Hakeem Kae-Kazim will be back on the small screen in 2014 as he is part of the all-star cast of new pirate drama Black Sails.
We caught up with the actor to chat about the series, his role, the inspiration behind his character and what lies ahead.
- You are going to be appearing in new TV series Black Sails, so can you tell me a little bit about it?
It is all set around the time of Blackbeard; in fact, it is set ten years before Treasure Island, written by Robert Louis Stevenson. Therefore, we have a young Long John Silver.
Most of the characters are based on historical figures from around that time. It is very gritty, earthy and very real with lots of violence and sex and pirate machinations.
- You take on the role of Mr Scott in the series so what was it about this character and the script that initially drew you to the project?
The script as just fascinating as these guys wanted to do something different to the swashbuckling and glamorous pirate projects that we have seen. They wanted to get more earthy and real, and that is really what drew me to it.
They had an outline of Mr Scott that was interesting. I did some research and was fascinated by the fact that 40% of the pirates at that time were of African descent; that makes sense as there were a lot of runaway slaves and the only way that they could get their independence and freedom would be to become pirates.
Then I read about a fantastic pirate Black Caesar, who went on to become one of Blackbeard’s lieutenants. He was kidnapped in his late twenties from the West Coast of Africa; he was an African chief. The slavers had come to his village and tricked him to come on board the ship. When he was on board the salve ship up-anchored and sailed out to sea, they captured him and about a hundred of his men.
As the ship was coming into the coast of Florida there was a massive storm… Black Caesar refused to take food of anyone on the ship apart from one man… when the storm was approaching this guy came down and freed him. I am not sure whether he freed everyone, but they were the only two that made it off the ship.
They landed on one of the island off the Florida Keys and they both became very successful pirate raiders. Black Caesar became so successful that Blackbeard asked him to become one of his chief lieutenants, which he did become. He was caught and hung by the British. The stories of him say that he was a very brave, very intelligent and very decisive man. That was really my background for the character of Mr Scott.
They had obviously a bit of background on the character and I melded what they had with the character that I discovered. Mr Scott was not born a slave, but he became a slave at a much younger age. He is now a free man.
- I actually wanted to talk to you about the research that you did as you were preparing for this role. How useful was it when you were developing the character of Mr Scott?
It was incredibly useful as I was developing this character. Finding out that 40% of those pirates were of African descent was fascinating. I really took the research on from there and tried to create a character that was historically relevant, but also didn’t just come from the headspace of ‘being born a slave’; being born a slave has a very different connotation to either being captured as a free man.
Being born free and then entered into slavery, I think, gives him a greater sense of self. My back-story is that he has a great understanding of where he came from.
- We have talked about the creation of the Mr Scott, but can you tell me how we are going to see him develop throughout the series?
We see Mr Scott as the right hand man of Mr Guthrie initially; I don’t want to give anything away so I can’t really talk too much about it. Something happens towards the end.
They had written an outline of the character and I gave them where I was coming from, and we really have melded those two elements together to develop a fascinating character. That really is about as much as I can say really (laughs).
- This is a pirate series so can you tell me a bit about the filming process - did you shoot on a real ship for example? In addition, what sort of challenges did that pose?
We shot down in Sought Africa. They got someone in to build a complete replica of the pirate ship; it looks amazing. People would stop on the motorway to look at it. They build a gimble that the ship sits on to simulate the waves. They really have done the work and research to make this work. When you walked on the set, it felt very authentic.
The series is set in the Bahamas and they have built a port town; the detail in which they recreated that is second to none. It felt very real when you walked on set from the get-go and that makes your job easier.
- Zach McGowan and Toby Stevens are some of the names on an exciting cast so how did you find working with them? What was the feeling like on set?
It is a fantastic cast. This is one of the jobs, I am sure they all say this, where it was a fantastic working environment with a great bunch of people. I felt very pleased and very lucky to be part of this.
Sometimes when you go on set there is somebody whose ego that gets in the way, but with this cast and crew, it has been a really fantastic working relationship. I have really enjoyed working with everyone and by the end of it, we were all really good friends. For me it has been a real joy.
- Away from the series, we are also going to be seeing you in Daylight’s End and A Chance of Rain, so can you tell me a little bit about those films?
We are still shooting Daylight’s End at the moment. Daylight’s End is a zombie movie that also stars Lance Henriksen; he is a fantastic actor. It is a character driven zombie movie that follows this last stand/refuge against what is happening.
I play a little cameo role in A Chance of Rain and it is a lovely movie. It follows a young guy who goes to West Africa, to help. He becomes ill while he is over there, and it is really about his journey through the sickness that he has.
- Throughout your career you have moved between TV and film as well as doing some theatre, so how do the mediums compare? How important is for you to move between them?
I haven’t done theatre for years and I really am itching to go back. It is such a different way of working and a different skill. I really do want to get back and do some theatre at some point. I love each of them as they each have their own discipline and their own subtle skill set; film is different to TV and TV and film are very different to theatre.
I have been very lucky to be able to switch between the three. The big thing over the next few years will be to get back to doing some theatre. I also want to do some directing as well.
- That was my next question. We have seen you do quite a bit of producing over the last few years and I wondering how much being behind the camera was an interest?
I am fascinated in painting the whole canvas and looking at things from a directorial point of view. It is very much an interest and something that I want to explore. Producing is a different animal. A lot of the stuff that I get into as a producer are projects that have come to me as people want me to appear in them or star in and are projects that I am passionate about and want to get them off the ground.
I run around and try to raise money or get a person to work for the amounts that we can give them; that is as far as my producing goes. It has been great and we have had some great success in the last year or so. I produced a film down in South Africa, which I am very proud of called Man On Ground.
We did that under the extremely clichéd, harsh independent movie conditions where you nearly run out of money at the end of the first week and you do it for $200,000.
We managed to get it to great film festivals in Toronto and Berlin, so it was a really wonderful thing to come out with in the end. It is always hard to get the amounts of money to do these things because they are small, independent passion projects.
- Finally, what is next for you?
I go back to South Africa on 7th November to start filming on season two of Black Sails; I am looking forward to that. That is going to take me through the whole year.
I am waiting to see if this other independent film that I am trying to produce all comes together. But I will be on black sails for the next half of the year - it is going to be a hectic schedule.