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Wrap Screening Series: ‘Captain Phillips’ Director on Authenticity, Casting Somali Pirate – ‘I Didn’t Want Johnny Depp’ (Video)

Paul Greengrass also maintains Richard Phillips is getting a raw deal in the press

The real commander of “Captain Phillips” and one of his first mates have been thrilling audiences with their 134-minute cinematic adventure and off-screen personal stories since the film debuted in October.

On Tuesday, they gave a packed house at the Landmark Theater plenty of both. Joined by unlikely movie star Barkhad Abdi, director Paul Greengrass stressed the importance of authenticity in their based-on-a-true-story film during a Q&A event following TheWrap‘s screening of “Captain Phillips.” The discussion was moderated by TheWrap editor-in-chief and CEO Sharon Waxman.

Paul-Greengrass-ScreeningThe film, which captures the true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, tells the important story about that part of the world, Greengrass (left) said. But “really (it’s) about the test of strength, the battle of will between captains,” played by Abdi and Tom Hanks.

Also read: Paul Greengrass Stands Behind ‘Captain Phillips’ Accuracy – ‘100 Percent’

Here are 8 things we learned from the Q&A:

1) Everyone threw up during filming
OK not everyone, but definitely most. Hanks and Abdi were the only ones apparently immune to sea-sickness, Greengrass said. It was the lifeboat scenes that did everyone in: “The thing was pitching around — you cant imagine what its like on the ocean,” Greengrass said.

2) They used real Navy personnel
Including the medic in the emotionally charged final scene. She just happened to be the real medic on the very real Navy ship on duty that day. Greengrass told the young woman to treat the scene just like a training session, with one glaring exception: Tom Hanks is coming in. She nailed it on take number two.

Barkhad-Abdi-Screening3) Abdi was (and still may be) a limo driver
From his hometown of Minneapolis, Minn., Abdi (right) has gone from aspiring filmmaker, to limo driver, to movie star. He has an agent now, he told Tuesday’s audience, and is pursuing other roles. On the current state of his limo driving schedule, Abdi quipped, “It’s clear.”

Also read: Tom Hanks Gets Box-Office Groove Back With ‘Captain Phillips’

4) He’s one of the lucky ones
The story of how Greengrass found his lead pirate is the stuff of Hollywood casting legend. Of course, it did not originate in Hollywood at all. From a Minneapolis pool of 700-800 Somali applicants (the city has the largest Somali population in North America) who responded to an open casting call, Greengrass chose Abdi due to his audition’s “Mixture of menace and humanity.” But Abdi is even luckier just to be here. The young man was born in Somalia, moving to Yemen where his father was in a war. There, his family won the Visa lottery to come to America. If not for that opportunity, Abdi admitted, “I don’t know what kind of person I would be.”

5) Greengrass has familial ties to the subject matter as well
The director’s now-90-year-old father was in the merchant marines and the film was somewhat of a tribute to the work they do. Greengrass accurately describes seafaring trade as the lifeblood of economy, saying our goods don’t come through the air, its all ships. “I wanted to make a film about my dad’s world,” he said. And dad was so proud that he wore he medals to the London premiere.

See video: TheWrap Screening Series: ‘Fruitvale’ Director Ryan Coogler Says Black Films Have ‘Plenty of Room to Go’

Abdi-Greengrass-Screening6) Greengrass did not want to make a fluffy, Hollywood pirate movie:
“I didn’t want Johnny Depp,” the director said, taking a good-natured shot at the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

7) The budget was stretched tight
No, that was not CGI, those were all real ships. The film budget was about $50 million, Greengrass told Waxman. To accomplish the mission of making a medium-budget film look like a huge one, Greengrass shot all the big pieces “very, very quickly,” he said. He had no choice really: the director only had the Navy ships for two weeks.

8) Greengrass still believes in Phillips:
Both the movie, and the real life captain. While he’s addressed the portrayal previously, Greengrass reiterated Tuesday he is “100 percent certain” that the real Captain Richard Phillips acted with courage and professionalism. He maintains that Phillips is being “very, very ill-serviced by some anonymous comments” and “very, very poorly repaid for his act of unstinting bravery.”

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