News / Arts & Entertainment

Somali-American Actor Stars in 'Captain Phillips' Movie

Barkhad Abdi poses for photographers as he walks the red carpet at a screening for the movie
Barkhad Abdi poses for photographers as he walks the red carpet at a screening for the movie "Captain Phillips" at the Newseum in Washington, Oct. 2, 2013.
Harun Maruf, Dan JosephPamela Dockins
The new movie Captain Phillips is earning strong reviews for its star, Tom Hanks, and its realistic portrayal of a hijacking by Somali pirates.  The young actor who plays the "lead pirate" in the film is also winning praise for his performance.  Barkhad Abdi is a Somali-American who spent his early years in Somalia and his more recent years working as a limousine driver in the city of Minneapolis.

Abdi's life was changed by a report he saw on a Minneapolis TV station.  It said producers were looking for actors to play roles in a film about Richard Phillips, the captain of the U.S. ship Maersk Alabama that was hijacked by Somali pirates in April 2009.  

Abdi auditioned and won a role as one of the pirates.  He says his background as a Somali immigrant helped him to be convincing in the role.

"I was always fascinated by the pirates, and I was amazed by what they do.  And I'm a Somalian myself - I was born in Somalia, I left Somalia when I was seven years old, and I witnessed the war.  So I could relate to the pirates in a lot of ways, I know a lot of people who came from Somalia who lived with us in Minneapolis," said Abdi.

Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali immigrant community in the United States.  Thousands of Somalis have moved there over the past 20 years, fleeing war and poverty in their homeland.

The 28-year-old Abdi, who had been working as a limo driver, suddenly found himself working with two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks and a major Hollywood director, Paul Greengrass.  He says both men helped him feel comfortable on the set.

"Tom Hanks is really a humble guy, that, you know, was there with me, and you know, just helped me through it.  And Paul Greengrass was the one that gave me a chance and who believed in me from the get-go.  And so if ever I'd do anything wrong, he'd take me aside and help me get the scene better.  So I'm really grateful about working with them," he said.

The movie has earned a good reception, with many reviewers taking note of Abdi.  The New York Times lauded his performance as "very, very fine," while the Denver Post said, "Abdi's turn as Muse... is striking for its avoidance of sentimentality or villainy."

The movie takes pains to show how the pirates were driven to crime not by ideology but by their desperate circumstances in Somalia.

Abdi says that before the movie came out, he received some criticism within the Somali community for playing a potentially embarrassing role.  Now, he says, those feelings have vanished.

"The Somali community, they're loving it.  I received all kinds of messages on Facebook and Twitter, complimenting me and telling me how proud they are of me," said Abdi.

Abdi says he does not have any offers for future roles, but hopes to keep acting.

Captain Phillips opened in American theaters on October 11.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: sa'id yare from: mogadishu
November 01, 2013 10:46 AM
well done brother!

by: abdi kaafi from: kenya
October 21, 2013 4:50 PM
Asc bro you are a greet somali man i hope we will support you all be win

by: Hassan from: How are you
October 17, 2013 8:51 PM
Asc this is hassan for USA before I'm from somail also where do you lived Now i know you are somail i watch your new movie

by: barsh from: boston
October 13, 2013 2:57 PM
Saw the movie yesterday and cannot get barkhad abdi out of my mind.he is a natural. The acting overall was amazing.
In Response

by: Ann from: Florida
October 26, 2013 12:59 PM
Barkhad Abdi deserves an academy award for Best Supporting Actor in the film Captain Phillips.

by: kvt from: miami
October 11, 2013 10:56 PM
Abdi and his counterparts were awesome in the movie. I saw it today and I really enjoyed it. the movie was not long and drawn out they got straight to the action

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings: Nnekai
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
August 26, 2015 2:42 PM
Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.

Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.