Classically trained in the UK, Hakeem soon came to prominence sharing the stage with acclaimed actors like Brian Cox in ‘King Lear’ and Sir Ian McKellan in “Richard III” for the Royal National Theatre. He made a successful transition to British television with leading roles in “Trial and Retribution”, “The Bill”, “Grange Hill”, “Ellington” and distinguished himself in the title role of ‘”Julius Caesar” for the BBC. Hakeem then settled in South Africa where his work in film and television gave him a huge following and made him a household name. It was while in South Africa that Hakeem gained international attention for his role in the Oscar nominated, critically acclaimed “Hotel Rwanda” with Don Cheadle.
Since moving to Los Angeles with his wife and 2 children, Hakeem has shared his talent with millions of viewers on “Lost”, “Pirates of the Caribbean 3?, “Cane” with Jimmy Smits, “Law & Order: SVU” with Mariska Hargitay, “The Triangle” with Sam Neill and “The Librarian” with Gabrielle Anwar. Hakeem is often recognized for his recurring role as Dubaku on “24’s” Season 7, and in the pre-quel movie “Redemption”.
In the Blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean III” Hakeem played a pirate lord alongside such greats as Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush. Recently Hakeem filmed the motion picture “The 4th Kind” with Milla Jovovich, “Wolverine” with Hugh Jackman and DARFUR “Janjaweed” with Billy Zane.
Thank you HAKEEM for taking the time to respond to our interview questions.
AM: Please tell us about yourself
Hakeem: I was born in Lagos, Nigeria. I spent my early years there. Then my parents took me to England, in London, where I grew up. I went to school in London. After my education, I stayed in London for a few years then moved to South Africa. I was there for ten years. After that, I moved to the United States; it’s been nearly four years now.
AM: When you’re not working, what are your favorite things to do?
Hakeem: I love to go to the cinema and hang out with my family, especially my children.
AM: how many Children do you have?
Hakeem: I have two girls: Aisha (10), and Shada (6).
AM: Can you tell us something about you that people would never guess?
Hakeem: I delivered my youngest daughter at home on my own on the couch of our living room.
AM: What is your favorite sport/hobby? Why?
Hakeem: I’ve got a lot of favorite sports actually. My favorite hobby I guess would be going to the gym and doing Yoga. I really enjoy that.
AM: Tell us, how did you get started in acting?
Hakeem: I started acting in school plays. I progressed from there to do Youth Theatre. That’s where I discovered that I really had a love for theatre, for acting. Then after that, I went to study Drama in College. From there, I went straight into doing a lot of theatres in London. I went to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the Royal National Theatre.
AM: Who has been your inspiration as far as acting is concerned?
Hakeem: As a young actor, I had no one really in particular. But later on, I started to follow actors that blazed the trail such as Sydney Poitier.
AM: What was the first acting role that you landed that made you feel like “Hey, I made it!”?
Hakeem: I guess when I did my first professional theatre gig, when I left school, coming out of Drama school. That’s when it hit me: this is real. I’m a professional and getting paid for it.
AM: Being an actor always has its ups and downs. Can you tell us about yours?
Hakeem: Yes, I think you’re right as far as the experience of being an actor having its ups and down. Some of the negative things of being an actor is that you never know sometimes when your next job is coming. So, financially it could be a little be of a strain. You have to make sure that you have enough money saved so that when you’re in between jobs you don’t run out of money and that sort of thing. Thi is where a lot of actors make a mistake, and then have to do a lot of things to sustain themselves, such as working in restaurant, hotels, etc... That’s when it gets difficult. Luckily, so far I have not yet to do something like that. But I still have to make sure that we save. There has been many times that we have been close to that, but something would just come in the neck of a time. That’s the negative side of acting.
I think the positive side of acting is that it’s such a fantastic career, you know. You’re doing something that people would critique and admire. It does not feel like work for me. I feel very lucky to do something that I really enjoy with a passion.
AM: Have you ever had to turn down a role in your career? If so, tell us why?
Hakeem: It’s been times where people had put a script to me that I have felt that it didn’t quite match with how I am and where I’m coming from. I had to turn them down.
AM: Which is harder: working on a movie or working on a TV series?
You know what? They both have different types of challenges. I don’t think one is more harder or easier than the other.
