“It’s funny how you guys see the likes of Idris Elba doing all these unbelievable moves in the movies but in most cases these actions are not performed or acted out by the actual actors. They are performed by the average Joe like myself,” says Phillip Kekana as we talk over coffee in a small restaurant in Clearwater Mall.
At first glance, Kekana appears somewhat shy as he introduces himself in a very polite, soft-spoken manner. But a sudden spark appears in his eye as soon as we delve into the topic of car racing - which shows that his passion goes beyond adventure, speed and being an adrenalin enthusiast.
Kekana has been racing for nearly two decades. The Soweto-born stuntman chuckles as he reminisces about some of the highlights of his career, which include acting alongside British actor Idris Elba and late US actor Paul Walker of The Fast and Furious franchise.
“In the movie Long Walk To Freedom, where Idris Elba played Madiba, I did most of the driving scenes and, boy oh boy, that was challenging. From the time Mandela was arrested, to the wedding all those scenes were shot on location in the Drakensberg and some in Cape Town. The biggest challenge though was the uneven roads, and the cars were very old.”
Although the viewer may see Elba as the mastermind behind the wheel, Kekana prides himself in his work and expertise. At one stage Elba was annoyed because he was challenged by one of the old cars. The car’s gears were a bit complicated, especially on gravel roads.
“I was nervous, because when the director told us that that was the only car we had and, if it broke, we were going to have to stop filming. I used my expertise and drove the car like a pro,” smiles Kekana as he recalls the moment.
He worked with Walker in 2013 on the movie Vehicle 19, which was shot on location in Cape Town.
“Working with Paul Walker was such an intriguing experience, and sadly he died a few months after the shoot.”
Walker died in a car crash in November 2013.
Kekana has long had a passion for racing. Growing up, he used to watch motor racing events, hoping to be behind the wheel one day, and when the opportunity came he grabbed it with both hands.
He studied bricklaying and civil engineering, but didn’t complete the courses due to his burning passion for motor racing.
“The problem at the time was that I’d never driven a car before. I then decided to join my brother, who had an undertaking business, and began the slow process of learning to drive.”
Initially, Kekana was only allowed to move the hearses around the premises and had yet to venture on to public roads. His chance came when he had to stand in for a driver who fell ill. His trip from Alexandra to Soweto was uneventful, but Kekana realised that a driver’s licence was paramount if he was to live his dream.
He finally got his licence at the age of 24. He worked as a taxi driver to earn extra money and took advanced driving lessons.
Now if he’s not performing stunts in films, adverts and in testing cars, he spends most of his time teaching advanced driving to young people, something he’d like to do full-time. He’s currently in partnership with Puma Energy to educate young people about road safety.
“There are many youngsters out there in the townships who have no access or channels to even try their hand at the sport.
“My dream is to establish a kart circuit in Soweto or Alexandra. It would be a great start, and we’d soon find all those hidden talents.”