Barkhad Abdi couldn’t sleep before the Academy Award nominations came out. Portraying the lead Somali pirate in “Captain Phillips,” he received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor yesterday morning. “I was at my room, watching TV until it came on,” he told Speakeasy. “It was shocking, honestly—I was jumping up and down.”
The first-time actor is up against Hollywood regulars Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto, and Jonah Hill.
Abdi took on many new challenges for his role, working with director Paul Greengrass, but he said the hardest part was meeting Tom Hanks for the first time. They met when acting out their first scene together, the tense moment when the pirates board the Maersk Alabama. “That was the first time I met him in real life, and I had to become the character fully,” said Abdi.
The actor, who was born in Mogadishu and moved to Minneapolis as a teen, has seen his life change—perhaps the most dramatically out of all the other acting nominees. “My life’s been changing since this movie came out, and it’s just for the better,” he said by phone while on his way to the Critics’ Choice Awards. “And it’s getting better day by day. Today’s the best you got.”
Prior to winning the role of “Muse” in the film, Abdi had been driving limousines and helping out in his brother’s store in Minneapolis. After winning the role through an open casting call, he doesn’t see himself returning to that kind of work, and plans to move to Los Angeles next month. “I just want to keep acting and see where it goes from there,” he said.
Abdi hasn’t yet taken on any Hollywood trappings, like coaches or stylists. “I’m just taking it easy for now,” he said. While he wasn’t aware any reaction yet in Somalia, he said: “I know people in Minneapolis are going crazy now.”
As for Hanks’s omission in the best actor category, Abdi said he was surprised. “But it’s all right,” he said. “It’s Tom, you know? He got it.”
Write to Robin Kawakami at Robin.Kawakami@wsj.com.