Remembering Zakes Mokae, South African actor 1934 – 2009

first_imgCD AndersonActor Zakes Mokae was a true South African journeyman in the world of theatre, film and television. Before his death on 11 September 2009, Mokae was renowned as a masterful character actor, building an impressive repertoire that included screen time with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Dustin Hoffman, Marlon Brando and Richard Dreyfuss.Zakes Mokae in 1986. Credit Ruby Washington/The New York Times— CD Anderson (@bizarrojerri) September 15, 2016Long before his diverse Hollywood career, Mokae, who was born in Johannesburg in 1934, started out as a young saxophonist in Trevor Huddleston’s Jazz Band, alongside a young Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa. After meeting playwright Athol Fugard in the late 1950s, the two co-founded the radical multiracial theatre group, The Rehearsal Room.Zakes Mokae, Athol Fugard in Blood Knot in 1985 Yale Repertory Theatre— CD Anderson (@bizarrojerri) September 15, 2016Mokae featured prominently in many of Fugard’s productions, including The Bloodknot and, later, in the acclaimed “Master Harold”…and the Boys.After reprising his role in The Bloodknot in London in 1963, where the London Times described Mokae as “a (phenomenal performer) with hair-trigger nervous energy”, he was barred from returning to South Africa by the apartheid government, because of his involvement in the controversial anti- apartheid film Dilemma.Mokae lived in London for the remainder of the decade, working as a clerk with other South African exiles, including Thabo Mbeki, at Abbey Life Insurance, headed by South African lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Joel Joffe.At the same time, his first significant international film role was in The Comedians, alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He also starred opposite Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde in the 1965 hit film Darling.Mokae also acted in a number of British television series as an extra and bit- part player.Zakes Mokae, James Earl Jones and Ruby Dee in Athol Fugard’s “Boesman & Lena”, 1970. Via @nypl_lpa— CD Anderson (@bizarrojerri) September 15, 2016He continued his theatre work in the United States over the next two decades, firstly in Fugard’s Boesman and Lena alongside a young James Earl Jones, and later in the Broadway production of “Master Harold”…and the Boys, opposite Danny Glover, for which he earned a Tony Award in 1982. Mokae later reprised the role in the film version of the play, alongside Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) in 1985.Athol Fugard, Danny Glover, Lonny Price, Zakes Mokae Original 1982 Broadway cast “Master Harold and the Boys”— CD Anderson (@bizarrojerri) September 15, 2016During a very productive international career, Mokae acted primarily in television and film, including numerous guest roles in series such as Starsky and Hutch, Roots: The Next Generation, Knight Rider and A Different World. During the 1990s and early 2000s, he also guest starred in The X-Files, The West Wing and Oz.Zakes Mokae in the 1989 anti-apartheid drama A Dry White Season— CD Anderson (@bizarrojerri) September 15, 2016Mokae also starred in the cult classic horror films Body Parts and Dust Devil, as well as more serious anti-apartheid dramas A Dry White Season and Cry Freedom.Playing predominating African character parts, such as royalty, wise men and politicians, Mokae lent a worldly authenticity and method gravitas to his various roles, using the opportunities to break the perceptions of Hollywood’s often clichéd dramatic tropes about Africans, most notably in his star-turn in an episode of the US political drama The West Wing.As President Nimbala, Mokae presents a very realistic portrayal of an African statesman. Nimbala is an eloquent yet steadfast African leader who challenges the American political system’s ham-fisted approach to aiding developing nations, in particular the HIV/Aids crisis.Mokae also acted in and directed various Shakespearean theatre productions in the US and Canada, including Othello and Macbeth.Before returning to South Africa in the mid-1990s, he earned another Tony nomination for his lead role in The Song of Jacob Zulu, an apartheid- era musical drama featuring the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.Zakes Mokae in the 1993 musical drama The Song of Jacob Zulu— CD Anderson (@bizarrojerri) September 15, 2016He spent the last years of his life between Las Vegas, where he was the artistic director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company, and Cape Town, where he worked with emerging actors and playwrights in developing authentic South African stories for stage and screen.Diagnosed with both advanced Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, Mokae and his wife Madelyn returned to the US for medical treatment until his death there in 2009.He had hoped to spend the remaining years in his country of birth, with Madelyn saying after his death that, despite the ravages of the two diseases, it had always been his dream to live “under freedom (in South Africa) and have some memory of it”.Mokae is survived by a daughter and three grandchildren.Source: WikipediaWould you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? 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