What Tom Hanks learned play­ing Capt. Richard Phillips— and how the real-life Phillips now views his five days held hostage by So­mali pi­rates

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - FRONT PAGE -


what makes a hero? Though her­alded world­wide for his heroic ac­tions af­ter So­mali pi­rates at­tacked his ship, the Maersk Alabama, in April 2009, Capt. Richard Phillips is too mod­est to go there. “Most heroes don’t have a choice; they just do the best they can,” says the forth­right 58-year-old. “What’s that say­ing? A hero is some­one who [is braver] five min­utes longer?” Still an ac­tive mer­chant mariner, the Ver­mont res­i­dent is in New York City on this June day to re­unite with Tom Hanks, who plays him in the riv­et­ing film Cap­tain Phillips, based on his or­deal.

Hanks, of course, knows a hero when he sees one. Sport­ing the mus­tache he grew for his Tony-nom­i­nated role in the play Lucky

Guy, he greets Phillips warmly, in­quir­ing about the cap­tain’s next trip (he’s due to set sail shortly from Ja­pan for the Per­sian Gulf ). The ac­tor, 57, has his own take on the psy­chol­ogy of hero­ism: “A hero is some­body who vol­un­tar­ily walks into the un­known,” he says.

No mat­ter how it’s de­fined, hero­ism is at the heart of di­rec­tor Paul Green­grass’s film. In the­aters Oct. 11, Cap­tain Phillips de­tails the first hi­jack­ing of a U.S. cargo ship in 200 years, the time Phillips spent as a hostage in his ves­sel’s lifeboat, and the ul­ti­mate show­down be­tween the pi­rates and Navy SEALs. “Ev­ery one of us hopes that if put to the test, we could ac­quit our­selves,” says Green­grass. “That’s why th­ese sto­ries in­spire.” Here, Hanks and Phillips dis­cuss ev­ery­day hero­ism and the chal­lenges of por­tray­ing a real-life in­ci­dent on­screen.

PA­RADE: When did you two first meet, and what did you talk about?

I went up to his TOM HANKS: house in Ver­mont; it must have been March 2012. I asked him about his first go-round of be­ing a celebrity, the world tour he had to make upon his res­cue. And, you know, “How do you be a cap­tain of a ship?” The stan­dard [an­swer] takes in the ro­mance of the sea; ev­ery now and again you stare at the hori­zon and breathe in deeply. But if you did that on the Maersk Alabama, you’d es­sen­tially get diesel fumes. So [this role] was more about por­tray­ing the pres­sure-filled, worka­day as­pect of get­ting goods to port. A team CAPT. RICHARD PHILLIPS: of guys work­ing to­gether with the same pur­pose, that’s ba­si­cally what it is. And then your rou­tine was

dis­rupted by the pi­rate at­tack. A lot of peo­ple will be won­der­ing how they might han­dle them­selves in that sit­u­a­tion. One thing I learned

PHILLIPS: is that you’re stronger than you re­al­ize. I was afraid, but you’ve got to put that fear on the seat next to you and do what you have to do. I was pretty much in prob­lem­solv­ing mode the whole time. Tom, when some­thing like this hap­pens in the news, do you think, “That’d make a great movie”? Here’s what I al­ways HANKS: think: “Will this have to be blown


out of pro­por­tion to make it a movie? Or can we ad­here to the be­hav­ior as it re­ally went down?” An ex­am­ple would be Apollo 13. The movie added a bit of baloney, but not much. No bad guys were added; no spies were put in. No chase scenes.

PHILLIPS: [ laughs] No. By and large,

HANKS: the mak­ing of mo­tion pic­tures is all about “Let’s ratchet it up.” And I al­ways think, “We don’t need to ratchet this up.” If you do, don’t call it Cap­tain Phillips or The Maersk Alabama. Call it some­thing else, and then you have carte blanche to do any­thing, down to sea ser­pents and aliens.

How was the shoot? Paul Green­grass also di­rected United 93, an­other film about a real-life cri­sis in a con­fined space [the plane that was hi­jacked on 9/11 and crashed in Penn­syl­va­nia]. On that movie, they would

HANKS: shoot the en­tire flight in the morn­ing in real time, be­cause it was only an hour and a half at most, then shoot it again in the af­ter­noon with the cam­eras in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing way of work­ing be­cause it’s all about be­hav­ior and pro­ce­dure as op­posed to “Let’s get the shot where we es­tab­lish this.” I called up Matt Da­mon, who made [two of ] the Bourne movies with Paul, and he said, “Look, the first time you do it, it’s a disas­ter, be­cause ev­ery­one’s talk­ing on top of each other. But then it set­tles down.” We were able to do that

mostly with the scenes on the bridge, prior to the pi­rates board­ing. It’s a weird thing— you’re al­most not per­form­ing; you’re be­hav­ing. Cap­tain Phillips, how did you feel re­liv­ing the in­ci­dent when you watched the film? For me, it wasn’t bad. PHILLIPS: It’s in my past; I don’t think about it any­more. I was lucky enough to get through it, that’s the way I look at it. My wife cried at the end—it did af­fect her.

