The latter film, starring Tom Hanks and based on the real-life hijacking of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in April 2009, also resonated with Greengrass on a personal level. At the Envelope Screening Series, the director talked about what attracted him to the project.
"The biggest part of it was doing a movie with Tom," Greengrass said. "It's the truth. We'd spoken a few times about doing something but never found it, and this just seemed perfect. So there was that, and I loved the story and the fact that it was a sort of real-world story of pirates rather than a cuddly Hollywood pirates [story]. It was a strong contemporary story with two great characters and something about it that illuminated a broader picture."
Greengrass added, "And then there was a sort of personal thing from my point of view: My father was at sea all his life and he was in the Merchant Marine, so I grew up in that world, with a father doing that job. He's very elderly now, and it was a great opportunity to make a film about his work."
Greengrass was joined at the screening by Hanks and co-star Barkhad Abdi, who plays the leader of the Somali pirates and has his own fascinating story. Born in Somalia, he moved to Yemen at age 7 and the U.S. at age 14. He responded to a casting call ad on TV in Minneapolis, which is home to a large Somali community.
"I used to shoot videos — music videos or short films and such — but I wasn't an actor," Abdi said. "I was behind the camera most of the time. But at that time, I was a chauffeur. I was driving a limo when I decided to go to the audition."
"There's a guy still there waiting for his ride to the airport," Greengrass quipped.
For more from the cast and crew of "Captain Phillips," watch the full video above.