Last Friday, I dropped by the St. Regis to have coffee with Tom Hanks and talk about his new movie Captain Phillips. I mostly asked him questions about boats. While I was there, I also had a conversation with another one of the actors in the film, Barkhad Abdi.
Abdi plays one of the Somali pirates in the film and he does so to great success. Because of the closed door nature of the Captain Phillips story, much of the film's best scenes really just consist of Abdi and Hanks talking to one another, usually in verse tense tones. My main quibbles with the film, which I did enjoy, come down to the fact that I just wanted these scenes between Abdi and Hanks to go on longer, to plumb more depth, to reach for the taxing and absurd moments that accompany a story like this. Oh well. The point being that I wanted Abdi on screen more than he already is, which is a hell of a thing to say about a first-time actor who already gets a lot of screen time. I'm not alone in my admiration. His name is already being tossed around as a possible contender for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars.
Of what has already been said about Abdi, much has been made about his unlikely background for a Hollywood film: He was born in and spent some early years in Somalia. He moved to Yemen, where his father was an educator. His family won the Green Card lottery and moved to Minneapolis, MN when he was teenager. Before starring in a film opposite Tom Hanks, he was driving a Lincoln Town Car to make a living.
When I talked with Abdi, he didn't have that big, overwhelming Hollywood personality. He spoke quietly and seemed a little worn out by the attention. He told me that he still shares an apartment with some friends in Minneapolis, though he'd like to move to Los Angeles soon. He did want to correct one thing, though. While it is true that Captain Phillips is his first feature film, he did have a little experience helping make music videos with his friend Yung Yubi, a Somali-American rapper based in Minneapolis. They're hoping to put out a mixtape soon.
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