AM: How do you manage working on three different continents?
Hakeem: I have worked in U.K. for many years. Yes, I still work in South Africa. I‘ve got to go to Nigeria to shoot a film. I enjoy the fact that I get to spread my wings.
AM: Will you contemplate directing in the future?
Hakeem: Definitely. I’m not directing yet. But I produced a couple of things. But I would like to direct in the future.
AM: How do you balance work and family?
Hakeem: You mainly balance them by being there when you’re there. I mean, when you’re not working, when you have time off. I try to spend time with the family as much as I can, especially during the down time.
AM: What comments do you get from your children about your acting? When they actually see you on movies?
Hakeem: Well, they’re still quite young, you know. But they love seeing me, like “ohh.. Daddy!,” you know. A lot of the movies that I’m in, they can’t really see because they’re intense. And sometimes their friends make also comments, especially on movies like X-Men Wolverine, or The Pirates of the Caribbean. They love that.
There was actually one time I took my daughters to see me on stage. And as I came out, they were so excited to see me. It’s fun.
AM: How do you and your family handle your celebrity lifestyle? Being paparazzi, journalists, etc…
Hakeem: It’s great. It’s humbling being in the spotlights. It’s all good and manageable as long as people have respect of your space and privacy, especially when you’re with your family, your children. Then, I don’t see a problem with it.
AM: Do you get critiques from your family about your work?
Hakeem: They’ve always been honest about their opinions. Luckily so far, their critiques have been nice. They’re enjoying what I’ve done so far, moving to the States and playing in a bigger market, and moving up internationally.
AM: How was the transition from South Africa to the US for the family?
Hakeem: You know, it’s been very good. There are a lot of similarities with Los Angeles, where we’re currently located. We’ve settled in very nicely and the girls have been doing very well at school, and the wife has been really enjoying it. You know, it’s always been hard moving from one continent to another, but luckily we’ve managed to cope with it.
AM: In your opinion, how can African movies improve?
Hakeem: One of the main thing is to win against piracy, especially in Nigeria with Nollywood. When the investors of these movies start to actually see a real return in their investments, that’s when they will start investing more into Nollywood movies. Then you should see Nigerian movies and African films start to really take on a different audience, level, and quality. So, the ending of piracy will help tremendously to the increase the quality of these African films, just in terms of the technical aspect of it.
AM: About Africa: what will you keep? What will you change?
Hakeem: I would change the Leadership. I think we need leaders that really care about us. We really want to invest in our continent, instead of taking all the money and invest it outside of Africa, like in the west and Europe. We really need leaders that understand this and care about who we are. We have the most beautiful continent on this planet. Such a beautiful place; everything you need is in that place (Africa), but it’s being ravaged by our own leaders. Now, that’s what I would change: mentality and leadership.
AM: What will you keep?
Hakeem: I would keep the spirit of Ubuntu; the African in us. I would keep who we are as people, our beautiful African warm spirit which is again obviously best second to none.
AM: What’s the best food you crave for always when you visit Africa?
Hakeem: I like plantain and pounded yam.
AM: The World Cup 2010 is by far most a stepping stone for Africa. What should Africans do in order to make this event successful?
Hakeem: I think it’s a question of showing to the world the beauty of the African spirit. I think if we do that, then we would have the most successful world cup that this planet has ever seen. That’s the main thing.
AM: What team will you be cheering for during the world cup?
Hakeem: Nigeria of course. I’m not sure if they’re going to make it or not. If Nigeria does not make it, I will cheer for Ghana.
AM: Tell us, what is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Hakeem: I bungee jumped from the top of table mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. It was quite intense.
AM: What projects are you involved in at the present?
Hakeem: I have a film that just came out called the Fourth Kind, with Milla Jovovich. I’m also about to go to Nigeria to do a movie later on with a Nigerian Filmmaker. It’s a lovely film called Black Gold.
AM: What’s your favorite winter destination?
Hakeem: You know, when it’s winter in America, it’s summer in South Africa. So, we like going back to South Africa.
AM: Any words of wisdom for all our aspiring actors out there?
Hakeem: Work hard, and believe in what you do. Most of all: constantly try getting better at your craft.
Thank you Hakeem Kae Kazim for taking the time to chat with us. We wish you plenty of success and wisdom in your career.
Hakeem: Thank you.