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Saving Captain Phillips; Imagine a World

Aired October 12, 2013 - 19:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome. I'm Christiane Amanpour. We have a special program for you this evening, an in-depth look at the real-life events behind the gripping new film, "Captain Phillips." It's the story of a spectacular hostage taking by Somali pirates on the high seas back in 2009.

The star, Tom Hanks, and the director, Paul Greengrass, will join me in just a moment.

The movie's global premiere comes out just as once again the world is focused on Somalia, after an attempt this week by U.S. Navy SEALs to capture an Al-Shabaab commander who's known as Ikrima.

Al-Shabaab is the Somali Al Qaeda franchise behind the deadly attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last month. And this latest mission is haunted by echoes of the traumatic "Black Hawk Down" incident.

Twenty years ago, American soldiers were brutally killed; one was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu after a failed operation to snatch an anti-American warlord. It was the most shocking blow to America's psyche and its foreign policy since Vietnam.

After U.S. troops then pulled out of Somalia in 1994, the country sank into the abyss of a failed state, defined by civil war, terror and piracy. Attacks by Somali pirates on global shipping was already an epidemic when four armed men from a coastal fishing village forced their way aboard the U.S. container ship, Maersk Alabama.

The captain, an American named Richard Phillips, was taken hostage by the pirates, leaving his crew and his ship safely behind. The ensuing five-day ordeal and its extraordinary denouement are brought to life in edge-of-your-seat detail in "Captain Phillips," the movie.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't move, man, don't move. (Inaudible).


AMANPOUR: Later in the program, I'll speak to Barkhad Abdi. He's the Somali who, in his first film role, plays the pirate captain who led the raid on the Maersk Alabama.

But first, Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass, two men, amazing accomplished at telling the dramatic human stories behind real-life events. Between them, they've spanned the wars from "Bloody Sunday" to "Saving Private Ryan," to "United 93" and "Apollo 13."


Paul Greengrass, welcome to the program.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: Yes, we're on the Christiane Amanpour.


AMANPOUR: You are indeed, with a phenomenal film, I mean phenomenal film, full of suspense, full of foreboding, right from the very start.

I'm going to play one of the clips, and that is when the Somali pirates start to come on board and when you first meet the lead pirate.


HANKS, "CAPTAIN PHILLIPS": We've got a problem.

BARKHAD ABDI, ACTOR, "MUSE": Come on, come on.

"PHILLIPS": We pushed the ship too hard, we're off the grid. That means the computer's now offline.

"MUSE": Captain...

"PHILLIPS": The ship's broken.

"MUSE": Captain, no one gets hurt if you don't play no games.

"PHILLIPS": Now it's -- the ship's broken. We had to go --

"MUSE": Nobody gets hurt if --


Look at me.


"MUSE": Look at me.


"MUSE": I'm the captain now. (Inaudible).


HANKS: You know, we did not know what they were saying. It wasn't until I saw the movie and read the subtitles that I got the, you know, their lines in the vernacular like that, yes. Yes. It wasn't really scripted.

AMANPOUR: So how did you -- I mean, how did you do it, then?

HANKS: Well, Paul had kept us separate. We had never met those actors before. We were in Malta; we saw people that looked like they could be Somalis on the periphery of the staging areas, and sometimes often see they were on the horizon working in the skiffs.

AMANPOUR: So that was the first time you'd seen them?

HANKS: That was the first time we met, yes.

AMANPOUR: It's sinister, "Look into my -- I'm the captain now," and there were you trying to basically dissemble and say the boat had been broken, the ship was broken.

HANKS: Yes. It seemed that Rich said would -- for every lie, he would tell the truth and for every truth he would tell a lie, one of the things he said. And because of the freeform way in which we were put, all put through this, he had a chance to say, where's your crew? And Rich would say, I don't know; I'm here with you.

In fact, he did know where they are. But it was also true that I'm here with you. So I'm not with them; so -- and he just -- he just kept trying to go up with a degree of subterfuge.

AMANPOUR: Rich Phillips, amazing, amazing character.

So you kept them away, Paul. But where did you find them? Where did you find these Somali actors?

GREENGRASS: Well, it was the big challenge of the film, really. I knew that we had to cast Somali actors to play these parts because no obviously Somali acting community in Los Angeles or New York. So we went to Minneapolis, where the main Somali community in the U.S. is.

And to be honest, I thought it was going to be very, very hard to find four actors that could play opposite Tom; that's no small task.

But when we got there, it was something like 700 or 800 people turned up for the first casting. There were more quality actors than you could shake a stick at.


AMANPOUR: And what did you think? I mean, these were not actors who you'd ever seen or heard of before.

