Real-Life "Captain Phillips" Talks About Ordeal That Inspired New Movie

By Jack Thurston NECN
|  Tuesday, Oct 1, 2013  |  Updated 1:04 PM EDT
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Four years after surviving a real-life piracy drama on the high seas, Capt. Richard Phillips is going through another "surreal" experience: seeing his name on television ads and trailers promoting a new action-thriller inspired by his story.

"It's not something I expected," Phillips chuckled during a recent interview with New England Cable News.

Phillips was at the helm of the Maersk Alabama back in April 2009, in pirate-infested waters off the coast of Africa, when four armed Somali bandits boarded the cargo vessel. The ransom-seekers held Phillips hostage on a covered lifeboat, separated from the Maersk Alabama, for nearly five days. "Captain Phillips," which hits theaters Oct. 11, recounts that siege and the high-seas standoff that ended explosively, with Navy SEAL snipers killing three of the pirates and plucking Phillips to safety.

"I really didn't see a good ending," Phillips remembered. "I thought it was more likely to go the other way. Because just where I was -- how I was ensconced in that lifeboat -- it was near impossible to free me."

Phillips' written memoir of his hijacking ordeal, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea," quickly drew the attention of movie-makers, and eventually, one of the film world's true A-listers. Tom Hanks plays Phillips in the film adaptation.

"I think Tom Hanks did a very good job," Phillips said.

Before the premiere of "Captain Phillips" at the New York Film Festival this past weekend, Hanks told reporters how difficult it is to play a character who exists off the screen as well.

"I got to get out of this racket," Hanks said sheepishly, according to the Associated Press. "It's killing me."

Hanks visited Vermont several times while preparing for the role, Phillips said. Phillips told NECN Hanks wanted to study little ways his subject would interact with his family and how he says goodbye before long assignments at sea, which he still takes. Phillips said he was impressed with Hanks’ laid-back demeanor and playful sense of humor. He called Hanks “a very normal, really good guy.”

Asked whether Hanks nailed Phillips' accent, the Massachusetts native laughed.

"Well, I don't have an accent,” he said. “So I wouldn't know how mine sounds, but he's an actor, so I'm sure he speaks many different accents!"

The merchant mariner said he does have one minor complaint with the new movie, though, and that's its title. Phillips wishes it could have somehow given more credit to his crew and to the Navy SEALs whom he called the real heroes.

"They are an incredible group, and it's just another great thing that we're lucky to have [in the United States]; that the SEALs work for us, and are out there to protect the average citizen."

The real Richard Phillips still seemed unassuming, maybe even a bit uncomfortable with the limelight, which is about to start shining brighter than ever with the upcoming release of "Captain Phillips."

"It's very suspenseful," Phillips told NECN. "Two thumbs up for sure!"

Before the film's wide release, a special preview screening is scheduled for Tuesday at the Majestic 10 movie theater in Williston, Vt. The event will raise money for a scholarship at nearby Champlain College, in honor of a friend of the Phillips family. Champlain graduate Sarah Ramsey died in June after being struck by a car in New York City. The fund will support students interested in the same area of study, international business, as Ramsey had pursued at Champlain, Phillips said.

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