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Barkhad Abdi's Journey From Somalia To Hollywood

Actor Barkhad Abdi is pictured in Santa Monica, California, Jan. 14, 2014. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Actor Barkhad Abdi is pictured in Santa Monica, California, Jan. 14, 2014. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Somali-born actor Barkhad Abdi has won critical acclaim as well as an Oscar nomination and a British Academy Film award for best supporting actor in “Captain Phillips.”

Abdi plays the leader of the Somaili pirates who capture Phillips’ cargo ship. It was Abdi’s first film role. He tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that he found the first day of filming “really nerve wracking,” but that director Paul Greengrass “believed in me before I believed in myself.”

Abdi was born in Somalia, though his family left when Abdi was seven and war broke out. They moved to Yemen and eventually to Minneapolis, where Abdi worked in a number of jobs before landing the “Captain Phillips” role.

Interview Highlights: Barkhad Abdi

On Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass

“Tom Hanks is someone that I admire and someone that I love their work, so that gave me the push. And you know, Paul Greengrass believed in me before I believed in myself. Just calmed me down and just always find a new way to solve the obstacle that we have in that day… At the beginning of the movie, I was really nervous. I was like, ‘am I really going to do this big part?’ And you know he said, ‘just don’t think about it, you’re going to work at it on a daily basis, and each day you do the best at whatever you’re doing and don’t think about anything.’”

On his memories from Somalia

“I left there when I was 7 years old for the civil war to Yemen. My dad was a teacher in Yemen. And I lived in Yemen for another seven years then came to the States… I have good memories and bad memories of Somalia. You know, I remember the peaceful days, the beautiful Mogadishu. I remember when the war happened — overnight it just turned chaos. Dead people everywhere and gun shots don’t stop.”

On the impact on his character’s line ‘Maybe in in America’

“You know that line actually is a really powerful line. It’s saying what did I come from, I don’t want to go back to that empty room that I woke up at… there’s nothing there for him. There’s no schools, there’s no government, there’s no law. So it’s — whatever you’re saying, maybe in America where there is all that stuff.”

What he wants people to know about Somalis

“I want people to know that the Somali people are very hard working people and they adapt to whatever environment they’re in. We have a lot of success stories, the Somali community here in the U.S. and even back in Somalia there’s a lot of good people working hard. And there’s the bad ones that bring the bad name — pirates and Al-Shabaab and all that other stuff.”



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