From taxi driver to Oscar nominee! Newcomer Barkhad Abdi has generated an immense amount of buzz following his breakout role as desperate Somali pirate Abduwali Muse in the Paul Greengrass-directed film Captain Phillips.
The first-time Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor has received several trophies so far this season, including Best Supporting Actor at the BAFTA Awards. The 28-year-old goes up against Golden Globe winner Jared Leto, and seasoned Hollywood actors Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, and Michael Fassbender at the 2014 Oscars on Sunday, Mar. 2.
Here are five things to know about the new guy in Tinseltown:
1. Captain Philips Was His First Role Ever
With no prior acting experience, director Greengrass cast him in the role of pirate leader Abduwali Muse opposite Tom Hanks' Captain Phillips. "That’s why I got the job, they had to have a Somali person play it," Abdi told The Daily Beast of scoring the role opposite two-time Oscar winner Hanks. "I understand the pirates' motive," he continued. "They wanted money. They were desperate guys."
2. He Was a Taxi Driver Before Captain Phillips
Abdi was working multiple gigs in Minneapolis — as a taxi driver, store worker, and DJ — when he saw on TV that producers were holding auditions for the film. "You know it never hurts to try," Abdi told Us Weekly back in October of pursuing a dream. "That's what I did, you know." Despite a dizzying awards season, the newly-minted actor said he would do it again in a heartbeat — and if all else fails? "I'm going to go back to driving a taxi," joked Abdi, now in talks for another fact-based film, The Place That Hits the Sun.
3. He Witnessed Civil War in His Native Somalia
"Growing up in Somalia was beautiful, honestly," Abdi told the Daily Beast. "Imagine a very peaceful place. Everyone loved each other," he explained. Then at age 6, Abdi witnessed the outbreak of a civil war in his home country in 1991. "It turned overnight to chaos, killing and guns," he said. "You would find guns everywhere, bullets and bullet parts. There were bodies outside. It was a very scary time for me and my family." Abdi eventually escaped and moved to Yemen, and later, America. He immigrated to the U.S. at age 14 to Minneapolis with his family.
4. He Scared Tom Hanks the First Time They Met
Abdi's first time ever speaking to Hanks was in character. The line? "I am the captain now," Abdi recalled to the Daily Beast. "I had to scare him. Since I admire him that was hard for me. He was more Captain Phillips than Tom Hanks and that made me more my character than me. We kept our distance during filming and didn’t go out for dinner until afterwards."
5. He Has a Rap Sheet
Abdi has been arrested and charged with fraud and drugs possession, on multiple occasions. "I wasn’t a complete man," Abdi admitted to the Daily Beast, speaking about the charges for the first time. "I made mistakes to satisfy certain friends and to be cool and I took the consequences. I look back and smile now. Now I know not to do that, and how serious it was."
The 86th Annual Academy Awards airs live on Sunday, Mar. 2 at 7 p.m. EST on ABC.
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