Born in Somalia in 1985, actor Barkhad Abdi fled his native country with his family when he was 7 years old. He lived in Yemen for several years before moving to the United States. Abdi worked as a limo driver and DJ before landing his first film role. In Captain Phillips (2013), he stars opposite Tom Hanks as the leader of a group of Somali pirates who hijack a container ship.
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, on April 10, 1985, Barkhad Abdi earned wide acclaim for his first film role in Captain Phillips (2013). He is the son of a teacher, but he was unable to attend primary school because of the civil war that erupted in his native land in 1991. At the age of 7, Abdi fled with his family to Yemen to escape the violence.
As he explained to The Huffington Post, "I witnessed the war's beginning, which was really extraordinarily crazy." He said that everything he ever knew was "just torn to a disaster overnight." Abdi stayed in Yemen until he was 14. Winning a green card lottery allowed him to move to the United States. He settled in a Somali neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he learned much of his English from television shows and rap music.
Abdi was working as a limo driver and DJ when he landed his first acting job ever. While watching a local television station, he learned about a casting call for a new film by Paul Greengrass about the hijacking of a cargo ship by Somali pirates. Roughly 700 men turned out for the auditions. Abdi was selected to play Muse, the Somali pirate leader.
Before filming began, Abdi spent six weeks in training. He learned how to swim, handle a weapon and operate a boat. Greengrass intentionally kept Abdi and his three other Somali cast mates away from the film's star Tom Hanks as shooting began. According to the Los Angeles Times, Greengrass didn't want the non-professional actors playing the pirates "to be intimidated by" Hanks. Instead he "wanted them to be absolutely ruthlessly committed to what they were doing, which is an armed takeover of a container ship."
Improvising some of his best lines in the film, Abdi quickly took to acting. He gave a riveting performance in Captain Phillips, which earned him great reviews. Abdi scored both a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for his work—an impressive feat for a film novice. Abdi took home a BAFTA best supporting actor award for his performance. He hopes that this film is just the beginning of his acting career.
After his breakthrough role in Captain Phillips, in 2015 Abdi landed his first television gig on Hawaii Five-O. He has also wrapped up production on a new film, Eye In The Sky. The thriller, shot in South Africa, also stars Helen Mirren and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul among others.
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