Barkhad Abdi, 28, was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category this morning for his role as a Somali pirate in “Captain Phillips.”
The role was Abdi’s first acting gig — ever.
Abdi was previously a cab and limousine driver in Minneapolis, Minn., when one open casting call in 2011 changed his life.
“I answered a casting call that was on a local TV channel. So I go there to give it a shot, there were a lot of people there the first time,” Abdi told the “Today Show” of the “Captain Phillips” audition process. “They asked me simple questions like ‘what’s your name?’ and ‘where were you born?'”
A few more rounds of auditions later and the Somali-born Abdi landed the role of “Muse,” the pirate ringleader in the Tom Hanks-starring film that hit theatres in October.
Hanks, however, was not nominated for a Best Actor award during Thursday’s big Oscars announcement.
The Paul Greengrass-directed movie is the true story of Somali pirates who hijacked the U.S. cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, and held its captain hostage in 2009.
“I became the character. I tried to be that guy in that moment,” Abdi told Matt Lauer about his first-time acting gig. “I had to come out with all I got. I used a lot of imagination. I talked to a lot of people who came back from Somalia and I read a lot of pirate stories.”
Abdi, who moved to the U.S. from Somalia when he was 14, says he didn’t meet his co-star Tom Hanks until the cameras rolled during their first scene together.
Eventually, “Tom helped me a lot to get the part out and would motivate me in a lot of ways.”
Abdi got so into his character he started ad-libbing, coming up with the much-hyped line: “I’m the captain now.”
While Abdi is now back in Minnesota helping run his brother’s store, he does say “I want to continue to act.”
In the meantime, he’s had plenty of time to hobnob with celebrities during the current awards season, as he’s documented on his Instagram account (via HuffPo):
“At the end of it, I’m a Somali person,” says Abdi. “But I love acting and I just wanted to show what I could do.”
Appearing on the “Today” show Thursday, Abdi said he was so excited about the imminent Oscar nominations that he couldn’t sleep Wednesday night.
Abdi’s Best Supporting Actor competition now includes Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hill, and Jared Leto.
But it looks like this is just the beginning for the novice actor who just scored himself the industry’s highest acclaim.
Watch Abdi tell his unique story on the “Today Show”:
Now watch Abdi in the trailer for “Captain Phillips”:
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