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New Tom Hanks movie features Minn. Somali actors

  • This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Mahat Ali, Tom Hanks and Faysal Ahmed in a scene from "Captain Phillips."   (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures)

    This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Mahat Ali, Tom Hanks and Faysal Ahmed in a scene from "Captain Phillips." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures)

  • This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat Ali in "Captain Phillips." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures, Jasin Boland)

    This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat Ali in "Captain Phillips." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures, Jasin Boland)

  • This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows Tom Hanks, center, in a scene from "Captain Phillips."   (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures)

    This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows Tom Hanks, center, in a scene from "Captain Phillips." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures)

  • This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat Ali in "Captain Phillips." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures, Jasin Boland)

    This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat Ali in "Captain Phillips." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures, Jasin Boland)

  • This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Mahat Ali, Tom Hanks and Faysal Ahmed in a scene from "Captain Phillips."   (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures)
  • This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat Ali in "Captain Phillips." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures, Jasin Boland)
  • This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows Tom Hanks, center, in a scene from "Captain Phillips."   (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures)
  • This film image released by Sony - Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat Ali in "Captain Phillips." (AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures, Jasin Boland)

When Barkhad Abdi and three other amateur Somali actors from Minnesota learned they had won major roles in a new Tom Hanks movie, they tore off their clothes and jumped into the Pacific Ocean.

“It was exciting,” Abdi recalls of that day on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. “We had to make sure that wasn’t a dream.”

Abdi and his fellow actors from Minneapolis are now living that dream of red carpet premieres and Hollywood endings.

The four portray Somali pirates who hijacked an American cargo ship off the Horn of Africa in 2009 and took its captain, played by Hanks, hostage in Captain Phillips, opening today. The ordeal ended when U.S. Navy sharpshooters picked off three of the pirates holding Capt. Richard Phillips captive in a lifeboat.

Abdi, 28, makes his acting debut in Captain Phillips as Muse, the pirates’ skinny ringleader, and is generating supporting actor Oscar buzz for his performance. Before that, he had shot and edited videos but “nothing major,” he said.

Now he wants to make acting his career.

“It feels great, and a little bit scary,” Abdi said of his new fame. “I was just kind of a private person (before the movie). This took part of my life.”

Abdi is joined by three other Somali actors – Faysal Ahmed (the “muscle” of the pirates), Barkhad Abdirahman (the youngest pirate, nicknamed “Little B” by his castmates) and Mahat M. Ali (the lifeboat’s navigator).

To capture the shock of the ragtag band of armed pirates storming the ship Maersk Alabama, British director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, Flight 93) kept the Somali actors apart from Hanks until their first confrontation on the bridge.

“It’s never an easy thing to scare someone you know and admire,” Abdi said of facing off against Hanks. “For me, it was really a nerve-racking scene, and I understood the weight of it.”

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