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Captain Richard Phillips On What He Thought Of 'Captain Phillips'

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Outside of "Das Boot" and "Saving Private Ryan," Richard Phillips -- the captain of the Maersk Alabama who was kidnapped by Somali pirates in the spring of 2009 and held for ransom on a small lifeboat -- doesn't watch movies more than once. For "Captain Phillips," he was forced to make an exception.

The film, directed by Paul Greengrass and starring "Saving Private Ryan" lead Tom Hanks, adapts Phillips' harrowing story of survival for the big screen. "It's strange for me to see movies twice," Phillips told HuffPost Entertainment in a recent interview, before adding that seeing his own narrative play out on screen "doesn't add to the attraction." He's watched the film three times since June.

Fortunately for all parties involved, "Captain Phillips" -- which is based on Phillips' book, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea" -- has become pretty attractive to audiences and critics. "Phillips" earned $26 million during its opening weekend, and many reviewers have singled out Hanks as giving one of the finest performances of his lauded career in the title role.

With "Captain Phillips" out in theaters, HuffPost Entertainment spoke with Phillips about his thoughts on the film, and the most surprising thing about the finished product.

What were you expecting from the movie?
I really had no preconceived notions. I was hoping that it was a good movie, because it did have my name on it and that's one of the things I didn't like. I would have rather had a different name. One, because, what if it was a bad movie? Which it's not. The other is that it sort of takes away from the fact that there were 18 other guys, my crew, who were there. It wasn't just Captain Phillips on the Maersk Alabama. I wanted it to be a good movie and portray my industry, the merchant marines, in a good light. I think it did: It portrayed my crew very well, and portrayed the work truly. We're not the best dressed, we don't talk the nicest, but we're pretty regular people.

What did you like about how it turned out?
They really got the tension and stress of the situation. The biggest thing that brought me back was when you look in the eyes of Tom Hanks when the pirates get on the ship, and then the eyes of the pirates. You saw the fear, which was in my eyes. You could almost see into Hanks' brain, and see him trying to work out how to gain some control of the situation. Because you've lost all control and you're trying to pull it back, step by step. That's how I felt. What can I do to gain control? Any small thing could be a victory to start the ball going the other way, because we went down a slippery slope and we were at the bottom of the hill. I was like Sisyphus trying to push the rock back up the hill. Then, in the eyes of Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse [the lead pirate, played by Barkhad Abdi], you saw the determination. He was committed. He was going to attain his goal and there was nothing that was going to stop him. I could see that in the real thing and the movie.

Did you have apprehensions about participating in a film version of your story?
I did want to write the book, because I think it is a great story with, for me, a great ending [laughs]. I thought the movie would work, too. People say it's harsh and there's drama, but there was drama and it was harsh. In the beginning, though, we had so much attention from the media that everything was sort of pulling us apart and changing our life; I was happy with my life before this happened, so I had no desire to change my life. We knew that the notoriety would go up after the incident, then disappear, and we could go back to our lives, but the opportunity was there, so we made the conscious decision to do it. We knew we wouldn't have a lot of control over the movie. We didn't know who the director was going to be. They mentioned Tom Hanks might do it, but these guys plan so many movies all the time -- and I don't know anything about the movie industry, but I know that. It was sort of fun to hear that they were going to make a movie. When it started actually going, even then, some of my advisors said, "Not all movies are made. It may not even be made." But when they got Tom Hanks, I figured he would do a good job. He was pretty good in "Bosom Buddies." [Laughs.]

What did Tom Hanks say to you when you guys met?
He drove up to my house in Vermont. Andrea. My daughter just had to be there. Tom Hanks, he's a regular guy. He's down to earth. He takes his work seriously, but not himself. He walks into our house and goes, "Let's just get this thing over with! Take the pictures! I'm Tom Hanks." After that was done, my daughter goes "I loved you in Toy Story." He goes, "I get that a lot." Andrea [Phillips' wife] and I met him three times, and once with Catherine Keener. He didn't want to talk about the story or the book, he was more interested in how Andrea and I transitioned from work to home and home to work. He wanted to know how we handled the routine and what is the routine when you're gone for three months and home for three months. He wanted to know things on the ship, some nomenclature and vocabulary. He was interested in the human side of the people who go to sea.

What did you think of the entire experience?
Everything in Hollywood is a different world. They go, "Oh, this is wonderful! This is great!" They look at me and some would go, "What's the matter, Rich?" It's not like that in my world where "everything is wonderful." It's more like, "This sucks, that's terrible, that's no good, you're a bum." But I guess they're right; now that the movie is out, people are seeing it and it has gotten a lot of good reviews. When we went into this, I went in with a laissez-faire attitude. They're professionals. This is what they do for a living. I don't like when people come on my ship and tell me how to run my ship, especially if they've never been on a ship or in a command situation. I took the attitude of if we're going to do this, we'll let the professionals do it, and roll the dice and see what happens. It's tough to do that because you don't know the end product. So when I saw it the first time, I wanted to look at it critically as a movie.

I read that you didn't feel empathetic towards the pirates when you watched the film, but what kind of feelings did you have for them?
I do get that question a lot. I sort of think it's a silly question. If you stick five people in a small lifeboat, there are going to be relationships. There were relationships. It was mainly adversarial, but there were times when we talked. There were times when we laughed at each other -- I at them, them at me -- more sneering for them at me. But of course there was a relationship. I did like that the film portrays the pirates as humans, because they were. Whether they made the right choice is inconsequential. They were human. I don't like movies that are black and white. It's grey. It's like our lives: it's smeared. There's really not 100 percent, here or there, on the way they're portrayed. I think it would have been wrong and it wouldn't have been a good film if they did black hats and white hats. I think moviegoers and people in general know that's not the way life is. (Watch Phillips discuss his rescue with HuffPost Live host Ricky Camilleri in an interview with HuffPost Live above.)

Was anything in the film heightened beyond what you experienced?
The actual incident -- people say, "How was it to see it?" Even Sony was concerned how I would react the first time I saw it. I said it wasn't that hard at all: it was worse in the boat. The conditions and some of the things that happened were worse than portrayed. In real life, there were times it was harder.

What was one thing that surprised you while watching?
I think at the Vermont showing, at the opening of the movie when it shows me going to work on a four-lane highway, everyone was laughing. We don't have four-lane highways in Vermont.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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