HANKS: Well, I know that if you can get past the self-consciousness of saying you're an actor and performing, the moviemaking racket is something you can figure out in a morning or an afternoon.

The other part of it, though, is a harder aspect, which is maintaining that characterization and being able to make believe in the most artistic sense. These guys have it in their DNA. They were not intimidated by anything. And they were very, very well prepared for this. They had worked for weeks. So they came in pumped. And they remained so throughout.

AMANPOUR: I've covered a lot of what happened in Somalia from the time when these actors left their country, the war, the warlords, "Black Hawk Down," it just happens to be the 20th anniversary this week since then.

I think you try to give some context to these pirates, which I had never seen before, some humanity to these pirates.

GREENGRASS: I think one of the wonderful central threads of moviemaking is to tell us about the world, tell us where we sit. And this story does that, with dramatic characters. And in the end, if you can make them as authentically as you can, you can -- you feel that experience but also you get a little sense of the complex landscape of the world.

AMANPOUR: And you, Tom, and you've done obviously the great Hollywood movies that you've been awarded for and become famous for.

But many of yours have also been about the great dilemmas and stories of the world, whether it's "Philadelphia," whether it's "Saving Private Ryan," and a whole number of them.

What was important for you to achieve in terms of how these Somali pirates were portrayed?

HANKS: Well, ultimately the best non-fiction is a record of human behavior that is always checkered, that is always very complex motivations.

It almost always comes from someplace. They do not hew to the antagonist/protagonist, you know, storyline which is the basis of any kind of dramatic art.

That, the interaction between Richard Phillips and all four of the Somalis in the -- say, for example, in the lifeboat, in reality, there were laughs. There were jokes. There were -- there was a type of banter that went by, all at the same time Richard Phillips was convinced that big guy, particularly, was going to shoot him in the head for no reason whatsoever.

And that is a type of tension that brings out the most flinty, sharp- edged aspect of human nature. And at the end of the day, I -- that's my job. You know, I got to hold the mirror up to nature.

AMANPOUR: And what -- you talked obviously a lot to the real Captain Phillips. What sort of struck you about what he'd done? I mean, he saved his ship. He saved his crew. He'd allowed himself to be hostage.

HANKS: You know, the name of his book is "A Captain's Duty," and I think the word "duty" there is what -- there is one guy who was responsible for that entire ship, and that's him; whether for good or for bad, he was the captain and he's the guy who has to solve every problem that comes that way.

And in this case, there was -- the primary motive was get these guys off this ship.

But he would never use the word "hero" in regard to himself. He says, "I was waiting for the heroes to show up."

AMANPOUR: Well, before we talk about that, whoever we think the heroes are, before we talk about that, I want to play another clip about their intentions.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Captain, you can't (inaudible).

"PHILLIPS": Operations?


"PHILLIPS": This is Maersk Alabama. Our position is 2 degrees 2 north by 49 degrees 19 east. Our course is 180; our speed is 17 knots. We have two skiffs approaching at a distance of 1.5 miles with a possible another ship following. Potential piracy situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Copy, Alabama, you should alert your crew and get your fire hoses ready and follow lockdown procedures.

"PHILLIPS": Yes. It -- is that it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm relaying your transmission now. But chances are it's just fishermen.

"PHILLIPS": They're not here to fish.


AMANPOUR: Well, in my inimitable way, I've played them out of sequence, but this was before they boarded.

Apparently a lot of this piracy is because their fishing waters have been depleted.

How does that strike you?

HANKS: Well, it's one of the real tragedies that go on, that is one of the -- that contributes to one of the problems. It was commercial fishing from other nations have come in, with big trawlers and they have swept the place clean of -- I think some of the marine life is coming back now, oddly enough, because of piracy.


GREENGRASS: That was -- I think in the '80s and '90s, that was the response, you know, overfishing, toxic dumping, fishing communities responded -- very, very quickly what you -- what you saw was criminal bands get in there and the godfathers start organizing it because it becomes what it is today, which is hugely lucrative international organized crime.

I think the idea that these are just fishermen, one of the things I think that was quite successful in the film is we show how that actually is not true, that that may have been once true; now you're talking about international organized crime with its roots way away from the coast of Somalia. They lie in Kenya and Nairobi, in Europe and in some cases in the U.S.

AMANPOUR: Tom, you've spent so much of your career doing things that are really in the news, really political, a lot of them, really cultural, just things that matter, not least when you did "Philadelphia," all those years ago, 20 years ago, I think it was -- at least that's when you got the Oscar.


HANKS: Yes, yes, yes, 20 years ago --

AMANPOUR: Yes, 1993; it was at the height of the AIDS crisis and who knew how this was all going to work out.

