Magazine article Screen International

Tom Hanks & Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Magazine article Screen International

Tom Hanks & Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Article excerpt

Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi come from wildly different backgrounds but find truth in their roles in Captain Phillips, they tell Jeremy Kay.

Tom Hanks and his Captain Phillips co-star Barkhad Abdi are eating lunch at Shutters On The Beach hotel in Santa Monica, talking about fear.

Hanks explains how Richard Phillips, the skipper of a hijacked US cargo ship that inspired Sony's worldwide hit, told him the biggest day-to-day concern for mariners was Mother Nature, of which more later.

For Abdi, the 28-year-old plucked from obscurity by director Paul Greengrass to play Muse, the leader of the East African pirates who commandeered the Maersk Alabama in April 2009, the biggest fear was closer to home.

The Somali actor's bright eyes inhabit a furiously expressive face as he chomps on fish and chips and nods to his right. "You know the scariest part was when I was first meeting Tom. That was the scariest it got in the movie.

"After that, you would have some scenes that I could not get correctly. I would have a hard time, but you know, we'd just work on it." This from the novice who dispensed with stunt men and - alongside his fellow Somali first-time actors, it must be said - stood tall on a skiff time and again as the small vessel crashed through the waves until Greengrass was satisfied he had his shot.

Greengrass, who is also present during the interview, praises his young actor for "flawless balance".

Hanks remembers: "There was one point, when I saw them out there and was like, 'Oh there's the second team working out there on the skiffs,' and Paul goes, 'No, that's not the second team.' It was those guys."

"I used to play soccer so I'm good on my feet," says Abdi. "With the training I learned to feel the wave on the skiff and go with it. I was like, 'I have to get that ship in front of me, that big thing. I'm getting it'."

Hanks and Abdi - each now Bafta and Screen Actors Guild nominees - enjoy an easy chemistry despite a vast gulf in lifestyles. Hanks, the double Oscar winner who can pick his roles, was approached through agents and the studio, whereas Abdi the unknown prevailed in a global casting call.

Hanks was already interested in the story and jumped at the chance to work with Greengrass. "He makes movies the way I like to see them, so it was a definite. We had met each other a couple of times and discussed the possibility of working together once or twice, of which nothing ever came up... All it required was a howdy-do."

To prepare for the role, Hanks read Phillips' 2010 book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs And Dangerous Days At Sea, and he and Greengrass had several conversations about how they saw the story panning out.

"I don't think we were taking what happened and making [events] more important or less important; we were just taking a look at the concrete realities of how all the parties ended up in that lifeboat together."

The star wanted to understand the mind of the merchant mariner and got to know Phillips. "I talked to him quite a bit. We exchanged some e-mails and I went over to his house twice, once with Catherine Keener, who played Andrea [Phillips' wife].

"I didn't go in armed with anything specific really, we just talked about the entire experience. What I got mostly out of him was so many of the little details of what it takes to be a captain of the ship, essentially the never-ending burden.

"He does have time to read books, he does have time to watch movies, but... he says the worst thing that has ever happened to a merchant mariner is the invention of e-mail. …

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