, relatively short time now, I’ve been very lucky. Although had a year where there’s been a writer’s strike, but you know, my art has been really good, and I want to continue that as an actor, get better and better in my craft and be able to do more and more diverse roles and work with great people.
APINKE Who’s an icon, actor or producer that you feel you would like to work with in the near future?
HK: Couple of actors I’d like to work with closely, I’d love to work closely with Johnny Depp, and Sean Penn,
APINKE Sean Penn, yes.
HK I find them fascinating. You feel them, they know their craft. So those are two just to name a few, that I would love to really work with and work closely with. Who else would I like to work with. Errm, Directors, who would I like to work with? I’d love to do something with Clint Eastwood, cause he’s fantastic.
APINKE You better hurry up then, cause his quite old (Laugh)
HK: I know.
APINKE Is Oscars, one of the ways you measure success? Do you set your eyes on winning an Oscar?
HK: Obviously I’d love to, because it does for your career.
APINKE It’s a credibility thing.
HK: Exactly, obviously one would love to. But am I here just to do that, no but yes. It’s a weird one. Its really about if I can do great work and be seen to do great work and be respected as a true artist, as an actor and not win an Oscar then that would be fine for me too.
APINKE Ok, roles are important with Oscar winning, You have played several roles in the past, You have done African accents right.
APINKE (Laugh) You’ve got this sexy English accent. Would you like to work on a role where you get to show off your English accent?
HK: I would love to work on a role where I get to show off my English accent, of course, where I get to just be. But you know, maybe that will happen. I mean, I have done American role as well, I haven’t done any recently, again I would like to do something that showed off these multiple sides of myself, you know?
APINKE So let us learn a few personal facts about you, just 5 points:
what do you enjoy doing outside of acting?
HK: Outside of acting, being with my kids, my little ones.
APINKE How many do you have?
HK: I have 2 girls, Shada and Aisha. Shada is 6 and Aisha is 10.
APINKE Are they aspiring to be like their father and act?
HK: No, I don’t want them to be actors at all, I mean if they want to be then its fine, but will I encourage that, I will not encourage it, if it comes up naturally, its looking like the younger has, if it comes up naturally then fine.
APINKE Favorite African food, if you have any?
HK: Oh yea, I love plantain, my favorite. I love suya but my favorite meal would be probably pounded yam and egusi
APINKE Oh I’m hungry now (laugh).
HK: So am I actually (laugh).
APINKE So ok, films you have watched lately?
HK: The film I watched yesterday, which I thought was interesting. I watched on DVD. It was given to me by a Nigerian film maker- Jeta Amata, its Amazing Grace. There is a British version of Amazing Grace and there is his version of Amazing Grace and his is a step above, and he shot it in Nigeria, shot on film on 35, he shot it very quickly, but I loved his interpretation of it. And that I was really pleasantly surprised. Its not great film making, but there was definitely something there. Its definitely a step in the right direction for us as Nigerian or African film makers. Definitely a step in the right direction in terms of telling the story. So I was really impressed by that.
APINKE That’s good. So Amazing Grace by Jeta Amata. What about social networking sites, do you use any regularly at all?
HK: I go on Facebook, and that’s about it really, I do my Facebook.
APINKE Do you have a fans page that we can access?
HK: I do have a fans page and it’s my name,
HAKEEMKAIKAZEEM, and its all in block capital.
APINKE I think If they search for you they should be able to access. So everyone, search for Hakeem on Facebook (laugh).
Do you have any icons, or people you look up to?
HK: Yea, you know, I’ve been reading Sydney Poitier’s autobiography, letters to his granddaughters. I’ve always been a great admire of his and actually recent reading his autobiography and letters to his granddaughters has just elevated him in my sort of esteem. And he filmed a film in Nigeria at one point, which probably people don’t know, I’m not sure what period it was, may have been with Arthur Kit. So yes, he is one. Mohammed Ali is another one, these people have embraced who they are especially during their time, have come out with great sense of pride and just set an achievement. And obviously Fela, I play his music all the time in my car. So those would be people off the top of my head.
APINKE Ok, and last but not least, how has family embraced your success in Hollywood?
HK: Yea, they are really pleased, ‘cause you know what its like, especially as a Nigerian, going to university. You know I studied all science, so they wanted me to be a doctor, which I didn’t ever want to be.
HK: So it was quite difficult for them initially to see me make that transition to be an actor. But, you know, my dad unfortunately has passed.
APINKE Oh sorry.
HK: But you know he said the most amazing thing to me before he passed, he said (with a Nigerian accent) ‘Son I’m so pleased every time I see you, you always make sure that when you play your African characters they are always strong’ You know and that was very touching, cause he was proud to see his son playing a strong African characters.