The Bay Area-bred winner of multiple Oscars was in The City recently talking about the movie, which is based on the true story of Richard Phillips, a merchant mariner who was held hostage by Somali pirates in 2009.
“I’ve got to get out of this line of work. I have got to start playing fake people!” he jokes, describing how he has been able to “go right to the source” and meet people he has portrayed, including Jim Lovell and Charlie Wilson.
“I could interact with them. I could see the way they moved and filled up a room,” says Hanks, who read everything he could get his hands on about the standoff at sea and met with Phillips twice.
“He is a very happy-go-lucky guy,” Hanks says. “But learning how, as soon as he gets on board it’s all business, that ended up speaking a lot to an unseen back story.”
Hanks also learned that Phillips wasn’t entirely afraid during the ordeal. His confrontation with the pirates was, in a sense, easier than two previous times he faced death at sea, during a hurricane and a fire on board his ship.
“He had someone to interact with,” Hanks says. “They even made jokes and laughed and insulted each other’s navy. It was a different type of anxiety.”
One more important detail: “The other thing I learned is that Rich always carries a change of underwear,” Hanks says. As for the pirates, director Paul Greengrass (“United 93,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”) cast Somali immigrants living in Minneapolis.
“Even though they’ve never acted, the best way I can describe it is that whatever it takes to be an actor, they have. They’re storytellers. These guys are all just like the cool guys in the theater department in college, except that they’re very skinny and English is their second language,” Hanks says.
Hanks’ moment of greatness in the film comes at the end in a scene that wasn’t scripted or planned.
“Because it wasn’t on the schedule and we didn’t know we were going to do it, it was kind of like a freebie ... We ended up getting something that was somehow accurate. And that’s a testament to Paul that he’s willing to do that,” Hanks says.
But Hanks’ ultimate compliment came when Phillips himself saw the finished movie and said, “Looked familiar to me.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener
Written by Billy Ray
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Running time 2 hours, 14 minutes