Barkhad Abdi, On The Seas With Tom Hanks

The film award(a) season---half of the year between September and March---is upon us and I'm confident that "Captain Phillips," directed by Paul Greengrass and starting two time Academy winner Tom Hanks, will receive a heap of nominations and awards and deserving, may I add, all of them.
It's an impressive and intelligent film and the acting makes the film an intimate experience.  My colleague Manohla Dargis, of the New York Times in reviewing the film called .... "newcomer Barkhad Abdi very, very fine".
I concur.  Here's what Barkhad Abdi shared about working with a Hollywood legend and learning how to swim.
myNewYorkeye: Barkhad Abdi, you were tremendous in your role as 'Muse.'  There is even early  "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar buzz around your performance.  How, exactly, did you got the role?

Barkhad Abdi: Fate.  I was at my friend’s house watching tv, and I saw a commercial looking for Somali actors for a Tom Hanks film. I went to the casting call and there were about 800 people there. 
They asked me my name, where I was born, my age, and they gave me a page from the script. They told me to read the role of 'Muse,' so I became that character.

myNewYorkeye: Barkhad Abdi, 800 people is a huge casting call.  How fast did the casting process move?

Barkhad Abdi: Fast for me.  I went back next day. Instead of 800 there were 40.
From that small number we were told to firm groups and that's how we auditioned in day two. 
We could form our own group. I took the lead and made my group unique.

myNewYorkeye: Sounds too easy.  How did the group auditions go? What happened?

Barkhad Abdi: Our first group audition went very badly. So we all went home and practiced and did better later.  Then we waited and waited.  They didn't call for two weeks - two weeks of silence.
myNewYorkeye: Two weeks waiting for a major career break is like an eternity.  And then what happened Barkhad Abdi?
Barkhad Abdi: Finally, we got a call from casting director - Francine Maisler - to meet with the director, Paul Greengrass. 
We flew to LA to meet with Paul. And that is when we were told we all got the parts.

myNewYorkeye: And then what happened Barkhad Abdi?

Barkhad Abdi: And then I had to jump in the ocean to make sure we weren't dreaming!
myNewYorkeye: The "Hollywood ocean is deep and turbulent" but you know that already.  So did you work immediately?
Barkhad Abdi: No, the work started a few months later.  First we flew to Malta and trained for a  month and half.
We had to learn how to swim, fight, use weapons, climb, and how to ride a skiff.
myNewYorkeye: Barkhad Abdi that is a lot of learning in a short amount of time. What was the biggest challenge during filming?
Barkhad Abdi: Swimming. I had never swam before. I couldn't swim in five feet of water.  Honestly.
myNewYorkeye: Say what now?  You auditioned for a film, that takes place in the ocean and you didn't know how to swim?  LMAO, Barkhad Abdi, LMAO.
Barkhad Abdi: I would DJ pool parties in Minneapolis, but I never swam there. (laughs)
myNewYorkeye: Barkhad Abdi much like your character, 'Muse,' your fearless and determined.  What was the most rewarding aspect of filming?
Barkhad Abdi: To get to work with all of people in the film. We learned how a film gets made and it really was all a great experience.
Also working with Tom Hanks was rewarding, but then the least rewarding part was having to wait to shoot our first scene with Tom Hanks.
myNewYorkeye: Explain?  Film is all "hurry up and (now) wait."
Barkhad Abdi: Waiting as an experience.  It was hard for me to scare Tom.  I was lost in that scene 'How do I scare him?'   I used a lot of my imagination to be in that character.  I had to became that character – I did whatever I could to become 'Muse.'
myNewYorkeye: Barkhad Abdi believe me you became 'Muse.'  Shooting on an ocean, I can't imagine how complicated. Is "hard" an accurate word to describe the experience?
Barkhad Abdi: It was very hard. Every day there was a new problem or difficulty. Whatever we were shooting, it was shooting at sea. Skiffs weren't easy. I would get sea sick at times and I would fall.  Plus the lifeboat was smelly.

During those times, I really tried to stay in character.  Those challenges shaped my character choices. The boat really smelled.
myNewYorkeye: What stands out as one of the best days of filming?
Barkhad Abdi: The first scene - the village scene was easy for me. It was shooting on land. (Laughs).
myNewYorkeye: What would you say the film is really about?
Barkhad Abdi: It is a story of two people with very different life styles. One went to school and college, got a job and had a family. He has his life on track.

One lives in a torn up part of the world. He didn't go to school and he sees this (pirating) as his only chance at a better life.

When these two people come together, with forces outside of their control, they both have to understand each other and live with each other.
myNewYorkeye: How do you like New York? You’ve been here before, right? And have you ever been to Harlem, Barkhad Abdi?

Barkhad Abdi: I have been to New York and I love Manhattan. I love the energy there.  It's a lot different than Minneapolis. In a good way. (laughs)