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Captain Phillips – Tom Hanks on the true story of the ship hijacking

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Captain Phillips - Tom Hanks
Captain Phillips - Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) © 2013 Columbia Pictures

In another Oscar-worthy portrayal, Tom Hanks plays real life captain Richard Phillips in his new thriller Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass.

The movie tells the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a handful of Somali pirates, lead by a young man named Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who take Captain Phillips and his crew hostage. In the standoff, both men will find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control.

Tom Hanks spoke of the film, and meeting the real Captain Phillips, at the press day for the movie.

Was there some insights that you got from Captain Phillips that helped decide how you wanted to play the role?

Captain Phillips - Tom Hanks
Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) © 2013 Columbia Pictures

He’s a very pleasant guy, very happy-go-lucky, he’s funny and when he’s not at work I don’t think you could ask for a better guy to hang out with. But when he’s at work he is truly no-nonsense, because it’s a very serious, unglamorous business.

That’s what I found out. The background of what’s going on in the guy’s head and all the pressures that he’s under, that was a door opening hunk of knowledge.

I knew understanding Phillips’ strength, that particular personal fortitude and connection to the sea, despite what happened, would be essential to understanding the sort of man Richard is.

The reality is that not everybody has what it takes to be a ship captain, and not everyone could have withstood being taken hostage.

How faithful is this to the real story?

We haven’t altered the motivations of anybody involved. Everything we’ve done in the film is empirically accurate, if that makes sense.

The scenes in the lifeboat felt particularly claustrophobic, did you have problems shooting on it?

Captain Phillips - Tom Hanks
Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) © 2013 Columbia Pictures

I’m not particularly a claustrophobic person, but it’s a very small space and there’s no other way to do it. We built the exact replica and put it on a Gimbal and that’s where we shot.

Environmentally, quite frankly,  it does an awful lot of work for you.

It’s a very uncomfortable space, it smells horrible, it’s hot, you are right on top of each other and there are a lot of places to bump your head and crack your knee, and we all did that.

But Paul sets up an environment that is very realistic, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Captain Phillips - Tom Hanks
Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) © 2013 Columbia Pictures

For everything we needed to go through as actors, that tiny, hot, cramped space with no windows was a great advantage for us.

At one point they built rubber seats for some of the fight scenes that literally flapped around, so we said, ‘Guys, I don’t think the rubber seats are going to work,’ so they took those out.

We had a little bit of padding on the steel deck floor, but by and large it’s a tiny space and it got pretty physical in there sometimes.

Do you feel Richard Phillips was a hero, and do you think you could be a hero?

Captain Phillips - Tom Hanks
Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) © 2013 Columbia Pictures

He doesn’t view himself as a hero, he was a guy that sat there and waited for the heroes to show up.

We all have times in our lives where we can either be a hero, a villain or a coward. I just hope that I’m a coward as little as possible, hopefully never a villain, and on the occasions where I have to be I would hope to do the heroic thing.

At the press conference, I asked Tom and Barkhad Abdi if there was anything new they learned about acting from working with each other? Click here to listen to their answers

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