'Captain Phillips' star Abdi finds a risk worth taking in debut

Wed Oct 9, 2013 7:27pm EDT
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By Eric Kelsey

BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - Barkhad Abdi, a tall wisp of a man with a narrow face and a wide grin, sat on the sofa in his hotel suite with one eye on the television and another on a view of the Hollywood Hills.

The 28-year-old Somali-American, who had worked the past year at his brother's mobile phone store in Minneapolis, could hardly have called himself an actor when he began production in British director Paul Greengrass' thriller "Captain Phillips."

But it took a lecture from Greengrass before Abdi, who portrays the Somali pirate Muse alongside Oscar-winner Tom Hanks, was able to fully grasp the role and play it in a way that has critics saying is worthy of awards consideration. The true-story maritime drama will be released in U.S. cinemas on Friday.

"The pressure was high," Abdi said, who speaks with a Somali accent in short, measured sentences often punctuated with a smile or by a clap of his hands for emphasis. "I had doubts in myself a lot of times, but there's no going back."

The actor said he relied heavily on Greengrass' advice during the early days of shooting, and especially after one rough day on set when he said he had difficulty capturing Muse's emotional state during a particular scene.

Greengrass "took me aside and said, 'You know the similarities between you and the real Muse?'"

Abdi said Greengrass' question caught him off guard.

"I'm thinking that this guy (Muse) is a criminal. Why did you compare me to him?,"' Abdi said he asked Greengrass.   Continued...

Somali actor Barkhad Abdi poses for a portrait during a media publicity event for the film "Captain Phillips" in Los Angeles in this file photo from September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Phil McCarten/Files