4 Mpls. men co-star in Tom Hanks film 'Captain Phillips'

1:08 AM, Oct 12, 2013   |    comments
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Actors Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Tom Hanks and Mahat M. Ali arrive at the premiere of Columbia Pictures' 'Captain Phillips' at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on September 30, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS - Their journey could read like a Hollywood script.

Four Somali American men from Minneapolis, plucked from a Cedar-Riverside neighborhood casting call, have found overnight fame starring in the new Tom Hanks movie "Captain Phillips," which hits theaters Friday.

One of those unknown actors, Barkhad Abdi, is now rumored to be an Oscar contender for his performance opposite Hanks.

The movie portrays the 2009 cargo ship hijacking, when Somali pirates took the captain Richard Phillips hostage in a lifeboat. Navy Seals intervened in an explosive end, saving Phillips and killing three pirates.

The Somali men from Minneapolis attended a 2011 casting call at the Brian Coyle Community Center at Cedar-Riverside, where casting directors chose them from some 700 hopefuls, moved by their grit and heart.

"Those four were the chosen ones, that anointed group that stuck out," said Debbie DeLisi, the search casting director who spearheaded a worldwide search for the lead roles.

"I have to be able to feel them through their eyes. It's like a spirit for that role," she said.

The actors prepared for months but didn't meet Hanks until the first scene in the Sony Pictures movie. Hanks has expressed in several interviews their performance as Somali pirates was so convincing, it was terrifying.

"I wasn't (an) actor, and I was given a big part so I had to do my best to prove I can do it," said Abdi.

Abdi attended Minnesota State University Moorhead and up until recently directed music videos and a local documentary about the Somali community. He now plans to pursue acting in California.

"Beyond anything I have asked for, beyond anything I have dreamed for," said Faysal Ahmed, who plays the role of Najee.

Ahmed worked with the Bedlam Theater in Minneapolis as a Youth Program Coordinator. Mahat Ali plays the pirate's navigator and graduated from high school in 2010, and attended college for two years.

Barkhad Abdirahman plays the youngest pirate. He's an 18-year-old who coaches soccer and plans on attending college.

They all already have thousands of fans in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood, where the movie has allowed other young Somalis to picture their success.

"We are rooting for him (Abdi) to win Oscar so he can bring a better image for the community and youth perspective. There is something else they can do well, if they work very hard," said Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota.

Noor knows the actors from the Somali community and was present at that first casting call.

"It's something sense of pride for youth and younger generations, and the seniors observing the issue from the perspective of the reality of the movie itself. It's piracy issues. The menace we have to deal with as an international community in Somalia," said Noor.

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