Could you imagine then that now gay marriage is legalized in many states, that now you can be openly gay and serve in the United States military, that now being gay is a much more acceptable thing here in the United States? HANKS: I could. And part of that is just my basic -- what's the word I'm looking for -- positive attitude as far as where we are as Americans. We always seem to be moving forward on some sort of righteous front. We always seem to becoming a better version of ourselves.

And with "Philadelphia," what was happening there, it was -- it was the beginning of the public acceptance of the debate. It was no longer gay strangers who danced in clubs in urban centers that were dying of the disease. It was the bank tellers at our bank and it was the people that we went to church to and it was people that we went to high school with.

And that meant to me at the time that I said this is just an example of America constantly redefines itself and the way we always redefine ourselves for the better, despite all the problems.

AMANPOUR: Well, you won the Oscar for that film in 1993 and you, in your speech, talked about many gay men and women who had inspired you.

You also went onto say this:


HANKS: I wish my babies could have the same sort of teacher, the same sort of friends.

And there lies my dilemma here tonight. I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious creator of us all.


HANKS: Well, I'm sorry; that's the way I feel.

AMANPOUR: No, but you were emotional then. And even now you tell me you believe in the glass half-full and the inexorable progress --

HANKS: And that word correctly (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: No, really.

But then did you? Did you think then because you were so worried and sad about it back then?

HANKS: Well, that's a very emotional moment that plays itself out in front of billions of people.

But I did feel that the time would come where a common sense would prevail and we'd be able to understand our brothers' dilemma, more than we care about our own narrow sense of some brand of law that is beyond that, it would be made by men.

AMANPOUR: Tom Hanks, thank you very much indeed. Good luck.

HANKS: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Paul Greengrass, thank you very much. It's a wonderful film.

HANKS: Thanks.



AMANPOUR: And after a break, how do you find a real-life Somali to play a pirate opposite Tom Hanks? Forget Mogadishu; as you heard Paul Greengrass said, he went to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The young man who answered that casting call, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Barkhad Abdi was born in Mogadishu and moved with his family first to Yemen and then 14 years ago to the U.S. state of Minnesota in order to escape the devastating Somali war.

Abdi had never acted in a film before and he tells me now how he was chosen by director Paul Greengrass, who we just heard from, and how he felt about starring opposite none other than Tom Hanks in the film, "Captain Phillips."


AMANPOUR: Barkhad Abdi, welcome to the program.

ABDI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Did you ever think, in your wildest dreams, that you would be playing in a major Hollywood movie with the biggest Hollywood star ever, Tom Hanks?

ABDI: Oh, not at all. Not at all. It didn't come in my head. It's not something I planned for.

AMANPOUR: What happened? When did you get the call? How did you know?

ABDI: Well, I was just at my friend's house, just hanging out.

AMANPOUR: In Minneapolis --

ABDI: In Minneapolis, yes, in Minneapolis where I live. And it came on the local television, you know, and just the local channel, saying, casting call for Tom Hanks film, Somali actors. You know? So I kind of felt, you know, they came a little too close. I always loved acting; it's something that I wanted to do. But not something -- you know, I --

AMANPOUR: You had not been an actor before.

ABDI: I was --

AMANPOUR: Had you been a performer at all?

ABDI: -- no, I would just -- used to shoot some videos, music videos and such. But I wasn't in front of a camera.

AMANPOUR: Pretty amazing. OK. So I'm going to play this clip. We've already played it once in this program, but I want to show you yourself as a Hollywood actor.



"PHILLIPS": We've got a problem.

"MUSE": Come on, come on.

"PHILLIPS": We pushed the ship too hard, we're off the grid. That means the computer's now offline.

"MUSE": Captain...

"PHILLIPS": The ship's broken.

"MUSE": Captain, no one gets hurt if you don't play no games.

"PHILLIPS": Now it's -- the ship's broken. We had to go --

"MUSE": Nobody gets hurt if --


Look at me.


"MUSE": Look at me.


"MUSE": I'm the captain now. (Inaudible).


AMANPOUR: Pretty amazing.

ABDI: Yes.

AMANPOUR: I mean, look at me, you say to Tom Hanks. You weren't intimidated at all.

ABDI: You know, that was the first time I met Tom.

AMANPOUR: Right there, that scene?

ABDI: Yes. That scene, that was the first time, you know. And after we took -- Paul, when we first got selected for the film, Paul put use through our training. He put us through our training --

AMANPOUR: What sort of training?

ABDI: Swimming. Swimming training, I didn't know how to swim -- fighting, climbing, weapons -- and I had to learn how to stand still in a skiff that was going real fast. So after we'd done all that training, we were all excited to see Tom, you know.

We wanted to see Tom and after that time, Paul comes to us, I remember, and said, no one's going to see Tom, he's like, until the first scene of the film you guys are doing with him.

