Tom Hanks to portray MMA alumnus

February 09, 2012

It played out like a Hollywood drama on the high seas.

In April 2009, an American cargo ship was attacked by Somali pirates and the ship's captain, Richard Phillips, a 1979 graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy, was taken captive in a lifeboat and even attempted a bold escape. Five days after Phillips was captured, on Easter Sunday, Navy SEALs fired shots that killed three of his captors, then swooped in to rescue the captain.

Now that drama is going Hollywood.

Phillips is being played on the big screen by Tom Hanks, and some local folks may get a chance to work alongside the "Big" name actor.

The movie is based on Phillips' memoir, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea." The film is scheduled to begin shooting next week and hit theaters by March 2013, according to, a website that tracks the movie industry.

Hanks will star as Phillips and Catherine Keener, known for roles in "Being John Malkovich" and "The 40 Year Old Virgin," has been pegged to play his wife, Andrea. The film is being directed by Paul Greengrass, heralded for his work on such fact-based dramas as "United 93" and "Bloody Sunday," as well as two of the "Bourne" movies starring Matt Damon.

Actor Kevin Spacey is one of the film's producers, working with a foursome that backed "The Social Network."

Reached at the couple's Vermont home, Andrea Phillips said her husband was unavailable for an interview.

On Monday, a Boston-based casting company will hold auditions at the maritime academy for "real merchant marines" to play extras aboard the Maersk Alabama as production begins.

In a posting on the academy website, C.P. Casting says it is looking for four merchant marines ranging in age from 25 to an "old salty dog" between the ages of 60 and 70.

Calls to the company were not returned Wednesday.

"It will give an aura of authenticity to the production," Adm. Richard Gurnon, academy president, said of using mariners instead of actors for some roles. A Navy pilot, Gurnon has often found himself bristling at the way aviation is portrayed on screen, especially radio transmissions. "Increasingly, I've seen Hollywood productions get much more interested in factual details rather than 'close is good enough.'"

More than a dozen maritime academy graduates have already sent in their applications for auditions, school officials said, but don't expect Gurnon to be among them. "Not a chance," he said.

Capt. Ron Colpus, 66, of Braintree, a 1967 academy graduate who has spent more than 40 years at sea, is one of those scheduled to try out for the role of the "old salty dog." He likes the decision to use mariners such as himself to play some of the parts.

"I think it's an excellent idea because (the actors) can get some feel from people who are actually on these ships," Colpus said of casting real mariners.

Todd Hibbert, 52, of Wareham, an engineering professor at the college who spent 20 years at sea, agrees. "You get people who are here, who have been on ships, know these ships, and the key is we know the terminology."

Colleagues at the academy have been pushing him to audition, Hibbert said. "I'm just going to be myself. I kind of look the part," he said. "What do I have to lose?"

And what he has to gain is possibly meeting Hanks. "That's the lure of it all," he said.

Doug Foley, 52, of Sandwich said he saw the casting call on the college website but didn't give it much thought until someone from the academy urged him to try out.

Hanks is a good pick for Phillips, said Foley, who graduated just two years behind the storied captain.

"He's a tremendous actor, one of the greats of this generation," Foley said of Hanks. "He does have that captain-ish look to him."

Though the drama played out thousands of miles away off the coast of Africa, dozens of media representatives from across the country gathered at the alma mater of Phillips in 2009 to gain insight into his training and what the school does now to prepare its young cadets for the threat of modern-day pirates. Even some former classmates of Phillips gathered at the school to discuss a captain's role on a ship and to see how the high-stakes standoff would be resolved.

The drama included other ties to the Buzzards Bay campus, as well.

The ship's second in command was Shane Murphy, a 2001 graduate of the maritime academy whose father, Capt. Joseph Murphy, is a professor at the school.

Joseph Murphy became a go-to guy for the media to gain insight on how the ordeal was affecting families of the ship's crew.

By George Brennan

Source : Cape Cod Times