Oscar-nominee Barkhad Abdi has a small, but pivotal role in the Safdi Brothers’ Good Time, the riveting and relentless crime drama now available from Redbox and starring Robert Pattinson as Connie, a desperate petty criminal who will do anything to spring his mentally challenged brother who has been arrested for a botched bank robbery that Connie planned. Abdi is featured as a security guard who has the misfortune to have run-in with Connie late in the film.
In just a short time, the co-star of Captain Phillips has established himself as one of the screen’s most distinctive character actors. His own life story would make an incredible movie, but who would believe it: A Somalian immigrant living in Minneapolis and working part-time at his brother’s mobile phone business and driving a limo, he answers an open casting call for a Hollywood movie starring Tom Hanks. He is chosen out of more than 700 applicants for the role of the Somalian pirate who hijacks an American ship and takes its leader hostage (Abdi ad-libbed, “I’m the captain now,” an instant classic line of dialogue).
He was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and won Best Supporting Actor honors from BAFTA, which is Britain’s equivalent of the Oscar.
Not a bad start to his career. Abdi spoke with Redbox about independent vs. big budget studio films, the kinds of roles he’s looking for, and why he’s not ready to write his own story yet.
Redbox: Your role in Good Time is much smaller than that of your star-making performance in Captain Phillips. What attracted you to the project?
Barkhad Abdi: My agent sent me the script. When I read it, I was not in love with the role, but I was with the overall story. I saw the potential for a good film, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Redbox: For your first film, you worked with director Paul Greengrass, who’s been directing for almost 30 years and is best known for the Bourne films. Did you have any qualms working with the Safdi Brothers, who had mostly made short films?
BA: I talked to them and decided to give them a chance. I thanked them for thinking of me. It was a matter of helping them put something together, and I’m really happy with the way the movie turned out.
Redbox: This year you’ve appeared in Good Time, Blade Runner 2049, and Dabka (based on the book The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World). You’re really mixing it up. When you started acting, did you have a career plan?
BA: Before Captain Phillips, my hobby was making videos. It was something I loved doing. I love movies. One of my favorites is City of God. I like a lot of actors; Al Pacino, absolutely. Honestly, I never planned my career. It just happened. Now I see (my career) as my own, and whether a film is big or small, I put in an effort. I appreciate whoever is directing. I want to (make films) that show different sides of me.
Redbox: What is it like to go from a major studio production to a small independent film set?
BA: It’s a different atmosphere, but big or small, when people like what they are doing, they put in the effort and the hard work. That is what I look for.
Redbox: When you worked on Captain Phillips, did you get a chance to talk to Tom Hanks to pick his brain about acting and what it takes to have a long career?
BA: Honestly, we didn’t have too much time to talk while we were filming. After the movie, we spoke a couple of times, and he encouraged me.
Redbox: What was attending the Academy Awards like?
BA: It was all surreal to me. The whole time I could not believe it, honestly. My family was watching on TV. I met a lot of people. It was one of the best nights of my life.
Redbox: You’re living in Los Angeles now. Do you miss Minneapolis?
BA: I love Minnesota. I go back and forth (between them). Minnesota is home. L.A. is a little too fast for me.
Redbox: Have you thought about writing your own life story? It would make a great movie.
BA: (Laughs) I still have a lot I want to accomplish.