HEED Exclusive with ‘Captain Phillips’ Star Barkhad Abdi
Every so often, Hollywood is blessed with talent that emerges from out of the clear blue. In this case, the talent came from Somalia in the form of new actor Barkhad Abdi. In his acting debut, Barkhad stars alongside Hollywood luminary Tom Hanks, in the epic new film “Captain Phillips”, chronicling a series of true events surrounding the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama’s commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips, played by Hanks, and Barkhad’s character, the Somali pirate captain, Muse, who takes him hostage. Heed had the opportunity to catch up with the rookie actor during his press tour, and he shared candidly on working with Tom Hanks, moving from Somalia and a piece of noteworthy advice he received from the films director, Paul Greengrass. Check it out!
Barkhad Abdi: Hello Mike!
Heed: Hi Barkhad, how are you?
BA: Good how are you doing?
Heed: I’m doing very, very well. Thank you for giving us this time & we’re looking forward to the movie! Jumping right in, can you tell me a little about your character “Muse”?
BA: Muse is just a young teen that grew up in a country that don’t know anything about the law. You know, he’s just trying to survive. He did a lot of stuff to be a pirate and you know he looks at this job as his only way out of the lifestyle he’s living and he wants to be a man now and he’s doing whatever it takes to get money, and he lands on this American ship. He does whatever possible to get the money and he gets to meet a very different man that’s the total opposite of him and they will be stuck in a place together. It’s just a story about these two people and how different they are but yet they have to stay together.
Heed: So did you find this role to be challenging at all?
BA: Of course! It was so difficult for me; it was my first role you know? I haven’t been to Somalia in a long time, you know. I left Somalia when I was 7 years old. I saw a lot of stuff, but nothing bad ever happened to my family. Taking this role, I had to learn a lot of stuff. I had to go to training for about a month and a half. It was a challenge, so I would take everything day by day. But the director helped me a lot and he helped support me. I was just blessed with everyone that worked with me.
Heed: How was it working with Tom Hanks?
BA: First of all it was really shocking! I was really surprised to see how Tom Hanks really is. He’s a big Hollywood star, and I thought he was going to think that he’s better than people, but he’s a very humble guy and a very hardworking person.
Heed: You mentioned that you moved from Somalia when you were 7, was that transition difficult for you?
BA: I moved to Yemen after that. My dad was a teacher in Yemen. That transition was a little bit difficult; and at the age of 14 we found the American lottery visa. My mom won that, so we came to Minneapolis. It’s a huge Somalian population here. It wasn’t hard for me to transition here to Minneapolis from Yemen, I was already used to being in a different country and learning the language. I already had an experience. It was harder for me coming from Somalia to Yemen. I was the only black kid there, me and my brother. It was a small village, and they were used to black people begging or doing low jobs. So they were really surprised by me going to school with them and I had to learn Arabic. In Somalia, everybody was around me and I was a spoiled kid, now I had to learn how to cope. That was little hard for me. So when I got to Minneapolis from Yemen, that wasn’t really hard for me.
Heed: So going back to the film, do you think have anything in common at all with Muse?
BA: You know, in a lot of ways I pictured myself as him. Most of the film I did that because that could have been me. Anything could have happened to my mom and I could have been that. I understand. I talked to a lot of people that recently came from Somalia, I know their stories and I know how it gets. You know, being used by all the people. They use them for their own purposes and most of the kids they use are kids that don’t have parents. I know the motive you know. In 24 years, I’ve gone through a lot of stuff. I cannot imagine if I had not gone to school all this time how I would be. You know that would have been the only hope in my life, because then I would make enough money to be something. You know, so I understood Muse. I don’t excuse his actions, but I understand why he’s doing this.
Heed: Before we go is there anything else you’d like to share?
BA: I was just blessed with everyone that worked with me. My fellow co-pirates are close friends and we got the part together. We helped each other through the whole way, and we had all types of laughs and the director was there for me the whole time. He supported me. You know, you asked me if I had any similarities with Muse. I have a story for you that just came to my head. You know there’s one scene that I got stuck and he pulled me to the side and asked me the same question. He said, “do you know the similarity between you and the real Muse?” and I said “no.” He said, “the real Muse took a big risk on this piracy thing and he failed, and now you’re taking a big risk with this Hollywood thing, and if you don’t do it right, you might fail.” That helped me and motivated me.
Be sure to check out Barkhad Abdi alongside Academy Award Winner, Tom Hanks in the new film “Captain Phillips” in theaters nationwide today!