Interview: Hakeem Kae-Kazim Talks 'Black Sails', Working On '24' & More – TVWise

Hakeem Kae-Kazim. You might not know his name, but chances are you recognise this classically trained actor.
Well known to audiences across the world, he has had roles on some major feature films, such as Hotel Rwanda and Pirates of the Carribean. But Hakeem is perhaps best known for his recurring role on the seventh season of 24 as Colonel Ike Dubaku.
Since 24, Hakeem has racked up an impressive list of credits on such television shows as Human Target, Criminal Minds, NCIS: Los Angeles and Covert Affairs. He also recently starred in the Starz original series Black Sails, playing the part of Mr Scott.
Ahead of the show’s release on DVD next month, Hakeem was kind enough to spare some time from his schedule to discuss Black Sails, his time on 24, working on Hotel Rwanda and much more.
TVWise: Can you tell us what Black Sails is about?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: It’s set in the late 17th/18th century and it’s all about pirates. It’s about five or six years before the Treasure Island period. Our series is very earthy and very real. The pirates on our show are based on historical pirates.
TVWise: Can you tell us about your character Mr. Scott?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: Mr. Scott was a former slave who has somewhat risen in stature. Along with his former slave owner, they fence the goods from the pirates. Mr. Scott basically helps him run this fencing operation.
TVWise: Did you do any research for the role?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: I did a lot of research actually. All the characters are based on people that existed at that particular time. The research I did was to see what it was like to be an African during that period and what black pirates did. I found that forty to fifty percent of the pirates at that particular time were of African origin. Many of them were former slaves who escaped or were on ships that were raided by pirates. They were all outcasts, so being a pirate… it didn’t matter what color you were. The most important thing was your ability, because everybody had to defend the ships in battle. The more able you were, the better position you had. The pirate life was very much a democracy in the true sense of the word. The captains were voted in and out.
I based my character on someone named Black Caesar. He was an amazing guy and a former chief in one of the West African countries. A slave ship had come into his village and tricked about one hundred of his men on to their ship. While on the ship, they showed them trinkets and fed them, while that was going on, the anchor was pulled up and the ship sailed away. His men fought a valiant battle, but were eventually subdued. He refused to eat during that journey, but for some reason there was one gentleman that did feed him. As the ship was coming toward the Florida Keys, there was a massive storm. This one sailor came down and with Black Caesar, they were the only ones as far as I know who survived after the ship sank. He became a pirate with this guy and the two of them using a long boat would pretend they were shipwrecked sailors and eventually board the boat and take it over. He became a prolific pirate all up and down the Florida Keys. They became very well respected and feared. Black Caesar and the sailor who survived with him after the ship wreck had a falling out over a woman and eventually Black Caesar killed him. The story goes that he actually worked alongside Blackbeard and was one of his chief lieutenants. He was actually captured by the British during Blackbeard’s last stand and was about to blow up the ship as ordered by Blackbeard. He was subdued and hanged by the British. He was a fascinating character and I did a lot of research on Africans and pirates around that time period.
TVWise: What kinds of challenges or difficulties did you face filming the series?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: The beautiful thing about this series is that the attention to detail has been magnificent. We have great writers in Robert Levin and John Steinberg, who have done a fantastic job with the dialogue. The detail in terms of the set and in terms of where we are filming, they are taking doing a fantastic job. When you walk on set, you are there on a pirate ship; you are in the town, because they’ve completely replicated it. Other than the obvious hardships of filming on any film set, no, this has been a really interesting journey.
TVWise: Were you happy with your character’s journey during the first season?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: Yes I did. For me, I’d like to see and hopefully will some more on Black Caesar since I based my character on him. Hopefully those two things will merge. I love what they’ve done with the character and he seems to be the noble center of the piece which is really interesting. It’s been a wonderful journey so far.
TVWise: Black Sails boasts a top notch cast. What was it like working with them on set?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: We have such a wonderful cast. I know a lot of people say this, but I am really lucky to work with such a wonderful bunch of people. When you are away from home for six months with a group of strangers, it’s great that you can become a family and we have. Not only the cast, but the crew and producers as well have been amazing. It’s been a wonderful journey.
TVWise: Where do you see your character heading in season two?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: I know where he is going because we’ve already shot season two. [Laughs] As far as season three goes, I hope to continue his journey to see him become who I envision him to be. I see him becoming this man who has a great sense of himself.
TVWise: Fox recently brought back 24 for an event series; you had a great arc on the series when it originally aired. What was it like working on 24?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: I loved it. That was my first big TV series. It was very nerve wrecking because these guys had been working together for several years. Everyone was on point and they could do the show in their sleep, so you had to be up to speed and, luckily, I was. I really enjoyed working with them, very professional and very intense. It was a great series to be part of.
TVWise: You also starred in Hotel Rwanda with Don Cheadle, how important was it for you to be part of that project?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: It was very important because it brought me to America. After that, I was able to come to America. I was living in South Africa and we shot it there. I had no idea initially what the impact would be. I knew while I was shooting the film that it would be a really interesting piece of work because of the research I had done on the genocide. What was interesting for me was living in South Africa at that particular time… Nelson Mandela had just been elected. So, South Africa was going through this amazing transition and this whole period of a new South Africa. News of the genocide didn’t come through and I felt really ashamed that this was on our doorstep in 1995/1996 and we weren’t that cognizant of the situation. The research I did was amazing for me and it made me learn a lot more about the history of my continent.
Don Cheadle and I swapped numbers on set and he said to give him a call if I ever got to America. About a year later, I gave him a call and he was kind enough to invite me to his house. He took the time to talk to me about the business and give me some great advice. He even took a look at my show reel and gave me advice on that as well. After that, I decided to make the move to the States, so Hotel Rwanda was very important to me on several levels.
TVWise: You’ve been a producer on several projects recently, are you looking to do more producing and maybe look at directing in the near future?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: Yes, definitely. There is a project I’ve already written which I want to direct and hopefully shoot in Nigeria. It’s a passion project that I’ve had for a number of years. I also just finished producing a short film called The Boy. I hope to be producing and directing a couple of things over the next couple of years.
TVWise: You recently finished filming Daylight’s End with Lance Henriksen. What was it like working on that project?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: Lance is a wonderful guy and what a fantastic actor. It was wonderful to be around him. It’s not quite finished because we have a few pickups to do. It’s one of those horror movies with soul and great character parts. Working with people like Lance and Johnny Strong, it was a really good adventure. I am looking forward to seeing the film and I am sure it will be a fantastic.
TVWise: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Hakeem Kae-Kazim: Daylight’s End is about to come out. There is another wonderful film that should be coming out soon called A Chance of Rain by Cindy Gustafson. People may have seen Half of a Yellow Sun which just came out as well, so look for that. I just finished producing and acting in a ten minute short called The Boy which is about the African approach to the issue of homosexuality. So, that was a really interesting project to be involved with.
The first season of Black Sails is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Instant Video UK.