We were sort of disappointed. I didn't -- I understood the weight of the scene, because it was the same scene that we did the auditioning for.

AMANPOUR: So he wanted to keep the drama.

ABDI: Yes.

AMANPOUR: He wanted to really make it like Tom, the captain, was seeing you, the pirate, for the first time.

ABDI: Correct. So I understood that aspect of it. And it made a lot of sense to me and I thought about it a lot. I didn't get much sleep that night thinking about it. And when I came the second day, Paul came to me and say, you have to own it. You have to take control. Do what you got to do.

AMANPOUR: Who would have known that you weren't an actor or a pirate, by the way? I mean, that was pretty convincing.

ABDI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: What did you think about portraying a pirate? I mean, Somalia has had a pretty bad rap for a long time. I've covered it for the last 20 years; you all, you know, went through a famine and a war and warlords and Al-Shabaab and terrorism.

What went through your mind? What did you think about what your country would say about it, your countrypeople?

ABDI: Well, right there and then, before the auditioning began, there was a lot of people around me even saying that this film will embarrass Somalia people. And I didn't look at it that way. I did not look at it that way. It was a true story. There had been. And I understood why these pirates are doing what they're doing. They are some desperate guys.

And we all know Somalia had been a lawless country for the 24 years, the last 24 years, growing up. And growing up, I heard all sort of bad stuff about my country and everything that was going on. And at this point, to me, it was just, tell the story. It was something that I loved and I had to do it.

AMANPOUR: What do you hope the takeaway will be for your family in Somalia, for the people of Somalia? They're going to see it.

ABDI: You know, I hope they understand what the motivation that this people does.

AMANPOUR: You mean the pirates?

ABDI: The pirates --

AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) --

ABDI: -- yes, the barbarity --

AMANPOUR: -- the organized crime.

ABDI: -- yes, it's organized crime. It's -- the people that really get out of it don't even live in Somalia. And these pirates mostly are just young men that's being used by older guys for tribes and whatever they use for their own purpose, they use them.

AMANPOUR: How have you felt recently? You've had Somalis, Al- Shabaab, who have wreaked havoc in Nairobi, at a mall, the Westgate. You've had Navy SEALs try to get an Al-Shabaab leader just this week.

You know, there you are in Minneapolis, trying to have an American life.

ABDI: No, we're just sick and tired of these Al-Shabaab people. And you know, whatever they do and just giving the bad rep for our people, because also a lot of people are not that. There is a lot of success stories that's going on here in the U.S. and in Somalia.

But all we hear about it is just the bad parts. And we are just tired of it. We don't support these people and I really feel sorry for all the bad stuff that happened to them.

AMANPOUR: Do you have family still in Somalia?

ABDI: Yes. I do have a lot of family in Somalia that haven't met all my life.

AMANPOUR: You haven't ever met them?

ABDI: Yes, there's some of those I already met and some I left them when I was 7 years old.

AMANPOUR: Will you ever go back?

ABDI: I'm trying, only one day.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And what do you want to do with the rest of your life?

ABDI: For now, I want to see if I can act more, see how it goes from there.

AMANPOUR: Well, Barkhad Abdi, thank you so much indeed.

ABDI: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And if Abdi ever does go home to Somalia, what kind of country will he find? It's been 20 years since the United States military disaster depicted in another pulse-pounding movie, "Black Hawk Down." We'll look at how far and not so far Somalia has come since then, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, just as "Captain Phillips" offers a gripping view of Somalia's recent turbulent history, an earlier and equally powerful film, "Black Hawk Down," portrayed the nightmare of a U.S. military raid gone terribly wrong on the streets of Mogadishu.

Imagine a world where the fiefdom of pirates and terrorists has come a long way and yet still has a long way to go.

Twenty years ago, the renegade warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who we later learn was backed by an emerging Al Qaeda then, held sway over the country and the raid was meant to end his reign of terror.

As the world knows, it ended in disaster with young Somalis dancing on the wreckage of a Black Hawk helicopter. I was there in Mogadishu after that incident.


AMANPOUR: Three years after that bloody battle between Americans forces and General Aidid's troops, all that remains is this scavenged wreckage of a helicopter and the ruins of a U.S. policy that aimed to restore hope, but for the Clinton administration, ended in humiliation, defeat and retreat.


AMANPOUR: America took a long time to recover from that damage to its pride and to its foreign policy. And yet in the intervening decades, the grip of the warlords has given way to a constitution and a parliamentary government. And its first female foreign minister, Fawzia Yusuf Adam, a recent guest on this program.

And while piracy has diminished, Al-Shabaab, as we've seen, remains a threat. And Somalia remains a nation in progress.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.