September 20, 2013

Parade Interview: What Tom Hanks Learned From the Real Capt. Phillips--The Making of a Hero

What makes a hero? This Sunday, Parade pursuesthat question with Capt. Richard Phillips, who was heralded for his heroic actions after Somali pirates attacked his ship, the Maersk Alabama, in April 2009, and actor Tom Hanks, who plays him in the riveting film Captain Phillips, based on his ordeal. The two men spoke to Parade about bravery, fear, and the challenges of portraying a real-life incident onscreen. Some excerpts follow:

On the challenge of turning real-life events into films:

Tom Hanks: “By and large, the making of motion picture is all about ‘Let’s ratchet it up.’ And I always think, ‘We don’t need to ratchet this up.’ If you do, don’t call it Captain Phillips or The Maersk Alabama. Call it something else, and then you have carte blanche to do anything, down to sea serpents and aliens.”

On whether Hanks thinks everyone has the ability to rise to the occasion:

Hanks: “Not everybody, no. Some people are cowards. … I think by and large a third of people are villains, a third are cowards, and a third are heroes. Now, a villain and a coward can choose to be a hero, but they’ve got to make that choice.”

On whether an actor has a special responsibility attached to playing a real person:

Hanks: “I think so. A lot of times it’s not just within your hands; you have to see eye to eye with the filmmaker on a basic philosophy. I think it’s important not to redefine somebody’s motivations. [In a movie] you have to have people do or say things they never did or said, and be in places they never were. But you can take that to an extreme where it’s not really why this person does what he does, and that’s the key. You’ve got to be a journalist and a historian and a filmmaker all at the same time.”

On the actors who portray the Somali pirates:

Hanks: “The actors who play them all live in Minneapolis, you know. They’re part of a Somali community up there. When I met them, I never felt more like an out-of-shape, middle-aged white man in my life [laughs].”

On Captain Phillips’s reluctance to being labeled a hero, and whether he now thinks he had heroic moments:

Capt. Phillips: “Oh, for me, it was my job. You take the paycheck, you do the job. As captain, you get all the blame, pretty much, and in this situation all the recognition, when it was 19 of my crew who were involved in it also. I’ve been more scared on ships. I’ve had a fire in the engine room where I thought I had dead engineers. I’ve been through hurricanes. I feel glad that I didn’t lose any of my crew [on the Maersk Alabama].”

Hanks: “I have never met someone who did a heroic thing who didn’t say, ‘I was just doing my job.’”

On whether Phillips thought that when he went to sea, a pirate attack was a possibility:

Phillips: “Oh, yeah. I always told my crew it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when.”

On what they hope people will take away from the movie:

Hanks: “I would say that Rich puts this incredibly well: You can always try to do something. Keep moving forward. Keep trying stuff.”

Phillips: “Nothing is over until you choose to give up.”

Tom Hanks talks about recreating real-life events in Apollo 13 and the filming tip he received from Matt Damon at

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