Barkhad Abdi arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Barkhad Abdi (pictured) has been riding an amazing wave of increasing notoriety and fame, this after snagging a coveted Academy Award nomination for his role as a Somalian pirate in the film Captain Phillips. Although Abdi has never acted before his role as the menacing real-life criminal Abduwali Muse, he has captured the attention of the Hollywood elite despite coming from rather humble beginnings.
Abdi, who has been nominated for 28 acting awards, didn’t win the Oscar last night for Best Supporting Actor, losing to Jared Leto, who won for his role in the Dallas Buyers Club. Abdi did win the same award at the BAFTA and London Film Critics’ Circle, cementing his arrival on the acting scene.
Abdi was born in Somalia on April 10, 1985. Now 28, Abdi loved living in his country of birth until civil war and unrest broke out in 1991 when he was just six years of age. He recently spoke in detail about the horrors he saw as a child.
Of the outbreak of civil war in 1991, when he was 6, Abdi remembers: “It turned overnight to chaos, killing and guns. You would find guns everywhere, bullets and bullet parts. There were bodies outside. It was a very scary time for me and my family.” (His father, a teacher, was in Yemen earning money, leaving Abdi’s mother, his two brothers and a sister; Abdi was the second oldest child.)
Abdi and his family moved to Minneapolis in 1999, settling in the large community of Somalians that reside there. After adjusting to America in high school and struggling to find his place, Abdi attended college and found simple jobs before acting took hold. Abdi worked as a disc jockey inside his brother’s mobile phone store, and his most recent job before the Captain Phillips role was working as a limo driver at a relative’s company.
Abdi admits he wasn’t a perfect young man, getting in trouble with the law for car fraud and another lesser charge. With awareness by way of his good fortune, Abdi has long moved on from those days and stated he engaged in such acts to seem “cool” among his peers.
Producers for Captain Phillips came to Minneapolis to audition Somalian-American men for the roles of the pirates in the film. After being selected from more than a thousand others, Abdi and three other men would form the antagonistic group in the film. Abdi is hoping to continue his trek, and wants to continue to act. He is currently working on a script for a film, and has directed music videos and such in the past.
Although he counts Captain Philips main star Tom Hanks and other Hollywood actors as peers and supporters, he’s largely kept himself humble.
“Ten years ago I graduated from high school, now I am nominated for an Oscar,” Abdi told The Beast.
Abdi is relocating to Hollywood in hopes to continue his extraordinary path.