Did you have any sense of what was go­ing on out­side the lifeboat? No, not at all. I didn’t

PHILLIPS: know about the mael­strom of me­dia go­ing on at home. And even with the navy boat there [the USS Bain­bridge ar­rived on the scene a day af­ter the hi­jack­ing], what could they do? The nor­mal rou­tine was to es­cort the pi­rates to shore and wait for the ran­som to be paid. As a hostage, I can say I’m glad they didn’t stick to the nor­mal rou­tine.

HANKS: Paul would say, “We have to shoot some Navy SEAL porn to­day.” Guys jumping out of planes with all their gear, stuff like that.

PHILLIPS: Since the in­ci­dent, I’ve seen footage of the ac­tual peo­ple go­ing into the wa­ter. And it’s un­be­liev­able. It’s more Hol­ly­wood than Hol­ly­wood. They are true ti­tans, su­per­heroes of our age.

You seem re­luc­tant to be la­beled a hero your­self; in your book you call it “the H-word.” Do you feel, look­ing back, that you did have heroic mo­ments? Oh, for me, it was

PHILLIPS: my job. You take the pay­check, you do the job. As cap­tain, you get all the blame, pretty much, and in this sit­u­a­tion all the recog­ni­tion, when it was 19 of my crew who were in­volved in it also.

I’ve been more scared on ships. I’ve had a fire in the engine room where I thought I had dead engi­neers. I’ve been through hur­ri­canes. I mean, I feel glad that I didn’t lose any of my crew [on the

Maersk Alabama].

Tom, you must have thought about the role’s heroic as­pects. I have gone through so

HANKS: many ex­am­i­na­tions of what a hero is, be­tween the World War II stuff and the astro­naut stuff. I once asked Jim Lovell, “Did you pon­der your fate up there?” And he said, “No, be­cause we were so fa­mil­iar with the space­craft and the pro­ce­dures and physics of what it was go­ing to take.” He felt he al­ways had a card to play in the game of soli­taire that was mak­ing it back. As long as there was a card to

play, there was no fear. But you can’t help but think, well, that guy is will­ing to put him­self in that po­si­tion; the def­i­ni­tion of hero­ism is in there. I have never met some­one who did a heroic thing who didn’t say, “I was just do­ing my job.” The guys in World War II all say, “The heroes were the ones who never came back.”

Do you think we all have the abil­ity to rise to the oc­ca­sion? Not ev­ery­body, no.

HANKS: Some peo­ple are cow­ards. … I think by and large a third of peo­ple are vil­lains, a third are cow­ards, and a third are heroes. Now, a vil­lain and a coward can choose to be a hero, but they’ve got to make that choice.

Cap­tain Phillips, when you went to sea, did you al­ways think that a pi­rate at­tack was a pos­si­bil­ity? Oh, yeah. I al­ways

PHILLIPS: told my crew it wasn’t a mat­ter of if, it was a mat­ter of when. Be­cause we don’t deal with piracy just in So­ma­lia; Nige­ria is worse. It’s in Malacca, Viet­nam, the Sulu Sea, the Philip­pines, off of China, off both coasts of Africa and South Amer­ica.

HANKS: video of you, and there was some guy who said, “Wasn’t it a mis­take to take the ship where pi­rates are?” And you went, “Well, the pi­rates are all over the place.”

Tom, is there a spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity at­tached to play­ing a real per­son? I think so. A lot of

HANKS: I watched a lot of

times it’s not just within your hands; you have to see eye to eye with the film­maker on a ba­sic phi­los­o­phy. I think it’s im­por­tant not to re­de­fine some­body’s mo­ti­va­tions. [In a movie] you have to have peo­ple do or say things they never did or said, and be in places they never were. But you can take that to an ex­treme where it’s not re­ally

why this per­son does what he does, and that’s the key. You’ve got to be a jour­nal­ist and a his­to­rian and a film­maker all at the same time.

The So­mali pi­rates are not de­picted sim­ply as “the bad guys”; you get a sense of them as in­di­vid­u­als with pres­sures of their own. This could eas­ily

HANKS: have been about bad guys who are just evil. Most movies are like that. But the dy­nam­ics of who th­ese four So­ma­lis are and the pres­sures on them are pal­pa­ble— be­cause Paul de­cided to make them so.

The ac­tors who play them all live in Min­neapo­lis, you know. They’re part of a So­mali com­mu­nity up there. When I met them, I never felt more like an out-of­shape, mid­dle-aged white man in my life. [ laughs]

What are you hop­ing peo­ple take away from the movie? I would say that Rich

HANKS: puts this in­cred­i­bly well: You can al­ways try to do some­thing. Keep mov­ing for­ward. Keep try­ing stuff.

Noth­ing is over

PHILLIPS: un­til you choose to give up.

In two scenes from Cap­tain Phillips, Hanks con­fronts the pi­rates (above) and talks to the navy dur­ing the days-long lifeboat stand­off.

Tom Hanks, right, and Richard Phillips, whose story is told in Cap­tain Phillips, in the­aters Oct. 11

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.