Tom Hanks is a perfectionist. Which other actor would agree to a gruelling Second World War ‘boot camp’ for Saving Private Ryan or ride in NASA’s zero-gravity ‘vomit comet’ in preparation for Apollo 13? After 70 films and television episodes, not much can faze him on the sets. But reportedly he was “truly petrified” while filming Captain Phillips. He plays the titular character who was taken hostage by pirates during the 2009 hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years. The film is based on Phillips’s book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEAL, and Dangerous Days at Sea. More from the actor :
did you want to be involved in Captain Phillips?
I’m fascinated by nonfiction entertainment. I’m the type of guy that reads the newspaper, magazines, and sees a story that really happened and says, ‘Well this is better than most movies could possibly be.’ It is in a lot of ways a story that is almost written in screenplay form. The book that Captain Phillips wrote was a very straight forward delivery of what he went through. Also, it’s got an incredible visual vista. It takes place in an oddly glamorous locale, believe it or not, even though it’s a container ship. You’ve got this motley crew, a ragtag group of protagonists, and you have some very evocative antagonists. We’ve seen quite a few fictionalised versions of what can happen when bad guys try to take over a ship or a plane, but because this is a real event, it presents one of the biggest challenges a filmmaker can face, which is: what really happened and how do we make that so gripping that it warrants holding a place in commercial entertainment?
You’ve done that before on other movies.
I’ve done that before and I think Captain Phillips is a very compelling story. The fact that it actually happened makes it even more compelling. And working with [director] Paul Greengrass was no small effect. The first film I saw of Paul’s was Bloody Sunday, and it was dealing with a very dark day, with real people and real events. Straightaway, I flagged Paul Greengrass as someone I’d like to work with. So Captain Phillips was a melding of an awful lot of really great opportunities.
What sort of man are you playing, taking on the role of the real captain?
It is a very particular skill set that Richard Phillips has. It’s a world that is unknown to all of us because we just assume that containers full of goods easily make it from one place to another and it’s a part of regular commerce. But the juggling act that a guy like Captain Phillips has to do in the course of getting from Abu Dhabi to Djibouti down to Mombasa is very impressive. He does this journey with an amazing skill set that has to do with very technological stuff as well as a huge amount of people skills, because he’s got to maintain a degree of discipline through a very complex crew situation.
From your experiences on films like Captain Phillips, what are the qualities one needs to be a great leader?
I think it’s confidence more than anything else. I think that you have to have the conviction of what your decisions are. I asked Richard Phillips, “What do you do if you got like a crew of 26 people and three of them are knot-heads?’ Richard said, “I’d be overjoyed if only three of them were knot heads. Usually it’s a lot more!” I’m not a leader; I just play one in the movies.
Scheduled to release today.