Local connections to movie keep coming

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Now that Captain Phillips has opened in movie theaters around Minnesota, the interest in its Minneapolis actors is growing. An audience will hear the story behind their casting at an event Tuesday at the Grandview Theater in St. Paul. The event is sponsored by Minnesota Women in Film and Television. Casting director Debbie DeLisi is the featured guest, and the four local actors will be there too.

The real Richard Phillips is coming to town in December. The hijacking survivor will be the featured speaker at Beth El Synagogue’s "Heroes Among Us" series Sunday, Dec. 8.

The movie tells the story of four Somali pirates' attempt to hijack a cargo ship under Captain Phillips' command. The actor who plays their leader is already generating Oscar buzz. He is Barkhad Abdi, 28, who came to Minneapolis when he was 14. Abdi told the Pioneer Press that remembering the violence in his homeland helped him understand the desperation of his character.

"By age 6, the war had started in Somalia," Abdi said."If my parents did not give me attention, that could easily have been me, in a country where war has been going on for 24 years, where there are no jobs, no schools, no nothing. I could understand how deep they were in it. The four of us understood the choices (the pirates) made, and that helped us take on the characters."

The other three pirates are played by Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali. The four were among 700 Somali men who showed up at a community center in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood for an open casting call two years ago. They were among 40 chosen to work on a scene for about two weeks; then were called to Los Angeles for final auditions.

MPR News said the actors did not get to meet their idol and the film's star, Tom Hanks, until months after they began work on the movie. Director Paul Greengrass wanted them to meet Hanks for the first time in character as adversaries in the wheelhouse of the cargo ship.

Abdi said there is both excitement and trepidation in the Minneapolis Somali community. The actors don't want the story to contribute to negative stereotypes. He is hopeful that audiences will learn something from the movie.

"Everybody knows the story of what happened," he said. "They understand how desperate these guys are, and what they are doing is wrong."

The movie is getting very favorable reviews, including one from Bring Me The News.

Besides all the local attention, the Somali actors are appearing in national media. Abdi was recently interviewed for the CBS Sunday Morning show.

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