The Golden Globes

Acclaimed debut in ‘Captain Phillips’ opens doors for Somali-born actor


Three months ago it might have seemed that Barkhad Abdi’s life could not become any more incredible. Two years earlier he was picked from an open casting call in Minneapolis to co-star with Tom Hanks in the piracy drama Captain Phillips.

Since the film’s October release, Abdi’s fame has spread in breathtaking fashion.

“Honestly, I’m in a state of shock,” he told The Star Tribune (Minneapolis) of his unexpected acclaim. “I’ve been blessed, it’s a really great feeling, but wow.”

The 28-year-old Somali-born actor has been riding a Hollywood whirlwind. The first-timer’s work as the frightening yet sympathetic hijacker earned prestigious best-supporting-actor nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes (whose awards ceremony will be telecast Sunday night). Last week, he received a nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. With this winning trifecta, Abdi is all but guaranteed to be an Academy Award contender.

Oh, and by the way, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reached out to him at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Awards, congratulated him on his riveting performance and urged him to keep acting. “They said I did a good job, and I’m a big fan of his. It’s a lot of stuff I can’t believe,” Abdi said. “I’m walking red carpets. Big celebrities recognize me. I never thought it would happen. It is just really unbelievable.”

The avalanche of awards nominations coming his way has kept Abdi, who still lives in Minneapolis, on a merry-go-round of promotional activities. Abdi said his best advice came from Hanks, who advised him to “just be yourself and answer the questions correctly.”

Meanwhile, he’s “in Minnesota, enjoying the snow.”

Life in his old neighborhood continues much as before.

“We had a good time catching up this holiday season. Some who’re shocked, I calm them down and say I’m shocked myself. A lot of people expect me to change, and they’re surprised when I call them. But everyone around me is happy about the situation and supportive, but shocked the same as I am.”

He remains connected with Hanks; Abdi already has an agent and offers of possible roles and plans to move to L.A. next month. He’s eager to show that he can act all sorts of roles, but has committed to nothing so far.

“What I believe will make my acting career successful going forward is hard work. I like to challenge myself. Then it’s the people I meet and choosing the projects I want to work on correctly. There’s a lot of characters I can play. There’s nothing that I’ve decided on yet. I’m waiting for the awards season to be finished. Then I'll go for it.”

Abdi will share a table at the Globes with Hanks; he’s coy about who will accompany him, “not a date but someone special to me,” but said he’s not expecting to win any prizes.

“I’m a rookie,” he said. “I got nominated. I think that’s more than enough appreciation for my performance. I’m just fine with going, having fun and meeting new people. We'll see where this ends.”

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