Captain Phillips actor Barkhad Abdi on his new found fame

By Kev Geoghegan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

image copyrightAP
image captionBarkhad Abdi has been praised for the authenticity of his performance as pirate Muse

With less than a week until the Bafta awards and less than a month before the Oscars, newcomer Barkhad Abdi is still getting used to the fact he is in the running for best supporting actor for his role in the film Captain Phillips.

The actor, in his first role, stars as Muse, the leader of a band of Somali pirates who board a huge container ship, captained by Tom Hanks.

Abdi, a Somalia-born resident of Minnesota, won the role when he attended an open audition for British director Paul Greengrass.

We caught up with him the morning after he was named best supporting actor by the London Film Critics' Circle

Congratulations, we suspect that last night was your first British awards ceremony.

It was very nice, I want to thank the London Film Critics for their generosity, It's my first award; I wasn't expecting it.

This was your first acting experience and you have since gone back to work with your brother at his phone shop. But have you caught the acting bug?

I decided after the movie; I had made up my mind that I wanted to be an actor but there were no jobs for me at the time because I didn't have any other experience and the film wasn't out so I decided to work with my brother rather than stay at home.

image copyrightReuters
image captionGreengrass directed Matt Damon in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum

You landed the role at an open audition - what made you go?

I was in the industry behind the camera, I loved directing and doing music videos and short stuff. When this came along, it was a Tom Hanks film casting local Somalian actors, so I had to go see what my chances were. There was a lot of people there, more than 200. They asked us questions, what our names were and where we were from.

They gave me the character of Muse to read and I came back a few days later and we became a group, the four of us. We auditioned together and they sent us to LA to meet the director and he told us we had the part.

You didn't meet Tom Hanks until your first scene together when you take over the ship. In the scene in which you are meant to intimidate him, were your nervous to be filming opposite an Oscar-winning actor?

It was the first time; we weren't allowed to meet Tom until the first day when we were in costume. That was nerve-racking for me to become the character and that's when the line ("Look at me... I'm the captain now") came out.

image copyrightAP
image captionAbdi has met his fellow best support actor Oscar nominees, such as Dallas Buyers Club star Jared Leto, at award ceremonies

The scene, I was familiar with it, it was the same scene we auditioned for, so me and the guys studied it. Paul gave us some advice and we had to become the characters and forget about Tom Hanks until the end of the scene.

You've already attended the Golden Globes; describe that experience of getting out of your car and walking up the red carpet in front of the world's press.

I was nervous but it was a good thing, meeting those big stars, it was fun. I just went and enjoyed myself and met people I only see on TV. I met Mike Tyson, he said he knew me. I used to watch him. I was shocked.

And did Tom give you any advice?

When the film first came out, he just told me to be myself so that's what I do and try and be as honest as I can. A lot of people give you advice so you just have to take the best.

Take us back to the morning in January, when you were nominated for the Oscar.

It was surreal, being nominated. The film already had a lot of talk when it came out, it was received well and we were happy and it was good that people were saying good stuff. Then the nomination came and I wasn't expecting it, it was truly humbling and I was honoured.

I was watching live, I couldn't sleep that night thinking about it. My little sister called me and then I called my mum. My sister was just screaming.

Have you had many conversations about what you are doing next?

I'm studying some scripts now, there is nothing that I have decided yet.

How odd is it to hear yourself saying things like "I'm looking at scripts," and "I'm talking to my agent"?

You know it's hard but I'm starting to get used to it now. I love filmmaking and acting and it's something that I'm passionate about, so I'm truly glad that it's an adventure for me.

I'm still a beginner in this business and I'm just looking for good stories. It's very exciting and tiring at the same time.

Captain Phillips is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download on 10 February.

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