ABOARD the USS Truxtun last spring, Tom Hanks and directorPaul Greengrass were about to shoot what they hoped would be a powerful scenein their new movie, Captain Phillips, when a Navy captain intervened.

“He said, ‘You know that would never happen’,”Greengrass said.

It was a delicate moment in the production. Working in the claustrophobicspaces of a US Navy destroyer off the coast of Virginia, the cast and crew hadprepared for a shot where two key characters converge. Instead, afterconferring with the captain, they quickly changed their dramatic course, andGreengrass had a Navy medic improvise with Hanks.

The resulting depiction of shock and disorientation is oneof the most memorable scenes in Hanks’ three-decade film career.

Captain Phillips is based on the true story of RichardPhillips, a merchant mariner who was captaining the Maersk Alabama, an Americancargo ship, when Somali pirates hijacked it in 2009 and the US Navy undertook adramatic rescue. From a screenplay by Billy Ray inspired by Phillips’ memoir,Greengrass shot the logistically complex thriller on the open ocean off portsin Malta, Morocco and Virginia, with a cast of young Somali-American menappearing in their first acting roles and a flotilla of sets that included aworking container ship, two Navy destroyers and an aircraft carrier.

The movie, which opens Thursday, pits two captains, Hanks’Phillips and a desperate Somali pirate named Muse (newcomer Barkhad Abdi),against each other in the unforgiving waters of the global economy. CaptainPhillips is trying to deliver 17,000 metric tons of cargo to Mombasa, Kenya,including electronics, textiles, cars and food aid ultimately bound forSomalia; Muse is trying to deliver a fat ransom payment to a Somali warlord.

In the commissary on the Sony Pictures lot, Greengrass andHanks described what the director called the “three-legged race” ofmaking Captain Phillips, together with their crew of 200.

They’re an unlikely pair. Hanks, 57, became Hollywood’sA-list everyman by playing affable heroes — an HIV-positive attorney inPhiladelphia (for which he won his first Oscar), a slow-witted Alabamian inForrest Gump (for which he won his second), a gruff World War II Army captainin Saving Private Ryan. The British-born Greengrass, 58, built his career as adocumentarian before turning to propulsive real-life thrillers such as theNorthern Ireland-set drama Bloody Sunday, the 9/11 hijacking story United 93and the commercial spy movies of the Jason Bourne franchise.

Hanks, attracted by a contemporary hero’s story, came aboardthe project first, and met with Phillips early on to learn about hisexperiences.

On the lookout: Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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