Hanks takes the role of Underhill’s Capt. Phillips
Movie due out in OctoberBy Jason Starr The Colchester Sun
If you had to pick one leading actor to play you in a movie, it’s hard to argue against Tom Hanks. The versatile, Oscar-winning Hollywood veteran adopts a thick Boston accent and hits the seas off the coast of Somalia to inhabit the character of Underhill Merchant Marine Captain Richard Phillips in a movie due out in October.
Phillips recounted his 2009 encounter with Somali pirates — a drama that played out over four days and upon which the movie is based — for an audience of current and former military members last week in Burlington. It was a gathering of the local chapter of the Air Force Association, a non-profit that promotes American aeronautic military power. Some of those in attendance had seen the trailer for the movie — titled “Captain Phillips” — which was released earlier in the week.
Phillips’ ordeal was certainly made for Hollywood — a hijacking, a standoff on the deck, a hostage taking and an improbable rescue, all in the blazing heat of the Indian Ocean. Phillips has already released a book about the events, and his life in the Merchant Marines, titled “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea”. He has taken a back seat in the movie-making. He said he has met Hanks on a few occasions and talked several times with the film’s prop and wardrobe design specialists.
“They want to get everything right,” he said.
But Phillips, a duty-driven man who is devoted to his profession — he returned to the seas about one year after nearly being killed by the pirates — was nonchalant about the movie on Thursday.
“It’s Hollywood,” he said. “Hopefully (Hanks) will do a good job. I told him if you’re going to play me you’ll have to put on a little weight.”
Phillips also took a lighthearted stab at Hanks’ accent attempt in the movie, calling it more of a Maine sound than Phillips’ classic Boston tone.
Air Force Association members had a lot of questions after Phillips relived in detail the four days in a lifeboat that captivated many Vermonters and Americans. Many were incredulous that Phillips and his crew were unarmed in the dangerous waters off Somalia, where deadly piracy continues to plague cargo and recreational vessels. Phillips’ ship carrying grain, vegetables and oil as food aid for Somalians.
He explained that a majority of Merchant Marine ships remain unarmed, but he believes that a small number of crewmembers should be prepared to fight with deadly force.
“You need weapons, both lethal and non-lethal,” he said. “Pirates have to be kept off the ship. A group will have to get into harm’s way to do that.”
Pirates, he said, have adapted to the presence of armed ships by sending scout boats at a target to test for an armed response. If there is none, more hijackers will come.
Phillips spoke at Brownell Library in 2011 around the release date of his book. His presentation was more detailed last week in Burlington, with Phillips detailing the cat-and-mouse game that saved his hiding crew after the armed pirates boarded the ship, his decision to join the pirates on the life boat where he spent four days in stifling heat believing he would not live through the ordeal, how he overcame mental and physical torment at the hands of the pirates, how he attempted an escape, and how he was eventually rescued by Navy SEALS.
His presentation also had a moral, centered around a surprising inner strength and the performance of his crew under dire circumstances.
“When faced with a threatening situation, we’ll find the strength within us to do what needs to be done,” he said. “I discovered a strength in me that I didn’t know I had, and I grow in pride at the strength my crew displayed … A dedicated motivated professional team can overcome any obstacle.”